November 27th, 2010
Secrets shared

I presented this list to my illustration class today. It was targeted to illustration but I realized it has wider applications. Simple truths I have learned over the years, many I’m sure you have heard before. I am hoping to give them some mental tools to work with as well as tools of the trade. Part of being successful is having a belief in yourself and the process. Plus, sometimes it just feels good to read a list and feel like you can do it (especially number 6). I told them number 6 is the source for all of my best ideas (wreck this journal, guerilla art kit, explorer, all were done when I was supposed to be working on other things). True story.

Secrets of the Self Employed (or How to be an Amazing [insert profession here])

1. Don’t worry about marks while you are in school. No one will ever ask you what school you went to or what your marks were when you leave it. (this pertains to the field of illustration).

2. You are always working for yourself, even when you work for others. Sometimes it feels like you are just the hired hand (and some clients can be really challenging to work with). But there is always some way to turn an illustration job into something exciting for you. Some ideas: experiment with a new technique (or a new color palette), use it as an opportunity to learn about a new topic, rebel against the job in tiny ways (do some roughs just for yourself in which you insert subversive material).

3. There are no actual rules for how to become a successful [insert profession here]. Make your own path.

4. It will help you to create a social network of other self-employed people.

5. Move your body every day. There are many health reasons for this, but it also helps you to work on ideas subconsciously. Ideas and solutions will come in when you least expect them but (almost always after a minimum of one hour of walking). There are new studies that suggest increased oxygen to the brain is a greater source for creativity than “creative brain exercises”. I have found this to be true for myself.

6. Goof off on a regular basis.

7. If you want to work on your art, work on your life. All those personality traits that aren’t working for you will come back to haunt you in your career (i.e. assertiveness, fear of conflict, fear of confrontation.) It’s all connected.

8. What you think becomes your reality. I always had a belief that if I cleaned out my recycling bin in my studio I would get new work. And guess what, it always happened. If you think the industry is screwed and there is no work to be had, guess what you will find out there?

9. Focus on ideas instead of tools (technology). Anyone can learn to use the tools, but it is the thinkers who really impact the culture in important ways. In the end the tools don’t offer anything interesting.

10. Worrying about the competition does very little to help your career. I know it’s hard sometimes to ignore what other people are doing (we all think that others are doing better than us), but every one of us is on a different life path. We are all here to accomplish different things and even though it would seem like one person’s path is similar to yours, it is not.

11. Only work for free if you are passionate about the cause or receive something of value in return. (Be wary of people who offer your name in lights in lieu of money. Many people will tell you something is good promotion for you, often it is not and there are no guarantees when it comes to promotional value). If you are not getting something of a measurable value (i.e. printed pieces, or money) ask for something else, creative freedom. If they refuse then they may not be a good client to work for anyway.

12. Take some small risks on a regular basis. Some ideas: write some places/companies you would really like to work and let them know why you think they are great.

13. Don’t worry about whether or not you are good (good is subjective and most people are not great judges of their own work), just keep making work.

14. Ignore cool. Successful people do not try to be hip, they just do work that excites them.

15. Always come back to work that excites you. Even if you get off track for a while. Do personal work on a regular basis, show it to others. You can reinvent yourself at any time.

Nov 27 2010
5:18 am
Hamish MacDonald writes:

What a beautiful, peaceful, practical set of directions! Thanks for articulating the wisdom of your experience.

A while back, designer Bruce Mau posted his “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” ( One of the items on his list is “Don’t enter awards competitions.
Just don’t. It’s not good for you.”

I think what he’s saying is akin to your point about not working for free. I also believe he’s speaking to the way competing with others and submitting work for others’ approval is like abnegating responsibility for finding your own direction — both for your external career and your internal creative development.

For example, I often assert that there’s no such thing as “Writer’s Block”; being stuck is almost always a symptom of focusing too much on what others will think instead of working to find the answer that’s ready and waiting inside you.

This is also related to why I’m an indie publisher.

Soulful business-guy Mark Silver quotes a Sufi teaching that says: “Comparison comes from the devil.”


