Eight Months Self Employed

It's super scary and also beyond exciting to think that very soon it will be an entire year since I waved a jolly goodbye to my old job and took the plunge into self employment. If you're new to my blog - Hi! My name is Ellis and I'm an illustrator, often sharing my life and behind the scenes experiences of running a small business from home.

The Christmas period was far from what I was used to after spending the last five years working in a place I didn't want to be over the festive season. Day in, day out, working over Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing Day, not to mention New Year. Instead I found myself managing my own time, venturing out to do the shopping at quieter times rather than cramming it all into busy evenings or weekends and it was really lovely to spend Christmas at home with my husband and our doggies without it looming over me that I would have to return to work the very next day. However it's not all been easy and that's what these update posts are all about. Documenting what's been cracking off and being able to reflect now and at a later date. 

I thought I had prepared pretty hard for being freelance and self employed. I really thought that I was ready and able to tackle anything that was thrown at me and whilst my confidence and overall health has improved, the last few months have been very quiet and I was faced with new issues, ones that I didn't really see coming. I try to stay as organised as possible with my work, since I'm a one man show I just find it so much easier and less stressful updating things like paperwork once a week, doing regular stock checks and keeping track of everything. When I quit my job I didn't expect magic to happen, but sales certainly became a lot more frequent and I was going to bed every night really quite content with my hard work and success. Granted I wasn't earning as much as I used to, but a drop in pay was to be expected and I was totally fine with that.

Then October came and out of no where everything seemed to plummet. Luckily I'm part of a couple of arty small business group chats and have made some lovely creative friends on Instagram and Twitter who have not only been a huge support but a source of comfort since I quickly learnt that we were all experiencing the same thing. What with all the new algorithms that all of the social media platforms seem to be meddling with, it's become so much harder to promote work and get seen and this is something that started to get me very down. Believe it or not, running accounts is very hard work let alone when you're running a personal and then a business one alongside it. I've been burning myself out and worrying myself sick that my work just wasn't good enough, that I was aiming at the wrong audience, that no one actually liked me, the usual anxiety monsters who like to whisper nasties in your ears late at night.

I've managed to work out as much as I can that this awful feeling seems to be the product of working so, so hard and not actually getting any results from it all. I 100% work longer hours than I used to for a fraction of the pay and money isn't everything after all, but there are odd days where I can't seem to shake the guilty feeling that I'm just not doing enough. I've looked around and seen other people doing so well and oh look there we have it, the terrible impostor syndrome or comparing oneself to others. It never does anyone any good and it's self destruction at it's finest.

I'm very fortunate to be in a position where I can stay at home all day, locked away from the rest of the world doing what I love more than anything else. Many people feel it's an unhealthy way to live and that I should be 'around people' but being a huge introvert, I'm only left feeling sucked of energy when I spend time with people for too long. How awful does that sound of me? Why does that make me feel like an asshole of a human being just for recognising what recharges me and what does the opposite? I have my routine at home, I eat well, I exercise daily, I organise my time, look after the house, and spend valuable time with my dogs. I'm a much nicer person when my husband comes home from work than I used to be when I worked a nightmare job, working for myself has only ever done wonders for us and my health. So why the guilt of not being enough?

I'm not really one for 'new year new me' resolutions but what I would really like to start practising in 2018 is the art of believing in yourself. For many years I've looked in the mirror and seen nothing but a failure, I tell myself in my head that I don't look nice enough and the constant bullying I put myself through is something I wouldn't even expose my worst enemy to. So when shit hits the fan and things are quiet again, which they will be because different months have different levels of spending activity for consumers, I want to step back and tell myself I'm doing my best and that I'm also doing great. Instead of panicking about where the sales have gone, I'm going to work on a new piece of art, actually get stuck into the art journal I've been meaning to commit to for months and just immerse myself even further into the creative world that I love so much. Yoga has become a huge part of my life now and I usually do my sessions in the evening but there is no harm in trying to start the day with a few stretches too and continuing to self care through eating right and taking the time out when I need it. I've absolutely had enough of the constant negative outlook I seem to have when work is really quiet so this year, my first proper year as a self employed person, I'd really like to bop it on the head and become a lot more optimistic.

