This week we are excited to chat with Alex Bowman, a California native, illustrator, designer, production artist, and cat lover living in Berkeley, CA. We love Alex's ability to infuse her freelance projects with her unique, dynamic, and soulful style. And we just can't get enough of her blues and pinks!
Thank you Alex for sharing your freelance wisdom.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator and designer.
I've been illustrating and designing for people for as long as I can remember. When I graduated college, and moved from Chicago to the Bay Area, I didn't know many people. I got a job as a print production artist in SF and my boss and I became good friends. She drove me home from work one day and as we were driving over the bay bridge, I asked her for advice on getting freelance work. I'll never forget; she said, "honestly, for the lack of a better word...whore yourself out." So, I did. I offered my art and design to new friends I made and people I met around town, asking for little to no money in return. I didn't do this for just anyone, I worked with people I believed in. My good buddies are in an awesome surf punk band called Babewatch, (check them out 😉). I've made tons of posters, album covers, t-shirt and pin designs for them over the last few years. They traded me beer and free tickets to their shows for the work, which is wonderful because I really believe in them and respect them as artists.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Well, I continued meeting people in the music scene, bands would ask me for posters or cover art and all the sudden...young people who owned small businesses were starting to hit me up for work. They had seen my illustrated posters on the internet or went to a music show and saw my album art at the merch table. I didn't just gain clients, I gained confidence as a freelancer. On that note, I've never been very bold or visible on the internet; I didn't like the idea of promoting myself on social media (I'm more of a "moody painter" personality type than self-advertiser.) But I realized I had to get over that if I wanted people to see what I can do. I posted a lot on social media and was pleasantly surprised when I started to attract exciting clients inside and outside of the Bay Area.
"I didn't just gain clients, I gained confidence as a freelancer."
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Buy a chalkboard for your wall to write your to-do lists and to better manage your time. As a visual person, I’m more productive when there's a large glaring reminder of my busy schedule, advising me not to procrastinate. And because I still have a full-time job in print production, it's easy to feel lazy and uninspired when I get home from a long day at the office. I find that if I exercise for just 30 minutes, my mind clears, my mood improves and I generally have more energy. When I'm working, especially on a tight deadline, I usually keep my phone in the other room and try not to pay too much attention to my cat. He can be very cute and distracting! A late afternoon coffee doesn't hurt either.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Balancing my 9-5 gig with my freelance work and still having time for personal projects. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, and I've had to sacrifice a lot of my social life. As a young woman in the modern age, staying busy and focusing on my goals is challenging, but the fact that I am advancing my career and making money doing what I absolutely love to do is extremely satisfying.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
In my own art practice, my work is very personal. In my freelance work, I'm taking someone else's personal story or idea and completing it with my own. I love the variety of thoughts that come together to finish a project. Most of my freelance is work that I would have never done on my own...so it's really cool to step outside of my own thoughts and work with someone else's vision.
"In my freelance work, I'm taking someone else's personal story or idea and completing it with my own. I love the variety of thoughts that come together to finish a project. Most of my freelance is work that I would have never done on my own...so it's really cool to step outside of my own thoughts and work with someone else's vision."
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
By setting aside time to pursue my personal art practice. As I continue to grow as an artist, my concepts become more in depth and telling of who I am as a person. And with many works, my technical skill advances and so does my vision and "design eye." If clients look at my portfolio, I want them to see what I produce when under my own direction. It's important for clients to know that before being a freelancer, I'm an artist and will always strive to keep things fresh, think outside the box, and challenge myself.
Your portfolio is wonderfully cohesive. You are able to adapt your style to many different assignments. Do you have advice about how to choose which projects to take on?
Choose projects that you can identify with and work with people and values you can relate to. Starting out, it's easy to get excited and take every job that comes to you...if you take a gig just for the money or promotion, your work will lack soul, and you just can't fake that.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I'm super lucky to have my mom to call when I'm stuck. She was a freelance designer and illustrator at my age so she is incredibly helpful and understanding. (Love you mom!) Her advice is to keep a file folder, print, track, and save everything. Don't make business deals over the phone, you want to leave a paper trail. When it comes to invoices, I use a free website...there's also a lot of helpful information on the internet to assist freelancers with business transactions like this.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Reward yourself when you complete a project or get paid. Plan a weekend getaway with a friend, treat yourself to a massage or have a glass of wine and take a bath. Work-life balance is all about mental health and self-care. If you don't find time for yourself, making work that you are proud of will be nearly impossible. It's cheesy, but loving yourself should be number one priority.