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Both Hands On The Pencil

7. Unfocus

This is the last blog in my series Both Hands On The Pencil where I share about my freelance practice as a commercial illustrator. It would be great if this series was full of useful tips and helping your career move forward, but even greater if you’ve realised these blogs were coming from the perspective of one particular freelancer and that your own path looks a lot different. There’s no blueprint to build the perfect creative career, you just figure out what works for you.

At the end of last year, I took a long break after a year that had been quite a bit too busy and creatively unfulfilling. The break was much needed to get rest and filling up my battery, but it was also a time to look ahead to see what I wanted with my career, something that’s difficult to find time for when work is in full swing. I didn’t want to hit this wall again and also needed a system to prevent worse scenarios. I went back to see where things went wrong and realised I made the mistake of compensating stressful work days with riding my bike too hard for too long. Come summer, I was feeling as horrible about working as I felt about doing sports and was suffering from insomnia and burnout come autumn. All year I made myself believe that to overcome this creative rut, as well as a period of bad cycling form, I had to work harder, focus harder, ride harder. I believed the lie that to be a good freelancer I had to be busy at all times. During my break it finally clicked: I shouldn’t have worked harder, I should’ve taken a break earlier.

It’s hard to take a break when everyone around you is pouring out work, posting their busy proof of productivity on social media, telling you that to be successful is to be buried in work. It works for a rare few people, but for the majority, a busy period needs to be compensated by rest. Rest comes in many forms, shapes and sizes and even different seasons in your life might need different approaches to resting. Personally, I usually recharge over the weekend and taking a short break twice a year, taking it easier the week after a busy one in between actual breaks. Last year I needed a bit extra and shut down completely for over a month. Any tips for taking rest fall in the same category of how to work: They’re very personal and should be tested on a trial and error basis. It is really hard to take a break when finances are low. But look at it this way: you won’t be making any money when you’re burnt out.  


Taking a break is an investment, preparing yourself to focus your energy on busier times ahead


For me, just a couple of weeks of doing nothing illustration and computer related and not going out for sports did wonders and is probably a sign I nipped fatigue in the bud before it could get worse. An actual burnout will take quite a bit longer to recover from and I do not want to make it sound easy. Talk to people and get help when you’re struggling! I also realised there was much time and energy to be gained from letting go a couple things mentally: I deleted the app I used for tracking my bike rides. Comparing my previous ride speeds and earlier months’ mileage with current efforts as well as looking at the efforts of others had become a goal in itself and it was a habit I was happy to quit. I also quit a couple social media platforms and removed all apps from my phone (currently only carrying Instagram and Whatsapp in my pocket). But the most exciting thing I did was picking up my guitar and writing songs again. Obviously closely related to the visual creative process, but without a commercial agenda or even the urge to share the outcome. I went and booked a couple days at a friend’s recording studio and had a lot of fun being in the process, not caring about the outcome. That is hard to do when in your freelance practice you’ve trained yourself to be productive. Where your focus is to make every hour profitable. Even in writing these blogs I had to fight the little voice that says these hours should be compensated, that the hours put in means the outcome needs to be successful. I enjoyed turning my thoughts into a blog series because it helped my own professional focus and that should be enough.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these series and would love to hear your perspective. Let’s keep Both hand On The Pencil! 

Pick up my vector brush set or shirt if you'd like to support this blog. Thanks!

– Wijtze @dripfordrip


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