Nov 27 2010
8:47 am
Steffi writes:

Thank you.

Nov 27 2010
10:07 am
Briana writes:

Love your list! Thank you so much for sharing it here on your blog.
It is so exciting that you are a professor now. It would be so cool to be in your class. You are very inspiring to me!

Nov 27 2010
12:07 pm
Michelle writes:

This is wonderful.

Nov 27 2010
1:56 pm
Laura writes:

Thank you for this post. I really needed to read that right now.

Nov 27 2010
9:56 pm
Schmidt writes:

I think your favorite term is: regular basis.

It is funny to find it in most of the things you write.


Nov 28 2010
4:49 am
Shirley Sukhanil writes:

Love this Keri! especially #14. Avoid cool. Yes, it sure is a lot more fun to be having my own kind of silly excitement =) and a great reminder to see this here.

Nov 28 2010
9:53 am
~*~saskia~*~ writes:

You’re sooooo inspiring!!! Have a great day, Keri xx

Nov 28 2010
1:30 pm
suzie writes:

this is wonderful and so inspiring, thank you so much!

Nov 28 2010
4:00 pm
mydeerfriend writes:

Thanks, I really needed that. I can see this list and I becoming well acquainted.

Nov 29 2010
7:07 am
Margot writes:

Thank you Keri.

Nov 29 2010
3:01 pm
patricia writes:

Brilliant. And very timely for me – very much needed to read this. Thanks for sharing, Keri.

Nov 29 2010
3:23 pm
Kelsi writes:

Thank you.

Nov 29 2010
7:09 pm
Timmie writes:

Thank you. I’m a part-time yoga teacher, and I find a lot of parallels between the world of the indie artist and the yogi. I hope this becomes a “Popular Post” so I can always find the link easily :)

Nov 30 2010
10:22 am
Fanfan writes:

What you write touch my soul very much.
Though, in a day to day life, it is difficult to apply.
I would like so much spreading my work ( books and arts) for children all over the world to help them feeling that they are much more than their body, they are a little soul in travel here on the Earth.

Dec 2 2010
4:53 am
Amanda writes:

This is ace! I too need these directions right now – warms my heart. Thank-you thank-you! How lucky are your students!

Dec 2 2010
12:22 pm
~Heather writes:

These secrets don’t just need to be shared, they need to be screamed from the rooftops!

Dec 2 2010
3:11 pm
ashley writes:

um, you’re my new favorite person. thanks for being so awesome. kinda needed to hear this. couldn’t agree more with all of them.

Dec 3 2010
1:33 am
Tara Benwell writes:

I love #8. Could we get some wallpaper of this for offices and studios worldwide?

Dec 3 2010
11:44 am
Sean writes:

Thank you so much for that. I needed it.

Dec 3 2010
11:53 am
erin / dfm writes:

thank you so , so much, keri. such an inspiring list and rules to live by. i’ll be printing this out as my new manifesto!

Dec 3 2010
11:59 am
Melanie writes:

Amazing. Book marking this post for a regular kick in the pants!

Dec 3 2010
12:00 pm
Cynthia Fox-Giddens writes:

So glad to have discovered this read. Each point is so right on and I was shaking my head in agreement while reading each one. Great blog too!

Dec 3 2010
12:05 pm
Katie writes:

Practising no.6 religiously keeps me sane. Thanks for the great list!

Dec 3 2010
12:07 pm
Wendy writes:

Amazingly concise & well written. (I teach too – Graphic Design & Typography) The only thing I would add is to put fear behind you and let it push you forward, don’t let it get in front of you and block your path. Thanks for writing this.

Dec 3 2010
12:10 pm
Piper Larson writes:

Really smart tips. Thanks so much for sharing!

Dec 3 2010
12:11 pm
Stacey writes:

Just what I needed. Thank you so much :)

Dec 3 2010
12:14 pm
Barbra Ignatiev writes:

A-friggin-men! LOVE this post. Share share share.

