I conducted this interview earlier this week with my cousin, who’s just finishing up school and entering the field of freelance videography. My answers are pretty much off the cuff. I didn’t want to over-think my replies. It’s true that I’m not freelancing anymore, but I think this advice can apply to anyone starting out in the creative industry.
1. what was some of your struggles when first getting into the freelance business?
When you’re starting out, it’s always a struggle to find consistent work. I got out of the school just as the great recession came into effect, so nobody was hiring full-time. I got along by working at a few agencies on a temporary basis and taking on a lot of my own clients. There was a lot of work that I ended up not getting paid for, but that taught me to choose who I work for more carefully.
2. What where some of the things that you did to get work?
Everything has been through word of mouth. I don’t think I’ve ever cold-called or emailed someone out of the blue. People tend to go with who they know, so the more personal connections you can build and maintain early in your career the better. There are certain kinds of people who will advocate your work for you, if you are solid. Do good work and your reputation will spread without you even having to sell yourself.
3. What where some of the positives that came with freelancing?
Freelancing allowed me to experience a wide variety of projects and agency settings. Things are always changing on a day to day basis, so you learn to adapt quickly. I could be working on storyboard illustrations one day and a branding project the next. I learned to adapt my style to a variety of formats as well as brands. It’s important to have an element that makes your work your own, but still be adaptable to the needs of a range of clients.
4. What would be some of the things that helped you further your career as a freelancer?
Reputation is everything. Be dependable and produce grade A work and people will come back. They’ll also refer you to their friends and colleagues when opportunities arrise. There are plenty of flakes and huge egos out there, they’ll burn out quick. Nobody wants to work with an asshole, no matter how talented they are. In the end, things like punctuality, a humble attitude, dependability and being nice will get you further than raw talent.
5. How is it dealing with clients? do you have any horror stories that have happened to you?
No two clients are alike. They’re people like you and I. Entrepreneurs and business people are typically very driven and specific about what they want, but you’ll have to deal with a client who has a hard time communicating their vision and wants in specific terms.
I learned to control expectations within a specific contract. Clients, especially when they’re getting their business off the ground, can promise all sorts of pie-in-the-sky dreams to you. Unless you want to be a partner in a startup venture, keep you involvement to a project-by-project level. It’s easy to get too involved and then disappointed when things don’t pan out as you hoped. Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t get paid for a lot of work earlier on. The beauty of freelance though, is that if you don’t want to work for somebody you don’t have to.
6. What are some of the things you do to get the creative juices flowing?
Keeping a sketchbook or journal is always a good exercise. Follow tutorials to learn new techniques you can work into your own process. Draw inspiration from a variety of sources, not just contemporaries in your current field. Look at architecture, fashion, industrial design, fine art, food, theater, film and nature. Turn off the computer, take a walk then work on something with your hands. Take on projects that seem scary and beyond your abilities, you’ll find that you often rise to the occasion.
7. What are some things that inspire you? How do they effect your work?
I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration from contemporary architecture lately. Often my job will involve designing a physical environment, so studying architecture is really informative for me. In school and early in my career, I obsessively followed the work of designers I admire. Nowadays I tend to look a lot less at what other graphic designers are doing. It’s hard not to sometimes, as I’m at a computer most of the day. I’m very inspired by work that was produced pre-computer. It’s so easy to get into the game these days, any kid with a hacked copy of Adobe Creative Suite can knock off what’s cool at the moment. A creative person should be able to work with the tools at hand and make something outside of the digital realm. It’s hard to find that these days.
8. What are some pieces of advice that you would give to someone like me on how to build and advance my career as a freelance artist?
Word of mouth is everything. Get out there and meet people. People are much more likely to hire someone they’ve met in person before than a faceless portfolio attachment in an email. Have confidence in your work, if you don’t then no one else will have reason to believe in it.
9. Has there been anybody that has influenced your work? and if yes who where they? And what about them attracted you to them.
Milton Glaser is my design hero. I love how he’s managed to stay relevant in a career that spans well over half a century. His work has a sense of play, which is important to hold on to as your progress in your career. It’s why we do this, because it’s fun. He’s the perfect example of the illustrative designer.