Archive for November, 2009

Free Lancer’s Mistakes

Seeing as we are all human (well, presumably whoever is reading this post anyway), we should recognize that mistakes happen. They even have that saying, “To err is human…,” which goes to show that it is not only commonplace for us to err once or twice: it is expected. But a method is behind this madness, because making mistakes is one of the major ways we learn. This is no different for freelancers.

Smashingheader in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

Finding our way over these bumps in the road often gives us valuable insight to take away. It helps us develop techniques and methods that we can incorporate into our creative process. As freelancers, we have the benefit of access to an entire online community that is willing to share its experiences so that we can learn without having to make the same mistakes.

So in this post, we look at 10 critical mistakes freelancers make. Hopefully, if you haven’t already made one of these mistakes yourself, you can learn the lesson behind it.

They Don’t Use A Contract

One of the first things freelancers learn when contracting out their services to others is… to use a contract! Unfortunately, we often learn this lesson the hard way. For whatever reason, we think that a particular client of ours is someone we can work for without the aid and protection of a contract. This tends to end in one way: by biting us in the back end.

Without this safeguard in place, you open yourself up to so many potential problems, and you may inadvertently end up committing to more than you had intended or even imagined. Freelancers only make this mistake once, if at all. This lesson is not a secret in the freelance community. The advice comes up often: always use a contract. And many heed the warning once they hear it.

They Misuse Social Media (Or Don’t Use It At All)

Another common, but critical, pitfall that freelancers tumble into is misusing social media, if they even use it at all. Social media is a major tool that offers all freelancers an invaluable resource at their fingertips. An entire community of professionals connected via modems, ready and willing to offer each other whatever assistance they can. Neglecting this stream of industry insight, or not using it properly, can hinder the growth of your business.

Social media is about interacting with people and fostering relationships, which, if done with consideration and attention, can create opportunities you would have otherwise missed out on (not to mention friendships that can outlast jobs). Especially at the beginning of your freelancing career, if you make the mistake of misusing the media, you could be seen as an anti-social pariah in your corner of the Web.

They Put Quantity Over Quality In Their Portfolio

Quality in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

When putting their portfolio together, some freelancers mistakenly believe that the more they add to their portfolio, the better. Then it becomes about quantity and not quality of work. They forget the value of the portfolio in opening doors and creating opportunities.

The phrase “Put your best foot forward” applies in this situation. Your portfolio speaks volumes about your skills, freeing you from having to say too much and risk coming off as more arrogant than confident. Let your portfolio do the talking, and don’t make the mistake of prioritizing quantity and sending the wrong message. Quality makes the best first impression, so make the most of it.

They Stop Learning

Learning in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

This one has to be said. It can do so much harm to freelancers, no matter what their field: that is, they stop learning. But especially for freelancers who work in a field as dynamic and ever-expanding as design and development, staying ahead of the curve is absolutely crucial to meeting your clients’ needs.

This field is continually evolving with new techniques and applications. Throwing in the towel on education is virtual suicide. You, your work and your career would stagnate. Thankfully, with this online culture we have today, cultivating an environment in which we can sustain our education is easy. Not taking advantage of these learning opportunities is a mistake that could potentially cost you your business.

They Don’t Know How To Deal With Clients

Customerservice in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

Another common mistake is that freelancers forget their people skills when dealing with clients. For whatever reason, we let slip in our minds that clients hire us because they don’t know how to do the work themselves. They are in unknown territory, and as freelancers we should always be sensitive to that and bridge as many gaps in knowledge as we can. This will only improve your future dealings with the client and earn you more respect and trust in the business.

Obviously, without clients, you are a freelancer in title alone, so make sure you know not only how to engage clients but how to entice them back. Being able to assess needs that they aren’t even able to articulate and then communicating it all back to them is an invaluable skill. Neglecting it can be costly.

They Fail To Prepare For Dry Spells

Dry in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

This mistake is definitely better learned second-hand, and that is not preparing for occasions when no work is coming in. Droughts hit even the best of them, especially in these tough economic times. Freelancers often forget to account for that in their pricing structure and to save up in good times for when things go south.

There is a logic behind the rates we charge, and part of it is to sustain us after we have completed work for one client and eagerly await the next. Of course, we can always find work to do, but paying work is what sustains us as freelancers. Calling this mistake costly is too close to punning for comfort, but its impact is definitely felt and could force you to suspend freelancing and seek out supplemental employment, thus making it even harder for you to create your own opportunities.