Dec 3 2010
12:20 pm
Daniel Hertzberg writes:

Terrific advice. Don’t you dare compare yourself to others!!!

Dec 3 2010
12:26 pm
Khristian A. Howell writes:

Wow. So well said. These are lessons for life, not just work. Reading this just affirmed so many things I think about my business – thank you!

AND AGREED – this would make amazing wallpaper!

Dec 3 2010
12:27 pm
Chris Cook writes:

I have to agree with the general consensus and say thank you! My favorite is #13. This is something that I wish more people (especially in the website design field) would learn. The website design field seems to carry over a lot of childish “video game” bickering between people about who’s using the right methods or whose skills are more elite. I like the mindset that we are always improving as long as we are learning and working toward a goal.

I agree with Tara too in that I like and very much beleive in #8.

Dec 3 2010
12:29 pm
carissa writes:

Keri, I do believe this is my new favo-right list. I need to print & marinate on. It’s so handy for me in this moment. Oh how I wish YOU were my illustration teacher, all mine did was hand out assignments & text her boyfriend (haha!) It’s all well & good ;)

Thank you SO much for sharing this here.

Dec 3 2010
12:43 pm
Anna @ D16 writes:

Keri, I haven’t commented on your blog in a long time (my blog used to be Absolutely Vile eons ago), but I had to come out of the shadows to speak up after reading this post!

I’m a graphic designer, and although I’m not self-employed (and don’t want to be), I have been at the same job for 13 years now, and just about everything you wrote here speaks to me in a big, big way. You’ve reminded me of all the reasons why I started doing this in the first place, and you’ve also touched on all of the things I hope for people who are just starting out to realize.

Thank you. Thanks for this post, and all of the years of posts that came before it.

xo Anna

Dec 3 2010
12:48 pm
Deb Lee writes:

Great list of reminders! I especially love # 6 – goofing off does wonders for the heart and mind. Re: #9 – I love technology, but we shouldn’t throw money at it. Technology should support our fabulous ideas, not take the place of them.

Dec 3 2010
2:10 pm
Modern Country Lady writes:

You are so absolutely right.All the things you bring up are relevant , insightful and completely sensible and true.
Thank you for taking the effort of writing this and sharing this.

Dec 3 2010
2:26 pm
Hannah Stephenson writes:

Thank you so much for this! I am a freelance writer and editor, and it absolutely relates.

I’m also a poet, and I think that many of these suggestions are helpful to artists, in general.

Dec 3 2010
3:42 pm
Christina writes:

These are great and positive suggestions! I think they apply to everyone, artist or not, who just want to lead happier lives :)

Dec 3 2010
4:31 pm
Angela writes:

Love this list! It’s exactly what I needed to read during this time of my life – thanks for the inspiration!

Dec 3 2010
4:55 pm
Lesley Denford writes:

Keri, this is wonderful advice. I’m starting the daring journey of growing my freelance collage art biz, and it’s so easy to get discouraged when I don’t feel as successful as I would like to be! Thanks for the encouragement. :)
Much love,

Dec 3 2010
6:02 pm
MichelleP writes:

So true! You probably just saved your students a few years of angst :)

Dec 3 2010
11:30 pm
Elizabeth writes:

Thank you. I needed this.

Dec 4 2010
6:04 am
J H Lee writes:

Thx for sharing this. Some of my cyber neighbors would feel quite related with your thoughts from experience. Hope you don’t mind me translating this into Korean on my blog for my artist friends.

Dec 4 2010
11:32 am
kaitlyn writes:

smart. thank you- sometimes you need to read something like this to keep it churning..

Dec 4 2010
12:18 pm
Stephen writes:

Awesome advice, Keri! I probably need this just as much now as I would have in school.

Dec 4 2010
1:39 pm
DIY Boats Blog writes:

Great article. Just what I was looking for. You perfectly described my business in #8. :D

Dec 4 2010
3:44 pm
Flora writes:

Brilliant! Thank you :)

Dec 4 2010
8:51 pm
Michelle writes:

I really appreciate this advice. Thank you for sharing!

