I first met Abbie when I started my undergraduate studies at Goshen college. She was one of my brothers friends, but more importantly, exasperatingly good at whatever she did. I ran across Abbie again when I moved to Pittsburgh PA to participate in a program called PULSE, where Abbie was a second year fellow. Since then I have stopped following her from town to town and keep up with her work online. Abbie currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA with her partner Ben.
In the past year Abbie took the leap to make herself a bad-ass boss. She now spends a significant part of her work week doing drawing and design work as a freelancer. You can find Abbie's work on Etsy, check out her website, and make sure to follow her on instagram @abbieaadams.
All Photos are courtesy of Abbie Adams
What were you doing before making art your "day job"?
I was working at a local arts and community non-profit here in Pittsburgh. My main job was acting as the Space Rental Coordinator, as well as coordinating some community arts programming. Because my job was so people-oriented, I made many connections over my two and a half years there. Some of those people have become clients of mine, and it connected me to a great community of artists and creative minds!
How did you fit art in and around your life?
I was a participant of Pittsburgh Urban Leadership and Service Experience (PULSE) the first year I moved to Pittsburgh. During that time I was working on a lot of projects just for fun during the evenings and weekends. When ended up doing a second year of PULSE I was able to use the five hours of seminar time during the workweek to work on projects. I was getting more commissions, so that time filled up very quickly. I have also always worked out of where I live, so it makes it easier to drop in and out of work as needed.
What prompted you to shift your focus to making art for a living?
There were a number of factors at my job that were turning me into a constant ball of stress. When I started thinking about changing my situation, this was a possibility. More and more of my time was being filled with projects for clients and I thought I could grow those opportunities even more. Freelancing was something I knew I wanted to try at some point, especially while living in Pittsburgh because this city makes it possible. So I sat down and wrote out a budget for the year. Between my husband, Ben, and I, we figured out how it could work financially so I went for it!
What does a day in the life of your job look like?
Every day is different, although I have found that it is best to keep my days structured. I try and tackle emails in the morning. My tasks typically come out of emails-if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist! I keep a chalkboard by my desk so I have a visual working list for what is in the works. I assign a deadline to everything even if it doesn’t require one, so those set the course of my work. Little things help like always getting dressed and taking breaks while eating.
What kind of schedule do you keep?
Ben is convinced I work more now than I did before I left my full time job, which is probably true! I really try to take one full day off a week-typically Sunday. And during non-busy seasons I try to not work in the evenings. The nice part of freelancing is that I do have some flexibility in my schedule, so I can adjust my time with whatever is going on.
I have learned that setting boundaries is important-when I’m not a work, work is off-limits. But it also goes the other way...when I am working, it’s not time for chores or errands just because I am at home! On days when I am working from home and haven’t left the house I try to make it a point to go on a walk, run errands, or see friends in the evening.
I also have a part time job that is entirely unrelated to any of the work I do. I am there 2 or 3 days a week...it keeps me connected to people, and it gives the week a structure for my schedule.
What physical space do you have to make your work?
I work from our apartment. I have a corner in the dining room with my computer, desk, and supplies. There are also so many things stashed away all over our house in whatever corner or drawer I can find! When I’m working I often expand onto the dining room table, but because our place is small I try and clean up at the end of each day. It is a nice way to transition out of work, and keeps both of us sane in our living space!
How do you come up with projects, or decide which one to do next?
This past year I did a lot of what came my way-I was open to working on almost anything. I rotated between graphic design, my online shop, and commissions. I did a few projects that were motivated out of my own interest, but more of my time is now oriented around working for and with others. I was never at a loss for what to do next, but am excited to start honing in and pursuing work that truly interests, excites, and challenges me this year!
What do you do when feeling creative block?
On my good days I walk away. I can typically gain perspective on what I need to do when I come back and I try to be as rational as possible. On my not so good days, I keep working until I am even more frustrated than I was (never good) and then I look at other people’s work (almost always never good) and then complain about it (always bad). Typically I am just experiencing a block on one piece or project, so I go to work on something else until I can come back to it. The projects that I have blocks on almost always turn out to be the best ones because I have to spend more time working through it.
What project are you most excited about right now?
I have some collaborative projects coming up with other artists. It is a nice change of pace to work with others, and collaborations often push my limits as far as skills, mediums, and visual vocabulary!
I am also working on ways to better connect my passion for girls and women’s issues into my artwork. I love making work simply for the aesthetic, but I have found that I am most excited about and challenged by using my artwork as a platform to visually talk about these things.
You have done some commission work, what is your approach to working with clients?
A large portion of my income is commissions and most of my clients come through recommendations. Aftering doing them for a handful of years, I just streamlined my process this holiday season which is making a huge difference in how smoothly everything runs for both me and the client!
As an example, I do a lot of house portraits. Once a client has approached me I walk them through what their options are for the final piece. Additionally I ask for specific types of photos, give them payment options, and set timeline expectations. Clear communication upfront is key to keeping the back and forth conversation and revisions limited!
What revisions have you made to this process through experience?
I keep all client conversations on email so that everything is documented and easy for me to review. I also now ask for payment upfront-not because anything has happened to me personally but I have learned from other people’s stories!
How do you price your work?
For commissions I have created a pricing matrix. I factor in size, complexity, time, and materials and can give the client a very good idea right away of what the piece will be. I have a sliding scale for prints and other paper goods. Typically when I need to come up with a price for something, I throw out a number and live with it for a little bit. After a day I can typically feel if it is too low or high. I also look at what else I offer to make sure everything is scaled correctly. I am always looking at what others are selling their work for-I have a few artists that I follow closely and have a similar pricing model to.
Where do you sell your work?
Right now I am just online through my own Etsy site. A 2017 goal is to start selling in shops!
What surprises have you encountered in your first year?
One of the biggest surprises is how quickly circumstances can change. There are days where you are questioning if you should be doing this work, and then next day you are offered an amazing project, commission, or opportunity. There are projects that fall apart with pieces that can later be salvaged for another, more successful project.
What have been some proud moments for you through this process?
I was unexpectedly featured on a few different blogs and websites this past year. That always elicits a happy dance from me! When you are working alone, recognition from others can be a big boost.
How did you respond to situations that did not go as planned?
I have had both situations that unexpectedly succeeded, as well as failed. In both cases, I am learning to ask for help. The successes I have experienced are not just my own-they happen because of the support and often time of others helping me to get work out the door! And the failures happen too-I have learned it is good to ask for advice in those situations from people doing the same work. Failure is not uncommon in this line of work, but I have found a great community of people to share knowledge with and those are the times when I learned my biggest lessons!
Tell us a fact we might not know about you.
I play the piano! I have been begging for one for our house, and love to practice whenever I have a chance.
Do you have any book, movie, or podcast suggestions (art related or otherwise?)
Right now I listen to a lot of 99% Invisible, a podcast about all of the things we experience but often don’t think about in design. My favorite podcast this year was There Goes the Neighborhood-a series about gentrification in Brooklyn. I am also a huge fan of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings and will read or listen to anything she posts.