Dec 3, 2009

Not everyone needs to know my life story, but I tell them anyways!

Of all the lines I have difficulty drawing, by far the worst is knowing where to draw the line on disclosing personal information to people. You know that person that's always telling you way more than you wanted to know? That's me. My pie hole is constantly flapping. I usually end up sharing far more information with others than I intend to, and frequently leave conversations with people I barley know with my hand firmly slapping my forehead thinking "why did I tell them THAT?!". Sometimes it's irrelevant information, like how no matter what I do I can't seem to enjoy the taste of grapefruit, which is unfortunate because my fruit cup came with 2 pieces in it which ruined the flavour of the whole thing. Other times the information I share is not so irrelevant, like how much money I make illustrating a book. I was taught that it is inappropriate to talk about one's finances, or ask about anyone else's. The ease with which I open up to people about my life leaves me wondering if I'm repeatedly crossing a line that I can't see.

The problem gets even more complicated when you throw more standards into the mix. I have a number of business contacts who I deal with on a regular basis. Not only do I have to try to be appropriate on a personal level, but now I have to learn how to be appropriate on a professional level as well, which is even more formal than personal. Here's where my life turns into a swirling pit of confusion: I have a really friend-like relationship with one of my editors. When I go home to Newfoundland, I visit her on "business" but always stay and talk to her for an hour or two about other things. We shoot the shit. We canoodle. In this circumstance, all my rules are thrown out the window, and my yapping maw runs on its own.

Here's an example of a confusing event. I recently had to ask for time off from one of the series of kids books I illustrate. I need to put more time into my business, I want to develop and produce a line of accessories, and I'm trying to save for a house. What it all comes down to is that I need more time and money, and the books are stripping me of both those things. When I do a book, I basically work for free, living well below the Canadian poverty line for 3 to 5 months, and collect nickles and dimes a year later. I can tell this to my close friends, but it's not cool to whine about money to your professional contacts! But, I did have to give her a reason for needing more time, and that reason is money. It was really difficult trying to find a tactful way to say "I can't work for you because I'm poor".

My favorite book about freelancing, My So-Called Freelance Life, by Michelle Goodman, states that when dealing with a client, one should not divulge the the stupid banalities of one's life. If you need more time, say it, but don't go on and on about how your dog got sick, and you had insomnia for a week, and last night you had a bad dream, and then this morning you had diarrhea so you can't get the work done by Friday, and could you maybe pretty please have a little extension. At the very most, you could say "due to personal circumstances", or "family emergency". Such vagaries convey the sense of urgency, without making you seem like an amateur hack job who sucks at making up excuses and at life as well.

Being perceived as a professional isn't just about how efficiently you perform the task assigned to you, but also on your attitude and the manner in which you present yourself. It is hard to keep all this in mind when you aren't sure whether you're talking to a friend or a business contact, but perhaps it's best to err on the side of caution and talk about your gastric emergencies with your mom instead. As for my dealings with my editors, I'll just try to keep the business emails businessy, and the personal less about diarrhea and my taste preferences regarding citrus fruit.

Aug 12, 2009

But all my friends are doing it!!

Lately I've been thinking a lot about peer pressure, and the way that other people influence us. It first dawned on me that peer pressure can be really useful when I was in university, when spending time around my awesome friend Lacey turned me into a photo-machine. Lacey and I would do elaborate photo set ups, spend hours in the dark room, and fill our year end portfolio twice over the requirement. This was not my usual way of working, but when I was around Lacey I always pushed myself a little harder (to keep up with her amazing standards, no doubt!)

When I finished art school, everything died down. I relaxed, drew a picture every now and then, but that was it. Then 6 months or so out of art school I started dating a graphic design student named Mark. Over the course of our 8 month stint, we ended up forming a small design group with 2 of our other graphic design friends, put out a run of 8 (or was it 6?) t-shirt designs in collaboration with Living Planet (a screen company in Newfoundland) and were on our way to reaching the stars! (Until the relationship ended, of course). My time spent with Mark opened me up to a whole new part of the art community; graphic design. To this day I still go to Chapters and check out Computer Arts magazine, Juxtapose, Beautiful Decay, and other design mags and think fondly of all our creative times together. And whenever I talk to him online (which is somewhat often) I still feel creative and inspired after our chats.

