There are 4 vital ways every freelance graphic designer must divide up their day if they want to continue to develop as an artist and stay ahead of the competition, be it agencies, design firms, or even other freelance designers.
Let’s start with the first 3 you might already be able to guess:
- Produce New Designs: This includes but is not limited to client work. Of course this is the bedrock of getting paid, but should you be paid for everything you do? I would suggest no. You need to design every day regardless of workload. Shoot for every day, but only replace the production of new design with #4 from below. But don’t look there yet! When you don’t have client work due, create something else. Never let a day without producing something go by. Here are some ideas:
- Create a logo concept for fictitious or random company
- Create a poster on a topic you really like
- Recreate a famous design in a new way, or simply try to replicate a famous work down to the pixel. You’d be shocked what you could learn by copying. Hey, it worked for all the artists of the last couple thousand years or so. Renaissance artists often had to copy other master works for 2-3 years before the studio Master Painter would allow them to do anything with a brush besides clean it. As graphic artists, we should head back to the “classroom” and copy the recognized “master” works of the great designers of the last 50 years or so.
- Market Your Freelance Design Business: If you don’t market now while you are busy, suddenly you will have no work and no marketing “seeds” anywhere ready to “harvest”. Marketing must happen at least a little every single day, because you don’t know what efforts on what day will produce what results on what day in the future. It also seems that most traditional ways of marketing are near death. I would not suggest wasting money or time on cold-calls (warm calls are different) and certainly not on printed marketing material outside of a business card. The internet is the way to go. Start a blog and find a niche. Become an expert in that niche and write excellent content. Do a good job with SEO but don’t worry about it beyond the basics.
- Bill Your Clients: Seems obvious, but make sure you are getting invoices out on time and following up on invoices that have been “forgotten”. For serious right-brainers, this is extra-hard. If it’s that hard, get someone else to do it. Use the simplest billing system you can find. There are great invoices resources online for pretty cheap, and they use big shiny buttons and lots of white space. Get one, use it, keep it, rely on it. Keep it up-to-date on a daily basis, or at least keep your hours system up-to-date. How many hours, really, have you gotten foggy on and ended up not billing for because you weren’t sure how many hours it really was, 3 days after the fact?
So what is the fourth thing you must do every day as a graphic artist to keep growing and developing a unique style and voice?
Drawing is the fundamental skill needed by every designer. If you don’t use a pencil or pen from time to time, but only design on the screen, you are stunting your growth and greatly limiting the solutions you are able to come up with for any given project. In a sense, moving blocks of color around an Illustrator file is a kind of drawing, but at best a substitute for process that has no parallel. The ability to draw straight line, to draw from life, to handle a pencil, etc, are the mechanical abilities that enable us to use a mouse or stylus. You are also limited to the tool palette in your application. Really now, are you able to whip up great ideas on the fly using the bezier path tool and a few squares? Well, having at least a good grid can make some decisions for you, but I’m not talking grid at the moment. That’s another topic entirely.
Take for instance the practice of drawing from life. The ability to “flatten” a three-dimensional image into a two-dimensional approximation enables and trains the brain to see composition – a series of related shapes. Still life drawings in a certain sense are really “designs” of interconnected shapes approximated from the tree-dimensional objects. For instance, when the petal of a flower recedes into space, your pencil does not recede into the paper to draw it. Instead, it flattens it out into a random shape that really doesn’t look like a flower petal (until you add some shading). The connectedness of a series of shapes recreates what looks like a flower to our eye. In graphic design, we have to have this skill, the skill to balance out created shapes – those we draw and those created indirectly by what we draw – in order to create a compositional harmony.
Experiment: Stop what you are doing right now and grab a pen or pencil. Pick one thing, however small, from your immediate surroundings and draw it from life. How faithfully can you recreate it? If you find this exceptionally hard, to recreate something using just your eye, go ahead and work at it for a few minutes here and there for a week. After this “workout routine”, I’m willing to bet that you see your computer screen diffrently.
A few tips for drawing to become a better graphic designer
- Carry a PAA – personal analog assistant known also as a sketchbook. Moleskines are not overrated so try one of those. Carry it with you all the time.
- Keep a retractable pencil on hand. There will be no excuse if you have both paper and pencil.
- Draw anything. Don’t let “it’s boring” stop you. Draw anything. Draw crumbs. Draw the edge of your notebook. Draw your other hand. Draw what you see out the window. Draw the corner of a book. Draw your lunch. No excuses. Draw for 10 minutes a day.
- Draw daily. Practice makes perfect.
- Stop reading so many blogs and draw more instead. Well, stop reading some but not this one. And go draw!
There you have it! Make sure you stretch and educate yourself, market yourself, pay yourself, and most importantly, dig deeper into the artist you are by drawing, the most fundamental skill of all the graphic arts.