Our #freelancelife True Story – Alyssa Gonzalez and Julia Morris
October 8, 2018
(Julia and Alyssa in their shared Kansas City loft apartment / photo by MANMAN)
Every day when I wake up and I’m walking to work, I think, “Wow, I can’t believe this is my life! It’s really weird.”
Roommates and illustrators, Alyssa Gonzalez and Julia Morris, in Kansas City, are recent art-school grads just starting out on their careers (they work at Hallmark and freelance on the side). Meeting up with them was so energizing—they have the cutest space (total "cool art kids" vibe, if you know what I mean) with huge windows, exposed brick and lots of art eye candy. I originally found Alyssa on Instagram and after meeting up with her and her roommate, Julia, I was won over by how uber-talented they both are.
Alyssa taught me about how you can use an agent to simplify a lot of the extra work created by freelancing and owning your own business and Julia reminded me of myself, with a neverending list of art projects she wants to try out in different styles and mediums. Their differences and positivity won me over, and I decided to feature them both! Lucky readers, you get 2 free prints with this giveaway!!
(Alyssa in her workspace / photo by MANMAN)
Mandy: How did you get started in art?
Alyssa: I’ve been doing art forever. I have memories of sitting on the floor with my grandma with my Crayola markers and drawing a picture of her. But I never considered art as a career until I applied for college. If you told me when I was in high school taking AP art classes that I would be a graphic designer with Hallmark Cards, I would be like, “First of all, what even is graphic design?”
Julia: I’ve loved drawing ever since I can remember. Both my parents have backgrounds in graphic design and my mom is an art teacher, so basically I was indoctrinated from a young age, haha. I’ve always just liked making stuff. I never seriously considered any career that wasn't art-related.
(Julia in her workspace / photo by MANMAN)
M: How has your love of art informed your career so far?
Alyssa: When I stepped on the campus of SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), I felt like, “Wow, I have to BE here.” It just felt right immediately. Art is in my life and I have to pursue that.
I got a BFA in illustration from SCAD and then interned at Hallmark the summer after my senior year. That eventually turned into a graphic-design position in visual merchandising. If I’m going to be full-time anywhere, I think that Hallmark is one of the best places I could have ended up. They really treat their employees well, and it’s a great artistic community to be part of. There are some crazy talented people there. I’m grateful for it.
Julia: I also majored in illustration, but I went to Rochester Institute of Technology in NY. I’ve always had a really strong interest in typography and lettering, and that kept finding its way into my school projects. My work started leaning further away from narrative illustration and more towards pattern, design, and lettering, and that's where I've found my footing.
I was lucky to get to work at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at RIT. I learned a ton there about letterpress and was surrounded by gorgeous old type specimens and antique books, which definitely influenced the direction my work has taken.
After I graduated, I landed an internship at Hallmark, and I never left! I work there full-time as a card designer/illustrator and I freelance on the side.
(Alyssa / photo by MANMAN)
M: And Alyssa, are you still freelancing even though you have a full-time job?
Alyssa: Yep! Right now I do graphic design 9-5 every day and then I come home and do illustrations. My ultimate dream is to go full-time freelance and do illustration, especially kids books. Although that still feels really far off because of many factors, it’s a dream I’m working toward.
(Alyssa's sketchbook / photo by MANMAN)
M: How do you guys get freelance work?
Alyssa: I get a lot of work through Instagram, through connections I made at SCAD and I also have an agent. It’s one of my professors who has his own illustration agency. A lot of people ask me if it’s worth it to get an agent, and I think that if freelance is what you want to do, it’s worth it. It cuts out half the work for you. You don’t have to deal with invoicing or contracts or anything because the agent does all that for you.
Julia: The bulk of my freelance work comes from people or companies I worked for in the past, and I've also reached out to people I'm interested in working with via Instagram or email. You won't always get a response, but it never hurts to try. It helps if you go in with a clear sense of how to pitch your ideas and how to sell your work to each potential client.
(Julia's sketchbook / photo by MANMAN)
M: What has surprised you about being freelance?
Alyssa: I think the thing that has been the most surprising to me is how valuable Instagram is as a marketing tool. A lot of my professors regarded social media as a tool, but not the main way to market yourself. But I am constantly surprised at how many people find me on their own, and the majority find me because of something I posted on Instagram.
Julia: Before I started freelancing, I was under the impression that professional artists only worked on really interesting, portfolio-worthy jobs, which is obviously not the case. Not every project is thrilling, and you don’t have to include everything you’ve ever made in your portfolio—but that doesn’t mean that those unglamorous jobs aren’t worth taking and you can still learn a lot from them.
The other surprise has been all the business skills I didn’t learn about in art school: how to negotiate, how to communicate well with clients, etc. The actual illustrating is usually the easy part.
(Julia & Alyssa in their Kansas City loft apartment / photo by MANMAN)
M: Alyssa, what’s your social media strategy?
Alyssa: I used to have a rule that I had to post every single day, and I would use UNUM to help me plan my posts. But now I’m a little easier on myself. I mostly post doodles that reflect what’s going on in my life or something I’m thinking about. I try to keep it simple and relatable. And then I’ve had people see them and contact me and say, “I saw your doodle two weeks ago and I’d like you to do this project for me.” It’s crazy looking back and seeing how valuable it’s been to just share my thoughts online—you never know who’s going to be looking at your personal work!
(Decor in Alyssa's room / photo by MANMAN)
M: So where do you guys see yourself in the future?
Alyssa: I really want to freelance full-time eventually, but I don’t know how long it will take me to get there. If I could do anything, I’d spend my time doing editorial illustration, and I would love to do a ton of children’s books, maybe even write. I want to be able to turn around in my studio one day and see this wall of paintings and children’s books I’ve done.
Julia: I’m not sure I’ll ever go full-time freelance, but I do want to grow my freelance business and hone my portfolio some more. I have a list of miscellaneous dream projects: I would really like to get into food/drink packaging design, or paint a mural in a public space, or create a fully illustrated edition of one of my favorite children’s books, or design a custom stained-glass window.
Maybe you guys can collaborate on a children’s book together someday! Thanks for sharing your story with us. I’m excited to see where you are in 10 years.
If you want to learn more about Alyssa and Julia, check out: