Last year around this time, I wrote a post titled “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing,” where I wrote about just that- having no clue what I’m doing, and winging it on a day-to-day basis. I want to start this off by saying that that’s 100% still the case- I’m not an expert on any of what I’m about to write, but I do know a little more than I did last year, and much more than I did when I started my small business almost four and a half years ago.
Last week, I posted in my Instagram stories about possibly writing a Q&A post for the blog section of my website. I was so grateful and humbled for the people who reached out, and not surprised that a lot of the questions people asked me are the same ones I’m still in the process of figuring out (and probably always will be!) After a few hours of typing, I realized that I needed to break this into multiple posts, assuming that most people don’t have time to read a novel of my (poorly written) thoughts, so I’ll post the first section today (kind of an overview of how I got started/what I do, and painting supplies), and the second later this week (selling artwork online).
I’m going to do my absolute best to answer these to the best of my knowledge, and will try to be as transparent as possible. I hope that this is useful to somebody out there who is currently in a similar situation to where I was in June 2014.
What’s your story/how did you get started?
In June 2014, I was a teacher on summer break, and found myself with much more free time than I’d had in past years, when I’d spent vacations working at summer camps. I’d seen someone post on Instagram about starting an Etsy shop, and decided to open one of my own, in hopes of making some extra money over the summer. I decided to call it “Make Things Co.” because I'd just discovered Rifle Paper Co. at the time, and thought that the “Co.” sounded very grown-up/official, and because I liked to make things.
When I started out, I was making/painting mason jars, and I had this idea that they were going to be really successful. They weren’t. It took a month for me to make my first Etsy sale, and the customer (for whom I will be forever grateful!) was one of my now-husband’s coworkers and good friends. I also made some Lino-cut prints (I’d made my first and only one in college, and had loved it) of crabs (I’m originally from Baltimore), and started posting photos of what I was making on Instagram.
I think that at some point over the summer, I decided to get back into watercolor painting- I’d done a little my senior year of college, and had always liked how it combined drawing and painting. I think that the watercolor “stuck,” and I found myself moving away from other types of artwork and focusing more of my time on watercolor painting. I could go on and on about this, so I’ll stop here, but if anyone’s ever interested, I’d be happy to share more!
How long have you been full-time? What did you do before this?
Since June 2017, so about a year and a half. Before then, I taught for six years (elementary and middle school art)
What is your day-to-day routine like? How many hours do you work?
I wake up every week day at 7AM, get dressed (I don’t actually work in my pajamas, but it’s definitely close, ha!), feed/walk my dog, and make coffee. I usually work from 8AM-5PM, and take little breaks to eat/play with my dog/make more coffee/etc. “Work” can be anything including: sketching, painting, scanning/editing, emailing, phone calls, scheduling projects, packaging, shipping, updating my website, etc. There are some days where I spend most of the day writing emails and barely pick up a paintbrush, and then there are days (my favorite!) when I spend the whole day making things. Around 5PM, I try and wrap things up, and go for a run.
I usually work about four to five hours every weekend so that I have some time in my schedule during the week to make “fun sketches,” or non-client work. Those are the ones that I usually post on Instagram. All in all, I usually work about 45-50 hours per week, sometimes more, sometimes less.
Do you have any tips on time management and juggling multiple projects at once? How many projects do you take on at once?
I think that no matter what job you have, this is probably a constant learning experience/something you “tweak” the older you get and longer that you work at that job. I think that when I first realized I’d be going full-time, I scheduled more deadlines than I should have, because I had this idea that I was going to have so much more time on my hands. I think I had two deadlines scheduled a day M-F from June 2017-November 2017, and usually added in at least two more per week. I actually cried at least once a week the summer I went full-time because I was so overwhelmed, and (it sounds pathetic, but it’s also true) started experiencing pretty bad hand/wrist pain because of over-use. I made the decision to cut the number of scheduled projects I took on in half starting last December, and that has made a huge difference for me.
I now limit the number of projects that I take on, and schedule no more than one deadline (either sketch or final) each day. When I book a project, I send the client the sketch deadline and the final deadline so that they know what to expect, and to keep me on track.
When I first started taking on freelance illustration projects, I scheduled one project at a time, and would go weeks without working on anything commissioned, but once I started taking on more projects and scheduling projects in advance, I knew I had to figure out a different system than just writing things down in my planner. I still keep my planner, but also fill in a spreadsheet each time I schedule a new project. My husband made it for me on Excel (I am awful at Excel). I fill in the client’s name, what they’re commissioning, the sketch deadline, the final deadline, the cost, and the date of completion (when completed). There’s a drop down for what stage I am at in the particular project (sketch completed, inked, etc.), and a color-coded column with the number of days I have left before the next deadline.
What watercolor supplies do you use?
I actually have a post on watercolor materials (and my scanner) linked here .
What supplies/process do you use for digitizing artwork?
For digitizing artwork, I use my scanner (linked above in the materials post, and on my Amazon page here) and Photoshop. When it comes to graphic design, I’ve taught myself what I know through using Photoshop every day and countless Google searches. Several clients I’ve worked with have helped me out a lot with this, too, and most of what I’ve learned has come out of necessity (a client will ask for a seamless repeat, or a PNG file with a transparent background, or a vectorized image, so I’ll teach myself to do it as well as I can.) For me, that’s the best way to learn a new skill.
My first blog post is about how I create seamless repeats on Photoshop, and there’s a little on digitizing there, and I’ve posted a few things in my Instagram highlights under “Tutorials-ish”. People have told me there are much better/faster ways to do what I’ve explained in my posts, and I’m sure there are, so other than that, I won’t go into too many details on how I digitize artwork because there is so, so much that I still don’t know, and that I’m learning.
Where did you learn to draw/paint? Do you have any watercolor tips/tutorials available online?
I was an art education major in college, and the classes I took at UMD certainly helped give me a foundation to work from (I took one class in particular that I really loved- Drawing II, can’t remember the professor’s name but he was fantastic!). I think that what I’ve learned from the most, though, is drawing/painting every day. If you do something every day, there’s no way around it- you’re going to get better. When I look at my work from 2014 (when I first started), and now, I can definitely see a difference (and hopefully you could, too!)
I’ve taken drawing classes and acrylic painting classes, but as far as watercolor goes, I’ve taught myself. With that disclaimer in mind, I did post some watercolor tips/tricks and a how-to here and here. A few people also asked about recommendations for drawing books/tutorials- my all-time favorite, which I come back to again and again every year, is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I think that for me, the tough thing isn’t always finding inspiration, but remembering what inspired me when I have the time and materials with me to put my idea on paper. I spend a lot of (probably too much) time scrolling through Instagram and saving photos that inspire me, and if I really love something I see, I’ll save it to one of my Pinterest boards, which I try to keep (sort-of) organized by season/etc. I have a running list of ideas I get throughout the day in the “Notes” section on my phone, and if an idea pops up randomly (whether I’m on a run or out to dinner with friends), I’ll jot it down to come back to later. Then, on days when I’m stuck in a creative rut, I’ll go to either Pinterest or my notepad, and will pick one of those things to draw.