5 years Freelance; a recap and lessons learned

I was making a presentation recently for a talk at UAL for their Careers and Employability department, the topic was; ‘Buy me! Turn your creativity into sellable products’. I decided to present a timeline of how my products, website and photography have evolved and it was such an interesting exercise! Then this week I realised it’s been 5 years since I left my full time job. It’s hard to pin point when I started making my own products as I’ve always enjoyed a bit of crafting but I know that 9 months later; the following Christmas I did my first market selling note books that I’d hand bound in my own fabric. But I’d say that I launched the product side of my business the following May 2015 when I exhibited at the trade show; Pulse on UAL’s group stand. I did the fair hoping to get new clients, but I also started to understand the world of products and wholesale and that I could be a part of that through applying my designs to products. 

First collections launched at Pulse May 2015

First collections launched at Pulse May 2015

Website evolution Left top and bottom were Big cartel stores linked to my website and on the left you can see my current shop from 2018, The most important thing that has changed is my ability to take and style photos!

Website evolution Left top and bottom were Big cartel stores linked to my website and on the left you can see my current shop from 2018, The most important thing that has changed is my ability to take and style photos!

It’s worth noting that making products has always been the ‘side hustle’ to my main income. When I first left my full time job in 2014 (I was one of two textile designers at Oasis Fashions and responsible for half the collection) it was to become a freelance print designer and continue on with what I’d been doing the previous six years. My main clients were high street fashion and I quickly began to feel frustrated, as I’d left to pursue more creative projects, but I was doing the same thing. So I had to start creating the work that I wanted to see in my portfolio, without a client, solely for myself and with the intention to sell! 

2017: expanded range experimenting with new product types

2017: expanded range experimenting with new product types

Last year I worked hard on my product range, styling and photography adding colour and fun to my website

Last year I worked hard on my product range, styling and photography adding colour and fun to my website

That’s where the products began, I needed to show people my ideas and what I can do in the hopes that eventually I would simply be commissioned for my designs and no longer need to make the products. It’s funny because at some point that started happening, PHEW! (Breathe big sigh of relief) But I still carried on designing and making the products, It has became a core pillar of my practice influencing my commissioned work and feeding me creatively, as well as challenging me technically. 

2018: Big variety of products maybe it’s time to simplify?

2018: Big variety of products maybe it’s time to simplify?

I’m now looking to wind down and simplify areas of my product range so that I can focus on commissioned work but I know that creating my own products and designs will always feed and improve my practice as a whole. Big thanks to the Careers and employability team at UAL for supporting me initially in exhibiting at Pulse and for inviting me to present and reflect on this! 

Are you on a product making journey? Do you want to hear more about this? If you have a questions comment below and I’ll get back to you! :D Jacqueline

Markets have been an important way to exhibit my work here I am at The London Illustration Fair Dec 2018

Markets have been an important way to exhibit my work here I am at The London Illustration Fair Dec 2018

I spent a month saying ‘No’ to illustration work and this is what happened;

In the lead up to July I’d had a few conversations with fellow creatives where I compared myself to a hamster stuck on it’s wheel having forgotten that to get off you just need to slow down! I was feeling burnt out, pulled in every direction and unsure what to spend my time on. So I decided that I needed to start saying no.

I’m constantly haunted by the ‘Freelance Spectre’ a ghost whispering in my ear that I’ll never get another offer of work if I turn this one down! So for the month of July 2018 I turned off that ghoulish record and set myself the challenge of saying no to any and ALL offers. (Obviously if THE dream client had got in touch with THE perfect job I would have put the experiment on hold, but that didn’t happen!) This is what happened.....

  1. I worked through my to do list; for example screen printing the remaining few prints on a couple of editions, a time consuming task which I’ve been putting off for months!
  2. I made some new personal work; finally developing some ideas that I’ve been thinking about for a while, designing new work for my portfolio and new products for my shop which will be useful as we move towards the winter months!
  3.  I got on top of my accounts; Like many creatives I hate the financial side of running a business ignoring it until I have to deal with it. It’s a major weakness that I need to overcome, so I started using an accounting software called Xero to help me! I’m now weirdly loving looking at my finances because for once they are organised!
  4. I got on top of my emails; ever heard of email debt forgiveness day? You get the idea! 
  5. I said yes (whoops) to one indie collaboration with a brand whose ethics I really admire because I had a gut feeling of excitement about it and I always listen to my gut! This also weirdly helped me say no even more, as if you aren’t excited about at least one aspect of a job then why do it? 
  6. Apart from that one yes, I said No for a whole month; as a result I’ve become a lot more comfortable with saying No, something I’ve always struggled with.
New Bandana idea, Personal work July 2018

New Bandana idea, Personal work July 2018

This experiment has left me feeling a lot more relaxed about work (an afternoon on the sofa with my cross stitch has happened this week!) Stepping off the hamster wheel has given me way more perspective on my business and what i want to focus on. I'm going to continue on saying no going forward because taking on more projects means spreading myself too thin and leaving no time for nurturing personal work.

To wrap up; saying No is important no matter what stage you are in your career; as a new illustrator taking on a job that doesn't suit you stylistically can leave you confused and with an incoherent portfolio. As an experienced creative saying yes to everything leaves you with mediocre work and burnout. Finally definitely say NO to unpaid 'exposure' work as it devalues the whole industry. BUT say yes to collaborating with fellow creatives on cool (possibly unpaid) projects that excite you and that you want to see in your portfolio!  

Did you like this post, do you have something to add? Let me know in the comments! 

Jacqueline x

New Bandana idea, Personal work July 2018

New Bandana idea, Personal work July 2018