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Sian Shrimpton Design Colourful Note Card

Things I’ve learned from my first year being self-employed

After celebrating my business birthday on 3rd October, I thought it would be great to evaluate my first year of working for myself and write about all that I’ve learned. It has been a testing, challenging, exciting and mostly fun learning curve and I’m not sure I would have realised any of the following things if someone had told me at the very beginning. Some things you have to learn on your own but if this helps someone, then I’m glad.

You can’t do absolutely everything
I look at other creatives who are self-employed or running businesses online and a lot of them are on facebook, twitter, have a large Instagram following, they keep up with Instagram stories, have a youtube channel, they’re on Patreon, hold in-person classes and workshops, they run a blog, promote their blog, they are pinning on Pinterest, they’re on Etsy and not on the high street as well as having a selection of amazing clients and are magically able to eat and sleep!

In reality, no one person is actually able to do all of the above and if they are, how? The internet is truly amazing in allowing us to do all of these things. I’ve just got to carefully choose which things I want to do as I can’t do it all.

This also applies to design work that I do, I can’t be everything to everyone. I can easily think that I’m a failure because I can’t design or illustrate like insert artist’s name here but I’m not them, and they’re not me. So I’ll carry on doing my thing. In fact, one could say that I’d be more of a failure if I didn’t do my thing and simply copied someone else.

Keep it simple
This almost ties in with the previous point but I have a tendency to over complicate things. I want to do all the things, and always have big plans but I’ve found recently that the key is to keep it simple. Right at the beginning of this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about my skills, what I could offer, what I’m good at and what I enjoy. There are a lot of things that I enjoy, for example, painting, hand lettering and I have a background in graphic design, I wondered how I could strike a balance where all of these things could feature in my shop. I found that I was fighting to keep all of these things together all at once and it meant that I just got confused and nothing seemed to work or make sense. Equally, I had plans for Wedding Stationery but how does that fit in with the Penguin Calendars? How does it all fit together? I panicked a lot about my shop and business being a little bit of a mix n match of different things but I learned that that was ok. The thing that ties it all together is me and my style. I aim to be a helpful and approachable designer and offer colourful, cute and personal design and illustration to you lovely people. As soon as I realised that, I’m a lot happier with my shop.

Do what you’re good at…at all times
Short story: Earlier on in the year, I started work on what was a small project. A Groom asked me to design some envelope liners and source some gorgeous envelopes for his Save the Dates. This was a project that I absolutely loved, starting work by looking at all the lovely paper samples was my idea of a perfect day! I went back and forth a couple of times with different paper and envelope samples. Every time I would send a paper sample in the post, I included a small hand-written note to explain what kind of paper sample I was sending. After a while, the Groom asked if I would hand write the addresses on his envelopes as he liked my handwriting so much. I have had a few comments on my handwriting before and make sure I put a little effort in whenever I write a note to someone, making sure it’s neat but I hadn’t considered offering handwritten envelopes as something I do. If you have something that you’re good at, keep doing it because someone will notice and one day you’ll be addressing 70 envelopes. I will be adding envelope addressing to my Etsy shop really soon.

Everything takes time
Drawing takes times. Improving takes time. Editing, printing, photographing all takes time. Healing takes time. I’d get frustrated earlier on in the year that I wasn’t growing as a business as fast as I’d like but these things all take time. I’m actually glad for the slow and steady growth because all this is a huge learning curve and there is a lot to learn. The slow and steady growth has helped me learn along the way.

Momentum
This brings me to momentum. I’m glad that things have taken time but at times I could have got things done a lot quicker. A lot of the time I’ve felt like I’m catching up with myself. I’ll write down ideas, finish what I’m doing (fret about that project, delay actually finishing it for a little while) work on the next priority and over time the enthusiasm fades for that idea or I never get round to even giving it a try. The experts would say that if I lose the enthusiasm for that idea, it wasn’t meant to be anyway but I’ve learned the importance of keeping up momentum and creating when the idea is fresh and it seems to be working at the moment.

Photography & Lightroom
As I said in my year roundup, I’ve learned so much about photography. I took the product photos of the Wedding Stationery samples about 3-4 times before I was happy with them, get the right background, getting the layout right, then learning all about lighting, exposure, white balance, and focus. Product photography is still the most difficult part of running my shop for me but I definitely see an improvement. It’s a lot quicker to create a photo that I like now and I no longer have to battle with my camera to get the right effect.

My photography life also changed the day that I downloaded Lightroom, a photo editing software from Adobe. It is seriously amazing for quick edits and I highly recommend it. I even have the app on my phone which has changed my Instagram life too!

