-By Dave Palumbo


In absence of any relevant image, just a fun recent little thing.

I’ve heard maintaining a steady
freelance career compared to being a circus performer spinning
plates. Despite the added challenge, several simultaneous
avenues of business is the best long term strategy for a relatively stable income. You
never know when one thing might dry up or stop satisfying your creative
needs. With diverse clients and revenue streams, usually,
magically, just when it looks like there is no next job to work on,
the much needed email comes in out of nowhere and you just pivot to
that other thing. If not a job, then a private commission, original
sale, crowdfunding campaign, licensing agreement, teaching gig, or
any other means of earning income. If you can keep the invoices
moving more or less at a steady pace, it all comes out fine in the

There are those periods of downtime
though when the timing is off and there’s dead air between
commissions. I might greet this with relief if I’ve been feeling
overworked. Most often though, it can be stressful and frustrating.

On a normal day, I personally find it really helpful to have
a focus. Some kind of goal. Having no imminent deadline can leave
me feeling adrift. I tend to get anxiety from having no clear
direction, so it really helps me to choose a priority to structure my
day around when there are no obvious urgent problems to solve.

Very recently, I found myself facing this. I had just
wrapped up a big job and turned over a sizable body of work to my
gallery and then… nothing much was left on my calendar. Normally
this is about the time that a steady client pops in with a new
project, but unfortunately days started ticking by and no new
projects seemed forthcoming. And so I started looking at ways to
build that structure when there aren’t looming due dates dictating it
for me. I suspect this strategy is probably going to be pretty
effective for having a healthy work/life balance when I find myself
back in crunch times too.

Looking at all the things that I want
to spend my time and energy doing, I found they broke down into five
categories. My intention is to prioritize one category for each day
to help find that focus I need, but at the same time it’s an
aspirational check list. If possible, I want to touch on each item
each day.

1: Earning Income

This is obviously the
single most stressful part of dry spells, so it weighs heavily on my
mind when I’m in that situation. I’ve learned from hard experience
that when the invoices stop going out, I don’t feel the pinch until a
few months later, so I need to get on the ball early.

As a
traditional painter, the fastest way to fill an invoice gap is to
direct energies into selling originals, which is something I tend to
not be as proactive with otherwise. Engaging in social media,
following up leads from past collectors, etc. It might also be a
good time to redesign a web store or explore new avenues of selling such as joining a new collector site (comicartfans, facebook collector
groups, etc.)

I tend to look at selling originals under these
circumstances as self-cannibalism though. You’re eating yourself to
stay alive, and that’s not a good long term strategy.

basic income needs are met, it’s much more beneficial to aim at
building long term infrastructure. Looking at how you’re promoting,
reaching out to clients you haven’t worked with in awhile, exploring new possible income streams, or even
just amping up showing recent work online (which is
something I tend to really let slide when I’m busy on deadlines).
And of course, creating targeted samples if there is a client or type
of work you want but don’t have. This is a good time to reevaluate
where you are and where you want to be career-wise because you have
both the time and motivation to make course corrections.

Making cool things

If invoicing isn’t as critical, or I feel
it might dovetail with that, downtime is fantastic for personal
projects. This is especially true if coming off a long string of
jobs and I’ve really been itching at some personal piece ideas. Of
course, making cool things might not be about painting. It might be
about collaborating or some other kind of creative project. I’ve
really enjoyed monkeying around in photography, music, and film
making over the years and it’s a great feeling to explore a creative
goal which is decidedly disconnected to your day to day jobs.

the other day, I saw this quote from an author named Jon Gordon (not
familiar with him otherwise, but it seems he does quite a bit of
motivational speaking):

“We don’t get burned out because of
what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it.”

And this is, I think, what Making Cool Things is about. It’s
rediscovering what you love about creating. In the process, it often
also reminds me to keep asking myself: “where do I want my art to

3. Tending to my health

This isn’t generally
something that takes a whole day, but it’s absolutely something that
becomes neglected with a full calendar. When I find myself with a
bit more time, it’s a big priority to get on top of my nutrition and
exercise habits. I think this time I’ll make them stick (for real!)

4. Tending to my home

Either picking up the house,
organizing, tackling home improvement projects, or just taking care
of chores and running errands. Again, all important stuff for
happy healthy daily life that are way to easy to ignore under a
deadline crunch.

5. Recharging my batteries

finally, I have to remind myself it’s OK to have days where I just
enjoy some leisure time. Visiting friends, wandering around town,
watching movies, reading a book, etc. When it’s stealing a day
between deadlines, this is pretty easy to justify. When I’m anxious
about not having any invoices going out, it can come with a bit more
guilt. I’m starting to realize though, the worry doesn’t accomplish
anything and you might as well enjoy some quality time off because,
before you know it, deadlines and life stuff will start stacking up
all over again.