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Freelance Ride

In conversation with four freelancers from four cities about identifying and making the most of opportunities.

Journal Vol.3: The Freelance Ride

Tom Skipp | Graphic designer / photographer | London UK

What is your checklist for rating / slating
opportunities?

For me, it’s a balance between creative and financial reward. Doing photographic projects can start off as a personal interest that then becomes a fascination and then an obsession! If I follow these through with passion and hard work, people will hopefully see their worth and may provide a platform or support for me to pursue the work further.

Being a ‘yes’ person – over or underrated?

Saying ‘yes’ to the right things is worthwhile, but saying ‘yes’ to everything normally leaves you short on the things that you care about. Once you say yes to something, do it wholeheartedly. It’s so much better to do fewer things well than a lot of things badly. I’ve found this when I’m photographing. I love shooting with Polaroid film, digital and my iPhone. I found that I wasn’t concentrating fully on any of them, so now I try to stick to one camera.

What advice would you give a freshman about choosing / keeping opportunities in the industry you work in?

When you start, have an aim and a strategy of where you want to be. Write it down and share it with people. This will put some pressure on you, but you will slowly begin to live up to it. Try to get to know the work of people that you admire, reach out to them and try to analyse their techniques. Learn how to do things yourself and approach all jobs with an open mind – there is always a way!

The freelance ride – do you reckon it starts and ends or is it an endless wave?

The freelance ride is irregular – there can be significant highs but equal lows! It’s not reliable or consistent and can lead to apprehension about where the next job will come from. While this form of instability isn’t for everyone, creativity can thrive. It is an endless wave and you learn to stabilise things with experience. Don’t get too comfortable with safe waters!

Nina Woodcroft | Ceramist | Amsterdam, Holland

What was your first paid / unpaid freelance gig?

I designed a pop-up café for The Independent Hotel Show in Kensington, Olympia. I entered a competition and my design was unanimously chosen by a panel of award-winning designers.  As the central hub of the exhibition, the café was a flexible space where people could meet, eat and catch up on their emails. The structure was made from reclaimed wooden beams hung from natural, sustainable hemp rope. We produced a calm, creative space utilising low-energy LED light bulbs and locally sourced furniture.

Being a ‘yes’ person – over or underrated?

Definitely overrated. There are only a certain number of hours in a day and not all of them should be spent working. I find that clients respect the occasional ‘no’ and understand that I have other commitments and a life outside of work. I’m employed for my expertise, which consists of honest advice and answers and will not always be a ‘yes’.

What is your checklist for rating/slating opportunities?

Do I love the concept? How sustainable is it? Are the people nice? Is it feasible/ worthwhile?

When it sounds good but the earning/outcome isn’t guaranteed: are you a gambler?

I do gamble, but I tread carefully. I usually break projects down into small phases and ensure I am paid at frequent intervals for the work I have done. Once committed, I do my very best to steer projects in the most successful direction and, so far, things have always turned out very well.

The freelance ride – do you reckon it starts and ends or is it an endless wave?

At the moment, I love being a freelancer. It allows me to choose how, when, and where I work and I don’t miss being tied to the same desk for long hours in London. I also have the flexibility to work on personal projects like The Breakfast Collection, my range of ceramic tableware.

Charles & Janine Williams | Street Artists | Auckland, New Zealand

 

What was your first paid / unpaid freelance gig?

A community art activation workshop in South Auckland working with at risk youth teaching them about graffiti art – year 2000.  We landed it by being referred through community networks based on our career/background in the art form and ability to work with young people.

What is your checklist for rating/slating opportunities?

Does it align with our values?  Does it fulfil our artistic vision? How does it impact the communities that will be involved? We do our best to involve governing bodies, local community leaders and tribal elders of regions and spaces in our work. It is important to us that our process is holistic and involves the well-being of people, as much as being about quality art work.

When it sounds good but the earning/outcome isn’t guaranteed: Are you a gambler?

Depending on the opportunity, money is not always the reason we do a project. If we are able to have a majority of the creative control then we may take a gamble, but we always think it through and weigh up the possible consequences of taking a project on.

What advice would you give a freshman about choosing/keeping opportunities in the industry you work in?

Ask yourself: what makes you different to the crowd?  Your personality, your work ethic, your professionalism and your approach are all taken very seriously in our line of work.  You may have all the technical ability in the world, but you can jeopardise relationships with clients and miss opportunities if you cannot engage well on a personal level.

The freelance ride – Do you reckon it starts and ends or is it an endless wave?  Have your job taking/making priorities changed over time?

If your purpose in life is to make money, your ride can easily start and end.  If it is to produce and create work that stems from your creative passion, then that wave never ends, no matter the balance in your bank account. As parents of 4 children, we understand that a balance is required between working creatively and working to make ends meet. For the first 10 years of our artistic careers, we did many jobs that were about paying the bills. But as time has gone by, we have worked hard to establish ourselves, and are now able to choose projects that we are passionate about. The wave is a fun one to ride, and we are very thankful that we get to ride it together!

Steven Vogel | Illustrator / Writer | Hamburg, Germany

What was your first paid / unpaid freelance gig?

As with all aspects of freelance work, “paid” has several different meanings – I am trying not to laugh as I type this!  I believe my first payment as a freelance writer for a music magazine involved a stack of free records and concert tickets.  That form of payment, one I was happy with as a university student, carried on for some time until said magazine started throwing in some expense cash for concert reviews.  That was a pretty good deal for an 18 year old!

What is your checklist for rating/slating opportunities?

It continuously changes over time. At this stage I am pretty critical in my rating/slating process. My free time for my son and my artwork is an absolute priority, and so is my mental and physical health. I went through the usual stages of disillusioned grandeur eight or so years ago and nearly worked myself to death, quite literally. It was a pretty humbling experience and, ever since then, I do my utmost to prioritize my health and free time. Everything else is just fun on top!

Being a ‘yes’ person – over or underrated?

I think it depends on what culture you work in or with. If you work with Americans, you had better be a bag full of positivity and keywords or you will never get a job out there again! Europe, eh, it’s a little different, and being that awkward cultural mix of being both from London and Hamburg, it’s not always easy turning away from the sarcastic cynics.

When it sounds good but the earning/outcome isn’t guaranteed: are you a gambler?

Again, this is a case by case decision – if the pitch comes from someone I trust and the project and work load appears to be giving me more than just money, absolutely. If it’s from a mid to large-sized corporation, absolutely not. I don’t work for free anymore.

What advice would you give a freshman about choosing/keeping opportunities in the industry you work in?

Keep your head down, believe in yourself, work harder than you think is possible, be prepared to doubt yourself and your work at every step, be ready to be poor, and most importantly, don’t be a dick. At your worst moment, throw on Monty Python’s song “Always look on the bright side…”, read some Hunter S. Thompson, and you’ll be ok.

The freelance ride – do you reckon it starts and ends or is it an endless wave?  

You’re asking a surfer… ah yes, it’s a wave. It’s a calling. You’ll be experiencing ups and downs until you die, you can never really stop what you are doing. This isn’t a career with a pension and a life you hate at the end of the tunnel.