House Portraits

Wednesday 22 January 2020

2019 Review: Work life balance as a full time illustrator

In the world of indie makers, some people choose to have 'a word' for the year, to remind them of an aim they want to keep checking in with. I've been thinking that if I did have a word for the year, it should probably be 'balance'. It ended up being a theme of this post, which started out as a review of the last year (maybe becoming an annual thing) as I am now entering my third year of full time illustrating.

2019 was a crazy year, which you might have guessed by apologies for my silences and hints on Instagram when I couldn't say too much about what I was working on. The results of a lot of this hard work is starting to come out into the world now. One of the books I worked on was published last week - which was Be Happy Be You for Harper Collins. There is more work I haven't shared yet but plan to soon, and some books are being published later in the year that I will patiently wait to share.

At the start of 2019, I spent time sending samples of my work to publishers and preparing my portfolio for London Book Fair. My efforts from both paid off, as later in the year I started some work for two new clients - Harper Collins, as previously mentioned and Upside Down Books (a new children's imprint of wellbeing publisher, Trigger Publishing). I was also commissioned some lovely mural work for Sheffield Hospital and HSBC - and more spot illustrations for Little, Brown Book Group, which will be shared soon.

Showing my work at London Book Fair was a great experience and encouraged me to take it up a level this year - I'm going to Bologna Children's Book Fair! I've always fancied it but for some reason, the world's leading children's book fair in Italy seemed that little bit more of a pipe dream that I hadn't taken the steps to actually do. The flights are now booked, so it's definitely happening!

The Illustrator's Gallery at London Book Fair 2019

I was very happy to gain two new stockists in Sheffield in 2019 - the Sheffield Makers shops. Starting with the Winter Gardens branch back in March, followed by Hunters Bar in the summer. I'm so proud to have these as my stockists, the shops are lovely and the makers who staff the shop are all super friendly. The perfect environment for my products. Having regular income from my new stockists and being busy with book illustrations enabled me to do less markets this year. I replaced the hectic run of Christmas markets with one week long Pop Up Shop in December (more on that to follow).

A lot of the work I said yes to this year had very short deadlines and some were really big projects in terms of hours to put in. It was intense - there were quite a lot of late nights and working weekends - something I'd like to improve on this year. In my quest to keep up the flow of work but achieve more balance, a new thing I'm trying is having a set finish time of 6pm, trusting the theory that you can get as much done in less hours when you're focused and rested. I know there will be crazy times when good habits go out the window, so when that happens, I'll be intentional about planning in chill time or rewards - to remind myself that me working silly hours is not the norm.

I had a small mindset shift during one of my busiest times of 2019. I was thinking about how when you're your own boss, you're taking the place of someone else who would usually (ideally) acknowledge and reward your efforts. Not only that, but I could also choose to be a really lovely boss who gives myself gold stars (literally, I have made myself a chart) or rewards of some kind, to balance out the graft. I think we independent makers can be great at providing our own discipline and criticism, but can forget to offer the support and compassion we'd hope for from an ideal boss.

Made myself a lil' reward chart... because I'm nice like that

Back in January 2019, I was ill for most of the month - it was my first official 'burnout'. After several markets and last minute commissions being collected just days before Christmas, I ended up with a full blown cold, a chest infection and other nasty symptoms that lasted for weeks. So this year, I was quite focused on avoiding that happening again. As the busy season was about to ramp up, my really lovely boss stepped in and booked myself a spa day to look forward to. I also booked a trip to London with my sister the week before Christmas, bringing my finish day forward. I also kept my wellbeing in mind when sending quotes and time scales to last minute commission enquiries. These things helped enormously - even while I was still in the thick of it at the start of December, I could feel my brain starting to make the shift to holiday mode. I was delighted and grateful, this time, to feel healthy over Christmas and extra rested in January.

So my takeaway from that story is... when you're having a crazy time (or see one coming), book yourself some treats to look forward to, even if it's just marking off an afternoon in the calendar to take off. Keep visualising the lovely things you'll do on that designated day, to convince your brain that it's definitely happening. It's amazing what you can trick your own brain into!

Going back to my review of 2019, my conclusion wouldn't be all that different to this time a year ago - keep sewing seeds! Big and small, different types in different places - fling them about allover the place. Some will definitely grow and you can't predict which will. I'm hoping that I'll get lots of lovely jobs again this year, but find ways for it to work with this new thing of achieving more balance. I have a few ideas for how I can do this, so watch this space to see how I get on...

I hope this blog was helpful if you're at a similar stage to me. I'd love to hear how you balance crazy work times with fun and rest... it's an art in itself. Wishing you a happy 2020!

Thanks for reading :)

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week

It never ceases to amaze me how quick the smear test is. Even though I’m not usually nervous about it, there’s always a small part of me that thinks it’s going to be worse than it is. My most recent was last year and the actual test only took a couple of minutes. Around that time, it was in the news that numbers of women going for their screenings had dropped to their lowest in 20 years. 

A survey by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust revealed that almost 1 in 3 women aged 25-64 had never had never been for a smear test and 81% said they felt embarrassed about it. Please don’t let that feeling stop you going for your screening. When I’m going for my test, I always remind myself that the doctors or nurses who perform the screenings see intimate body parts all day long. They’re not judging you. It’s no big deal to them. Yours could be the 23rd they’ve seen that day, or the 200th they’ve seen that month. 

This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention week, so I thought I’d share this today. I’m so grateful that I live in a country where it’s free to get tested and the NHS will remind me when my test due. Please don’t let fear stop you… it’s 5 minutes every 3-5 years that could save your life ❤️