Dec 5 2010
12:55 am
paperballet writes:

wonderful, wonderful. the part about moving everyday is certainly true. sloth begets more sloth and so on. i love this list and that you focus on the work, not just the creativity.

i can’t tell you how down i have been lately- and this list was just what i needed right now.

thank you

Dec 5 2010
3:26 am
Surialism writes:

Loving this article :)
Thanks for sharing.
Loooooved the fonts here (the headlines). Please share it too

Dec 5 2010
11:42 am
anne writes:

Really inspiring advice !!

Especially nr. 9, 10 and 14 are excellent !!
Gives me a motivation boost !! :D

Dec 5 2010
11:52 am
Just 1 Random Guy writes:

Amazing and uplifting. :)

Dec 5 2010
12:06 pm
Max West writes:

Some of this does sound a bit strange – but at the same time, it does make some sense. Thanks for sharing it.

Dec 5 2010
12:52 pm
Andrew Tayo writes:

A fantastic article… resources like this for creative professionals are very inspiring. A similar one..

Also very useful… would love to get your feedback on it.

Dec 5 2010
6:12 pm
Dick Davies writes:

Great thinking, great post! This was forwarded to me by another reader, so you know you’re getting out there. I’m sending it on to a dozen mese’f. Thank you!

Dec 5 2010
8:45 pm
Tina Durocher writes:

This was a fantastic article, as an illustrator I found it to be very insightful and inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing.

Dec 5 2010
11:05 pm
meeralee writes:

so helpful and comforting and necessary. ..sort of like a warm bath.

Dec 6 2010
12:05 am
stef writes:

really needed to hear this today ~ thank you.

Dec 6 2010
6:30 am
Cat writes:

Thanks for putting this list out there, great advice. So glad I stumbled across it!

Dec 6 2010
9:34 am
Troy the Nice Guy writes:

Great list–many points I’ve often made to students when I’ve given guest-artist talks! Especially appreciate No. 11!

Dec 6 2010
10:27 am
Jen Schlumberger writes:

Thank you so much for sharing these tips! I am also self employed – and these rules can definitely apply to anyone out there in a creative field!

I am learning as I go (I’ve always been a creative thinker – but never dreamed I’d run my own company) so the business side if things is a work-in-progress…

I think I’ll print your tips and keep them next to my desk for encouragement. Thank-You!

Dec 6 2010
7:49 pm
ValerieMichelle writes:

An invaluable piece on wisdoms, and soulfully given. Thank you. #11 drew my attention. Self-taught on products for graphics and web design. Working for free. I do it for the creative freedom, oh yes, and the pizza.

Dec 7 2010
9:24 am
Sophie writes:

Thank you, you’ve restored some faith for me. Sorry for anyone who clicks on my website and finds it under construction, but maybe now I’ll finally get it finished ;)

Dec 8 2010
1:13 pm
Lorena writes:

I’m printing and putting this in my inspiration board!

Dec 8 2010
4:02 pm
Lisa Chow writes:

A great reminder, after 9 years working for myself it’s always good to hear these ideas re-enforced. Many of these ‘tips’ have been on my mind lately – happy I found this post – Cheers!

Dec 9 2010
5:32 am
Daniel Burton writes:

This is a wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing. I like all of them, but #2 stands out to me. Inject yourself into everything you do. You are what makes you different from the crowd. Be alive and confident in your abilities.

Dec 10 2010
4:46 pm
Maria Biber-Ferro writes:



thanks so much.

Dec 10 2010
4:47 pm
Maria Biber-Ferro writes:


needed that.


Dec 10 2010
5:07 pm
Jude Buffum writes:

Regarding #12… each year I look back and apply the 80/20 principle to the clients, projects, opportunities, etc I’ve had.
Usually 80% of my profits came from 20% of my clients. 80% of my happiness came from 20% of my projects. Then I try and figure out what those 20% have in common and seek out new clients or galleries or projects that will offer similar profit or happiness.

