Wow, has it really been 2 months? Long time no see. How you doing? Did you miss me? Probably not. Oh well.
So what have I been up to all this time that's meant I've been neglecting the blog? Well a couple of things sprung up to confront me around the end of March. One good, one bad, both connected and both requiring me to have a big rethink about my life and career. A few weeks down the line, now's a good time to reflect, regroup and take things in a new direction.
First the bad thing. I passed that milestone of being unemployed for 12 months. I am now officially dole scum. In the UK, at 12 months the Jobcentre washes their hands of you and passes you on to a private initiative called A4E. Going freelance seems the best option for me to get any work but, annoyingly, I am now no longer eligible for the government's business start up benefit. You can only get this if you've been unemployed between 6 and 12 months, providing it's a full moon on a leap day and your mother's mother has a living conjoined twin named Grizandella.
Okay, I made some of that up but it really is very restrictive. You'd think that the government would do all they can to encourage people to set up their own businesses, no matter whether they've been unemployed 2 days or 2 years. Yes, new Prime Minister David Cameron, I'm looking at you to sort this out.
Instead I'm shunted off once or twice a week to a rundown office block 2 doors away from a commercial gallery whose window taunts me with £400 prints from my favourite artist. Yeah, world, why don't you just kick me in the face while I'm down?
What amazingly useful stuff do they have me doing there? Er... nothing I can't do better at home, frankly. Sure, there's a need for somewhere like this to help people who lack skills in applying for jobs, writing CVs and letters, learning how to conduct themselves in an interview and so on. But for the vast majority of people, it's just "there's the computers, sit there and look at the job sites for an hour". It's not help, it's having an eye kept on you.
If you're still unemployed after 13 weeks with them (which for me would fall at the end of June or early July, not exactly sure offhand) there's the compulsory 4 weeks' work experience to do, which even my personal advisor has told me would be a total waste of my time. So basically there's big pressure on me to get some work and get it soon.
The good thing that happened recently could actually be a way out of this mess and a big step up the ladder to achieving my potential. Thanks to good old Twitter I heard about something that was due to start in early April called the Zero 2 Illo Twelve Week Challenge, set up by Jonathan Woodward, himself an aspiring illustrator, and his wife Lea who is offering her business expertise. This is a way for those of us with the same dream to gang together and support each other as we work through a set of weekly tasks to prepare us to go into business as published illustrators.
This scheme sounded perfect for me because what I'm lacking here at home is structure, support and understanding. The family want to see cash on the table, not pie in the sky dreams about selling artwork.
So far I've completed the 3 weeks it took to analyse our business idea. I've narrowed down the sector I want to target as being the greetings card industry, with a passive income on the side from selling my own designs, such as the Café Press shops I already have.
Unfortunately, though, I've managed to fall behind everyone else. Just as they're finishing off their portfolio pieces (the next section of the challenge), I'm just starting mine. So there lies the next part of the Big Rethink. For me, this isn't going to be the 12 Week Challenge, it's going to be the However Many Weeks It Takes Challenge. I won't feel comfortable being rushed into making something I'm not totally happy with. I've got 3 ideas to keep me going but, right now, the Inspiration Fairy's not whacking me over the head very hard with her magic wand.
As someone whose mental health isn't 100% either, it's not a good idea for me to take on unnecessary stress. That DOESN'T mean I can't hit important deadlines though! Below you can see my contribution to Amelia's Magazine, a topical blog which often puts out a call for illustrations (it's worth following her on Twitter if you're interested in taking on her challenges). For this election night illustration I wasn't even able to start it until 10.00 pm when the exit polls revealed a likely hung parliament. Then I worked late into the night, grabbed a couple of hours' sleep and finished it the next morning, in good time to be published in her blog.
How to Solve a Hung Parliament
So, as far as the 12 Week Challenge is concerned, I'm still dedicated to it and working my way through it as best I can. I can benefit from it if I complete it, but I won't get penalised if I don't, unlike my jobsearch legal obligations. When A4E call me in for my fortnightly reviews, they can understand "proper" business concepts like writing a business plan. They wouldn't be so understanding about something less tangible, like designing new artwork. So here I have to divert off the Challenge and move onto one of its future tasks, setting up a new portfolio.
I've already posted links to my profiles on DeviantArt and Artylizer (okay, re-adding the links there so there's no excuse for you to miss them!) These are good to get an overview of what I do but I really need something more businesslike. Unfortunately setting up my own website is out of the question right now (unless someone knows an awesome service that's totally free and doesn't just look like a blog). I've found a couple of sites that offer a professional looking portfolio so I'll make my final choice from those in the next few days to host about 10-20 of my very best pieces.
The plan then (which is where I can keep the A4E jobsearch people happy) is to Email local printers and small design agencies with the link. I'll be marketing myself as offering a specialist service that can take on more complicated illustration-based jobs than they could handle themselves. I've known designers in the past who've made that sort of relationship work and I think this is the most realistic way for me to get my feet back into the design world. If I can sweet-talk the printers with promises of slipping them some work, I think I could build up a decent sized address list quite easily.
In between all that, I've been designing more products and working on a new online store. It's almost ready to launch so watch this space! I'm also planning a spin-off for this blog so I can keep this one mostly for my work and have somewhere else I can use to have some fun.
Thanks to the new subscribers I've picked up recently, mostly from the 12 Week Challenge by the looks of it. I've kept you all waiting long enough for new stuff, now it's onwards and upwards to world domination.
Or at least not being dole scum any more.