Then this past Christmas, I was spending a lot of time with my wicked cousin Becki (who, incidentally, I had met the Mark through!). Feeling stuffed from Christmas dinner, her and I sat in the hallway at her house hunched over her laptop. She was showing me all the design work she had been doing, I was bookmarking my favorite fashion blogs on her interwebs. We got to talking about design, screen printing, fashion and business and I left her house feeling crushed that I no longer live in the same province as she does. Being around her made me explode with ideas, in the same way that Lacey and Mark made me feel.

The point that I'm trying to get to is that being around creative people who inspire you is one of the best ways to be creative and inspired yourself. That old "no man is an island" bullcrap is actually true! I read an article this morning about how happiness is contagious up to 3 degrees of separation! So if your friend's friend is happy, then you're more likely to be happy...I think that's how it works. I firmly believe that the same can be said for creativity. My other cousin Jackie is a great case in point. For a couple of years she worked at a crappy insurance company. She hardly ever painted or drew, and in fact she wasn't enjoying herself at all. Then, she started working at a creative arts community center (she's the exec. assistant or something, but I like to think she runs the whole show) Now, she's working on a new body of work (that's right, not one painting, a BODY of them!) she's organizing events, and she's having chair racing derbies when there's no one around. She's living the sweet life! The lesson to be learned here, comrades, is to always keep yourself surrounded by creative, like minded individuals. You can keep the flame (of art-love) alive, but you have to stoke the fire with your friends... (not by throwing them in, just get them to help you fan the flames.)

Here's a link to the article about happiness travelling through networks.

Aug 7, 2009

Cookie/work - a - holic.

I've always had a good appetite. When I was a kid I'd always go for a second helping of turkey dinner, I could put away a full bag of cookies in 10 seconds flat, and you don't even want to know what I could do to a lemon filled angel food cake. In recent years, it seems that my appetite has faded from its former glory (except for my appetite for cookies, which remains like a pillar of hope through the ages). I've now noticed that I have a different type of hunger: the hunger for work. Not work in the traditional sense. I don't stay awake at night dreaming about going to an office, filing for 3 hours, then getting on the phone to take calls from angry clients. But I am kept awake thinking of new projects to pursue, how I'm going to network, who I'm going to call (ghost busters), and I impose deadlines on myself to do these things. The truth is, I'm addicted to being busy, or at least feeling busy (the same as I'm addicted to eating 14 cookies in one sitting).

This brings us to the point of why I hardly ever write blog posts. It's because I've got myself up to my eyes in workering! Next week I will be working downtown at an office (which is where I am now, which is why I have time to post). In September I may be going home to NL for 2 weeks to promote the book I illustrated this past winter. Also in September, I hope to launch a small jewelry line, on which I work non stop while I am at home in the evenings. My boss is having one or TWO open houses, where she wants me to bring and sell some jewelry. Then in the first week in October, I'm accompanying her to Delaware for a dog show. At this dog show we'll be selling her jewelry, my jewelry (so I'll be busy all September preparing for that) collars from fabric I'll design and print, t-shirts which I design and print, and possibly greeting cards or tote bags which I also design and print. In the beginning of November, I am taking a MUCH needed vacation with my mama to Florida to get some shoos (another addiction I'm afraid). On top of all this, I have also agreed to do ANOTHER kids book, with a deadline in November! I'm tired just thinking about all this stuff, let alone doing it!

It seems like creative people always have looong "To Do" lists, several projects on the go at once, and new ideas coming in by the day. This means that things are always being pushed onto a back burner (my back burner is so full it's gonna catch fire one of these days). This has always been the story of my life, except now I have people depending on me for these numerous projects, so the back burner is not an option! What's a girl to do? How does one stay motivated and focused with so many things that need to be done right now? How does one finish all the projects one starts? I'm sorry, I don't have answer. But I'll think about it, I'll persevere through the next couple of months and I'll let you all know how I managed to do it all, or else I'll let you all know how I dropped every ball and failed at life. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I'm off to get some cookies!

Jul 20, 2009

Working for one's self is very mysterious.

