Crash Course in illustration
How to stay focused and avoid procrastination
Procrastination can be a hard beast to beat unless you stay on top of it. A few techniques I use to try and overcome procrastination is to set myself small goals to work towards when I am working on an illustration or project, Firstly I try and gauge how long the illustration will take, depending on its complexity and detail, and set goals and time limits.
I work a 9-6 working day, I found that turning off social media, emails and your phone, and only checking them at certain times of the day, for example at lunch time and tea time, this leads to a more productive day, that way I’m not tempted to keep checking, twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc, its about breaking bad habits, and developing new ones sometimes. The key with social media is to be efficient and use RSS feeds such as Feedly and buffer to post for you.
When I find my concentration waning, I will just get up from my desk for 5-10 minutes have a stretch, chat to my studio mates, if it is an extreme bout of procrastination, then you just have to go for a walk, grab a coffee, and then refocus on the task.
I try and focus on one task at a time, there is no point multitasking as you’re more likely to not to be so efficient. When I concentrate on one task at a time, I give that task my full attention, and I have found myself to be more focused, which has to lead to less procrastination.
I also listen to music while I am in the zone especially when I am extremely busy, this cancels out all the other noise in the background. I listen to 6 Music from 10 -1 and certain Spotify playlists, which can be mood dependent.
How to beat creative block
I keep sketchbooks and write notes of ideas, and collect imagery, I use those ideas and collections for illustrations and personal projects I want to create, it’s always a good idea to be pushing your ideas. My daily journal is a ideas book, I write down 10 ideas a day, some of these can be serious ideas which I think might make a good illustration for my portfolio or a project, or the idea can just be a fun idea and totally pointless, the process is to be continually thinking up ideas and to think of yourself as a ideas machine, flowing and constant, where you are always thinking of ideas and solutions. This is useful when you’re working on commercial work, where you will have to come up with a concept and ideas to fulfill a client brief.
I fill my social life with Museums, Exhibitions, design Talks, and Work Shops, You never know what you might learn or who you might meet and talk to,
Sometimes, you have to meet the creative head on. You have an important brief to work on, and nothing seems to be going your way. I have found on many occasions, I have kept chipping away at the creative bock. You might start something and its not quite right and you have to start again, that’s not a problem, as this might lead to you finding a solution, it’s actually better than having nothing at all.
How to make productive use of your time
I work 9-6 days in a shared studio. I have had experience of working from home and working in a studio. I personally prefer working in a studio, especially since being freelance, it separates home life from work life. While I am in the studio, when I am working on a commercial piece of work, I want to use my time to complete client briefs, as I don’t exactly want to waste my time and take that work home with me.
I plan out my day and week structure using spreadsheets and calendars. It’s important to keep track of your time while working on a project; I want to know exactly how much time I am spending on a project. I want the project I am working on to be cost-effective. In regards to the fee and time spent on the project.
If I have client meetings I try and schedule them either first thing in the morning, or towards the end of the day, anything in the middle will cut your day in half.
I try and check social media, emails and the phone in the mornings, during lunchtime, in the middle of the afternoon and towards the end of the working day. By trying to keep to this rule, I’m not wasting valuable time, which I can be using to be creative, especially when I am working on a commercial piece of work.
I write blogs for my website about work I have worked on, or when I am updating my portfolio, I generally write blog posts in the evening or in the weekend and not during the working day, which I schedule to auto-post during the day.
I like to show my followers the work I am working on either as finished pieces of work or as drawings, I also draw in sketchbooks, I like to Instagram quite a bit. I develop these Moleskine sketchbook drawings outside of studio time. I build up these drawings, so I have a back catalog of material I can post to my followers.
In regards to social media, I work on this during the mornings, near lunchtime, and evenings. I set myself 30 minutes, to Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and Twitter, I use software such as buffer to auto post to twitter and facebook, and I use RSS feed software Feedly to channel all the websites I follow into one place, and any interesting posts I like, I would then use social media to send out to my followers.
The importance of offline and online networking
Networking is very important. I have found when I attend talks and meetups, its invaluable to network with other people. I have always left conversations with exchanging details with people I meet, you can look them up after and they might do the same also.
Sometimes nothing might come of networking, but You have made a contact which valuable, and it builds up your profile, you might see the same person again at another event, which leads to other social and networking opportunities, that person could recommend you to someone else they might know. I have had commissions just by meeting people at talks and meet up.
You should be able to sell who you are and what you do in a few words and sentences to pique interest, and then go into more detail when you gave the opportunity, I find being humble about the work I create goes a long way.
