With the looming potential 2015 monster peaking it’s potentially ugly head over the most definitely maddeningly confusing horizon of 2014, I think it’s time to start laying out some degree of a plan for the coming year and how to make it less of a confusing, unorganised mess like 2014 was!
2014 brought about lots and lots of wonderful things. I got my degree, I got a new car, I slowly but surely started to work out which bits of my work I actually liked, I started to do proper business things like a proper grown-up. All this nonsense has really packed out this year with huge leaps in progress and milestones towards my goal of being full time successful freelance. Of course the year wasn’t without it’s hiccups. In fact there were more than plenty of those, both professionally and otherwise, but despite them I’ve managed to come out the other end feeling relatively proud of my achievements and ready to grab some more during 2015.
So in order to best set my self up for doing just this, I thought I’d put together a sort of detailed list of ‘resolutions’ to refer back to whenever I start to lose track (which will happen quite a bit… I’m sure…). So here’s the plan for 2015, of which I’m sure I’ll be adding to, editing and reposting!
(ps. I’ll break the list up with some pretty illustrations from some marvellous artists to make it more visually pleasing.)
I need to make very sure that I carry this plan on to completion and that it’s as big a success as I can possibly make it. I’m sure it’ll come with it’s own personalised selection of stress and panic inducing bullshi*t but it’ll all be worth it in the end, even if it’s just so I’m able to say “I have had a solo exhibition of my own work”. That alone is exciting enough.
I have to utilise all organisation skills I currently have (which is about three… maybe four…) and gain some more in order for this thing to work. It may well end up that I need to rake in some other people to help me out with things like curation and an extra pair of hands on the private view, but this isn’t impossible. If I can get to the end of 2015 having had a solo exhibition, I’ll be one happy human.
The wonderfully tedious and confusing world of sole trader finances is starting to pick up the pace. I need to get more organised and on the ball with things like bookkeeping and more wised up about my taxes and any other horrible grey areas floating around in the world of HMRC. I’ve already signed myself up for a business focused course to help with this as well as plans to chase up some funding for projects like the exhibition or taking The Ugly Bestiary book to publication. These things are so vitally important to my practice so I have to get my brain in check so it all becomes second nature rather than “oh dear god where did I put those 729104 receipts.”
PRODUCE MORE WORK
This sounds obvious. It is obvious. It’s blindingly obvious but it’s something that myself and – I’m sure – many other creatives put on the back burner while trying to launch their career in their chosen field. Of course, producing your work is by no means the most important thing when it comes to starting up; elements like promotional, marketing, research and finances can often come well before it, but it’s certainly not a good idea to ignore it completely. It allows for things like social media and your publicly accessible portfolio to fall stale and people will stop looking to you for updates. I can’t have online presences full of links to where I have stuff for sale or how to find me on Twitter, no body follows pages that provide just that. They want to see new work, interesting images and original illustrations, the rest is brief punctuation in between the visual goodness. So I mustn’t forget to do what I actually do; illustrate stuff.
CARRY A PERSONAL PROJECT THROUGH TO COMPLETION
Whether this is the exhibition, Lavish or something new altogether; I have to finish something. There needs to be an end product that I can showcase and stick in my portfolio for a project I’ve launched and finished entirely outside of the confines of any other establishment other than my own study. I always thought this would be easy, but now that I’ve left university, now that I’ve left education altogether, I now know how tricky it is to finish something when you don’t have the shadow of an institutional deadline breathing down your neck. Not only will finishing one of these projects give me more visuals to add to the collection, but it’ll also help me prove to myself that I have the willpower and ability to finish something of my own volition and my own timekeeping/deadline. I have a feeling it may help me keep deadlines and stay up to date with commissioned and client work in the future.
TRY TO STOP DOUBTING MY EVERY MOVE
A plight many people, never mind creatives, suffer from and that’s self doubt. There’s a billion self-help books out there telling you how to fix this, and a billion more blog posts about it, so I’m by no means providing an explanation as to how I will bring an end to my own personal self doubt, but I am going to clarify that I will stop caring about it so much. On a fairly regular basis, this feeling will bog me down for days on end. I’ll stop being able to to work (and any work I do produce looks like the unoriginal scribblings of the A Level version of me), I’ll procrastinate more than usual (which takes some doing) and it’ll generally send me spiralling into the blues. But on those few days where the doubt will set in and I actually pay attention to some of the hints and tips I’ve read over the years of how to escape it, it sometimes actually does help. Not always, but sometimes. If I do this more often, it’ll help more often and I’ll be able to escape the blues of self doubt more than just giving into it and waiting for it to pass.