Drawing & Layers
My drawing style has definitely changed (improved?) over the last year. I have done a lot more drawing than ever before, which has given me more confidence in my style. Over the last year, or even the last few months, I’ve started to use layers of paper to create the illustrations that I work on. I do this by using thin paper (not quite tracing or layout paper but cheaper pads of paper that I’ve found in a local stationery shop) sketching out the main shape of the illustration, then laying other piece of paper on top so that I can see the original illustration through and add the details, if it doesn’t work it’s fine because I haven’t had to erase the whole thing losing the original illustration! This has become especially useful in the Christmas card and Calendar designs that I’ve worked on recently. I layer up the drawings so that I don’t ruin the original pencil drawing by trying different details that may or may not work.

I carry this through to my work on illustrator and put the scanned pencil drawing on the first layer, roughly draw out the initial shapes on the second, add shapes of colour on the next, brush strokes to outline and add details on the following layer, then finally add a background behind it all and hide the original scan and rough shape layers. This may sound like such a simple thing but it’s a simple part of my workflow that keeps me organised and means it’s a lot easier to create and edit afterward.

I’m not dreadful at what I do
I was really struggling with my work before I was made redundant a year ago. I became so unsure of everything I worked on. I thought I had been progressing over the 6 years that I worked in the job but was still referred to as a Junior Designer, which knocked my confidence. I had worked so hard but was still seen as a Junior. Then over the last year, I have worked on some relatively small projects with clients who have been over the moon with the work that I’ve done and have been really complimentary of my work, which has been really great to hear. Not only that, I’ve had the chance to work on the projects that I’ve wanted to work on, in the style that I’ve wanted to use, through my Etsy shop and it hasn’t been dreadful.

Calm
I underlined the word calm on my list of things that I learned. All of these things are a complete work in progress and none more so than to keep calm. I remember many a day of fretting over my style, worrying about my ability, am I doing enough? Am I trying to do too much? Am I even cut out for all this? But I’m slowly learning not to worry about all this and to breathe, go for a walk, hide my phone and just get on with it.

So that was quite a lengthy list! I probably could go on for a while with everything I’ve learned in the last year! It has been a great year and I’m so thankful for the opportunity. Is there anything you would add to this list that may help others?

My first year of self-employment

Wow! 3rd October marked one year since I officially became self-employed and I can’t believe how fast that time has gone. This time last year, I had just been made redundant from a job I had worked at since University, I spent a few days processing the news but knew deep down what needed to be done. I had wanted to set up on my own for a while, I knew I wasn’t ready but I felt like this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. I thought, I’ll give it 3 months but haven’t turned back.

When I was made redundant, my confidence was dashed quite considerably. I had very little confidence in myself as a person and even less confidence in my work and my ability to do just about anything. Designing a Penguin Calendar was something I really wanted to do, however, so I did it. I used drawings that I’d worked on, two years before and within 2 weeks, I had vectorised those drawings (drawn them again on the computer) and they looked great. I sat on those designs for a little while, doubting whether they were any good, wondering whether I should add anything to them. I had been painting a little for my mental health so I tried adding some painted details to them but that didn’t quite work. I think I forgot about them for a few days and then revisited the illustrations to find they weren’t dreadful, so after a few tweaks, I sent them to print alongside a typographic design that I had worked on and fretted about in equal measure.

In the beginning, I got just 40 printed and the Penguin Calendar sold out pretty quickly. My sister-in-law snapped up quite a few and I thought she was just buying them to help me out, she gifted them to her colleagues, however, who all loved them! I went on to reprint the penguin design quite a few times as they sold out quite a few times and I worked out that I’d sold about 200 of those Calendars over the Christmas period. I learned so much at that time.

I hand cut out each and every page of the first 80 Calendars that sold! I struggled to find a printer who printed that small, so printed on flat SRA3 sheets and cut each one out. Thankfully, I found out that the same printer would print A7 “leaflets” which was exactly what I needed.

Christmas was then over and all of the Calendars had sold, what now? How do I follow that? I also had quite an upsetting and stressful Christmas time that it took me a little while to get back into creating confidently in the new year. I had big plans for designing Wedding Invitations and Wedding Stationery so set out in designing those. It took a while to settle on a style for those and in the end, I had 7 House Collections of Wedding Stationery, which I really love. Since then I have designed for a couple of lovely Weddings. I hope to do a lot more in the new year.

