Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Day in the Life of ... A Freelance Illustrator

Jack of All Trades, Master of None
by Amy Ignatow

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I still get up early. I’ve been an early-riser all my life, and working from home hasn’t changed that. If the sun is up, I’m up--I could have been a farmer, but I’m a professional illustrator.

And sometimes a writer, apparently.

The fact is, at twenty-seven, I’ve been a muralist, a cook, an illustrator, a teacher, a graphic designer, a fundraiser, a wedding singer, a face and body painter, a reporter, a portraitist, and yes, a farmer.

It’s been a pretty interesting life thus far. I’ve travelled a whole lot, lived in a bunch of different places, gone to a couple of different schools, and if I’ve learned something about myself, it’s this; I want to do it all. And I do.

This is not to say that I’m successful at everything (or, really, at anything--at least not in any significant way). But I plug away, and with each check that comes in, be it one thousand dollars for a painting or fifty bucks for a short magazine article on spas in Atlantic City, I feel free.
(Hell, I’m submitting this piece for a chance at cash money. Mama needs a digital camera.)

I leave my bedroom and I have three choices. To the bathroom for a shower. Downstairs to the computer. Upstairs to the studio to start drawing. Option 1 is a nice, fresh start to the day. If I go downstairs to the computer there’s a good chance that instead of working on my digital art I’m going to screw around on Craigslist while watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a weakness of mine, so I’ve taught myself not to turn on the television during work hours. Some mornings I’m not so strong.

Going up to the studio is always the best option (though not for my cat) because all of my strongest drawings get done between eight and eleven in the morning. I know my rhythms. I draw until I’m satisfied with what I’ve done.

There’s a theory that when you work from home, you should dress and act as if you’re at work. Don’t sit around in your bathrobe all dang day. Problem is that I hate dressing up, so if I’m not in my jammies I’m wearing slobby, unpresentable jeans anyway. My mother, an outdoor educator who dresses almost entirely in jeans and tee shirts that she got for free, blames herself for my “schlumpiness”. In the past I’ve been able to pull it together to work in an office, which was enough to make me deeply appreciate my current work uniform.

Shower. Get dressed. Feed cat (poor thing). Telephone and computer. Billing and negotiating and sending off proofs. I check my email and find eighteen messages from a group of friends who zing each other while at their jobs. I am lured into sending out my own two cents.

There’s an email from a new client who is a Red Flag farm. She’s wishy-washy, she can’t seem to express her vision, but she’s already paid the 25% deposit so I politely email back a different suggestion for the project (not too many, though, it will only serve to confuse her more). An editor from the magazine sends another project. What to do with your kid in Atlantic City. How the hell do I know what to do with a kid in Atlantic City? I mentally block out time later on to do research on the subject. I was going to go grocery shopping but it looks like that can wait another day.

I eat. On good days, when everything is chugging along, I eat when I get so hungry that I forget I haven’t eaten until my stomach cramps up. On bad days, when I’m uninspired and cranky about what I’m working on I forage throughout the house for things to munch on. I won’t leave the house until the days duties are done, so I find myself eating some weird things. I won’t tell you what. My roomate is often horrified by what I’ll will myself to digest.

My father calls to shout at me. He isn’t angry--it’s just the way that he talks. Loud to begin with, he doesn’t trust newfangled things like cell phones and headsets to work properly, so his phone volume is broken at ten. Though unhappy that I have no health insurance, my dad (also a freelancer) is thrilled that he can call me at any time during the day to tell me Very Important Things.


I don’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t listen to NPR unless I’m in a car. “Um, no, what’s up, I’m working...”


“I think I’ll spend the night in Manhattan on Wednesday and come out to the island on Thursday.”


“Around two-ish, I suppose...”

“YIKES!!” my easily excitable father screams, “IT’S THE UPS GUY!! I’LL CALL YOU BACK...”

“Dad, I’m working on some...”


I go for a walk. I won’t leave the house if I haven’t gotten a satisfactory amount of work done--my walk is my reward. If the weather is nice I’ll pack a picnic lunch and loaf around the park for an hour or two. I strongly believe that it is important to leave the house for a significant amount of time each day, and by three or four I’m usually clawing at the walls to get out.

I didn’t lose my health insurance and become a freelancer to spend beautiful days inside. I do not make enough money to deny myself the feel grass between my toes. In an average year I make less than 25K a year. I make a little more each year as I pick up new clients and try new things (writing, for instance), but this is definitely not the life for a big spender.

Sometimes I stay in the park, and friends come over after work to have a hoagie picnic with me. Sometimes I go home and do more work. Sometimes I go out, mostly to dive bars unless someone else has invited me out. I don’t love being the cheap one, but most of my friends understand. I give them presents of original cartoons and knitted scarves. I sound like such a hippy. I’m not at all. I’m just a little destitute sometimes.

I look for full-time jobs. I love my life, but I do miss that safe feeling of a regular paycheck. The thought of direct deposit is seductive, but I haven’t yet found something that’s worth giving up this life.
©2006 – Amy Ignatow. This article may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in any form, for any reason, without the express, written consent of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.
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1 comment:

Bearuh said...

Im a freelance graphic designer/web designer/ Illustrator. I do all of my work from home too.. Your day sounds like mine :) I freak out if I dont get out atleast once during the day.. Just thought you might like to know! (actually im bored)