At risk of sounding pompous, I know I can draw things rather well, otherwise everything I’ve done up til now would have fallen flat on its face. The doubt comes from worry and panicking that I’m not progressing fast enough or keeping up with other practitioners who are powering their way through their career. Sometimes it’s about skill and actual illustration, but mostly it’s about the constant fear that I might not succeed in the thing I’ve poured the majority of my life into. So maybe I should lay out clearer plans I can refer to when I start to worry, maybe I should read more books on starting out as a freelancer, maybe I should do a whole tonne of things. But definitely; I should not let these moments block out everything I’ve achieved so far and stop me in my tracks. I’m pretty good at this stuff, I just need to trust myself with it!
I’ve always envied the artists I see scribbling their way through dozens and dozens of sketchbooks and ending up with this giant pile of finished ones at the end of each year. I’ve managed to fill a few, and half filled a few more, but no where near the achievements I’ve seen others attain with their sketchbooks. I really want to try my hardest to get into the habit of doodling rather than checking Instagram, sketching the person in front of me instead of falling into a daytime comatose, all the stuff artists should do in the magical world of the ideal artist. I’ve gradually got better at making myself draw people and sending whole days sitting in coffee shops doodling everybody who sits down within eyeshot, but I should do it more. It really has helped me with both my observational drawing skills and generating a better knowledge of the human form (especially from awkward angles) so it can only really get better from here. Time to duct tape a sketchbook to one hand and a pencil to the other for the next 12 months.
MORE SELF PROMOTION
2015 is the year I’d like to see my client list really grow and my portfolio start to get thicker. It’s time for me to really up my game in terms of sending out CVs, job applications and little bits of self promotional material. Whether it’s in the form of zines, flyers and mini books sent to carefully chosen people and institutions or a whole bunch of postcards sent via HAI, I need to start shoving my work into people’s faces more and in the real world, not just my constant use of social media promotion. I’m still stuck in the unfortunate purgatory many recent postgrads find themselves in; still with a weekend-ish zero-hours day job, only getting the odd commission here and there from smalltime clients, struggling to find the time to do anything else to help boost my career, the usual palava. I want to smooth out the transition between postgrad purgatory and professional illustrator as much as possible and hopefully bombarding the selective masses will aid in this.
HAVE AN AGENT (?)
This is something that has been in and out of my list of things I’d like for an awfully long time. I’ve spoken to countless practitioners and tutors about whether they think an agent is a good idea at the beginning of an illustration career and it’s been pretty much a 50/50 split with the answers they’ve given me. On one hand, agents aren’t cheap. The costs of promotional material each year as well as the % of commission they take is a nasty dent in my income and one which could mean I don’t even break even with an agent for quite some time. But on the other hand, I’ll be raking in some bigger clients on a more regular basis which would really help my portfolio grow, CV look infinitely better and client-list get longer and longer. Some people have said the agent fees were worth the clients and commissions and the money they received was better than before they had an agent, others have said the opposite. But considering I’m not living in or around London and I generally don’t have a very expensive lifestyle, perhaps I can be one of the artists who benefit both financially and professionally from agent representation…?
The only way to really find out is to start talking to agencies, sending out my portfolio and arranging meetings/interviews. I might end up with one at the end of 2015 and love it, I might end up with one and hate it, I might not have one at all and be entirely happy with my own client finding skills, either way I need to seriously consider the idea of having one and how it will affect my own personal practice as well as my bank balance.
So, that’s the plan. Or the skeleton of the plan. It may not be definitive but it’s something I can bounce back to when I start to feel a bit lost or frustrated which always seems to help in one way or another. I encourage you guys to do something similar, even if you never look at the ‘list’ again the simple action of writing it all down has helped it root itself in my brain far more than if I were to just think about what I should do with the new year.
Wishing you guys all a happy new year, may it be full of progress, happy goodness and pleasantries!