They Overload Their Plate

Plate in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

This next mistake sometimes results from a fear of the aforementioned dry spell. Of course, greed might also play a role. Whatever the reason, some freelancers don’t know when enough is enough, and they continue to take on new projects as their plate overloads. Overextending yourself and your business like this can destabilize your workflow.

Freelancers need a certain degree of self-awareness to know when they have reached their limit. Reputation—that is, a good one—is important to your business’ development. Spreading yourself too thin is never good, and the distraction could hamper your creativity. This is another of those mistakes that are difficult to recover from.

They Miss A Deadline (And Think It’s No Big Deal)

Deadline in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

This, too, is often a consequence of the previous mistake in our list. Falling behind when you are overloaded is all too easy, but missing a deadline can have a debilitating effect on your business. And if you think missing a deadline is no big deal, your career may be over before it begins. Deadlines keep you on track and help you multitask, as well as keep your client on track with the development of their project.

Once again, reputation is critical to building your brand and making your mark in the freelancing market. And a great way to ruin that reputation is by proving yourself unreliable. Stay productive and ahead of your tasks to avoid disrupting your client’s timetable. If you end up making this mistake, own up to it. Don’t offer excuses, simply propose a new timetable and continue working hard to meet it. But clearly acknowledge the problem you have created for your client. If you make this mistake once, you may not have an opportunity to make it again.

They Lack Confidence

Confidence in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

Lacking confidence in themselves or in their work is another mistake that can plague freelancers, even beyond their business. Being your own worst critic and holding your work to a higher standard than that of others is natural (right?). But at a certain point, you are no longer critiquing so much as tearing down your work. Dismissing the talent and abilities that have carried you this far is misguided and will do nothing for your productivity.

Without confidence, making it as a freelancer will be extremely difficult. You’ll start taking useful and well-intended criticism bitterly, missing the person’s point and spiraling further into a pool of doubt and self-pity. Lack of confidence hinders your skills and the growth of your business. Clients will pick up on it quickly, because the freelancer is supposed to have a commanding role. Our responsibility is to guide the client to make effective decisions and win them over to our point of view; without confidence, this becomes unlikely. You’ll undervalue both yourself and your work. So have faith in your abilities, and know that your unique voice is needed in the ranks of the freelancing arena.

They Go To Work For Someone Else

Cubicle in Critical Mistakes Freelancers Make

Another blunder freelancers make is to work tirelessly to build their business, only to accept the first offer for a cushy job that comes along. No longer being your own boss would seem easy to adjust to, but it can be like moving back under your parents’ roof after you’ve tasted the freedom of living on your own. It simply doesn’t fit as comfortably as it once did. Simply readjusting is not so easy because freelancing is more than a job: it is a way of life.

Some people tell themselves that freelancing was all along a stopgap to some greater dream, but true freelancers find that pill hard to swallow. For some, that might be true, but then those people were not freelancers so much as temporary independent contractors. Freelancers crave the freedom that comes with the ’lancing. Still others believe they can work for someone else and maintain their freelancing on the side. In theory, this might appear viable. The reality is harsher: freelancing is full-time. It is a way of life, and turning it into a part-time job spells trouble.

Further Resources

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Optimizing asset bundling and serving with Rails

I wrote up a pretty lengthy post over at the GitHub blog explaining how we do asset bundling and serving. Well worth the read for anyone who’s interested in front end performance and works on ruby apps.

Go check it out

Optimizing asset bundling and serving with Rails

I wrote up a pretty lengthy post over at the GitHub blog explaining how we do asset bundling and serving. Well worth the read for anyone who’s interested in front end performance and works on ruby apps.

A close look at the Creativity of Illustrator Pasquale D’Silva

Every now and then we all come across a designer who takes us by surprise, and reminds us what it means to truly be a creative person. This is exactly how I felt when nearly 2 years ago I came across the work of Pasquale D’Silva.

Although illustration and animation aren’t really things I do, the vibe that comes from Pasquale, and the level of creativity he keeps up is something we can all related to and respect.

When you stumble across somebody so creative in this industry it’s always a good idea to talk to them, and if their skills can work for you, work with them. I hadn’t really planned to find an illustrator to work with, but once I saw his work I just had to find an excuse to work with him. And in the past our previous meetings have worked out very well.

Having worked with such an interesting character, and got to enjoy his work over the past year or two I felt it would be nice for me to share some of his work with you guys and perhaps open some eyes to a guy who keeps me very intrigued, blows my mind and inspires me on a daily basis.

