Our midwinter wanderlust has definitely set in, but Liz Rowland’s illustrations are the perfect remedy!
Liz centers her work around travel, exploring and celebrating cultures, and looking at the different ways we live. We loved learning about how she focused in on that niche and especially appreciated her advice for fellow illustrators.
Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator.
I studied illustration in Falmouth, England and graduated back in 2011. When I finished up there I wasn’t ready for the freelance life and wasn’t sure what I wanted. A lot of my peers were finding admin jobs in creative studios to get by and I did the same. It was a few years into a Project Management job that I realised I had stopped being creative myself.
I started an evening course doing pottery and eventually left my job to travel and figure things out. While I was away I started sharing paintings online and very slowly things built up. I moved to Australia where I met some amazing people who helped me on my way. I stayed in Melbourne for two years building up freelance work around a part time job and by the time I returned to England I was illustrating full time. I think something about being in a new country helped me change things up and push for what I wanted.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
This was the thing I worried over the most at the start. I had a clear idea in my mind of the type of work I wanted to do but I didn’t know how to get in front of the right people. I sent out a lot of emails and started telling people I met that I was looking for projects until the right sort of collaboration showed up.
The first big enquiry that came in was so exciting but sadly the project fell through. However, in frustration I emailed a contact for some advice and she put me in touch with my agent. I signed with them and worked hard to fill the gaps in my portfolio. A couple of months later they had found me my first big client and that turned into a monthly commission. I was so relieved! It really helped me build my experience and gain exposure, it was exactly the sort of work I was looking for. Other bits came through that, and eventually through Instagram which is where most clients now find me.
How did you find your way to the "travel, exploring and celebrating cultures and looking at the different ways we live" niche? What is it about these themes that inspire you?
I was aware of finding my own voice in a very saturated market and decided to look at what interests me most in life. Since childhood I’ve wanted to see the world and have been fascinated by people, human interactions and handmade objects. The ways we communicate are usually dictated by the culture we grew up in. In an often difficult and segregated world I think it's important to celebrate our differences and similarities. I started to explore that through my personal work and that helped build the foundations for my portfolio.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
I think for me it’s the isolation. One of the biggest draws to working for myself is the freedom it allows and I make the most of that. For the last few years I have moved around a lot. It has meant a lot of time working on my own which can take its toll - I like people! I would never trade it though. There are plenty of ways to combat it when it gets too much. Podcasts help! I like listening to conversations whilst I work.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
Mainly through personal work. I don’t share everything I do, only if it feels right and is in line with the sort of projects I want to do in the future. Also by making life as smooth as possible for the client, people remember if you are easy to work with.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? Additionally, is there anything you've learned that you'd be willing to share about working with international clients?
I keep things simple and updated. I use Trello to manage projects and have a rotating list of pipeline, active, invoiced and paid projects. I keep on top of invoices. I send those out as soon as a project is complete and make a note in my calendar of payments due in. It’s a pain to chase up late payments, my least favourite task! I have an income and expenses spreadsheet that I fill out at the end of each month and a folder full of receipts. I’ve recently started working with an accountant, until now I’ve done things myself.
The only difference I’ve found working with international clients is the budgets vary from one country to the next. I use TransferWise for international payments. And always keep time differences in mind!
What advice would you give to a fellow illustrator who is thinking about going out on her own?
I think that persistence is the key. I was impatient when I first graduated but the fact is my work wasn’t up to scratch. I needed time to keep practising and get to know myself better. I’ve wanted to give up plenty of times along the way but in the end, practise, consistently sharing work and sticking to my guns has paid off.
It’s also important to remember that a client has come to you because they like what you do. Accept that you will create bad work sometimes! I’ve also found that client feedback isn’t always the most important thing to me (although of course it’s important to make sure they’re happy!), it’s whether or not I am happy with a piece that really counts.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Persistence, motivation, adaptability.