Dec 11 2010
1:22 am
Jolene Frances writes:

I love this! Thank you so much!

Dec 11 2010
11:52 am
The Dame writes:

This is fantastic, thank you! I would love to be able to share this on facebook, twitter and tumblr (altho already quoted and linked you there), please think about adding share buttons to your posts :)

Dec 11 2010
6:52 pm
chadlonius writes:

How practical and true. thank you for this post.

Dec 11 2010
8:12 pm
Tony Tran writes:

I felt inspired. thanks

Dec 11 2010
8:19 pm
Dhar writes:

Truer words weren’t said. Thank you for the motivation.

Dec 13 2010
12:31 am
Lenny Boudreau writes:

Excellent. A lot of this is stuff we should know, but it’s difficult to live it. Thanks for the tips.

Dec 13 2010
10:55 am
Ivan Palmer writes:

I was a freelance for many years and this was a great reminder of why I miss it. All so true, thank you!

Dec 13 2010
4:03 pm
Kevin Spear writes:

Thanks! I needed this creative jolt. There’s a lot to chew on here. I especially like point five. It’s worked through me to get out of the office and move a little.

Dec 13 2010
9:32 pm
Kyle T Webster writes:

I agree with all of it, Keri – nice post!

Dec 13 2010
10:36 pm
Alvin writes:

truly inspiring

Dec 14 2010
2:06 am
monika writes:

you certainly have the whole soul peace thing down. thank you for sharing with the rest of us.

Dec 14 2010
10:39 am
theaxx writes:

mmmmm, yes. I think that also you should ignore the outside world/pressure/expectations created as a result of one success. This creates a useless fear of disappointing your audience… always as you say, follow your passion, what excites you and if the ‘audience’ hates it at least you enjoyed it. Kerri, you should write for Spoonful.


Dec 14 2010
12:40 pm
annton writes:

*sighs, takes a deep breath and dances around the studio for 15 seconds… thank you for that

Dec 14 2010
1:52 pm
MelissaL88 writes:

Thank you for sharing that! It’s just what I needed to read :)

Dec 14 2010
11:28 pm
nidhi writes:

love it! my absolute favorite is #9 – i tell students that all the time – thanks for sharing ^_^

Dec 15 2010
9:31 am
Matthew Witt writes:

These are very useful insights. I hope that I apply them all in my own way. Particularly 6!

You might find our illustration blog useful:

Great to read you.

Matt :)

Dec 17 2010
1:44 pm
Sonya Chasey writes:

Excellent – I wish I’d had illustration tutors that could have told me these things. Maybe I would have had the confidence to try to become an illustrator. On the other hand (as a painter & teacher of art to kids) I think I’ve pretty much arrived at these conclusions myself, so perhaps it’s also a question of maturity & experience (as in number 7 “work on your life” & Number 3″make your own path”). I really agree with number 13 , you just have to get on & do the work, also number 5 , which is related to number 7. Finally number 14 makes me think that when I was an art student I was far too preoccupied with the image of myself (I think maybe I wasn’t alone in this)…whereas now I’m more concerned with what my paintings look like!!!

Dec 28 2010
1:34 am
Cahy writes:

“Goof of on a rugular basis” , that’s realy a wonderful advice , your blog are awesome

Dec 29 2010
9:47 am
David writes:

Thank you for this post, really great ideas brought together here. I’m going to endorse your point about exercise. I always have my best ideas when I’m running! I need to get an MP3 player with a record device.

Dec 31 2010
9:05 pm
Rita alias alatvian writes:

Thank you so very much for sharing!

Jan 1 2011
2:09 am
Linda writes:

Thanks for sharing these great tips. What a way to start the new year.

Jan 1 2011
5:15 pm
Martha writes:

I love your web-site. It’s become an instant favorite.

Jan 25 2011
2:03 pm
Diana writes:

lovely. thank you.

Jan 29 2011
9:59 am
Isobel writes:

I printed this off and stuck it on the wall by my desk. Its helped make me, me.

