How To Go Freelance with @domandink
With over two million freelancers in the UK, more people than ever are progressing their careers on their own terms. Whether you’re contemplating breaking out to start your own business or simply intrigued by the perks, pitfalls and perils of being your own boss, we speak to creative freelancers from multiple disciplines to get the real story (and some of it may even surprise you). In part one, we chat to esteemed freelance fashion illustrator and author, Dominic Evans (@domandink).
I was always told that there was a famous painter who worked from home, but always really struggled to get into the zone. He found it impossible to get out of his bed and go to his desk to work after showering. So instead, he would get up, shower, get dressed and leave his flat to take a short walk. Then when he re-entered his flat, he’d be in the zone to work. So, that’s what I do!
UO: How did you first get into illustration?
D: Initially, I did a degree in Illustration and then ended up doing a masters at the University of Brighton. It was a sequential programme, so it meant at the end, I was expected to produce a book, story, sequence or comic. So, I moved to Brighton, took a loan out, completed the one year course and off the back of it, secured my first book deal for ‘Map My Heart.’ Initially, thirty-five publishers turned it down, then finally, one said yes.
UO: And that was from just sending work out to as many people as possible?
D: Entirely! Just working, hustling, hustling! I moved to London from Brighton when I had zero money left in my account and I said to myself, I am not leaving until I’ve got either a full time illustration job (which I’ve realised doesn’t really exist) or a book deal. I worked my socks off every day, eventually secured my book deal and moved home to Manchester to spend all summer producing various drafts of the book. Eventually it was published, and it was actually the first book with my publisher at the time that was brought out in America before the UK!
So, how old were you when you secured this publishing deal?
I was 25 or 26! I had two books out by 27. I still find it so weird, I’m very lucky to have had these opportunities! Straight after the release of Map My Heart, I’d already been asked to do Map My Style.
Was it off the back of the books that you were able to work with notorious brands and retailers?
Essentially, yeah. I appeared in Glamour twice after the book deals, then I was asked to illustrate the X Factor live shows which was so fun! After which, I got given the opportunity to do in-store events for brands where I provide bespoke illustrations, as well illustrating for press days and blogger events.
On the importance of social media:
I actually really don’t like social media. But you need it! You’re kind of screwed freelance wise if you don’t because you need to have that instantly recognisable stamp, that says 'this is me, this is what I’ve done, this is what you’re going to get if you employ me.'
You’re a freelancer now, but you mentioned that a full time job in illustration doesn’t really exist. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s primarily because so many places now have an in-house illustrator – essentially someone who can do a number of different things. The thing with in-house illustrators though is that companies will have a whole team of around five illustrators working on a book at one point. So, unless you get a literary agent, you don’t get the privilege of having your name attached to something. You kind of lose all creative control over your work too. A lot of stuff will get changed and it’s harder to produce something that has your stamp of individuality on it. Which is what I’ve always aspired to do, I’ve always known exactly how I want to work. I didn’t want to be labelled as just a fashion illustrator, I wanted the versatility to be able to do a number of different things. When I was in uni, this illustration agent came in and basically told me I’d go nowhere. She told me my work was far too costume-y, too feminine, that it made no sense. In front of the whole class, she told me she’d be surprised if I ever got any work. But it kinda made me want to do as much as I could. Even now, on top of doing fashion illustrations for big companies and events, I’m also working on costume illustrations too. I’m basically doing fifty different types of illustration at once but it’s good because it teaches you a tonne of different disciplines and different ways to work with others.
So being freelance is enabling you to learn on the job by adapting your skills to different environments?
I’ve found that personally, I’m always learning on the job as a freelancer. There’s just so much that I didn’t know! I mean, oh my god, it took me so long just to get a website sorted. And even then, certain things, in terms of social media – I’m forever learning. Especially when it comes to Instagram, as that’s where I make most of my money and my commissions from.
Look after number one:
There are challenging times when you have to prioritise what’s going to be good for your business and other times when you need to prioritise self-care.
How does it work as a freelancer on Instagram? Does that play a big part in your creative output and how you work?
You sort of have to have Instagram now. I didn’t actually have Instagram until the second book came out, I was initially so against it. And to be honest, I actually really don’t like social media. But you need it! You’re kind of screwed freelance wise if you don’t because you need to have that instantly recognisable stamp, that says “this is me, this is what I’ve done, this is what you’re going to get if you employ me.” And I think for me personally, Instagram has helped SO much. Even just in terms of celebrity re-grams! Cheryl Cole reposted the illustration I did of her, and from that I ended up working for multiple high-street retailers. Little Mix reposted an illustration I did of them, and from that, I ended up doing the same thing. All the different agencies follow these celebrities, so that exposure is there.
For those leaving full time employment to become freelancers, it’s often difficult for them to figure out how much of their time to dedicate to work and how much of their time to commit to socialising and self-care. Do you have any advice on this?
Personally, I feel as though I don’t really ever stop. I don’t really tend to take days off. I think when you’re freelance, you don’t really get the same luxury of being able to have set days off. There’s going to be times when you could be on the way to a friend’s wedding and someone turns around to you and says “we really want to work with you, but we need work by Monday”, and this job is going to pay your rent for the next six months. There are challenging times when you have to prioritise what’s going to be good for your business and other times when you need to prioritise self-care. Personally, I’ve always kept a part-time job on the sidelines too because I’ve realised for me, I need that social contact. As a freelancer, you’re on your own an awful lot, so you’re making decisions on your own without anyone to back you up. You don’t have a HR department that will chase up an invoice of six grand that’s been missing for two years. You’re always trying to fight for yourself. So, I think it’s good to have some form of part time job that gets you out of the house. Just to enable you to see people and engage in conversation and also, so that it gives you a little extra dollar each month – a little buffer to help you get by.
