Astrid loves to create. She’s a freelance graphic designer and an artist with a passion for wildlife and pet portraits. Art has always been a way for her to find her niche and push herself further. It began in her childhood and continues today. If there’s anyone who has ever spent their life living their true passion, it’s her.
From a Young Age
“I’ve always drawn. I’ve always coloured”, recalls Astrid, who admits to going through an abundance of colouring books as a child. “I got my first art award in grade 1. I did a painting of a farm and I remember painting a barn and winning an award for that.”
She also remembers spending time throughout her school years embellishing the covers of her notebooks and doodling during class. It was just something that came naturally. “I would embellish text”, she says, “like, if a report was about plants I would draw plants around the letters. I enjoyed art during grade school and highschool and thought that graphic design would be an exciting choice in college. It was a way to make a living doing what I liked.”
Pursuing a Passion
Astrid attended Canadore College in North Bay and Conestoga College in Kitchener. She says that her postsecondary years were some of the most challenging years of her life. She says, “there were 31 of us in the first year and only eight by the time we graduated. The workload and deadlines were tough.” Despite the challenge, she reflects on her experience fondly and believes that she earned her strong work ethic during that time.
“Everything was done by hand – we weren’t using computers at the time. If you sneezed while you were inking something, you were toast.”
After graduation, Astrid began using her talents to start her artistic career. Some of her earliest successes happened coincidentally. “I moved to Ottawa for a graphic design job. I couldn’t afford to decorate my apartment but I liked doing pen and inks. I learned stippling in school and I really liked that so I thought I would give it a try. I did a portrait of some birds and it turned out really nicely – I surprised myself. Friends and family saw this and started asking me to do portraits for them. So I would do one for my cousin or for my aunt and uncle who lived in Ottawa. For birthday presents and Christmas presents I started drawing and got hooked. I thought, well, I could do this all the time, it’s fun.”
Wild for Art
With her love of wildlife and pets, Astrid thought about pursuing a path of fine art. She found her graphic design job to be quite stressful. She eventually moved back to her hometown of Sudbury and did some part-time design work for some local publications just to stay afloat. During this time, Astrid was also doing some wildlife drawings and paintings on the side. She went to a local framing store to get them framed and the woman working there really liked the work and encouraged Astrid to keep going and helped her enter a her first art show. It was to take place in Ottawa so Astrid took two months off work to complete 13 wildlife portraits and had them framed for the exhibit. Unfortunately at the last minute, the show was cancelled. She was crushed.
Left with all of her paintings, Astrid got to work selling them and was successful (save a few that she kept for herself). She recalls how she felt about her career at that time: “I just wanted to be a wildlife artist.” Soon after, Astrid entered a closer-to-home art show in Willisville, a small town just north of Manitoulin Island. “They had a show every summer and it was pretty well-attended”, she says. “One of my first paintings won an award at that show. It was the first-ever wildlife award they gave out. It was a drawing of a Canada Goose which I still have hanging in my living room. I also sold a painting of some Osprey chicks. It was bought by Lois Maxwell, a Canadian actress who played the original Ms. Moneypenny from the James Bond films. She was writing for the Toronto Sun at the time and wrote an article about why she bought my painting and how it reminded her of her son. That was a good week for me!”
From Employment to Freelance
With newfound confidence, Astrid continued work on pet and wildlife portraits, but found more success and a more reliable income through her graphic design work. She was employed for several years as a graphic designer before she started doing some design work on the side for people she knew. When the demand grew for her freelance work, she decided to turn her attention to that full-time and so she left her job to work from home.
She got started as a freelancer by putting together a portfolio of her best art. Her portfolio included many different subjects and styles of hand-drawn and graphic design work. She would scan and print several items on high-quality paper and assemble a package to send out in the mail to prospective clients.
“I started doing some work for the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF),” she says, “I sent them an email and got lucky. I also was lucky that Scholastic Canada was interested in my work. I sent them an email and sent them packages in the mail. I’ve sent packages to all kinds of companies, but most of them I didn’t hear from.”
Her best advice? “Don’t be afraid to send a package in the mail so people will actually open it. It’s hard to get people to open emails now. When I first started freelancing about 15 years ago,” Astrid says, “it was easier because people would open emails if there was an attachment. Now it’s different with so much spam floating around. I print things out now specifically for the organization I’m sending a package to. If it’s a publisher, I’ll send illustrations for children’s books and do samples. CWF asked me to do plants and flowers for an upcoming project they had. They were illustrations. I agreed to it and did some samples. I scanned and emailed the samples in and they liked it. I always give it a shot.”
