I run into a lot of people when I travel with Eric. And one of the comments I get often in casual conversations are “you’re so lucky you freelance and can work anywhere. I wish I could do that.” And about a dozen people who have said, “I tried freelancing for awhile and I just could not pay my bills so I went back to a real job. You’re really lucky.” Okay. First, it has nothing to do with luck!
Second. Let me summarize how I became a freelance art director and the work entailed. After 9/11 I quit my career as a Creative Director. I was living in Dallas, Texas at the time. Going on three years existing in the south. I was recruited to this agency while I was working for a firm in Boston, Mass. So after I left the corporate world for a bit, I decided to take a little sabbatical and drove up to Chicago to spend time with my sister and my new nephew. Long story short, I ended up buying a vintage and antique business in the state of Maine. Now, that’s another post for another day (especially since it involves my mother flying out to ‘retrieve’ me and driving half-way across the county in my old jeep on Thanksgiving day).
So I’m up in Maine with a huge 11,000 square foot building (yes, 11,000 square feet! Can you say money pit?) I loved the business and the people. Again, that’s another post for another day. I ended up selling that business after four years and bought a house a few miles down the road. I decided to get back into designing & art directing and needed to build up a client list. And since I was starting at ground zero, I was smart enough (thanks to my mom’s good genes or my dad’s depending on who you’re talking with) to realize that I needed a part-time job (or two) that would pay my bills. On average, my cost of living was (and still is) relatively low. I did have a mortgage, but no car payment, had to pay my own health insurance and of course insurance on my home and car and the utilities. And as it still is today, I do not spend that much money. I rarely pay retail. My favorite stores are Goodwill and Salvation Army. I probably get my hair cut once or twice a year now. So you get the idea that I’m unquestionably frugal.
So, while I was pimping myself via an online design marketplace, I got a job at a local newspaper in Maine, The Bridgton News (An award-winning paper by the way). Every Monday, Tuesday and half-day on Wednesday, I flowed in articles to the page layouts. It was a great part-time gig. And the people I worked with set me straight. Precisely, bringing me back down to earth from living and working in a pretentious and superficial existence. (But again, and to not sound monotonous, that’s a post for another day where I will write about how indebted I am to my friend Karen & her save-a-damsel-in-distress husband Eric.)
And when the owner of this local newspaper — who was so gracious to hire a poor, desperate girl like me — fell on some ice and hurt his leg which required surgery, I took over his route of delivering the newspapers to various local stores in the surrounding rural towns. I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning every Thursday. During the winter, it was quietly dark and bitterly cold. And if there was a snowstorm, it did not matter. The “News” had to be delivered. I cannot lie. I genuinely enjoyed this little job!
In addition to the newspaper layout and my delivery duties, I also sold items on ebay to supplement the little money coming in with my growing freelance business. And on top of that, I began painting again the year before and was selling my artwork in a local gallery.
So the whole point is, if you want to work for yourself, doesn’t matter what it is, I suggest you have a plan, especially if you do not have a large savings account to cover you for the months with low income. And this plan should include a part-time job of some sorts. It could be anything. It does not matter, since it’s only a temporary thing – until you begin taking in an income that can cover all your expenses, plus extras. So, yes. I am lucky in that I was able to swallow my pride and go from a high-paying corporate job to doing whatever it took to be successful on my own. I went from staying at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills where I was directing a photo shoot for a client to living up in frigid Maine wearing a hat and gloves inside my home because I wanted to save on heat and surviving on expired protein bars I purchased at a local discount store for $0.25 each for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Obviously, that’s where the luck ended. It took a lot of hard work to arrive where I am now: Clients that I enjoy working for and who seem to like me enough to keep sending checks every month; and the ability to be mobile and travel around the country with Mr. Basketmaker meeting all kinds of interesting, creative and crafty people who make up this country.
And it also helps to marry a basketmaker who can provide you with a lavish and luxurious lifestyle. (Okay, for those who don’t realize I’m being sarcastic, I was being sarcastic with that last statement).
(Photo by my good friend Eric Gulbrandsen. A view of the typical stack of papers that greeted me every Thursday morning at 5:45 a.m.)