1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer/creative?
That one is tough. I really don’t remember NOT wanting to be a visual artist of some kind.
I remember going to museums exhibits and seeing all those behind the scenes Disney films, and the Jim Henson hours. So I always had an idea that there were people making all the cool stuff I loved, and that I could eventually do that too.
One early memory that stands out was an episode of the New Adventures of Mighty Mouse where instead of ending an episode with burning building they suddenly to actual footage of one of the animators going crazy and tossing papers around and giving up on the cartoon. I was very young, like 4 or 5 so I was totally confused, but I somehow realised those people were the ones drawing the show.
At least i think that happened. I haven’t been able to google anything about that scene existing. Maybe someone out there knows.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Biggest hurdle was probably getting to the tipping point where somebody besides one of my friends paid me to do a design. I did some crappy logo or something for not that much, but the client was totally happy and that gave me confidence to keep going.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Starting out I’ve made the best client contacts from referrals. Friends and friends of friends who know me well and really like my work in my work convinced their boss to give me shot on a project. Luckily I had a portfolio just good enough to make working with me plausible.
Other great projects have come from putting myself out there on social media, comic conventions, and cold emails. Even have had luck replying to job boards, but only if the gig is a really good match and I got creative with my cover letter. Whatever It takes to stand out from the pile.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Just turning in the best work I can, and really try to elevate the project. All of my repeat clients like that I try to refine my ideas and problem solve with them. Not just taking a project at face value, but collaborating with them to brainstorm the best visuals to meet their objective, even if it’s not what they had in mind.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
I’ve been very lucky so far. I haven’t had to bug too many own clients in while. Maybe because I’ve been working more and more with repeat clients that I already have had good experiences with.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
Depends on the day. Some days I’m freelancing from home on illustration, character design, or branding.
Most other days I’m commuting to an office in the city where I work part-time for a merchandise company (and squeezing in drawing time on the train ride and lunch breaks). Other days I’m spending time with my son doing kids stuff and going on hikes.
But every day starts with a couple cups of homemade cold brew and with almond milk. Mmm, mmm!
Must add that it really helps that my wife, Laura, has been working full-time as I have been pursuing more freelance as there have definitely been slow periods.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
I’d say even though there are probably many people that seem more talented than you in one way or another, there is always an audience out there that is perfect match for you. It’s just a matter of getting out there and finding them.
I’ve always had a certain degree of confidence in my own work, but sometimes it can be discouraging because there are so many projects that just aren’t a great fit for my particular style or skillset.
But every year of plugging away, I seem to come across more clients who are a great fit who want to work with my because of kind of things I do on my own.
Nate Bear is an illustrator and cartoonist working in Brooklyn NY. His work has appeared in magazines, books, websites, t-shirts and on various products, and occasionally has been spotted on a gallery wall or two. He also self-publishes comics under the label of Bear Brains Comics and contributes to various comic anthologies and zines.