On working alone:
As a freelancer, you’re on your own an awful lot, so you’re making decisions on your own without anyone to back you up. You don’t have a HR department that will chase up an invoice of six grand that’s been missing for two years. You’re always trying to fight for yourself. So, I think it’s good to have some form of part time job that gets you out of the house.
When you’re working on a freelance project, what’s your daily routine?
I was always told that there was a famous painter who worked from home, but always really struggled to get into the zone. He found it impossible to get out of his bed and go to his desk to work after showering. So instead, he would get up, shower, get dressed and leave his flat to take a short walk. Then when he re-entered his flat, he’d be in the zone to work. So, that’s what I do! I’ve done it for years now. I normally get up around 7am, if not earlier, and I’ll get showered, get changed, I’d like to say I go to the gym but I don’t. I go for a coffee and I get this peanut butter biscuit that I love from the bakery down the road. Then I come back and look at the do-list I’ve made myself the night before. At night, I always make a list of everything I have to do the next day – from taking the bins out to sending e-mails and finishing illustrations. So, I come back and I start tackling everything I have to do for the day. I always wear shoes indoors if i’m working from home because it reminds me that I’m not relaxing, I’m in a work space. A lot of the time, I do find that I have to take a little power nap in the afternoon because I get absolutely knackered. Then I aim to finish around 6 or 7pm. I always try to make time every day to turn my phone off for a little bit, do a bit of work and then go out for drinks in the evenings because you need to have that downtime.
What projects are you currently working on that you can tell us about?
None I can talk about yet [laughs]. No, I can tell you about one actually! I’ve just done the album cover for Erika Jayne’s ‘Cars’. It’s a single of her’s that’s available on iTunes now. She’s had my illustration on all of her product too – she was even wearing the illustrated jacket at Coachella when she was DJ’ing. So, that was pretty cool! Then I’m working on more designs and I’ve also potentially got some events coming up with various big brands in summer. But a lot of the stuff I have planned, I can’t actually talk about because as soon as you talk about the idea and it’s out there, other companies want to do it before you. I can tell you though that I’ve just been signed by a literary agent, so I’m working on a really big project with them. I can’t say too much about it but if it pulls off it should be super exciting, super sassy and super fun!
How did you get signed? Did you have to go to lots of agents and push yourself?
What’s interesting is, I actually applied to the agency I’m currently with years ago and heard nothing back. Then I did a Girl Vs. Cancer t-shirt which got their attention! My friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and she used these t-shirts to help pay for her treatment. The shirts were featured in The Guardian, The Independent – they were everywhere! Then off the back of that, one of the agents from this company followed me on Instagram. So, I sent her a message like “oh hi, wanna have a coffee and talk about books?” and she agreed. I was so nervous! It was such a big moment for me career wise. The day we met, she told me that she’d happily sign me there and then. I was so excited because this is someone I’ve wanted to work with all of my life, and I’ve worked so incredibly hard to be able to do this. I actually went into the toilets afterwards and cried. I was just so emotional!
Are there any creative networks that you’re part of?
Yeah! I definitely recommend platforms like Behance. It’s really good! I used it so much in my early days when I was establishing myself as a freelance illustrator. I also used Tumblr a lot back then too! Although, I will say, whenever you put your work anywhere, put your name on absolutely EVERYTHING. Back in the day, I did an illustration from Map My Heart and put it on Tumblr. It received two million re-blogs but it didn’t have my name on it so people were trying to take the credit for it. But yeah, I’d recommended Behance and then your personal choice of social media platform. Instagram is the platform I push, as it’s much more visual! Whereas, Twitter is good for the more publishing based side of things. Then Facebook is just everyone asking for personalised gifts, I have people’s parents contacting me saying “can you illustrate my daughter for Christmas?” But I think that’s because everyone seems to be on Facebook now. Whereas, Instagram’s much more about branding and commissions.
Dead or alive, who would you most like to draw?
I’d probably say I would love to sit down and draw Britney Spears ’cause I actually find her really hard to draw. She looks a lot different at the moment, so I’d love to meet her, draw her and then go out for cocktails with her!
Which song or album would be the soundtrack to your life?
The soundtrack to MY life? Oh my god, maybe Cheryl? Fight For Your Love, yeah! Fight for your book deal! Oh, you know what, it’d actually probably be a new volume of Now That’s What I Call Music. I’m a bit eclectic, I like a bit of pop, I also like a bit of indie, I like a bit of musical scores from movies. Give me a bit of Hans Zimmer any day!
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
I’m constantly being compared to Nick Grimshaw – it’s the accent and the quiff. That is literally it, there’s nothing else! But yeah, maybe he could turn to acting and play me. Other than that, I don’t know, maybe like Danny DeVito? Just someone completely random!
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday night in London?
Oooh! I would probably say a few drinks at home, a cheeky gin and tonic, then I either go out in Soho or stay local in Dalston. So, I’d go to Ridley Road Market Bar (@ridley_roadmb) then I might go to a club for a few drinks. I love a little R&B night and absolutely LOVE a themed night. If it’s a themed bar or a themed night that feels like it’s aimed at a 90s teenage girl, then I’m there! Tonight Josephine (@tonightjosephine) is my palace!
What would the title of your autobiography be?
D: ‘Sassy, Quiffy and … Bolton?’ or probably ‘My Life in Drawings’.
UO: Or ‘Draw me like one of your French girls?’
D: Oh my god, yes, because every guy on every dating app, or when I’m out, as soon as I mention i’m an illustrator, that is always what they say!
And finally, what are the three things that you couldn’t live without?
Definitely my phone, hair products and a pen. Professional artist!