Interview with freelance Illustrator Vanessa Vanderhaven

Vanessa been an illustrator & graphic designer for 6 years since studying fashion, and whilst fashion wasn't her thing, she found her passion in illustration and design. Read on to follow her road to freelancing. 

vanessa vanderhaven cool wow collective freelancer

Tell us how you ended up here as a freelancer? Where did it all begin? 

My whole life growing up was me gearing towards being a fashion designer. My mum was a couturier wedding designer and so I was born into this beautiful world of fabrics and colours and textures. I loved everything about it and felt like it was my true calling. I was very crafty growing up - I loved working with paper & materials and did a lot of scrapbooking, quilling and making my own clothes.

After high school I made it into the advanced diploma of fashion design at Tafe and was thrown straight into everything I thought was going to be my 'thing'. We had some drawing classes and, as it turns out, I was much better at drawing than anything else  despite having barely done any drawing or art in the past. I didn't think illustration could be a real career for me so after quitting fashion, I spent the next few years working towards being a graphic designer. I taught myself everything and was very passionate about creating.

After 4 or 5 years of working full time for other business' and doing some freelance illustration on the side, I realised I really just wanted to work for myself and have more control of the work I did, so with the support of my partner, we moved to Melbourne and I went full ball into freelance illustrating full time!

I didn’t think illustration could be a real career for me.

What inspired you to start freelancing? 

I really just want to create all day, and I wanted to create on my own terms. I wanted my own clients and I wanted to hustle for work that meant something to me. I believe in meaningful work and I know I work my best when I am doing what I love! So the switch to freelancing felt natural and quite obviously what I was going to be most successful doing.

What was your last 'real job' and how did you move away from this and start working for yourself?

I've jumped around a bit to be honest, 2 jobs ago I was working as a full time graphic designer, then I was presented with an opportunity to work for a fashion tech startup as a product manager. I had no idea what that meant, but I loved the idea and with my background in fashion and graphic design, it felt like an awesome challenge! Working for a startup seemed like the friggin coolest thing ever haha. I am actually currently still working for them remotely, so technically I didn't 'quit my job to be a 'freelancer', but it's fun work and they're an inspiring company to work for!

In three emojis, describe your life as a freelancer...

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What was your biggest fear before you started freelancing? Any tips on overcoming this fear? 

Not getting client work. My way around that was to hustle, hustle, hustle! I contacted everyone and anyone, many brands I wanted to work for and also people I knew within the industry. I also work in a co-working space which is a great way to meet people and be the go-to person that people around you will go to.

I contacted everyone and anyone, many brands I wanted to work for and also people I knew within the industry.

Walk us through a typical day in the life of you? 

Usually I wake up at the same time as my partner and lazily watch him get ready for work (he's cute and I don't have to travel anywhere). If I'm working from home that day then I try fit in a quick workout before my body realises it's tired haha. I'll then make myself a coffee, sit at my desk in the studio (our second bedroom) and look at what I have to complete that day. Actually, lately I've been having a little dance sesh to start the day positive, so I'll crank some shower-anthems for 15mins and bounce around the house miming to the lyrics. I have to put the blinds down for this!

After grooving, I'll usually make a check list because I find it super motivating to be able to check things off, it makes me feel productive! I'm very easily distracted so I try to close my emails for at least 20 mins at a time and powering through work. I take lots of mini breaks so I don't get too stressed and drink many many cups of peppermint tea. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or music whilst I work but I also like opening a window and listening to the noises outside. I eat lunch and occasionally go for a walk to grab a coffee (or buy things I don't need), I try to go outside at least once in the day to give my brain a rest.

I usually have a few jobs going at the same time - normally a mixture of illustration, graphic design or branding work. I tend to do more design stuff in the day, and drawing stuff in the afternoon so I can wind down as I draw. If I don't have urgent work and I'm really not feeling like doing client stuff, I'll maybe watch a movie at lunch or go buy some flowers - or do some experimenting! It's important to connect with how I'm feeling that day, it's not worth forcing myself to create if I'm not up to it - so I set aside some time to reconnect then usually I fall back into client stuff (deadlines yo!).

My creativity and mind processes jump from place to place, so I try to ride the wave of unpredictability and it honestly works really well for me.

What do you love most about freelancing? 

The freedom! My creativity and mind processes jump from place to place, so I try to ride the wave of unpredictability and it honestly works really well for me. I don't have that same freedom in full time work for other businesses, you can't just crank out some tunes and do a boogey in the office! Also your earning potential has no limit - how much you put into your business directly relates to your earnings,. Work smart and the skies the limit!

What sucks the most about freelancing? 

I get lonely working from home sometimes, which is why I spend a few days a week working from a co-working space. Also, since I'm normally working on my own I really do rely on the support of others, because those bad days will definitely come around and shake you but you just gotta keep going! Having people around you to lift you up makes a huge difference.

Experiment, hustle and don’t let fear stop you from trying.

What three qualities to you need to succeed as a freelancer? 

Determination, passion for your craft and discipline. Also, it doesn't hurt to be a whiz at networking!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out? 

Experiment, hustle and don't let fear stop you from trying.


Check out Vanessa's profile here