In this post I will be showcasing some of the fantastic work from Pasquale, and tying in some interview questions that I put to him. Plus read through to find out how to win a cool t-shirt from Pasquale.

Work of Pasquale D’Silva

Before we get in to the interview I’ve chose a selection of Pasquale’s work that I would like to share with you. More of his work will be placed throughout the interview.

01. You are clearly a creative guy. Can you tell us where did your interest in illustration & animation came from?

The plan was to be a mechanical and micro-electronic engineer. I wanted to build neat robots to fight each other to the death, and send things to the moon. Unfortunately that required a lot of boring math, and in my senior year, I swapped all my courses out to arts courses. It freaked my careers councilor out for sure..

I’ve always loved drawing and making funny things. I used to draw really weird things and write wacky, crudely illustrated stories when I was in Primary school.

I only seriously thought about animation & illustration as a career after watching Disney B-Rolls for hours on end in early high-school.

It was wonderful learning that there were a few adults who could actually make a living drawing animals, candlesticks, monsters & funny looking people for kids and adults (big kids) all day. I didn’t want a regular ‘boring’ job, so I just stuck my hands into drawing & animation!

After sending in a showreel of work to a local animation & effects studio, they were nurturing enough to take me in and train me up. It turned into a job working on a couple of animated television series, where I learned a lot of very valuable information.

02. What was the motivation for you to pull out of university & focus on your freelance work? Has the decision worked out for you?

University was a struggle. Not for grades – I was happily sitting at ‘honors’. I had been working for an animation studio before entering university, so jumping into it felt really sheltered.

Nobody was brutal enough with critique, and the bar was set pretty low. For something as subjective as animation, applying an academic set of criteria was almost ridiculous! It felt too mechanical, and it was hard to feel motivated to work on neat things.

I left at the end of ’08 and haven’t looked back. That being said, I am still glad that I got to go to university and collaborate with friends. I ended up making a really fun little short, and had some great times sharing and learning from each other.

Freelance was doing great, and the north (America & Canada) presented a plethora of opportunities. I’ve been working with many new faces up here.

Everything is exciting and fresh! I think the best thing that came out of the big move to Vancouver was ending up in a place saturated with creative people, and being independent!

03. How is your time mostly spent? Is there a balance between your illustration work, and your animation work? Which of the two would you say you prefer spending time on?

For the most part, I’m Illustrating as Freelance work & animating for personal projects. Since animation is so laborious, it requires a pretty large budget to get rolling- so they are the more occasional pieces.

When I’m animating, I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like examining and working each drawing; but when I’m illustrating I don’t get to see it move and come to life.  So for that reason, I like to keep a pretty even split between the two.

04. If you had to choose some work that would define you as a designer what would it be. Talk us through the work and what makes it a perfect representation of you & your work.

Looking back at my art even months ago, I see a lot of change. In months from now, I’d probably pick something different, but I guess right now I’d say my on going ‘freak-a-day’ project (which has been daily sometimes in the past months).

I love pushing out really quick & loose drawings. I find that I learn a lot more about my quirks from spontaneous reflex drawing: Freak a Day.

After drawing studies, natural patterns occur in the choices of lines I’ll put down, so it’ always nice to have a collection of the looser sketches. Sometimes the freaks will come from ideas I dream up, or sometimes they’ll just emerge from a squiggle that I’ll use as the base shape.

05. You always have a great use of colour in your Work. Where does this understanding come from & do you have any tips you could share?

I find colour to be very non-formulaic, even though there are a lot of theories which help as a guide. I love just looking at nature for inspiration. Real life is the best thing to learn from. Don Shank & Lou Romano (Two of my favourite layout artists) are a big inspiration.

They develop the colour scripts & layout art for many of Pixar’s films by going out into the field with art supplies, and just slapping studies together. I think that colour is incredibly important to nail down in all types of design, be it web, print or animated! It really helps to establish mood & character.

If I have any useful tips for colour- I’d say it’s just all about examining what’s around you and studying what occurs naturally!

06. You’ve recently opened a shop! Talk us through what you’re doing, and what you have planned for the shop.

Yes! I am really excited that people can now own a physical copy of my art for their walls or chests! I just started working with a great screen printer; Sage Screen-printing who uses traditional methods to hand-press prints.

I was actually at his studio while the paints were mixed and pressed for my first line of limited edition tees! Being hand controlled, we got to control every fine detail from the colour contrast, to checking that every layering of paint registered properly.

I think having prints made in the traditional fashion is so rewarding. After seeing what goes behind it, I really fell in love with the method, and plan to roll out a lot more art designed for press.

It’s a great feeling being able see your art in a more tactile form than just on screen!

07. It seems that friends & collaborations with designers play a big part in your life and your work. Introduce some of these people to us and share what you’ve been up recently.

Collaborating with my friends and other artists is a blast. It means that I get a diversity of projects to work on, & get to make things even better than I could have produced on my own.

I just started co-hosting a weekly show with Timmy Allen (from Rev3′s Film Riot) & Nick Campbell from GreyScaleGorilla on motiongraphics & animation called Keyframe.

We hold a round table discussion about news, questions & breaking down pieces of work. We just finished our second episode, and hope that we can make each episode even better than the last!

I’m also working on a live action x animation film with my good videographer friend Josh Knepper. It’s called Packed.

Right now we are trying to develop our own methods to blend effects work with illustration & animation. We recently did a comprehensive rewrite of the script, & are now testing the final effect proofs in the coming week or two. For some reason, we also require a full body, skin-tight,  green-screen suit; so we’ll be getting into some spandex soon…

My store system was built by my friend Brian Reavis who is an amazing wizard of code. I recently flew out to visit him & his equally talented brother and started building a crazy project that involves robots & twitter. – But that’s still under wraps!

…and of course there are the numerous collaborations I’ve had with you here at Function, Illustrating fun characters to share & more recently, the pieces put together for the redesign of Smashing Magazine!

08. Could you please explain why you have so many quick sketches or doodles uploaded online & what their importance is?

Animation & Illustration is my passion. Though I absolutely enjoy making art for other people, it’s still work! I chill out making art as well, so working on my own projects is meditative. I love to push together fun little pieces to share with the world, and to add to my portfolio. I’m always working on something new in order to diversify my work showcase as much as possible. There are no limits when you are working for yourself.

09. What tools, online or offline are most important to your work-flow.

All of my drafting is usually traditionally planned (Pencil on Paper). Getting it into digital is the easy part! I develop most of my drawings on paper, and then vector the scans using Adobe Flash or Illustrator.

It’s kind of un-orthodox, but I find the bendable line tools & interactivity between drawing elements in Flash to be so much more intuitive than Illustrator. I spend most of my time vectoring in Flash & then accomplishing the rest of the polish in Illustrator.

Raster work is produced with Autodesk Sketchbook, Corel Painter, or Photoshop depending on the aesthetic I am after. I animate with Flash, Autodesk Maya, & composite with After Effects.

It used to be an extremely tedious process taking pencil sketches into digital through scanning, and re-inking the the linework. I recently added a Wacom Cintiq to my work-flow, and it’s really shaved down hours upon hours from my process.

Being able to use the original marks placed on canvas is a godsend! Sketchbook is Cintiq’s best friend. It’s so nice being able to doodle quick scribbles with the pencil brushes. All of the characters in my Freak-a-day set were drawn using it!

10. You definitely have a good balance of fun and professionalism about you. Do you think this is important for your client relationships and collaborations with other designers.

I’d like to think that it’s one of my stronger assets! I think establishing a friendly and comfortable relationship with a client is a wonderful thing. The relationship will be incentive for a client to want to keep hiring a designer for future projects, whilst the designer can feel comfortable working on a project.

I’m often selective about clients, and make sure that working together will really benefit the both of us.

Keeping it lighthearted is important, especially in an industry as loopy and fun as animation/character design. A good personality reflects pretty strongly on your work. Better work comes from the projects which are least stressful.

11. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, anything you’d like to add?

My pleasure Liam.  Thanks for talking to me and letting me share my thoughts! I just want to say that I am always looking for fresh new projects & people to work with. Come hang out on my site, have a look around in my shop, and check out some of the fun projects I am working on!

Win Pasquale’s work on your Chest!

Pasquale has been kind enough to let one of you guys have one of his t-shirts delivered to your door absolutely free. Simply post a comment to win, remembering to enter your email address, so we can contact you (only if you win) – One word posts won’t be accepted so make it a valuable comment & feel free to share the competition via Twitter and other modern contraptions.

For a better view of what you will be winning, with sizes check the details out.

One winner will be picked randomly. The contest will only run until Monday November 16th 2009: 4pm GMT. So make sure to get your entry in quickly.

Stay in Touch with Pasquale

There’s a few ways to keep up to date with Pasquale. Let’s quickly run through them! His Twitter. Personal Blog. Flickr stream & Tumblr. Make sure to check out the new Shop and his work Portfolio.

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