Thanks for reading,

My Physical Struggles As An Artist

I started my creative career ten years ago when I decided whilst choosing my A Level subjects that I wanted to pursue a job within that industry. I focused so much time and effort into my work and I fell in love with art to an extent that I would always be looking for it. I can't pass street art without stopping to admire and I could spend hours upon hours in Paperchase perusing all of their wonderful greeting card designs. Stick me in an art supplies shop and you'll loose me to the paints, pens, paper, that varnishy smell...I just adore it all.

University wasn't all it was cracked up to be for me personally so I went down my animal lover route instead for five years but kept doing the art on the side, hoping to one day make it my full time job and work for myself. Then in 2016 I had an accident with my hand and everything changed. Whilst doing some washing up from home, a glass broke whilst my hand was inside it and I severed the tendon to my ring and baby fingers on my right hand. My fingers drooped, I couldn't move them and from the second it happened I knew my hand would never be the same again. I was rushed to A&E only to sit and wait for 5 hours with a shard of glass still implanted within my hand, I had it removed and spent the remainder of that week in despair because no one was taking me seriously when I said my fingers just didn't work anymore. I was told that this was to be expected due to the level of trauma I had suffered but I knew my body and I knew something just wasn't right. I dragged my ass down to my walk in centre twice pleading with them to help me and in the end I was told to return to A&E for another assessment. Even whilst at A&E, two different doctors tried telling me that the swelling and trauma was preventing me from moving my fingers but a third doctor took a look and decided it was beyond their expertise.

pastels, art materials, art shop, artist, rainbow

I was referred to the Derby Hand Clinic and within seconds of placing my hand on the table, my consultant told me I had severed my tendon and would need surgery to repair it. I went down for surgery 20 minutes later under a local anaesthetic and spent the following three months returning to the hospital once a week for check ups and physiotherapy. I had to fill in forms with my left hand so over time I developed some skills with my left and started to favour it for obvious reasons, but when filling out the 'occupation' section I always noticed my doctors and physiotherapists always looked a little shifty. I was told on numerous occasions to rethink my career choices because drawing would be something I would struggle with for the rest of my life.

A year and a half later, I'm still shocked that I have managed to get my artwork to a point where I could quit my job with the animals and return to the creative world full time. I'm incredibly lucky to work from home and continue to build my little business, but there are definitely some challenges I face on a daily basis and some things that I feel prevent me from opening up other avenues of work. For months I've wanted to start doing commissions for people and most of all do pet portraits but I've been terrified to start in case I can't keep up or get work completed within a certain amount of time. I'll eventually find a way of working that suits me and my customers but right now I struggle to hold a pen for more than 10 minutes at a time. Things are improving there is no doubt about it, there was a time where I couldn't even hold my pens! I tried working left handed but the control just wasn't the same. I'm a righty through and through so I took my time and got back on the horse. Even writing my blog when it happened was difficult, I was typing one letter at a time with my left index finger and let me tell you, it's infuriating not working at your usual speed. It's also not just the pain and stiffness that holds me back; I still have nightmares and loose sleep when my brain gets lost in the moments when the glass was removed from my hand with no pain relief and then lying on an operating table wide awake with someone sewing my tendons back together. Feeling the motions but not feeling anything else. I was terrified and it haunts me.

fox art, fox artwork, fox illustration

I experimented a lot with mediums whilst at Sixth Form and uni but a black ink pen is always my number one go to for drawing, it's just not always possible these days. Instead I took up painting again and depending on what mood I'm in, I'll go for acrylics or watercolours. Acrylics are for when I'm feeling a bit more expressive whereas I can still achieve the illustrative style that I love with watercolours so I think it's great having more than one favourite material to go to. The best thing though is being able to hold a paintbrush much more loosely than a pen meaning there isn't as much strain on my hand. If anything this whole experience has taught me to be stronger and if one way doesn't work, just try another. It's as simple as that.

I never used to be a clumsy person before all of this but I'm now one of those person who drops things, I can't count and hold change especially when it's cold which is a nightmare for craft fairs, I can't lift heavy things or grip onto something if I need to. But I have recently taken up yoga to try and gain some strength in my wrists and arms to hopefully support myself a bit better with all of that. As for the finger movement and stiffness, all I can do is carry on and with a bit of luck over time it should become a bit easier and if anything, art was never something to consider giving up - it was and is the very thing getting me through it all.

Thanks for reading,

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