“Anybody could freelance if they have a computer and the skills.”
“I have some clients because I’ve worked for them before but other clients I just cold call and send them emails and portfolio samples letting them know that I’m available. The ones I did hear back from were nice enough to open up the PDF and say ‘ok, how much do you charge?’. I always give free quotes and make sure that the clients are happy. I’ve now been working for many of these organizations for years.”
Tools of the Trade
Astrid set up a small studio in her basement where she primarily works from. She has a few different-sized desks, a drawing board, a desktop computer, printer and some cutting tools. She also has a few taxidermy subjects that were donated to her, which she finds very helpful for illustrations.
As for software, Astrid learned how to use several of the Adobe programs while she was employed as a graphic designer. “I use Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. InDesign is more for documents and I use Illustrator and Photoshop for illustrations. I draw a lot of things by hand and then scan them in and colour them up on the computer. That way, you can change things more easily. Sometimes, I have illustration projects that I do all by hand. I’ll scan them in and send them to the client. I did a series of tote bags for CWF and they were all hand-drawn and scanned in.”
Astrid also says that for anyone considering freelance work, if you have a good portfolio, a lot of places don’t care whether you are formally trained or have a professional degree for it. She says that if they like your work and you are able to meet their deadlines and develop a good relationship, they are happy to hire you on. She says that a lot of companies used to have their own design department or in-house designer but this is not often the case anymore. Many will now go to firms or look for a freelancer. So you have to learn how to give quotes and manage your own budget. “I keep a timesheet when I work on something and it helps me to know how many hours I spend, including in meetings or on corrections,” she says.
Life as a Freelancer
“Some people think if they’re working for themselves, they can just get up around 10 am and start whenever but I’m always up and started around 8 am. A lot of times I’ll also work nights and weekends and take stuff on vacation with me. I’ll haul the computer to Manitoulin and do work there at the cottage while everyone’s out swimming. But then I get those days where I can take the afternoon off and go kayaking on the lake.”
“You can go to work in your pyjamas but you can’t just lay around all day.”
“It’s turned out okay for me but it’s not a lifestyle for everybody. You are always looking for work. I got lucky and I have people who keep coming back which is nice but when it’s a quiet month you might worry how you are going to pay the bills. Then the next month, I might be busy and make up for it. I’m lucky that my husband has a full-time job which is helpful. If I’m not getting work coming to me, I’m constantly sending out emails and packages, especially to those organizations that I’ve worked with in the past.”
Interested in freelancing? “Do it on the side first,” she says, “and build up your clients. That’s the safest way to do it. You can hang on to your job and that way, if you are willing to put in the extra hours at night and on the weekends, that’s what you are going to be doing. It’s not a 9-5 job. If you are sick, you still have clients that are relying on you so you have to be willing to commit to that project to get it done. That way, they’ll hopefully come back. It might be too scary to jump in unless you already have people who will come to you.”
Astrid says that despite the deadlines and searching for work, she gains a lot of satisfaction from her work and there’s always something new! “The fun part is I can work for any organization, anywhere. I’ve worked for organizations in the United States. I worked with a company in Ottawa for a project in Saskatchewan for Parks Canada. I’ve worked for some companies in British Columbia and Seattle doing stuff for zoos in Winnipeg. I’m working with a company in Boston, doing some maps for a place in Florida.”
“It’s something I can do well into old age as long as my eyes and hands don’t fail me.”
When she’s not working on projects with deadlines, Astrid continues with her hand-drawn pet and wildlife portraits. She finds it to be a relaxing change of pace and allows her to unwind. It’s what started her on a path to personal fulfillment and it continues to be her true passion to this day.
“Drawing has always been like a meditation for me,” she says. “I’ll see something I’ve done maybe last year or before that and I won’t really remember doing it. It’s like you are so totally into it that everything else is shut out. I’ll put maybe some nature sounds on and have that in the background but other than that I just focus on what I’m doing. It’s a release and meditation.”
Get in Touch
Interested in learning more about Astrid? Do you have questions about how to get started as a freelancer? She welcomes you to contact her through her website: petportraitscanada.ca or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.