When you’re self-employed, the slower times are kind of tough I’ve noticed. Even when it’s busy, it’s hard to fully connect with everybody else– for example, I was sitting at a restaurant on the weekend with some non-art friends, and the conversations turned to work! It’s hard to get into that conversation in a way, because unlike jobs where you punch the clock, you have a whole other set of parameters, and a different vocabulary. I listened but I couldn’t really empathize– when I have bad work days, it’s usually because drawings won’t come out right, or because a client is dragging me by the chain. And not just that– just looking at how work days are for the self-employed shows you how potentially open-ended everything is.

Last week I wrote up a schedule for my partner and I– he isn’t at all art-minded and keeps a 9-5 job, but we were finding that we wanted to make time for certain things– housecleaning, exercising, etc. So after we allotted time for those things it got me thinking. When you’re self-employed, a schedule can be really important, especially if you’re like me, working out of the home– it can get really insular and too easy to think, ‘oh, I’ll do some work later.’ At least, when I do that, the work doesn’t get done, and I’m scrabbling to get it done at the last minute. Time management is even more important when you’re the one calling the shots. There’s no one constantly looking over your shoulder, and it’s really too easy to slack. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to work 9-5– you need to pick what works for you.

I think the best thing to do is figure out when you do your best work at. Me, personally, I have to wake up around 8am to attend to my dog and to get up with the mister– so I don’t sleep in much. And when I wake up, depending on the day, I try to allot one to one and a half hours attending to the internet business I need to (emails, checking in with peers, researching ideas, writing this blog)– unfortunately, it’s really easy to be sucked in, so I set a timer on my Mac.  I used to be a night owl in college, but it’s lessened since I’ve left. These days I’ve found if I don’t start working in the morning, I’m kind of screwed. (Though sometimes it varies– but largely, if I don’t start working in the mornings I lose that work feeling)

So this is essentially my workday schedule, though it’s never set in stone, because things always pop up and I have to juggle…

8:30am : get up

8:40: walk dog, feed

9:00 : check internet

10-10:30 : start work

noon : lunch- no more than an hour, usually 1/2. I try to read these books I recently got to get some more art research in

12:30- 1pm: back to work.

5:00 (on tuesdays, thursdays, fridays, and sundays):   go for an hour long tricycle ride (recent purchase– I consider this important to my sanity to get out and exercise and get some fresh air to think and let my brain stew! the other days I’ve allotted to going to the gym, so I give myself a break)

6:00 : wait for the mister to come home, prepare dinner or go to the gym

evening : do any sketches or minor work if a deadline is approaching, read, etc. free time!

before bed : try and do some reading for more research.

It sounds kind of easy, right? I mean, when you count those hours up,  it’s only like six hours of strict work. But you also have to realize that any 8 hour job has lags and slow times, and lunch, and you also have to factor the time you spend doing paperwork, writing clients, mailing postcards, etc. If I can get six solid hours of drawing in, I consider that a bonus. And if there’s something coming up, I make sure to allot all the time I need for it. It did sort of work out being 9-5 for me, but I think if you do your best work at night– schedule around that. If you like to sleep in, hey go for it– but I know if I do, I’ll feel lazy. Somehow the weekends feel nicer when I do get to do some sleeping in because I keep myself to this schedule.

Another thing I do is write a list of what I want to get done. If left in my head, I’m near guaranteed to forget something– and if I write a broad list for what I need to get done soon, I can work out what I can get done today. When you break it down into digestible sizes, things get done a lot easier. For example- I have one job due on Friday, and I need to start screenprinting for a convention and an unrelated art show in April, and I need to design a logo for my Etsy shop. So today I am going to pencil the job and work out the roughs for a print, and hopefully start inking a layer as well. This evening is free for the most part for me, so I’ll be going into overtime and try to get the logo worked out as well! Tomorrow I’ll ink the illustration and color both the logo and the illo, and Thursday I’ll finish the layers of the print and try and expose at least one. If the illustration doesn’t need edits, I’ll be trying to get all my layers exposed and everything set up to print on Saturday. Bingo, much more manageable than 10,000 things to do in my head– it feels a lot more manageable. And if I wind up getting ahead of schedule, even better.

Well, my timer’s about to run off– so I think it’s best to get to work! Here’s hoping you have a productive Tuesday!

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You’ll have to pardon my following ‘rant…’ Lately this has been big on my mind and pertinent, even though it may not be totally advice.

Though in this day and age, it’s not necessary, relocating as an illustrator often seems to happen… Many friends/colleagues I know move to urban areas for work– specifically NYC, because there’s so many art directors’ offices, and so you can meet clients in person and all that greatness.  But what if you move somewhere else? Somewhere not known too well for being conducive to artists/illustrators/creative types? This is what I did….well, we’re coming up on the one-year mark in June.