I have also networked with people I have never met through social media, which is an interesting dynamic. I find Instagram Twitter and recently Pinterest is ways of networking offline for me. I try and build up a rapport with my followers through these social media channels, some of my followers I have never met, and I have to go to know them through social media, I suppose its how approachable and interesting you sound, which attracts new followers intern.
I recently had a client approach me through Pinterest, which was completely new to me. I have a loyal following through my popular boards on Pinterest, which are tote bags and maps, both of which are directly linked to my work. Because I constantly pin on those particular boards I can be easily found.
How to win pitches/clients
Know your client and do some research before your pitch, client meeting. Practice your pitch beforehand. Preparation is key. The more you believe in your own work, the more sellable it will be to the client. Be humble and confident and compromising, give the client realistic time frames of when you can deliver the final work.
Try and go above and beyond for your client, this will only make you look good in your client’s eyes, you want to come away with a stronger working relationship than when you started.
Give ideas away for free. I have approached clients with illustrations ideas I am happy to give away. This is a good way to approach a client, rather than turning up cap in hand, give your client a reason to invest in you, understand who your client is, and what you could potentially create for them or how your work can fit in, and create ideas around that.
How to build relationships and collaborate with other freelancers
The best way I have found to build a relationship and to collaborate with other freelancers is to be approachable and humble to make time for other people when you have it, and not to be so insular.
Attending regular meetups and design talks open up your network and opportunities. The design community is large, but at the same time, most designers and illustrator’s know each other, this may not be directly, but through someone body else, or through your work which they might be more familiar with, or through strong social. networks.
If you like someone’s work or appreciate them, build up a rapport, there is no harm in suggesting working with them at some point. But be appreciative of other people’s time.
I have met other designers for coffee, its interesting to meet and talk about projects they are working on and to learn something new about a new avenue and project you are thinking of which you have no knowledge about but would like to speak to someone about it that does.
What has worked for me is to skill swap, rather than taking something for nothing. I might give away ideas for free or contacts as a trade for information that I might need for a project, I am working on.
How to work through the night and still create good work
Nobody enjoys working through the night but sometimes it just has to be done, because of a really tight deadline, or just because you have taken on to much work, and you have to meet the deadlines.
The first thing you have to understand is, that you have to use the time in the evening efficiently there is no point staying up burning the midnight oil if you will only achieve a couple of things. So switch off all distractions like the TV, and mobile phone and focus on the task you need to complete.
Work on how much you think will be achievable working through the night sometimes you might not have a choice but to work straight through to finish a deadline. You have to visualize what the final artwork will look like. Break your project down into simple chunks and tick them off one by one.
You will reach a point in the evening where you will lose focus and might even begin to make mistakes which slow you down. The best thing to do at this point in the evening is to actually so to bed and sleep. Set the alarm for an early morning start and resume the work again. You will feel a lot more refresh and already having a few hours sleep. Strong cups of coffee and being well hydrated will also help during those long late hours.
My recent project for Chivas Regal the whiskey brand involved illustrated a typographic world map which was 20ft by 10ft, what compounded the illustration, was that the deadline was very tight a weekend a half, also I was on holiday in Tuscany. I had to enjoy my holiday while working on a tight illustration Brief. I essentially, worked early morning and late evening, while surviving on little sleep. I worked on the easy parts of the illustrations first, which gave me a psychological advantage, which made me feel like I was already scratching at the surface.
How to avoid missing deadlines
Keep the client well informed of your progress. It’s a good idea to show the client how the work is progressing. Give your client, progress information, such as developmental stages and work in progress information.
I like to sometimes overestimate how long an illustration might take me by the day sometimes. This is an advantage to me, as it gives me a little extra time sometimes to work on an illustration, to give it a little more attention if it needs it.
Another good reason to overestimate your time is if you are able to work quick enough and deliver the illustration project before your deadline, you end up with a very happy client, who can’t praise you enough, this can translate as a good working relationship in the future.
How to take a holiday without feeling guilty
If you work all the time, feeling guilty is going to be a problem, as you will feel like you should be working, unfortunately. However, freelancers do deserve a holiday, since we work all those waking hours.
I have been able to completely switch off. On those times when I have been on holiday, where I have not had to take my work with me, which is quite a rare thing.
Turn everything off, social media, emails your phone. It’s a holiday you have to tell yourself, and you’re on holiday to enjoy yourself, otherwise, there was no point taking one in the first place, that being said its easier said than done. Have your partner remind you-you’re on holiday since you will risk alienating and causing arguments if you will be working on a holiday. Which can happen from my own personal experience? The world will not fall apart if your away from your work for a few days or weeks. Check back on your work once or twice a day to set your mind at ease, and only deal things which are absolutely necessary, and leave all other minor things for when you return from back on holiday.