Hi friends! I’m so excited to introduce a new interview series right here called “Freelance Fridays.” If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I switched career aspirations mid stream and am now working hard to earn a living as a freelance artist. But, I’m not the only one! I am inspired by so many smart, talented and driven friends who are in the same boat. My hope is that they will inspire you too! And with that, here is my kick-off interview with kick-ass Bay Area illustrator Chris Cerrato. I met Chris several years ago when we were both working as Graphic Designers for Old Navy. He is a kind, funny and talented man who is working very hard to pursue his hearts desire! I just love this guy! I hope you enjoy his story.
DG: Hi Chris! Please tell us a little about yourself:
CC: For the past ten years, I’d worked as a graphic designer for a start-up gaming company, in advertising at FCB, and finally corporate marketing at Old Navy HQ. All this time, I dreamt about what my life would be like as a freelance artist. But it was only until last year that I finally had enough confidence, focus, and the basic know-how to make the leap.
Now, when people ask me what I do for a living, I no longer have a simple answer! But by harnessing my full range of skill sets, I'm making a living through many income streams: I've taken on commissions, sold original artwork and prints, and have worked on logos and branding projects. I'm also a classically trained pianist, so I occasionally perform for weddings and cocktail hours as well when the opportunity arises.
DG: SINCE LEAVING YOUR 9-5, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN GETTING YOUR ART CAREER UP AND RUNNING?
CC: You are your own boss, which is both empowering and challenging at the same time. Setting up guidelines for what kinds of projects you want to take on, how much to charge, and what kind of workload you can handle will cause you to adjust and readjust your approach in the beginning stages of your new career.
DG: CAN YOU SHARE WITH US SOME OF YOUR SUCCESSES?
CC: I was able to have my first solo art show in a local San Francisco gallery; I even sold a couple of pieces.
Before I left my full-time job, I got a part-time job at Betabrand to both ensure financial security as well as add some structure to my week. As it’s turned out, this part-time job has been rewarding in ways I never expected. Even though I was hired as a graphic designer, they've given me many opportunities to provide illustrations for things such as store marketing, custom T-shirt designs and conversational prints (https://www.betabrand.com/betafish-print.html).
I even had the chance to illustrate a custom playing card deck to be sold in their retail store. On top of that, I made new friends.
The long-lasting success from this past year is that I’ve been able to grow as a person and realize skills outside of art that I never knew I had.
DG: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT “WORKING FOR YOURSELF” AND WHY?
CC:Being in the driver’s seat of my career has been profoundly liberating. Plus, having a business involving art utilizes both sides of my brain, which I really enjoy.
DG: AS A FREELANCER, HOW DO YOU GET INSPIRED EVERY DAY?
CC:My friends and colleagues inspire me greatly; being around creative people makes me want to create, too. Occasionally, when inspiration on the web isn't working for me, I’ll go peruse art and design books at places like the Kinokuniya bookstore in Japantown. And, at the very least, nature has never failed to inspire me. If I need to take a break from work, I’ll often go for a walk in the park in order to clear my mind and recharge.
DG: HOW DO YOU KEEP BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE?
CC: I work almost every single day, which is not ideal. So, this year, I'm making a point to have more leisure time. For creative people, leisure time is not only an important way to recharge, but it’s also necessary to make that mental space available for inspiration to come in and for new ideas to formulate.
At this point in my freelance career, I'm lucky to say that I can begin to trim down the number of projects I have going on in order to make more time for my personal projects, which in turn will strengthen my skills and hopefully win me the kinds of clients I'd like to have in the future.
DG: DO YOU HAVE A STUDIO PRACTICE?
CC:I have a rolling check-list of things I need to accomplish over the course of the week. I add even the smallest task onto this checklist so that I can make sure to cross off at least a couple of things per day. If anything, this gives me some sense of accomplishment when I go to bed each night!
DG: I LOVE SKETCHBOOKS. DO YOU KEEP ONE?
CC: Another goal this year is to keep a more active sketchbook! I get my best ideas when I’m scribbling thoughts down. Attached are some rough sketches and loose drawings I’ve done over the past few months. One sketch, in particular, eventually became the deck of cards I created for Betabrand.
DG:WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB? DREAM CLIENT? DREAM GIG?
CC:I love books, illustration and humor. So, it would be a dream to work on a funny illustrated book with Chronicle Books someday. Eventually, I would also love to do a cover for a magazine like The New Yorker or Rolling Stone.
DG: ANY ADVICE FOR SELF PROMOTION? WHAT PERCENTAGE OF YOUR DAY OR WEEK DO YOU DEVOTE TO MKTG. YOUR BUSINESS?
CC:Not enough! Right now, I’m lacking in that arena. But, when I feel good about a project, I'll share it on my social networks, which in turn has effectively brought in more work through word of mouth. This year, I'll be setting up an email newsletter to let people know what I've been up to, and to notify them of any upcoming gallery shows.
DG: WHO OR WHAT HAS INFLUENCED YOUR WORK THE MOST? HOW?.
CC:Lately, I’ve been influenced by Retro and Swedish graphic design because I enjoy its bold simplicity, use of space, and honesty. Along those lines, I also enjoy Japanese woodcut illustrations because of their distilled aesthetic and meaningful story-telling aspects.
Music also indirectly influences my work. I have Synesthesia, which means that I subconsciously see colors, shapes and textures upon hearing music. So, a good soundtrack not only helps to drive my workflow for the day, but it subconsciously may even influence, say, the colors I choose for a project. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of striped-down folk music with lyrics that tell a good, honest story. See a pattern?
DG: DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE REINVENTING THEIR CAREER MID STREAM?
CC: We only have one life to live, so you owe it to yourself to live it how you want. It's never too late to take those first few steps to make your life what you'd imagined it could be. Keep an open mind. Say “yes” more often times than “no.” Surround yourself with people who support you, and reach out to people who are already living your dream. You never know what that next chapter of your life will be until you start to write it!
DG: WHAT IS YOUR SECRET SUPERPOWER?
CC: Being a high-functioning introvert. The result, as obvious as it sounds, is that I've been able to network and win new business by striking up conversations with strangers and shop owners around town.
YAY, CHRIS! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING.
For being an introvert, Chris sure is a social butterfly! You can find him all up in here: