I don’t want to write about corona, but you can’t really avoid it. This obviously has an enormous impact on my newborn little illustration company. But it’s not just me, of course, it’s everyone. I think something like this is a shock for many artists. This period isn’t just difficult for me. It can be frightening to think about, the impact this will have on society, economy and culture. Clearly it’s not the best time to start a creative business.
I’ve been working from home a lot. The strange thing is that I’d been working from home for pretty much all of the last year. So I might be used to it, but it’s still taxing. I had finally gotten a studio where I could work, at Vechtclub XL in Utrecht. The difference it made for my productivity was huge. And now I’m back home, feeling like I have to start over.
On the plus side, I have a little group of colleagues now – my roommates. They are also staying at home, as opposed to before, when I was working alone. It’s a joy when all three of us are working on our very different professions at the kitchen table. I also joined a variety of online workspaces for illustrators through Twitter. It’s pleasant to have these other colleagues and discuss our work or simply chat about less relevant things like films or podcasts. A lot of my profession was fortunately already online, so it’s not such a big change. The only thing that really has an impact is being stuck in the same small space, without interacting with others. Our house isn’t that big, so sometimes taking a walk or sitting outside for a bit has really become a must (and our landlord, who lives downstairs from us, was so kind to offer us his front yard!)
Business, of course, goes on. Although I’ve had a few setbacks due to the situation, I still have a part-time job and haven’t lost all my income. I make time and space for my own, personal work and hope to get started again soon. And I sit inside, do groceries once a week instead of every day, and try not to worry about everything, and especially not money. I had recently joined the ArtEZ Starters Programme. In the beginning I was afraid it would be too focused on something like product design rather than services. But that didn’t turn out to be the case. Honestly, and I’m not saying this because these blogs are for ArtEZ, I think it was a great choice to join. I felt very focused and goal-oriented afterwards. I got a bunch of questions about things that I hadn’t considered yet and I learned a lot about my qualities and things I could change.
It’s really nice to have all those things laid out in front of you. I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and not everyone has the opportunity, but when you’re starting a business it’s extremely helpful to list your target audience, your sales channels, your qualities, your product or service, and the presentation. These were things I had never really thought about, because I never considered myself as a company. I just thought I was an independent illustrator and corporate strategies didn’t apply. But it turns out they can be quite useful!
Although the emphasis of the programme was very much on my work and on owning a business rather than playing the solitary artist, my focus on actual work has definitely suffered lately. I think it has to do with the lack of perspectives to work toward. My productivity strategy is often that I work towards events or appointments or public appearances of some sort. Not even necessarily real deadlines, but just telling myself: I want to finish this before I visit my parents. Or: I should complete this print because I want to sell it at this market.
Now that I don’t have such days to plan around, my work seems infinite. You have all week for all the tasks you have to complete. But since there are no project deadlines, it might as well be next week, or the week after. I try to set a goal for myself every day just to get around to things. There are many distractions here at home and I’m not always in the mood, but usually I manage to do a couple of useful things a day.
I wrote a few subsidy applications during the quarantine. I quite enjoyed doing that, even though they might result in nothing. By writing things down, I got some new ideas about the projects I want to do and I thought about target audiences, my contribution to the art world and especially my budget. Quarantine gives me a lot of time to think about those things. Sometimes, the things that seem least enjoyable to me about my job, which revolve around money and entrepreneurship and accounting for your plans, can be very worthwhile. Also doing your taxes can be useful. I can get some satisfaction out of tracking my income and expenses. The other day (before corona, don’t worry) I was at an art supplies store and I had to answer yes to the question if I wanted the receipt. The man who served me smiled and asked: for the tax office? That kind of recognition feels nice – I’m taking things seriously and doing well!
For the future I hope that this all doesn’t have too much of an impact, but it probably will. That such a relatively short period of quarantine can have such an immense influence tells you something about how we’ve designed our lives. Besides the worries about health, there are all the concerns about money and our economy. I think it will take quite a while before our life goes back to normal. Many people have died and I think everybody can use a helping hand right now. I hope there will be a new appreciation for the little things in life that give us joy and happiness, something that I also find important in my work. I can see a new collective gratitude for things that we were previously indifferent about. The freedom to go wherever we wanted, going to school, having a cup of coffee with a friend or doing some shopping – they are important things in our lives. I also feel that renewed appreciativeness for the small self-evident things myself. So in that way, I try to make the best of this bad situation, no matter how difficult it can be sometimes.
Translation by: Witold van Ratingen