Stride Stories: Three Years of Making
Amanda is an artist, designer, and illustrator based in Denver, CO. You can shop her work here. Cover photo by Kris Holbrook.
Hi, Amanda! Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself and your background?
Amanda: I am an artist, a designer, and an illustrator. Like many creative people, I’ve held a variety of jobs at any given time. I’ve been a nanny, a barista, and a dog sitter, although now I’m settling into focusing mainly on my creative business. I've been working for myself for three years—I just hit my anniversary last week!
Congratulations! How did you find your way to self-employment?
Amanda: I went to school for journalism, so most of my jobs after graduation were communication or writing-focused. I slowly shifted into marketing, which led me to experiment with graphic design on the job, and I discovered I really loved it.
I eventually took a role as a full-time, in-house graphic designer, and that's when I realized freelancing could be a real possibility. On the personal side, at this point I’d been designing and creating visuals for other organizations and companies, but I didn't really know my own voice.
So I decided to start a creative experiment—"The Year of Making" I called it—where I did one little creative thing every day just for myself. About a month into it, the project started to gain a bit of traction. I won a design contest for Darling Magazine, and that's when people started reaching out and wanting to hire me for freelance projects. I quit my day job, looking back, probably a bit prematurely, and ever since then it's been a slow progression and evolution. Now I'm doing more art and illustration-focused projects rather than design, which I really love!
Can you tell us a bit about what the hardest parts are about being self-employed today?
Amanda: A lot of people think that working for yourself is an antidote to all of your problems, stress, and worries. But it’s not. There is still stress, if not more. It’s just a different kind. I think it’s so important to really know yourself and how you work. You have to decide on the type of stress you would prefer, because no matter what you do, it's going to be challenging and you're going to have days where you don't want to do it.
One of the biggest struggles I found with self-employment, especially in the beginning, was feeling like an imposter—not having the confidence you might have with a team behind you, or a boss showing you the way. This can really take a toll, especially in our modern age where everyone tends to show only their best moments on social media. And, of course, money was a major stressor for me in the first years.
What does a typical day for Amanda look like?
Amanda: I think it's really smart to establish structure and routines for yourself, especially if you're the type of person who can go off the rails—I think that's a lot of creative types.
I “batch” my days every week. Instead of trying to get a little bit of everything done every day, I block off entire days for certain types of work, like writing, client work, art, and marketing. This shift helps me create quality work with laser focus.
I need at least eight hours of sleep a night, and I wake up early. Once I hit the mid-day slump, I need to step away from my computer and do something with my hands, like drawing or brainstorming projects in the yard.
I’m also a climber, which is an obsessive sport. I’m usually doing that every day. I think that's another important piece to your routine—to have a passion that isn’t work. Something that will completely take your mind off of your business.
How do you optimize your time and set priorities?
Amanda: The nitty gritty is that I use Asana for tasks and to-do lists. I’d be lost without it!
Another little hack: I find that the hardest part is getting into work mode. Once I’m in it, I’m flowing and have to pull myself away to stop working. To get into the flow state, I’ll set a timer for 20 minutes, and during that time there’s no social media, no texts (I’ll put my phone on silent), no distractions. “It’s just 20 minutes”, I tell myself. I’ll open a Photoshop file and just do something in it. Usually from there it starts to flow.
There are cycles—I’ll have busy months more focused on client work, and then quiet months to create more art. I love making my design clients happy, and I love creating something that makes us both excited, so I don’t mind prioritizing my clients’ work ahead of my own sometimes.
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of the work that you do now?
Amanda: At my core, I am a creative being. That seeps into everything I do, and creativity is more of a way of life than just something I wake up and “do” every day. I want to be a creator of my days—working for myself and having that freedom and control allows me to do that. To me, all of life is a creative act, and it’s not just about making a painting, it’s about being able to design my days and make my ideas reality. It’s the only way of life for me and makes all of the challenges and stress worth it.
What tips would you give to others considering going down a similar path?
Amanda: Find a vision for yourself and your business that you’re genuinely, really, absolutely excited about. This will pull you through the tough times. Your heart has to be in it and you have to truly love what you’re doing. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Also, be ready to pivot. Don’t be afraid to shift your vision if you’re losing excitement. Being pulled by your vision is one of the most important pieces to making it all work.