The Top 3 Things I Learned My First Year as a Freelance Artist

2018 was a year of new beginnings and growth.

My youngest son started preschool, and my oldest is in his last year prior to Kindergarten, which means they are becoming more independent, and I have had more time to focus on my future.


Before having the boys I was a full-time freelance portrait photographer, but shortly after becoming pregnant, I became seriously ill. (Have you heard of HG? It’s a real thing, and it stinks. I was bedridden for 20 weeks.) Long story short, that illness, and then becoming a new mom halted my career.

Only 22 months after boy #1, boy #2 was on his way, and I was back in bed. We also moved from Boston to DC, and then again from DC to outside of NYC in Jersey. At that point I had to put the business aside to focus on my family and home, but it’s not something I regret. I’m a creative at heart, so in the down times, I started writing. I even got published! But it never really fulfilled me the way visual art has.

Then I found Skillshare. (More about that later.) After nearly 100 hours of lessons and learning, I chose new career path: Illustration & Surface Pattern Design. Why? Well, other my fervent itch to create – Makers Gotta Make! – being a freelance artist will hopefully allow me to continue being a mostly full-time mom, with the help of kindergarten and occasional babysitters.

Okay, phew, so much backstory… on to the top things a learned my first year as a freelance artist.

1 – It’s not as easy as it looks.

Take as many Skillshare classes as you want, you’re not going to turn into an amazing illustrator over night. Interestingly, I seem to have the most difficultly with the art that looks like it was effortless to create. Haha, I know better now.

2 – It’s not a solo career.

Becoming a working artist will not happen if you don’t make connections. I was trudging away, slowly learning the craft, but keeping mostly to myself other than commenting on a few Instagrammer’s posts. The minute I reached out to my first mentor – I “cold-called” by emailing her – everything changed. She was gracious enough to let me pick her brain, and her number one tip was to make connections with people in my field. She couldn’t have been more right! After I started reaching out to other artists in a meaningful way and going to in-person workshops my career started to take off. It’s hard to explain, so just take my advice and go connect.

3 – Being afraid is normal and failure is okay.

Good grief, sometimes it takes me months to get up the nerve to try something new, because I’m afraid I’ll fail at it. And I usually do. If you want to see some of my first surface pattern designs, they are horrific. But I tried again, and I got better. The more I try, the better the results become. It’s so true: you learn by failing. In fact, I think it’s the best way to learn. I’m still afraid of trying, but at least I know my failure won’t be the end of the world.

Looking ahead

I think 2019 will be full of surprises. I have a lot more to learn, but I think I’m already on the brink of a few goals I’ve set for myself. The fact I even sat down to write this post means I’m getting close to another.

If you’re a fellow creative, best of luck to you this year! And if you want to connect, feel free to drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you!


Top 50 Pattern

This is a fun post to write… I made it into the top 50 of a Spoonflower pattern contest for the first time! Woohoo!

This was time-consuming to create, probably because I used Procreate instead of illustrator. The entire thing is hand drawn, and the repeat was made in Photoshop. But it was fun to do! I feel in love with the palette and have already made other artworks utilizing the same colors.

It came it at 40, about 20 places closer to the top than I’ve ever been before. Now I don’t believe it’s necessary to be number one all the time, but this does give me the confidence to continue. It feels so good to know other people are enjoying my designs!

How to make a Repeat Pattern with Smart Objects in Photoshop

Start with a canvas size of 3000px x 3000px at 300 dpi.

Import your motifs or artwork; I typically use watercolor PNGs with transparent backgrounds. Place them on the artboard in an fashion you like.

Increase the size of the canvas to 9000px x 9000px.

Group your artwork into a folder.

Duplicate it and rename it however you wish. Hide the original artwork folder and don’t mess with it.

Convert the duplicated folder into a smart object.

Now duplicate the smart object and go to Filter->Offset. Add and subtract 3000 so that you fill the artboard with 8 copies of the smart object.

Double click the smart object. It will open up a new tab. Go to Image Size, and be sure that the file is 3000 x 3000 px. If it isn’t, resize it.

Now you can play with the placement of all of your artwork. When you’re ready, save the file and go back to the large canvas and see how your pattern has transformed!