We are excitedly taking this conversation global to speak with Blanca Gomez, an illustrator living and working in Madrid, Spain. She has illustrated for Tiffany & Co., Coach, the Land of Nod, Vanity Fair, Real Simple, Monocle, Flow magazine, and Red Cap Cards, to name a few of her amazing clients. We are captivated by Blanca's simple and whimsical style, find her wisdom equally magical, and deeply appreciate how she stays true to herself.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator.
I started working as a freelancer a bit by chance. I had worked for almost 10 years as a graphic designer. I liked the job, yet during those last months I was feeling stuck, and I needed a change. Illustration crossed my graphic designer path. After taking some time to learn and self-teach, I started showing my work on the internet, and bit by bit, I started getting some collaborations and even some small jobs, but I never thought I could earn a living exclusively off of this work.
At one point, when the financial crisis was looming on the horizon, the design studio I was working for started cutting expenses and proposed that I work halftime. I decided it was time for me to leave for good and start anew.
My original idea was to take one year off and use it to take an illustration course in England, and then, once back, try to work on both design and illustration freelance projects. After leaving my job, and while searching for courses, I had more free time to spend doing new illustrations. So I opened my Etsy store and more jobs started to pop up…after a few months I decide it was time to become a freelancer.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Mostly by publishing my work online (at that time, mostly on Flickr in addition to my own website). My biggest fear when I started was just that, how to attract clients –my idea was to visit potential clients in person with my portfolio, something I’m not very good at (and I don’t really like), but I wasn’t sure where to start. Finally, it was no longer necessary, as the clients started to contact me through my website.
Regarding that, I have some anecdotes. When I left my job as graphic designer I spent a month in New York. While I was there, I saw a postcard from Red Cap Cards in a shop, and said to myself “that’s the kind of client I would love to work with in the future”. A little while later, they wrote me to make a card collection with them. Many years later we’re still working together.
Also, one of my favourite shops was Human Empire, in Hamburg and I thought I would love to make something with them, but as I said before I’m not really good reaching out to new clients, so I never contacted them. Some time later they contacted me. Somehow, I contact the kind of clients I like through putting my own work out there.
"I contact the kind of clients I like through putting my own work out there."
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Not really. Until some weeks ago I used to have a studio that was a 20 minute-walk from home. I believe that having some kind of “office hours” helped me to be more productive during those hours, while on the other hand after almost six years, I grew tired of that walk, of that routine. So I’m back home, and everything is messier, and I need to reorganize my ways (or find a new studio!)
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Decision making. I’ve never been good at that and there are lots of decisions to make everyday. Realizing your time is limited, you have to be able to say no to some projects (something I’m still learning to do), as it is impossible to commit to everything. Also it has been a struggle to realize I need help with some things.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
Freedom and Independence. And the autonomy. And most of all the fact that my freelance work is way more personal and “mine” than anything I did as a designer. My work as an illustrator is me. It's how I communicate with the world.
"My freelance work is way more personal and “mine” than anything I did as a designer. My work as an illustrator is me. It's how I communicate with the world."
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
Just the same as I did in the beginning, by showing my work to the world. I think it is important to keep making personal pieces and show them, so your potential clients can see what you can do. At one point I was only showing projects and work I made for clients, and as a rule, what happens is that new clients contact you to make something they saw in your portfolio, so your job can get repetitive. I don’t have social networks, but I opened Instagram to show sketches and personal projects which didn’t quite fit within my existing portfolio work. This way, and a bit unconsciously, I ended up attracting new clients for completely new projects.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
1. Really important: hire an accountant. This is the very first decision I made when I started freelancing. Since day 1.
2. Set apart a weekday to deal with administrative details: read contracts, check invoices, write emails, etc. And try not to think about them the rest of the week :)
"Set apart a weekday to deal with administrative details: read contracts, check invoices, write emails, etc. Try not to think about them the rest of the week."
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
As I said before, I have been working for five years in a studio out of my home, and it helps quite a bit. My unwritten rule was: as often as possible - work and projects for clients at the studio, personal projects at home. I just “returned home” and it is getting a bit more complicated, but I’m trying to keep the balance: I work during the day, and I reserve evenings and weekends as personal time, which I’m mostly using to look for a new studio!*
*Between the time we chatted and the time this interview posted, Blanca successfully secured a new studio!