I'm sitting here at my temp job thinking about what my life could be like. Dress up nice every day, walk or bike to work at 7:30 in the morning, sit in an office sipping coffee and doing menial tasks all day, answer the phone, read a book... It doesn't seem so bad. Yet every time I've been in this position (and it has been many times) it never fails that I end up hating my life in less than a month. Instead, I choose to drive for almost 45 minutes in rush hour traffic to hunch over a sewing machine all day, or be on my feet cutting fabric for hours at a time. After almost 5 months as a seamstress, I still don't hate my life, in fact I still enjoy going to work and even get...dare I say, EXCITED about going in from time to time! It makes me think back to my days of screen printing at Living Planet. I didn't even realize I was happy until my mother mentioned to me that it was the first time I'd had a job that I didn't complain about, not even once. Apparently I preferred to bus in the rain at 7 a.m. and partake in grueling physical labour, leaving my body aching and sometimes injured. The real mystery here is that when I work at an office, I can usually make from 30% to 50% more than what I make as a screen printer or seamstress, yet I still run from the office like I'd run from the plague, or a musical *shudder*. That means I'd rather do work that is physically exhausting and live under the poverty line than relax in some office and make enough money to buy shoes, live, and save for a house all at the same time. What the hell, me? What's my problem?

An even greater mystery still is why I'd rather work to find work, and then work even harder to complete that work (as opposed to having an office job, where the work is always handed to you in a neat little package and you are trained on how to complete it) Now, I'm gearing up to spend a lot of money that I don't have on setting up a studio. This may be the biggest mystery yet: I'm willing to pay money and go into debt to do work that I have to bust my ass to find, pays less (at first anyway), and is more physically demanding than all my office jobs put together.

I don't have any answers to these mysterious mysteries, except that I hate working, I hate schedules, and I HATE HATE HATE being bored (which is what office work is, boring with a capital "lame".) I've got my sketch book with me today and tomorrow, (I'm temping again tomorrow) and hopefully relaxing at this desk will turn into 2 days of being creative. I hope to be writing, drawing, and maybe taking a little reading break when my fingers start bleeding from all the typing and drawing. I'll leave you with a link (don't know how to embed) to one of my all time favorite songs. Rap and Opera?? Scandelous!! It can't be!! Yes it can, and it's amazing. Check it out :)

Jul 7, 2009

How to keep the blade of creativity as sharp as a katana.

I love blank paper. I lose bladder control in the exercise book aisle of Business Depot. I feel weak in the knees when presented with a new sketchbook. My skin itches when I get to the end of a notebook, because I know it means I'll be able to go and pick out a brand spanking new one. And I know I'm not the only one (I'm serious, I've had entire conversations with some of my artsy friends about how thrilling a new pack of card stock is). I think this is because a blank page, for an artist, is more than a blank page; it's potential. It's a work of art that hasn't been made yet, or a story that's yet to be written. A whole book of blank pages, for us, is a bound collection of possibilities without rules or judgment. You can see why this would be exciting, yes? Sometimes, however, a blank page is not hopeful or exciting at all. It can be stress inducing and life RUINING if: you've run out of ideas.

One of the reasons it took me so long to even consider starting a blog was that I was sure I'd run out of things to say. I figured I'd write a dozen posts, then get bored and never do it again. But then I remembered something I learned in art school: ideas beget ideas. That means the more you have, the more you have! (Why can't cookies reproduce like ideas do? Or pizzas for that matter?) It never failed. We would be assigned a project in drawing class, and I would feel like the well had run dry. Then I'd think of something, any stupid little idea, and I'd write it down. Magically, after I put down that first idea, there would be another one. And then another, even better than the first two! This would keep happening until I would have to actively cut myself off, and just pick one idea to complete before I ran out of time. I'm telling you, it's like the theory of relativity for art.

Now, let's put two and two together. (Or one and one, or seven and fifteen, whatever you want to add). You have no ideas. Or perhaps your ideas are really crappy (it happens). The cure is to carry around one of those mystical objects, full of hope and potential, free from the opinions and influences of others: a blank book. As soon as you have one idea, no matter how crappy it is, put it in the book. You will have another, which might be crappy as well. Put it in anyways. Eventually you will have a book filled from cover to cover with ideas, and at least one of them has to be inspiring to you. Not only to ideas multiply, they also get better with time. This is why the comics you wrote when you were 9 aren't nearly as funny or interesting (or good) as the comics you write now that you're in your 20's. The great thing about blank books is that you can take them where ever you go, and be creative at any point in time. I can't remember all the ideas I have in the run of a day. So when I have one that I know is a good one (or I'm deluded into thinking is a good one, it happens) I always have some paper or a book and a pen to record it, and come back to it later. Whether you're on the bus, bored at work, or waiting for a friend to meet you for coffee, all your spare minutes can be turned into valuable creativity time.

Lastly, here's a photo of me holding my favorite book, a hand made sketchbook with a silver sea horse on the cover that my best friend/cousin Jackie made for me. Thanks Jackie!

Jul 5, 2009

Starting a business can be complicated business!

I have to say, I am really excited about having a small business, even if it doesn't do anything yet. When someone asks me what I do for a living, I hate saying "I work at a temp agency" or "I'm a receptionist" (which is what I was doing up until a few months ago). I do actually enjoy reception, dealing with people, etc. but I hate feeling like I'm not in control of my own life. Owning my own business is a chance for me to sit in the driver's seat and decide EVERYTHING!! It's not a power trip, it's peace of mind.

I'm finding that the best way for me personally is to slide into this whole thing slowly, and believe me, it has been S L O W. I actually started writing my first business plan in October of 2007. I had a personal business adviser and everything (courtesy of the Govt. of Quebec, thanks Quebec!) With that endeavor, which was supposed to be a screen printing company, I had everything from the business plan, potential clients, equipment quotes, to my ad in the yellow pages (more on this later). So I proudly walked to the bank, business plan in tow, and the bank said unto me: " Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further". I had no savings. I had no collateral. I was young (still am). The best the bank could do for me was a $1,500 Visa and a $3,500 credit line. Really? Start a business on $5,000? That didn't cover 1/8 of my expenses. So I gave up (for a while).

Fast forward to 2 months ago. I work for a wonderful woman who owns a company called Around the Hounds ( ). She decides that she wants some new fabric designed for collars. She wants some designs for jewelery pendants (you should see her work, it's gorgeous!) And she wants t-shirt designs (which I used to do in Newfoundland back in the day). So, this was it! I decided to get my butt in gear and try again with my business, only this time focus on illustration as well as screen printing. So, my awesomely supportive man and I scoot down the the city office, only to find out that you're not allowed to do production from your home (a bylaw where we live). Hmmm... dilemma. So I say fine, I'll just do illustration and research from home and do the screen printing some other way, now please give me my business permit. Then they still tell me no. No, I'm not allowed to do an ink sketch and watercolor it from home. That's against the law. WHAT? For 3 weeks, I email back and forth with this clerk who keeps telling me no. I am persistent. I am annoying. But also, I am RIGHT. He gets fed up, can't answer my questions (like, if one can be an architect from home, why can't one be an illustrator, since it's the same process??) and he passes me off onto his supervisor. The supervisor tells me I am correct, and to come update my business application. I go back to the city, fill out the application (again) and voila. I am authorized to draw from home without breaking the law!

So, this is where I am now. I am setting up my studio (in our spare bedroom), my amazing friend is doing a website for me ( here's his wicked photoblog:, soon I will be looking for clients. I feel so professional! But, a word of advice. Don't get ahead of yourself when setting everything up! Back in the winter of 2008, I thought that I had it in the bag, I went ahead and registered my business name ( Le Studio Elephant) and I put up an add in the Yellowpages. To this day, I still get telephone calls from potential clients asking if this is the Elephant Studio. I have to awkwardly say "umm, sorry, the Elephant Studio doesn't exist..uh, maybe next year. thanks for your call". What a terrible first impression to make! Those are all clients that will never call me again :( So, until you're absolutely ready to go with all your supplies and everything, you're sitting by the phone just waiting for that first order, don't take out an ad.

Ok, wrap this post up. My little creative studio will soon be ready to take on freelance illustration contracts, and I'll be able to make and sell a line of accessories (I'm a seamstress extrordinaire heh). At some point I'd like to be doing line drawings for graphic designers who can't draw. Need a drawing of a fish turning into waves? No problem. Need a drawing of a moose wearing headphones? I got it. It's quick, it's fun, and it's easy. Unlike getting a business permit.

Intro. Hello!

After months of thinking about starting a blog, the time has finally come for me to spring into action. I'll start by telling everyone who I am. My name is Jillian, I'm originally from St. John's, Newfoundland, but currently live in Ottawa, Ontario. I work as a freelance illustrator and seamstress, and as of July 1st of this year, I am also a (very) small business owner! *yay me*

This blog is going to be about art, my business Le Studio Elephant, and anything else I think of that might be interesting to all you creative types out there. So if you hate art and don't want to see my illustrations, and you are completely bored by anything having to do with business and don't want to know anything about my little company, this is probably not the blog for you. If, however, any of the aforementioned subjects entice and titillate you, please keep coming back! I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to leave lots of comments (and even an email if you feel like it!) Thanks :)