I’ve learned so much about photography whilst trying to photograph these collections. I’ve taken the photographs 3 or 4 times over, thankfully they get marginally better each time.

The early summer was quite stressful for me, I had quite a lot of things going on, alongside my shop going quiet. I worked on a few great branding and design projects which were lovely. I continued to paint for my mental health again, which resulted in a bright and colourful selection of notecards for all different occasions, which look really great and I’m so pleased with them.

Throughout the year I’ve also faced a horrible habit of comparing myself to others. I would get into a trap of scrolling and scrolling, then wonder why 1. My work wasn’t as good as theirs’ 2. Why my Instagram feed didn’t look amazing and 3. Why I hadn’t done all that I needed to that day through scrolling all day. It’s really silly thinking about it now. But at one point, in July or August, I made a plan, to create furiously and to just keep going regardless of how I felt, about my work, regardless of what someone else had posted online and how good it was. I decided to lock myself in a little bubble and to do my thing and keep going.

Since then, I feel like my focus, momentum, and attitude towards my work has really changed, which has been great. I feel like I’ve found my groove. It has helped that I’ve started working on the Penguin Calendars again which I really love. So that brings me to now. I hope I manage to stay in this groove for a while and continue to create furiously.

Now, this post started off as a “things I’ve learned..” post for my first year of being self-employed but it ended as a pouring out of honesty about how things have gone. I am so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work for myself for the last year and I’m incredibly grateful for the work that I’ve been able to do this year. It has been testing and challenging at times. I have faith and hope that my second year will be even better.

My second year starts with preparing for Christmas again, which is exciting. I have designed two versions of the Penguin Calendar this time, with all new illustrations. I have a Penguin Pin badge which is so unbelievably cute! I’ve also been busy designing a selection of Christmas cards which I’m so pleased with and are now available in the shop.

I have a few Christmas fairs lined up, I share a table with my sister-in-law, who sells candles and we make a great team. I’m also excited to have been accepted for my first ever solo fair (a table all to myself) for the Hertfordshire Etsy Made Local in Ware, I’m sure this won’t be the last you’ll hear about that! I’m excited to meet all of the other members of the Herts Etsy Team and to sell at a local Etsy event.

I have some big plans for the new year, including offering custom portraits, prints, designing a range of birthday and thank you cards, and to take my Wedding Stationery Collections to at least one Wedding Fair. I would also like to take on a few more freelance clients and commissions (so if you’d like to work with me, please get in touch. 😉 ) I also celebrate my 30th birthday next year and what better than to make it the best year yet!

So here’s to the first year and all that it has taught me, let’s hope for a successful second year!

2016 in Review

It feels so bizarre looking back to the start of  2016, it doesn’t feel like long ago that we were ringing in the New Year, celebrating that this would be the year we would get married, however, what a year it has been? I started writing this post as a month by month summary of what I did, and it was more like a list copied from my diary and started to get very long and quite boring, so instead, I’ve picked out some of the highlights.

Image above copyright to Piers Cunliffe

We got married!

We got married on the 7th May and what a wonderful day it was. I had been so anxious in the lead up to the wedding and found the day before so stressful (not that anything went wrong, I just worried that I’d forgotten something) then the morning of the wedding I woke up so early and was so calm. I was excited and nervous for sure, but I was a lot calmer than I thought I’d be. The Wedding day was perfect, I didn’t stop smiling all day, and a lot of guests have commented on what a good wedding it was.

All images above copyright to Piers Cunliffe

Our Honeymoon in Mexico was the most luxurious holiday we’d ever been on, after months of planning and anxiety, it was so nice to just do nothing and soak up the sun, the food was amazing, we visited Chichen-Itza and swam in a Cenote which was beautiful! We’ll definitely go back one day. I love being married now, it suits us and I’ve very much enjoyed being called a Mrs and being a part of Rob’s family, they’ve accepted me with open arms since day one and I very much see them as my family. Rob has been an immense support over the last year with various things going on, he seems to take it all in his stride and looks after me too, I’m not sure what I would have done without him.

Work, My Etsy Shop & Penguin Calendars

I was sadly made redundant from my job in London last year, which was a bit of a shock but I resolved not to let it get me down, but to take every little positive out of the situation and change my life for the better. I got to work straight away on setting myself up as self employed and although it is still early days, I haven’t turned back.