As just a bit of personal history, I was born in a very small city called New London, Connecticut. Not too much fascinating to tell– the former whaling capital of New England, we had the first toothpaste factory and Eugene O’Neill lived there. My parents were both from New York; my mom from Queens and my dad from the Bronx– they moved to CT for work and family raising. Our location was okay, but as such I always felt like NYC was the place I was meant to head back to, like the motherland or something. My plans to do so with college were thwarted by complications from my dad’s diabetes and so I spent four years at the University of Connecticut, a place with even less going for it, but with more cows.  I considered moving someplace every year– Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia… notice what they all have in common? But money was a factor, as well as a few other major things, so I moved to Arizona a year after graduation, closing the distance on a long distance relationship, and here I am now, in a ‘city’ again, but a small one outside of Phoenix.

Now, each place is different, but let me tell you about where I am. From about May (perhaps sooner) to November the heat is ON (and the whole bit about ‘oh, it’s a dry heat’ really doesn’t make a difference when it’s 110 degrees out!), and so it does make things difficult to go out and do things. Things are laid out in strip malls mostly, which means you might miss something golden hidden away because it looks like everything else. This is a ‘new’ area, meaning that most buildings are fairly recently built, within the last fifty years ago. Heck, my house is about as old as I am. This means that there’s not a lot of character to the buildings. Residential areas and commercial areas don’t do a lot of mixing– so there are blocks of houses, but not much to go out and do around those houses. And while everything is a grid with streets here, the blocks are enormous, because Arizona has no shortage of space, and everything is stretched out, not up. So being a pedestrian is more or less a joke. Bear in mind also that I do not drive, at least not yet; which is even more a joke!

This doesn’t outright affect my illustration work– with the internet, I’m able to send artwork to anywhere; I can call clients or email; I never need to shake their hand even. While this is handy it’s also isolating; and when you’re not sure what to do with yourself it’s even more isolating.

I’ve spent close to a year here but haven’t really sought out my own kind of people; which is sad but also tricky.  You know, one thing they probably don’t tell you that you need as an illustrator is a support system. Maybe need is a strong word for it, but you need people to bounce ideas off of, to go out and do things with, to get inspired and reinvent your surroundings. Especially as an illustrator, I think you constantly need to reinvent yourself as well– keep yourself sharp, interested, focused, etcetera.  Take it from me, if you mostly keep to yourself, you’re gonna internalize a lot, and you’re gonna feel no way to find your bearings. So it’s important that whereever you go, you find people, and find places to interest you.

I’m still rather behind on the finding people. I must admit Phoenix doesn’t 100% have its shit together (pardon my language, but it’s true.) I’ve gone to a few of our monthly ‘First Friday’ artwalks, but it’s so hard with so much to do and so many other people around to just sit down and meet people. I feel like I’d have to sit in one place the whole time and stalk people, they mostly have their own agendas it seems. Searching on the internet is a bit more difficult than I’d expect–  I think I’ve found two illustrators in Phoenix, but have yet to visit (the lacking a car/place being so spread out sort of reason).  My newest little solution is a little coffeeshop opening up across the street that I’m planning to schedule a weekly visit to, for a few hours and just sketch personal ideas. I’m hoping in the process I’ll meet people who are interesting, and maybe get my name around here somewhere. I’m also hoping to pester the art galleries in the area to see if I can get my work in a show or something; there’s got to be some way to make conversation!

This weekend I tried something different and visited an enormous Asian Supermarket (fellow Phoenicians, Lee Lee’s is excellent!). I found all sorts of ingredients and was very interested to see so many people of different ethnicities all in the same place; it was interesting to see so many people intermingling and realize that there is more culture around here than I might ordinarily notice. (Plus, the food. There’s nothing quite so stimulating as so many brightly colored packages of food, of a bevy of raw fish and produce, etc)  I’m hoping to go do something new every weekend or so… in an attempt to keep things fresh.

Well, anyway, my point is that you need to find your place, wherever you move. Because a lonely isolated illustrator will feel like there’s nobody there to critique them, give them ideas that will lead to other ideas, talk to them about things they didn’t know anything about, cheer them on when they’re in a rough patch… and they might decide that it’s hopeless. Humans are social creatures; if we don’t interact we don’t thrive. You need to keep yourself sharp in a number of ways– stimulation keeps things interesting.  So whether that is to find people or things to keep you interested and raring to go, it’s important not to get stagnant and drawing the same things and doing the same things, because you need to keep a sense of interest and fun into the mix. And if you can’t find those things to keep you interested, perhaps you might have to move someplace else that does have what you want… I’m still on the fence about what the Phoenix metro area has to offer to me, but I’ll give it another try before I make my mind up!

Q posting:

February 15, 2007

Hi everybody; it’s a beautiful day and I’m fighting the temptation to go spend it all outside, but there’s a lot of work on my plate for today, so today’s entry will be a brief one. But it depends on you!

I would like to compile a list of questions to ask art directors; I already have a few AD’s lined up who are happy to take part in a little interview, but I’d like to know what you, the readers, want to know the answers to. What do you want to ask art directors? I figure it’ll be get good to get a little dialogue going between illustrators and art directors, so please comment below and ask all the questions you want. I’ll try to get as many answered as I can in the next couple of weeks!

Thanks everybody; it’s time for me to hit the drawing board!