By Dani Dodge
This is a sad story about losing friends, and a happy story about gaining colleagues. I’m 28 years old, don’t have kids of my own (except my giant dog), and I am an artist and illustrator. There are many challenges to face and fight regularly in my world. Being your own boss is not for the faint of heart. I went full time self-employed in February of 2017, even though I had my business license for 4 years by then. It was an “all or nothing” move. At the time I was a woman in the tech industry. Not only that, but I was working at an IT start up as the assistant to the owner, and was also the graphic and web designer. The sheer fact that payroll was 3 weeks behind was why I made the leap. If I were to coach young artists I wouldn’t encourage this series of events. It had less to do with my readiness for self-employment and more to do with salvaging my own well-being. However, here I am, I survived, and I’m still kicking and making tons of art.
No one tells you how many friends you’ll lose over a shift like that. No one tells you how many mistakes you’ll make with clients in the beginning. No one tells you that even though you went to college for Fine Art, you’ll have to learn how to run a business or you won’t survive. No one tells you that no matter what you do, you just can’t please some folks. No one tells you how lonely it can be.
I admit there are advantages to my situation. I live in a state where I can have health care even when my cash flow is low. My parents knew in 1984 that they wanted to pay for their kids’ education, and they live less than 30 miles from me. That’s serious privilege, and I’m so grateful to them and the sacrifices they’ve made on my behalf. I’m also in love and I have a partner that supports my art. He was one of the first people to do so. He doesn’t always understand my problems, or my motives, but he trusts in my skills and abilities and my passion. Its priceless and I don’t thank him enough. However, this is less about the shiny side of business--you can pop onto any social media platform to see that.
Time is precious when you are a freelancer. Flocks don’t come running to “get what you got”. You have to wear every hat of a business owner. You have to wear every hat of being a creator. You have to wear every hat of being a sales person, and marketer.
I had to take a good hard look at my friends and realize it wasn’t that they didn’t care about me or my work. They just didn’t understand how stressful and lonely running the show was. When your support network fails at supporting you, that’s when dangerous things can happen. There was a period when my partner was my only support. That was one of the most challenging phases of my adult life(so far). Up to that point in my life I was bubbly, happy, and very excitable about nearly everything. When the support disappeared, my productivity slowed, my inspiration became muddy, and my emotional wellbeing was compromised. On the street some folks call this being in a “funk”, “hormonal”, or “depressed”. Sound familiar? I like to call it, having “The Business Blues”. I wanted my unicorn energy back, so I invented an imaginary blue unicorn named Business Blue Joe. Side note: as someone who likes to draw, writing in a diary doesn’t quite do it for me, so comics are a great way that I can work through my insecurities.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to find what I needed in order to shake this feeling of empty drive. It was the support network I needed to find. I pulled away from friends that couldn’t find a way to step into my shoes. That hurt. It still hurts. But after attending workshops, classes, live streams, and being the person that asked too many questions—I found my hub. I found a great online mastermind group called “women of illustration”. It’s the safe space every boss needs. It’s the safe space to rant about challenges, talk through how to handle troublesome clients, brainstorm upcoming projects, list out goals, and just be friends with other creatives. You can be in any industry and still benefit from a support network like that. Especially with other women. The world is wide enough for all of us, so we should truly be living the women’s empowerment movement. Not everyone can make time to go to every protest or march. But empowerment can be individually tailored to each person. It’s taken me time curate what that looks like for me, but it was so worth it. I encourage you to do the same.
Studio Dodge has been in business since 2013. Artist, Dani Dodge, brings life to watercolor illustration, humorous comics, and feminist artworks in her studio. Dani is also passionate about how art can collide with business through graphic design, event posters, and even hand painted signage. She currently works form her in home studio in West Seattle, where she is constantly trying to keep dog hair out of her paints.