Mar 1 2011
12:18 pm
Kaushik writes:

nice and very very true…

Mar 1 2011
5:44 pm
Dave writes:

Outstanding! Teaching students real world survival skills is a great thing. If they get it. You may have saved them a lot of time and heartache if they didn’t know it all and just go yeah, yeah! LOL

Mar 1 2011
9:19 pm
Kent writes:

Great post, so many truths! Thanks so much. Kent.

Mar 3 2011
10:14 am
roy nolan shepherd writes:

Good stuff! thank-you for sharing. How sad that so many do not see their creativity as a marketable skill. Sadder still that so many really gifted artists are discouraged away from expression and encouraged to just follow the mold of what is expected and what are the parameters of ones own creative potential

Mar 3 2011
11:09 am
Len writes:

After 40 years in another profession I’m starting over.
It’s time and I needed the change.
All of your 15 points are right on the money.
They are as true for the “art of Art” business as they are for any endeavor.
Thank you for sharing.

Mar 3 2011
3:11 pm
William Bay writes:

Really beautiful sentiments. I wish you had a Facebook “Like” button. I’d hit it 10 times!

Mar 3 2011
10:00 pm
Jennifer writes:

This is my first visit to your site. Great advice and love your style! I’ll be back soon.

Mar 4 2011
11:27 am
Jon-Paul Mountford writes:

Not being a weaver of words, I appreciate it when somebody can lay it out in such an elegant manner.
I have lost count the number times I have been offered an unmissable number 11, (no really, it’s good exposure !).

Mar 4 2011
8:57 pm
Carla writes:

I love #7! I really needed to read that today….thank you for some inspiration! Love your website!

Mar 12 2011
9:06 pm
Mahesh Shantaram writes:

I spent the last five years researching this topic and I’m thrilled to report that all of the above is true. And I really enjoyed the last five years and the future looks bright with this newfound enlightenment!

Mar 29 2011
7:22 pm
Ubin writes:

I love that last bit about always being able to reinvent oneself.

Apr 13 2011
9:13 am
Mark Morfe writes:

Thanks for sharing. Mind if I repost this in my blog?

Apr 14 2011
10:20 am
Ubin writes:

Also, I keep coming back when I need a bit of a confidence boost. thank you :)

Apr 16 2011
3:12 am
pump fuel writes:

After read a couple of the posts on your website these few days, and I really like your style of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my web site also and let me know your opinion.

May 3 2011
3:55 pm
Isabel writes:

Wonderfully wise words, will definately help me to see sense when stumbling around this ridiculous world of art, thankyou

Jul 19 2011
1:14 pm
Dinesh writes:

Awesome list! Thank you so much =D

Jul 31 2011
8:35 pm
Entropy writes:

You inspire me so much, I haven’t a way to tell you. I have purchased all of your books, followed all of the instructions to “Wreck this Journal” and learned a ridiculous amount from the lists you make.

Jan 10 2012
9:54 pm
Becky writes:

I found this article to be so helpful. Mostly this:
“Ignore cool. Successful people do not try to be hip, they just do work that excites them.”

My dream is to be a freelance designer / mostly illustrator. It is in my bones. It’s what gives me life and keeps at the coffee shop until close. Not for money, just for joy. It’s just so so hard to cross over from well-paid design firm to best-of-luck-yeeesh-pool-of-drawing-madness. Thank you for your encouragement.

Jan 29 2012
9:13 pm
Jonna Womac writes:

This truly answered my question, thank you!

Jun 10 2012
10:05 am
Keith writes:

A lovely piece. Your words support the truth and the truth supports your words. This is so refreshing in a sham, chaotic world.

Jun 30 2012
11:01 am
MY GOALS writes:

Love this! <3

Sep 15 2012
1:34 pm
Menue writes:

totally loved it….something so inspiring, so right and so directive . Thanks !

May 19 2013
12:42 am
tlc writes:

Your books books has been a great inspiration to me! Keep on inspiring! Discovering lifeology.

Jan 9 2015
12:06 am
Elias Jacob writes:

I love you.

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