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Isolation As A Freelancer

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

The results of the 2nd annual illustrators survey, by Ben The Illustrator and Hire an illustrator have been released. 1,443 illustrators took part, myself included and some of the results have surprised me and unfortunately some not so much. Responses such as 70% of illustrators had invoices paid late, 77% of illustrators have worked for free and 73% of illustrators struggle to make a sustainable living, unfortunately do not surprise me having worked in this industry for a decade. This is something I talked about in my previous blog post about how it is getting harder for freelancers to make a sustainable living. Some of the results around work/life balance have surprised me which is what I want to talk about here.

Im am part of the 60% of illustrators who don’t meet up with other illustrators but wish they did. Since the studio I was based at for 8 years in York closed down in 2016 I have been, like 83% of the illustrators surveyed, based at home. I live in a small conservative village in Yorkshire called Hillam, about a 40 minute drive to the closest cities in Leeds and York. There is one bus an hour to Leeds which stops running at 6pm and no bus to York. You have to go to the next villages to be able to catch a train to either, which stop running at 10pm and 7pm respectively. This makes it very difficult to socialise with other creative people that I know on an evening without spending the best part of £50 on a taxi.

There are downsides to having a studio such as the extra expense, or if a client emails you when you have already gone home and you then have to travel back to your studio to work. But for me, the positives of being in a creative environment around creative talented people far outweigh the downsides. It is something that I definitely miss, but unfortunately there are no available or affordable studios within a commutable distance from where I live. Not many self employed creative people can afford rent on a house/flat and a studio, it is another bill most of us can do without. So like the 83% of other illustrators and however many self employed creatives from other sectors, I work at home.

This can lead to feeling isolated from the rest of the world and trapped in your own bubble. If I am working to a deadline days can go by where the only voices I hear are either on the TV or on Spotify. The only human contact I might get is via text or social media. This is not just me though, this will be most of the creative people who work from home. To most non creative people it must sound like we are choosing to put ourselves in a self imposed prison, but 96% of the illustrators surveyed are still motivated enough that they want to improve there practice. Without doubt there is a passion among creative people for there chosen subject which isn’t present amongst other industries. I doubt 96% of office workers or shop assistants would want to improve at there job if they were not happy, they would just find a new job, I know I did.

I love what I do, it makes me happy, when I’m feeling depressed or anxious drawing is always the thing I go back to, to make myself feel better. However I know I need to find ways to stop myself going stir crazy, which can happen at times. I am fortunate that most of what I do is pen and ink drawings, which means I can put my work in a portfolio and go find somewhere else to work if I am feeling isolated. If I am about to start new digital work for a client I will make sure I find somewhere else to produce the initial pencil sketches, just to try and break the project up. Mostly, with the weather being as it is in this country, I will go spend the afternoon drawing in a cafe or a pub. Sometimes in summer I will go sit in the park and draw. I very rarely interact with people, only if they come over to see what I am drawing. I find hearing people potter around, or catching a glimpse of someone in my peripheral vision can stop that feeling of isolation whilst still being creative and productive.

I have also found drawing clubs and doodle nights to be useful in meeting other creative people. In fact I probably wouldn’t have the career I have now if I didn’t meet @doodlemanifesto on Twitter and start going to his doodle nights. I also try to make sure to finish work at a reasonable time and to take weekends off, which up until a few months ago I felt guilty about doing. I will hang out with my girlfriend, catch up with friends, go to gigs, go out walking or visit a new city. Making sure I take that time away from work helps me beat that feeling of isolation.

See Ben the Illustrator’s survey for 2019/2019 in full here.

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