Jen B. Peters is a graphic designer, illustrator, and freelance creative based in Los Angeles, CA. By day she works for Mattson Creative (their client list includes Maroon 5, Billabong, Cartoon Network, and Universal), and by night you can find her painting, patterning, and getting her creative juices flowing. How does she balance it all? Read on for inspiration and a great list of productivity tips. Thank you Jen for sharing!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer and illustrator.
I have always loved art and creating things but before college I didn’t even know graphic design was a career! I went to an arts high school and was in the media program which focused on photography and film. We had our traditional academic classes in the morning and the second half of the day was focused on our art area. I loved it and the creative freedom they gave us. Photography peaked my interest and I thought that I wanted to be a photojournalist. Transitioning to college I wasn’t sure if I wanted to major in fine art (which is what their photography program fell under). I talked to an advisor who recommended I try taking a variety of classes my first semester and also suggested a graphic design class. I took my first graphic design class and LOVED it, later declaring it as my major. After college I was hired at Mattson Creative, and have been there for six years now. I also do freelance design and illustration projects on the side.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Almost all of my projects have come from referrals from people I know, or past clients I have worked with. I have also received great clients from posting work on social media.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Listen to your body
Take breaks! For many years I was terrible about this. If work was really busyI would go hours without standing up. This started to take a toll on my body and I had really bad hip pain. Recently I have made much more of an effort to make taking breaks more of a priority and it has made such difference. I find I am much more productive when I take a quick walk at lunch, or a break for food. Getting away from the computer even for a couple of minutes helps me to re-charge. I also downloaded an app called Stand Up! which literally reminds you every 45 minutes to stand up.
Set goals and make to do lists
I find that if I have a list of what I need to get done I feel much less overwhelmed and can better manage my time. I like to make my to-do lists on a notepad at my desk so I can physically cross things off as I finish them.
Focus and turn off distractions
Remove your biggest distraction. Moving my phone to the other room guarantees I don’t mindlessly start checking Instagram.
I have found that an amazing way to stay inspired is to start personal projects (projects that are just for fun). I have done two daily projects now and I couldn’t recommend them more. Last year I completed a 100 day project drawing a new plant every day. Although they can be time consuming, these types of projects are so worth it. There is something so rewarding about pushing yourself to make something every day, even on days when you are not feeling super 'creative'. I always end these projects feeling more inspired having discovered some new method or style that I hadn’t tried before. When I am feeling in a rut, I love to challenge myself to make a new pattern, or create an illustration for Instagram, just for FUN. It takes the pressure off and allows creativity to flow freely. Some of my favorite work has come from these types of projects. It is also an amazing way to attract clients since it shows a style that you love and enjoy working in.
"There is something so rewarding about pushing yourself to make something every day, even on days when you are not feeling super 'creative'. I always end these projects feeling more inspired having discovered some new method or style that I hadn’t tried before."
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
My biggest struggle so far has been the business side of freelance. Dealing with money and especially deciding how much to charge for a project is not a strength of mine. This has definitely become easier with time, but it is still my least favorite part of the job!
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
I love the variety of projects freelance provides. Being able to help people define and grow their brands, projects, and ideas is so rewarding.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I have found that social media, especially Instagram, is an amazing way to share work with a wide audience. When I am busy I tend to let Instagram slide and not post as often as I would like. It's a recent goal of mine to start focusing more on sharing my work, as I know it is the best way to continue to attract new clients
Since you work for Mattson Creative Los Angeles and freelance on the side, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I am still working on this one! Since I work 9 hours a day at Mattson Creative, I have to fit in freelance projects at night and on the weekends. At times it can be challenge, but the freelance projects I take on are rewarding and inspiring! I have found that I have to be conscious of how many projects I take on at a time. This allows me to better manage my time and not feel burned out. My freelance projects have not been my main source of income, so I have been able to be more selective about what I choose to take on. I have found it is important to carve out "me time" even during a busy day, by reading a book, calling a friend, or hanging with my husband. It’s not sustainable to be busy all the time.
"Remove your biggest distraction. Moving my phone to the other room guarantees I don’t mindlessly start checking Instagram."
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Confidence, drive, and a desire to keep learning and growing.