I opened up my Etsy Shop in October! I worked so hard in the latter weeks of September, creating Penguin Illustrations to go into a mini desk calendar, I had also created a more typographical desk calendar. Originally I printed 40 copies of each design, thinking that this was ambitious and they wouldn’t sell, however as of 4th January, I’ve sold 178 Calendars! This number astounds me, I can’t believe it has been so successful and I’m excited to create more products for the new year. Watch this space. Thank you to all of you who have purchased from my Etsy Shop over the last couple of months, I genuinely do a little happy dance whilst packing up your orders.

Last year, I created two new logos, a set of business cards, plus my own logo and business cards. I worked on all the design for our wedding (some of the work was done in 2015 but finished in the early months of 2016). I designed and printed our Wedding Albums (I’ll make sure to write a blog post about those soon). I’ve worked on the design for a vegan recipe book and have worked on so many ideas for new products and services for my shop and business.

I started my new Instagram account for my work in February and it has been great. I’ve done more painting, drawing and lettering than ever before and have met a lot of new designer, illustrator and maker friends, it is my favourite social networking platform for sure. I took part in Meet the Maker Week in December as well which was something I’ve never done before and I really enjoyed it.

I had the pleasure of presenting at a careers fayre at my old secondary school, returning there after 10 years was quite weird. I also took my Calendars and Greeting Cards along to a few Christmas fayres.

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The fall and rise of the blog

One day in October, I was updating a plugin on my blog and suddenly everything disappeared, my screen went white, I couldn’t log in, I couldn’t visit my website, nothing. I left it a couple of days to see whether it was just me going crazy and tried to fix it. I tried everything my limited knowledge of websites, self hosting and google would allow, the back ups that I thought I’d set up, failed and I just couldn’t get it all back. I had been considering starting a brand new blog anyway (although not wanting to delete the old one) so decided to start from scratch and here I am. I hope to blog a lot more in 2017, I seem to have got out of the habit of writing for the blog and although I write every day in my diary, the blog is public and it has taken me hours to write this post because I over think every sentence.

Happy Times

Although 2016 had a reputation for being a bad year, there were some really happy times when I think of it. Obviously, Rob and I getting married was one of those, I’m so grateful for our marriage, our home and the life that we have. I had two Hen Dos! Two of our best friends had babies in 2016 and they are the most beautiful little babies. Another of my best friends got engaged and is getting married in 2018. We went on the best holiday to Mexico, enjoyed our holiday in Cornwall, a long weekend in Norwich and a road trip to Newport for the day. I saw The Bodyguard and The School of Rock in the West End, and enjoyed both immensely. I also celebrated 10 years since my Art & Design Foundation course with the friends that I met on the course, I can’t believe it was that long ago and I’m so glad that we’re all still friends! We also celebrated a few big birthdays and anniversaries and our first Christmas as Mr & Mrs.

Sadness and Anxiety

Sadly my Grandfather passed away in November 2016 and just two weeks later Rob’s Grandmother passed away. I have a whole other blog post to remember the influence that my Grandfather had on my work and my life but that is for another day. Whilst I’ve mentioned the highlights of this year, it hasn’t been without it’s difficulties, I’ve faced a lot of anxiety and sadness but I look back on what I have achieved and realise I shouldn’t be anxious about my abilities, then I look back on what I still have and realise I shouldn’t be sad but happy for the memories I have of the people that we’ve lost.

Onwards into a New Year

I am grateful for the lessons that 2016 has taught me, however happy to move into a fresh new year. I move into the last year of my twenties this year so I better make it count!

I like to choose a word for the year and then my goals for the year come from that. In the past I’ve had Grow, Explore, Create and Joy as my word for the year and it forms a kind of mantra for the year. The words that passed through my mind for this year were build (on my business), (find my) purpose, peace (to curb any anxiety), courage (this relates to most of my goals for this year) and thrive. But none of it seems to be sticking with me. Courage is probably the best out of those for now so I’m seeing how it goes.

Other goals are:

  • Make a success of my business, which will mean a balance of creating a sustainable income whilst keeping my sanity. (I could write a whole other blog post about my goals and ideas for my little business in 2017 but no spoilers).
  • To read at least 12 books (I think I read 2.5 books in 2016).
  • Start working on my Dollhouse (I already started during the Christmas break, I will write a blog post all about it soon).
  • Write regularly whether it be on the blog or in my diary
  • Get Driving (This is my goal every single year, I’ve had a full driving license since 2009 but haven’t used it, I need to get over the fear of sitting in the driver’s seat!)
  • Less Social Media and more socialising! (This sounds rather sad but I don’t see enough of my friends, I will plan more get togethers).

I’m excited to get going and glad you’re along with me for the ride. I hope you all had a very Happy Christmas and New Year! What are your plans for 2017?