This series aims to vocalise and explore the realities of working as a creative freelancer in a world of ‘9-5ers’. By collating a diverse array of stories from a variety of creative professionals, I hope to contextualise the working art world and give space to discuss what it really means to become your own boss.
The crisp air shocks my puffy, tired face into some form of waking existence. The dog lead wrapped twice around my arm tugs and tugs – the tiny tyrant at the end insistent on getting personal with some arbitrary, malodorous gatepost. Ignoring the hunger gnawing in the pit of my stomach, I trudge on, disgruntled dog in tow. During this morning ritual my brain races as it thinks of self-made deadlines, promotional schemes to send to art directors, and commissions I want to apply for. Each thought tugs and tugs until no answer is arrived at. With no definite plan of how to approach my working day I walk on, still in my pyjamas. My partner left for work ten minutes ago, climbing into their calamitous car and cajoling themselves into the forty-five minute commute to their day job. I am already at work.
In the pursuit of fulfilment I quit my retail job six months ago, shrugging off the customer service burden in favour of doodling for money. As a freelance Illustrator I design posters and logos and sometimes work for big clients; most of the time I work for friends. In the pursuit of structure in my ‘ambling-around-the-house’ profession, we got a dog, a yoga mat and a posture chair. The dog is a slow walker and I am a slow stretcher. My back is no better. In the pursuit of time management I bought a very big planner. It sits on the shelf above my desk, barely used.
Once we have arrived back from our walk, Solo (the dog) is fed while I contemplate the stack of dirty dishes dashed on the kitchen counter. He will be the only living creature I talk to ‘at work’ today. Ignoring the dishes I decide to feel like a professional human and shower; today I wear outside trousers and not pyjamas. Today I am a productive being. As a productive being, I switch on my laptop and wait the ten minutes it takes to boot up – the ancient mechanisms whirr as I peruse Instagram on my phone. Professional, productive prints and crisp vectors flick past; the social-savvy drinking their soy lattes in minimalist coffee shops. Seamless hashtag hand-type and watercolour cactus prints adorn my feed as I long to catch some semblance of their success. Unbrushed, my hair sits askew as I run my fingers through the front, trying in vain to wrack my brain for some clue of what I will do today.
A freelancer hires their sword to any king, but if there are no kings, you have to be your own king. And this is not profitable.
When you have work – whether it be from a professional client, or the young pop-punk band that just started up and need a logo – the working day is good. There are clear goals and lists littered on the wall in front of your desk. Things to tick off and things to invoice for. But when, inevitably, the work dries up you are left to scramble and create work in the hope of finding other work. A freelancer hires their sword to any king, but if there are no kings, you have to be your own king. And this is not profitable.
Hunching over my Gumtree-gotten desk I decide that today I will sketch. Today is the day I will draw all of the insightful doodles I just haven’t had time to do; the ones that will have seamless lines, crisp blocks of gouache and effortless hand-drawn type, the ones that I will send to art directors in hip companies I want to work with, the ones that will brand me a competent Illustrator™. This, finally, will result in some work after the countless hours of scouring arts jobs and creative commissions online interceded with my many attention lapses. Sometimes these lapses involve actually taking care of the space I live in, a monthly hoover or a tidy away of the clothes pile that came out of the dryer. Sometimes I water plants not yet dead. Many of these attention lapses involve worrying about not being productive enough, and worrying so much I feel incapable of doing anything productive. Usually I watch YouTube videos about what other people ate that day, revelling in their lives and the schedules they keep.
For someone who works as a full-time illustrator, I don’t really spend that much time drawing.
Featured image by Sara Harrington, who not only works as an Arts Contributor at The Norwich Radical, but is also a full-time Illustrator. Check out her doodles of dogs and feminist related ramblings here: www.saraharrington.co.uk
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