You should always ask yourself whether you’re working to live or living to work

I’m very honored to be had been featured on this website for African Freelancers. I’m reposting it here because I wanted to have a backstory. I moved to NYC in 2007, it was the most difficult year of my life. I actually didn’t have a plan. I moved here with someone I was dating and more or less thought that I would live a few years while we made plans to start a family and all that. Isn’t that what everyone’s life plans were? I just figured I would work as hard as I could, which I always did. Although I came here as a designer, I never thought of myself as talented as all. People said I was. I just continued to work hard. I’m still trying to figure it out, and of course, it took me awhile to realize that everyone else is trying to figure it out too.

Here’s the interview. Again, I’m very honored to have been featured and hope it helps anyone else who were, or are in my position.

How long have you been an artist?

I picked up a pen and remembered drawing in my mother’s textbooks when I was 5, so I count that. Let’s just say since 5 years old since there’s no other evidence to support haha.

How long have you been freelancing?

I’ve been an on again off again freelancer for over 15 years. I’m always freelancing regardless if I have a full-time job at any time. I think when you’re a full-time employee you can’t potentially do 100% of your skillsets to keep you motivated or proficient. As an artist, you should always be practicing and refining.  When I’m full-time I choose jobs that give me a balance of working on the things that I’m passionate about.

In the course of your freelancing, what are some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

I think most freelancers struggle in the beginning with clients who pay on time, or at all. I overcame that with an “iron-clad” contract and a required deposit.

What are your favorite tools for working?

I’m pretty much useless without a Wacom tablet and my MacBook with Adobe Creative Suite (Or, my iPadPro and Apple Pencil). However, now and then, I love being traditional with a pen/pencil and sketchbook.

You should always ask yourself whether you’re working to live or living to work - Jerlyn Thomas
Illustration by Jerlyn Thomas

Tell us about your works.

Currently, I’m a Sr. Art Director. I get to make beautiful websites and mobile apps. During my “free-time” or while I’m commuting I create something called #commuteart that I post on my website www.commuteartist.com. It started a few years ago when I decided to fill an entire sketchbook for fun since I had never successfully completed one. That exercise allowed me to draw 95 pieces with markers done while on the train in NYC, where I live. Eventually, I started illustrating on the iPad to carry fewer supplies.

How do you motivate yourself to draw?

I’m very visual. I get inspired over 100x per day so I must do something about it. If I’m not creating, I don’t feel like I’ve maximized the hours within the day.

You should always ask yourself whether you’re working to live or living to work - Jerlyn Thomas
Illustration by Jerlyn Thomas

What is something you’ve learned about freelancing that others can learn also from?

You should always ask yourself whether you’re working to live or living to work. I work to do the things that I’m passionate about. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of just making money and not seeing where it goes. You can’t take money with you when you die so if you work, you should make sure your needs are covered (that also includes retirement of course). I choose to hone into my personal needs that make me happy because I came from nothing (being poor growing up) and although the grass seems greener (that I have relatively more in supplies) I’m nostalgic about a simpler time.

Tell us about one of your works you consider as your favorite.

I don’t have a favorite. I learned from a young age, from one of my art teachers—Mr. Jones, that if I fell in love with any of my work it’ll prevent me from refining others. I absolutely believe this. With every piece that I create, I learn something from it and I’m growing. There’s no one piece that I look at a day, a week, a month, or a year later and I don’t see potential to be even better.

What is your best drawing tip?

Make mistakes and take risks. I mean, art is an expression. I absolutely believe there’s an audience for every type of art so you’re never going to know unless you try things. So, just go out there and start on any medium.

You should always ask yourself whether you’re working to live or living to work - Jerlyn Thomas
Illustration by Jerlyn Thomas

What is your best freelancing tip?

Build a network or start talking to people. Always be sincere. What we have as freelancers is our reputation so if your network trusts you, you’ll likely never be out of a job. Once you have those things in place, the mature thing to do is get an arsenal of great people (such as a good lawyer, financial advisor, etc… I absolutely believe in hiring the right people to do the things that I’m not proficient at).

What advice would you give to a budding freelancer or artist?

Get rid of your ego. Be pliable or flexible. As artists, we tend to think about our books or portfolio a great deal but remember our clients also have goals. In the end, you’re trying to get them a profit so your job is to sell. This means your work has to communicate to the right audience. Getting rid of your ego will allow you to give them very tactful responses as to why making their logo bigger, or just because red is their favorite color it shouldn’t be used.

More about jerlyn

My name is Jerlyn Thomas. I own this blog and you can read more about me here. The views expressed on this site are by me and do not reflect those of my employer or my clients. The content here belongs to me and my guest contributors. Views and opinions expressed by all contributors belong to them and not me, the blog owner. All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. I make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis. If you want to use content on your own site, you must ask permission first before you do so under these restrictions.

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