I always say that it's good to celebrate wins and learn from failures, but mostly celebrate wins. When you achieve small goals throughout your life, it's important to reflect on them and feel grateful for them, to feel proud and motivated, because if left unnoticed, you will never feel happy and always strive for more and more - which is exhausting.
One year ago, I graduated my Undergrad at Ryerson University in the Fashion Communications program with a Bachelor of Design. This was a huge milestone for me, because I worked so hard to get into the program just four years before that, and I knew it was such a small chance of getting accepted.
I can honestly say I had never worked so hard in my life to achieve something. It was my first glimpse of motivational success, an attitude of "I'm going to get accepted and nothing is going to stop me". No "Plan B's" over here, as my guidance counsellor had suggested.
I wanted to join the fashion program because I thought it would be my doorway to a "real" creative job that would pay well. I obviously have different thoughts about it today, but I have no regrets, and I was so proud of myself for the look on my parents' faces at my graduation as they had watched me work my butt off for the last 4 years.
For the first time in my life, I was free to choose what I wanted to do next. This was both exciting and absolutely terrifying at the same time. I knew what I wanted to do, I wasn't sure how I was going to do it but I knew what it was that I wanted, which was freedom to pursue my creativity and illustration work. I wanted to have time in my life to enjoy moments with people I love and I wanted to be free to travel when and where I please.
The Summer After Grad
I worked a part-time job before graduating with a dear friend who had her own startup, and I was learning a lot from her. I knew I didn't want to get a 9-5 job so I got a second part-time job after graduating to pay my bills, and that's pretty much all I could afford to pay for.
Somehow, I managed to afford a trip to California with my boyfriend in August of that summer. We hadn't done too much planning, but we were going to visit Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and best of all, Yosemite National Park. We did hikes like I had never done in my life and saw scenery that took my breath away. We rented a hippie van that offered us shelter and a kitchen on our campground.
I continued to work my part-time jobs in between, I even got a third job at one point teaching Chinese children how to speak English online. It was the most exhausting job I ever had because the hours were super early in the morning and super late at night. This job didn't last long...
I also had a job at a pet store in Toronto, which was so great. I loved walking there because it was right by the Harbourfront and I watched the boats go by on my walk to work. Though it was only a pet supplies store and groomers, they had rescue cats who lived in the store and would have foster cats as well. I loved taking care of the cats and keeping the store clean, and playing with the dogs when they came in for grooming. I was only making $12/hour, which is hardly anything when you're paying rent downtown in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but I loved it and I was just scraping by with what I was making. I ended up quitting after a few months because I got more hours offered to me at my other job and it allowed me to work remotely, so I could save time every day to work on illustration stuff afterwards.
At that point, I did whatever illustration jobs I could get. Some were big and most were small, but I was so grateful that people were finding my work and wanted to pay me to do something I loved. I also worked so hard to build up my portfolio at the same time so I could start pitching it to potential clients.
The Breaking Point
I'm not typically someone to waste much time, if there's something I want, I usually go for it even if it means taking a risk. Flash forward to November, things started to really pick up with my freelance work. I was getting commissions like crazy, and though they weren't huge projects, they were keeping me busy and paying more than both of my part-time jobs combined.
I remember one night, sitting in bed with my journal and writing down the words "I AM FREE" over and over again until it was embedded in my brain. I had this rush feeling of adrenaline and felt like something big was happening. The next day, I got yet another commission, and I quit my job. My main mentality was that this is really the only time in my life that I could afford to take big risks because I only have myself to look after. The longer I waited, the more responsibility I would have, like pets, a spouse, children, who knows really.
And so I was free.
The following two months were jam packed with commissions and live-sketching events.
I finished 2017 having saved lots of money, and started 2018 as a full-time artist (this took me awhile to get used to saying). I still get asked by people all the time "is this a hobby of yours?" and as much as that used to upset me, now I can smile and feel grateful that what so many may consider a hobby I consider a full-time job.
The New Year
I was forced to get an HST number in December of 2017, so I had to get my taxes in order for the new year and pretty much learn how it all works. I was super grateful to have my parents (who are also business owners) help me understand how to do my taxes and what I needed to prepare for.
The new year started off slow, it took a little while before any new jobs came in, and I remember when I finally got a commission, I cried! Part of me thought that maybe I was just on a high from the busyness of December and I was in over my head for quitting my jobs. Rest assured, I am still going strong.
After sketching live at Toronto Men's & Women's Fashion week, I felt like all the fashion was sucked out of me, and I had never really experienced this type of burnout before. I decided it was time to start drawing some new concepts and expand my skills.
Many people say you should always focus on a niche, and I believe my niche is digital illustration and that's that. As an illustrator, companies want to see that I can draw their vision, so it's actually really important to be able to draw many different elements and subjects.
Perhaps the most exciting event of this year so far was signing with an agency to represent me worldwide. I had a meeting with them and discussed my goals, and felt very aligned with them. Working with an agency takes a bit of pressure off my back to constantly work on marketing, as I had found that I was spending way too much time on social media trying to do that and not noticing much progress for the amount of time I was putting in.
With summer approaching, I am continuing to develop and grow my skills, taking a lot of time to practice and draw different concepts. I draw every single day, even if it's just a little bit, because drawing is like going to the gym, you need to practice your brain muscles so you can get better at it.
Overall, I am so grateful to be where I am today, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I love being able to take some extra time to settle in to work on Mondays, or head out of the city early on a Friday to see loved ones and spend some time in nature. This is the lifestyle of my dreams, and though not everyday is easy or relaxing as it may seem, it's the perfect lifestyle for me.
What I'm working on now aside from developing my drawing skills even more is my mental health. I am reading so (so) many self-help and strategy books to be in a constant state of learning, but also getting used to having this type of freedom. There's unfortunately a lot of guilt that comes with this lifestyle, because as I see other people walking to work I feel a sense of urgency to get to work too. It's actually very hard for me to allow myself to take a morning off and start work in the afternoon, but overtime I will get used to listening to my body and checking in with myself to assess how I feel before diving into work. It's a work in progress!
I just want to say, no matter what your situation is right now, no matter how bad things might seem or how blurred your vision might feel, your life can be completely turned around in just 6 months from now. There is no reason to stay in a situation where you don't feel like you're living up to your full potential and working toward your dreams. With some time, effort and patience, you can completely turn your life around likely with much more ease than you might think.
Shoot for the stars!!