Let me just say as a freelancer, I still very much hate filing taxes. I’m not an accountant (though I wish I had one!), and taxtime fills me with impending dread. Schedule C, forms, paperwork, deductions, expenses, assets…. For me it’s blinding. Yesterday I tackled my taxes, and while it didn’t take as long as I expected, there were a lot of things I found eating up my time. And a lot of time spent gnashing my teeth about the money I’m soon to owe sweet lady IRS. (IRS honey, let’s talk! Please don’t break my kneecaps or bankrupt me!) Needless to say it’s going to take many years to be comfortable about this, but this is what I’ve started to learn so far:

  •  Document everything. You’re a freelancer, do you have a home office? Keep track of the square yardage of your dwelling and the office, and then make sure you keep track on the utilities and rent and all (and everything you buy or fix in it) so you can be compensated for it. Did you buy art supplies? Decorations for the studio? Media? If you can honestly justify it as being research or work related, it can count. And don’t forget cost of mailing/advertisement/gas mileage for the business..
  • By documenting everything I mean DOCUMENT everything. Keep a book, or use Excel, or get a program, but every expense should be kept track of. It really comes in handy. (It also makes you realize you may have a problem when you add up all your art supply bills. I know it did for me) I grant you I didn’t really do this– I just went through my Paypal history and my bank history for the past year and added it up, but I’m going to implement it this year for 2009’s filing.
  • Try and keep your paperwork organized. I couldn’t find some of my paperwork right off the bat and freaked out, thinking I threw it away.
  • Pay and file quarterly so that the tax owed is not a big shock like it was for me.
  •  When you get payments from jobs, set aside some of it into savings so you will have the money no problem!
  • Don’t live check-to-check like me!
  • If you can find one, an accountant sounds like the way to go– one who works with creative people, and knows what that means in a financial setting.

Any other ideas for easing that tax burden, I’d love to hear. I’m hoping I’ll implement all this stuff next year, because I’m tired of dreading April, really!


We here at Trade Secrets are hoping to move the blog to a domain so we can revamp the site with a super-cool design (trust me, I peeked). But we’re having a little trouble figuring out a domain name to register. Tradesecrets.com/org/net and its ilk are all gone.  We have a couple of ideas, like the-trade-secrets.com, ourtradesecrets.com, tradesecretsforillustrators.com but how memorable will they be? I’m not certain. I’d love to hear your suggestions and maybe we can figure out a good new domain together! We’re aiming to keep the TS name, but what else could work?


Know thyself.

March 7, 2008

Flow-chart thingy.

One thing that has been floating in the ether in my brain lately is where I see myself heading. I think some illustrators are lucky; they know exactly where they fit in, or they just fall into working on something they really enjoy and that’s what directs their career. Having that foresight or ability to find their niche is such a good thing– really valuable when you think about it. But maybe you’re like me; you consider yourself a jack of all trades, and you can’t quite figure out where you fit.

My good friend Frank and I discussed our ideas of the ‘rules’ for being an illustrator: and we both agreed that while there are a lot of other important rules, the top one could be ‘Know thyself.’ For a while I was trying to work out where my weaknesses were graphically, stylistically– but that was sort of putting the cart before the horse. Without knowing who to show my work to and where I could feel comfortable, I’ve felt a lot of maybes as to where I could fit in– I could see it, but how could my potential clients? The thing I’ve heard lately has been: “You have a great style. You just need to figure out what you want to do and then pursue it.” So I guess it’s actually more obvious than I thought. Hence this hastily scrawled flow-chart, cementing a lot of things I knew in my head.

I find this indecision really troublesome, but indicative of how I’ve always been– fish or cut bait was the resounding mantra my parents often gave me. And when I actually dissect how my personal work comes about, I realize it’s less about thought and more about bizarre imagery, strange juxtapositions, which leads to a unique kind of language that I’m not sure is so easily translated. Which leads me to noticing a disconnect between my editorial work and my personal work– and I think this may be where one of my problems lie. I could see other peoples’ work collected into a book, both personal and editorial– but mine? It seems less that way. And maybe this means branching out from editorial is important.

Not that this post has really gained me any answers– but it has made me consider more heavily what I want to do. I may not know the hows of accomplishing what I want to do, but I think it’s a good starting point. If you’re at all like me, I would advise you to think about what really engages you and where you do and don’t see yourself. Knowing yourself– your capabilities, limitations, goals and the like– is just as important as developing a style, learning business practices, and promoting your work– after all, how can you start to promote yourself if you don’t know who you are and why you are doing what you do? Of course things change but you need a framework to start, and a sense of focus so you can actually attack the markets you’re interested in.

Good news: In the coming few weeks we will be attempting here at the Trade Secrets HQ to overhaul the blog– along with a bit of a format change. It’ll be truly awesome, I assure you. So keep your eyes on the lookout!

So here’s where I’ve been in the last nine or so months:

Illustrating for print work; mostly repeat clients: Nickelodeon Magazine and Las Vegas Weekly being the two top repeaters;

Sending out a few postcard mailers and finding my returns to be kind of not that great;

Daydreaming about quitting my freelance work and earning better money doing something else (obviously, the dreams weren’t good enough!);

Working with a few cool companies to make some cool prints and wallets;

Wondering what my strengths and weaknesses are, devolving into OH GOD WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE every couple of weeks;

Courting a rep to then receive some really great feedback and really start looking seriously at focusing in my artwork and keeping it to a high caliber;

Experimenting a lot, adding in texture, upping my drawing skills with practice; now I’m working with painted tissue paper a la Eric Carle;

Finally meeting up with some local illustrators (Tiny Army) last night and feeling pretty re-energized and positive.

There probably were some assorted things besides that, but that’s the gist. Where have I gone? Where am I going? This is what preoccupies me now. The way I see it, every so often I have a breakthrough creatively– getting somewhere I wanted to be but not realizing it. And every time that happens it makes me introspective. I may think too much actually about this. Strengths and weaknesses and all that nonsense. Improving my lot so more art directors take notice. But besides that I know I need to get wiser on the business end of illustration– I know a fair amount but there’s much more I know I don’t know.

And then there are things I know but I’ll admit I’m pretty nervous to implement. Last night’s meeting reiterated a point I was told a few weeks ago by my pal Luc Latulippe: cold calling is essential. An illustrator at the meeting told me it’s got to be done; but I’ll admit the idea terrifies me. I inherited my dad’s good old hatred of the phone, and now it’s biting me. I get pretty anxious about these things, even to the point of fumbling and getting kind of panicky over the phone. But hey– it’s facing your fears, and it’s something I know I’ve got to do– obviously I can’t coast on my good emailing charms alone.

This means writing myself a script; a simple, short yet sweet message to call art directors with and practice it religiously until I don’t need it anymore. I’ll try writing one in the next few days and post it up here; any critiques to it will be most appreciated.

So on a business end, of the constant war of promoting yourself I want to get these things done in the next month:

File my taxes

Don’t cry or tear my hair out when I file my taxes and realize how much money I owe

Write a script for cold-calling

Prepare a list of art directors and call them

Develop an actual e-mailing list again. Daniel suggested Mailchimp and based on how great his mailings look I may take them on.

For me this a heady list. The cold-calling and the taxes are the big things– one day I am totally going to hire an accountant and shove all my paperwork to him or her– because I really hate taxtime.  But you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess!