Getting into a creative field is not as easy as it seems. There is this misconception that in order to earn good money, you need to sometimes take up a job that you might not necessarily like. This is why many people choose to let go of their dreams, even if it’s the last thing they want to do. But ever since social media took over the world, there’s now a platform for every creative individual out there.
So, we got in touch with our favourite Bengaluru-based illustrator Alicia Souza, to talk about creative blocks, work-life balance, and how to make money doing what you love. Guys, take notes.
Were people supportive of you choosing to illustrate as a career?
Alicia Souza: “So my parents were really keen on my siblings and I doing something we loved and enjoyed. This is primarily because my dad really didn’t like his job and he did not want us to get stuck in a job that we didn’t like. That is the one thing I am extremely grateful for because when I started out or even considered the field, I wasn’t confident. So if someone said that I don’t think this field is for you, I would have left without hesitating. But my parents were really supportive. One thing though, I think they were really nervous when I started. I was born and brought up in Abu Dhabi, so when I moved to India a decade ago, I was making these bold choices for my career, but that’s when they started getting nervous. They never said no, but I could hear the hesitation when I mentioned what I wanted to do. But they never stopped me and have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams.”
How do you identify that your work is fit to be monetized? What step should one take towards starting the monetization process?
Alicia Souza: “As an illustrator, the only way to find out if your work is monetizable is to actually try to sell it. There are various ways you can do this, for example, personal commissions. I tried not freelancing for friends and family when I was starting out, instead I got in touch with my acquaintances. Now we have social media, putting yourself out there and making yourself available while trying to get people to find you is a lot easier and one of the best ways to start out. If you are looking to getting into freelance, it is important to make your art sellable. Also, if you have a very specific style, try to find people who love that kind of imagery and aesthetic. It is also very important to not treat your work as a hobby but as a means to pay your bills. If you look at it as a hobby, you won’t put in half as much effort as you would if it were a service that you are providing. And when someone buys your work, you have to find out why they’re buying your product. This will help you understand your customers‘ needs better and you can create products that cater to those needs.”
How long did it take for you to start monetizing your work?
Alicia Souza: “Right out of college, I started freelancing as an illustrator in India and got my first contract job; it was a little storybook. I did not have back-to-back projects when I started out but I think it all fell into place in about a year and a half when it became a job with a proper income. I think it took me longer because there was no social media at that time. Today, monetizing your art would be comparatively faster because of the worldwide reach.”
How do you deal with days when you don’t feel creative or don’t feel inspired? Is it different from usual because this is your source of income?
Alicia Souza: “I’ve been doing this for so long, I don’t think there are ever days where I don’t feel like working. I think it’s because it’s almost become a part of me now. I have a backlog of so many illustrations that every time I get an idea I write it down or draw it. So whenever I feel like I’m not able to come up with an idea, I have a look at my book and instantly come up with concepts. I am very, very grateful that I have more than enough on my plate at all times. Bur it is important to take notes and doodle ideas every time you go out, so that you can refer to them later.”
Was it hard to maintain a work-life balance?
Alicia Souza: “My ultimate aim was never to go to an office because I am such a stickler for not wasting time. I find that travelling just wastes more time when I can do the same thing at home, and work in my pyjamas. So, very early on in my career, this lady who was working in the same place as I did, lived in the same building that she worked in and gave me some great advice. She told me that it was very important to not get into your work space after your work is done. Keeping things separate was really, really important, and I’m very diligent about it. On the weekends, I avoid doing any kind of client work, instead, I draw for myself; even if it’s something random like a doodle or a birthday card.”
Is it harder to enjoy drawing for fun now that you draw for work too?
Alicia Souza: “No, I think my work is fun, so I don’t find it tiresome or draining. But I do find it hard to draw without thinking of what I can use it for. I draw for corporate clients and that takes up about 80 percent of my work time. And I also have my own company that includes products, and then there’s my social media as well. So, a lot of times, I feel like I don’t have time to experiment. But yeah, I do like drawing comics for social media. Strangely enough, I even find doing my accounts is a tad bit enjoyable. It was the worst part of my freelancing bit, but it’s not that bad.”
Does criticism for your work feel different because it’s aimed at something you feel passionately about?
Alicia Souza: “No, it doesn’t, because I feel like what I do is not taken away from me. If someone said that I draw badly, I would just think maybe, I do need to improve. But if it’s something aimed at content that I have created, I would take it a bit personally. I would try to think of why someone would say something like that. I don’t think criticism would be necessarily aimless unless you’re looking at hurting someone’s feelings, and if it is, I feel like I have thick enough skin to not care.”
What advice would you give to people who want to follow the same path?
Alicia Souza: “Just be diligent and consistent with your work. When I say consistent, I mean that your drawing has to be consistent. Think of it as work, even though your work will be fun, it will also possibly be scary in the beginning. Treating it as a hobby will only make you draw when you feel like it, instead of when you need to. This is one of the key ways to make sure that you get paid for what you love.”