Let’s pretend you’ve already lived your entire life and as you came to the end, you had the chance to live it again. How would you spend each day? What would you do differently? This kind of fantasy rattled around in my brain during restless nights and miserable days working in retail.
For years I knew I needed to change the direction my life was going and I found myself eight years into a profession that did not represent my goals, talents, and strengths. It seemed that the longer I stayed, the harder it became to leave and as more time passed, my confidence in fulfilling my dreams diminished. My dream was to be creative for a living.
One year ago today, with either courage or perhaps pure ignorance, I left being comfortable for the unknown. I could clearly visualize in my mind what life would be like if I didn’t try… I was already living it. I had the support of my wife (even with a baby on the way) and had enough experience to know where to start. After all, I went to school to study art and there wasn’t a valid enough excuse to give up before ever trying.
This is a summary of what I experienced in my first year as a full-time freelance artist and if you stumbled upon this because you want to change where you are in life, just remember I also google searched, “Should I quit my day job?” before starting my journey.
WHAT DID I ACCOMPLISH?
My plan was to make a living as an illustrator and take on graphic design projects on the side. I created a clear business plan and set out to make it happen but soon had to change course when the universe started pulling me in a different direction… filmmaking and animation.
At the time I left my day job, I was just finishing my second film, a black and white sci-fi short called The Spaceman. With a stop-motion animated monster as the villain, this Kickstarter funded project ended up opening all kinds of unexpected doors for me. I entered it in many film festivals and competitions, which resulted in winning 4 awards. It was seen by thousands of people around the world and has so far screened in California, Utah, New York, & Australia. Through this experience I was able to connect with other filmmakers and movie lovers and to better recognize my strengths and weaknesses.
Years ago, a friend taught me how to write press releases and by following his advice The Spaceman was featured in multiple regional newspaper articles including the Chico Enterprise Record, Chico News & Review, & the Orion. I appeared on two TV news shows, a podcast, did multiple radio interviews, and images from my film were used in a Videomaker Magazine article on Stop-Motion animation techniques. The movie was also featured on the websites Film Pulse, best-horror-movies, & sci-fi bloggers.
As traction grew for The Spaceman it also drew attention to my first animated short, Wormholes that ended up playing to over 700 people at Keeping Chico Weird. There were two people at this show who ended up hiring me to animate music videos. Other unexpected opportunities happened when I was asked to speak to classrooms at Butte College, Chico State University, and give a talk at the Museum of Northern California Art’s pop up event. These appearances led to getting the Art at the Matador Scholarship Room, where I showed my work to the public in a historic Chico, CA motel.
In between all of these events I worked on over 40 graphic design jobs including clients such as The University of Alabama, Georgia Southern University, and Innovate NorthState. I created a Kickstarter video for a clothing company, and an officially licensed Star Wars apparel teaser for DesignByHumans. Near the end of the year, a lot of my time shifted towards stop-motion animation including work in a feature horror film called Dolly Deadly, music videos for Norwegian songwriter Annie Woodward, and the band Michelin Embers.
WHAT DID I LEARN?
1. Charge What You Are Worth
I made many mistakes this year and I’d have to say my biggest is not charging what I’m worth. I was so fearful that I wouldn’t have any work that I ended up short changing myself. This was my most fulfilling and successful year and yet this year brought in one of the lowest incomes in my working life. Still, I wouldn’t change it for the world and I have a better understanding now of what my time is worth.
2. Plant Seeds
There were three months this year when I felt like a complete failure because either the money wasn’t coming in, or the projects were drying up. I made sure to spend those slow days updating my website, working on personal projects, and being thankful for what I’d already accomplished so far. I noticed the more I put myself out into the world, the more opportunities trickled in. Occasionally, I would meet with a potential client assuming our project wasn’t going to work out, but months later would hear back from them with the green light to start working. I have absolutely no idea what I’ll be creating in 2016 and this should scare me but as long as I put in the work and do my best something will always be around the corner.
3. Enjoy your work
Finally, you must enjoy your work, not the money, accolades, or success. The work must come first. If you’ve found something you love, make an honest commitment to it, and enjoy every moment. Set a specific time every day where you put away your phone and distractions and just go for it. You will be happiest and do your best work when you let yourself enjoy it.
On November 15th, 2014 I said my goodbyes and tried to never look back. These last twelve months have become pivotal for me as an artist and a person. I understand there is a long way to go but I am now dedicating myself full time to achieving it.