What is your major (if in college), college/university/school, city/state/country/etc, and what do you do in your freelancing?
I started out at CSU Northridge, majoring in Animation, and am currently finishing up my degree in Media Arts and Animation at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online. I was skeptical about going to “online art school” at first, but I’ve learned that it’s really in-depth, and almost feels tougher than taking a course in a classroom setting! It also allows me to do school on my own schedule that fits into my freelancing. I take classes on everything from modeling in 3DS Max to figure drawing skills and video editing. Most commercial artwork is developed on computers anyway, so why not the classes themselves? It’s helpful to be able to see video tutorials and lessons that directly teach me how to use the software in the industry, and to get critiques from teachers who currently work at big places like Dreamworks. I love being able to ask for advice in getting into companies like those!
As far as my freelancing with Laci Morgan Creations goes, I operate my business out of my home in Grand Terrace, CA. It’s been fun transforming one of the rooms into an office, complete with wacom tablets, Disney posters on the wall, art supplies, and textbooks galore! I like working in a space with lots of personality. I specialize in character designs, logos, and family-friendly short animations, and I tend to get a lot of clients that are seeking the “Disney-ish” style of artwork, which I’m good at mimicking. However, when work gets slow, I take on jobs in everything from graphic design to wedding invitations. My most unique project so far has been designing a logo for a “dog waste removal” company that wanted poop in the graphic. That was a challenge to make appealing, to say the least!
How long have you been freelancing and what made you start freelancing as a student?
This will be my second year of freelancing full time, though I’ve had a lot of practice doing projects to family and friends as favors. I made the decision to freelance after working at the Disneyland Resort for two years, where I taught park guests how to draw Disney characters like Mickey, Donald, and Pooh on model. It was fun, but I really struggled with the low pay and crazy schedule. (I had to work every holiday and weekend, and just barely was able to get the time off for my own wedding!) I struggled with working so often and late, and still being able to have the energy to do schoolwork or spend any time with my family. Those things are so important to me, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice them. So after doing a lot of research on running a business, I made the leap of faith into full-time freelancing and haven’t looked back. I’m so glad I did! Luckily, my time at Disney has given me some good skills that are highly marketable in the freelance world. I’m grateful to them for the lessons I learned there, and I do hope to make it to the studio side of things one day. I just had to learn for myself that working within the resort side was not the best fit for me.
What are some of the best parts about being a student freelancer?
It’s wonderful being able to make my own hours! I’ve discovered that I’m NOT a morning person. I get groggy and grumpy. So I tend to do my best work in the afternoon or evening, when I seem to get a little more pep and mental clarity. Working at home also allows me to save money by eating lunch in, and I can even take the time to take a break and walk my dog outside for a little bit. But the best part is that I can finally spend holidays with my family again, and not have to wonder whether I’ll be working through Christmas. Even if I do have a lot of work on my plate, I can take it with me thanks to my trusty MacBook Pro!
What are some of the challenges you have found being a student freelancer?
I’ve learned a lot about what NOT to do when starting out as a freelancer, haha! You’ve got to be pretty disciplined and plan your time accurately. I also found it tough to pinpoint my prices at first. When I look back at what I charged for those first projects (versus the amount of time they required in the end), I cringe, but I know that I also gained a lot of valuable experience and some solid portfolio examples. You also want to remember not to be TOO eager to jump into work and underestimate the time each project will actually take you. Make sure that you’re paid accordingly!
I think the toughest part about freelancing, especially as a student, is in learning to run a business well. Many art or design students may be able to create masterpieces, but they’ve never been taught how to keep track of invoices, handle taxes, manage files and write contracts, which is crucial to running a freelance business successfully. Forums and blogs like www.freelanceswitch.com were incredibly helpful to me when I started out. There were things mentioned that I had never thought about putting in my first contract draft, like the importance of retaining certain rights to the artwork, or putting in writing what would happen if the client canceled a project halfway through. Those are things you’ll encounter frequently, so it’s good to get advice from your peers who have traveled the freelance path before you.
Finally, I sometimes get so caught up in the large pile of work and schoolwork sitting on my desk that I forget why I got into the field in the first place. It’s easy to get busy and stop creating work for yourself, or to let your creativity and effort on school assignments fall back when you’ve got a client deadline that’s eating up your “creative juices.” Try to surround yourself with reminders of why you love doing what you do, and take the time to learn a new skill or create art just for you at least once a week if not more. For example, this weekend I went and watched Dreamwork’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” and by the time it was over, I felt a renewed passion for the animation field. I found myself wanting to go jump on my computer and practicing making textures on my characters like in the movie. I try to remember that even the best artists were once students just like us.
Where do you hope your freelancing career will take you in the future?
I hope that it will give me a strong portfolio with a lot of variety that I can one day show to a big studio when I’m ready for an internship or even a permanent job in animation or illustration. I also hope that I will have learned some good business skills that will help me in future dealings at my job. Or who knows…maybe I’ll end up liking freelance work so much that I’ll just be able to keep doing it for the rest of my life. That would certainly be nice when I’m ready to start a family!
Where can our readers see your work and read more about you?
I try to keep my website, www.lacimorgancreations.com, updated with my latest portfolio pieces. I’ve also just started a blog that will follow my artwork processes from start to finish, www.lacimorgan.blogspot.com, though it’s still a work in progress. Feel free to email me or send links to your blogs, too…I love to hear from fellow student freelancers and share ideas and frustrations! Maybe one day we’ll end up collaborating…
Want to be featured? If you want all the fame, please feel free to email us with the subject “I want to be interviewed!” We plan to feature one student freelancer a week.