Organization, Freelancing, & Myths about Artists

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When you tell the worldyour parents, teachers, and friendsthat you want to be an artist, they tell you that you will starve.

They also don’t expect you to be good at organization. Creative means messy, moody, flaky. It means charcoal smudges on your sandwich because you’re choking it down quick to get back to that drawing. Or realizing you’ve drank the inky water meant for cleaning your brush only after you’ve swallowed (sadly, I have done both of these things).

There’s the myth of the lonely artist in the garret, letting his children starve so he can focus on his art instead. And I call that myth bullshit. I’m an artist who loved school supply shopping, and I found ways to make being organized work for me.

When my male professors told us horror stories about not sleeping or showering for days to get that career-making job done, I saw the shadows of their wives standing behind them, making dinner, shepherding kids, and doing laundry. I didn’t know how to ask about that without making it seem like an attack. I couldn’t do this without the support of my partner and the community of like-minded women I found on the Internet. Being a freelance graphic artist is my dream-come-true job, but it’s still a job, and I treat it as such.

Example of a board from Trello blog
Example of a board from Trello blog

Since my day job is project-based, I track and sort everything based on that. Let’s assume I get an email with the details of a new project. I flag that email according to what I need to do with it:

  1. Either take action or slot into an existing project;
  2. Make a folder to contain my work, either on my laptop or on Google Drive if it’s something collaborative;
  3. Add it to my Trello board;
  4. List known due dates on both my wall calendar and in my day planner;
  5. Create an invoice, although I negotiate payment with my client before accepting a job;
  6. Add the invoice to the spreadsheet I keep of all my invoices, estimates, and payments;
  7. Send it to the client;
  8. Open up Toggl and add the project and client to my database; and
  9. Get to work, which usually involves illustrating an adventure or laying out a game book.
Example from Toggl Blog
Example from Toggl Blog.

Sounds kinda dry, doesn’t it? Spreadsheets and invoices aren’t exactly what people associate with my work, but if I don’t keep track of stuff, I don’t get paid. However, everything is color-coded (for example, Women Write About Comics stuff is green) and that brings us back to this Toggl thing I mentioned. It is a time tracking app, so I can track both my billable and non-billable time. At first, it was hard to figure out how long it would take me to layout a game book, but Toggl gave me a way to keep track, so that next time I know.

I also keep track of my non-billable time, like updating my website or messing around with a new drawing app to see if it works better than my current one. I have two weeks blocked out at the end of the year dedicated to upgrading my skills. If I didn’t write down the stuff I do for myself, it would be easy to push it aside in favor of paid work.

In the same vein, I also track good habits I want to encourage in myself, such as drawing or writing every day. I do this on my wall calendar, and for every day I practice a good habit I get a sparkly star sticker. It is satisfying to look up and see an unbroken string of stars, and it helps me talk myself out of skipping a day.

I also have a regular meeting with other women game designers, where we either have a work session and brainstorm solutions to problems we’ve run into, or we have a themed topic to talk about, like what our personal design process is or how to playtest. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful it is to have other women in the same sort of situation to talk to. It makes me feel less alone and helps me when I’m feeling insecure.

Color + sparkly stickers + information that’s accessible both offline and on + support helps me make sure freelancing doesn’t become overwhelming.

Sarah Richardson

Sarah Richardson

Sarah Richardson is a graphic artist living in Chicago. In addition to illustrating and laying out tabletop RPGs and zines, she burns through comics and books as fast as her eyes can move. Sarah swears a lot on twitter as @scorcha79.