Friday, October 27, 2017

How to Get Work Done While Raising Kids: Interview with a Freelancing Mommy - Zara Gonzalez Hoang

Introducing the fourth of four freelance mommies, the very talented Zara Gonzalez Hoang.

Zara has been an illustrator and designer for years but she recently finished illustrating her debut book, Thread of Love written by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal  (Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster - Fall 2018). You can find more of her work at When she's not illustrating, she is taking care of her 3 year old.

Me: Hi Zara! 

Zara: Hey Meridth!

Congratulations on finishing your debut picture book, Zara! And thanks for letting me interview you! With all your projects and raising an adorably squirmy kid, how is it that you manage your time?

Zara: Very haphazardly. I’ve tried a number of time-management strategies but at the end of the day I always come back to the simplest things. I make lists (usually on whatever piece of paper is closest by, which isn’t always the smartest idea) and my most consistent tool is Evernote. I have a set of notebooks called “Top of Mind” where I keep my weekly todo list (a list of all the days of the week with my checklist of things to do for each day – at the end of the week I erase it and start over again.), my shopping list, my list of what to make for dinner for the list and my list of what’s in the fridge (to help facilitate what to make for dinner this week). It's simple but it (mostly) works.
How do you make and keep your goals? 
Zara: Pretty organically. When I am between projects I try to spend some time evaluating where I am and where I want to be and then try to make small goals to try to push myself towards a bigger goal. I’m constantly re-evaluating where I am and what I am doing to keep moving forward.
I’m sure I could be doing much more to facilitate this but since my time is limited this is what works for now and I am content to know that I am making slowly making progress.
Zara's ToDo List.

Be content with where you are at and be patient with what you can accomplish... I love that! How do you balance your life between the demands of a freelancer and the needs of your spouse, kids, and your personal needs?
Zara: Poorly. I rarely feel like I’m doing everything in perfect balance. Something is always getting more attention and other things are being neglected. I have tried to make peace with the fact that nothing is ever in balance though. As a freelancer projects are never consistent so sometimes there is a lot of work and that needs most of my attention other times my family needs more attention and I don’t get to do as much work as I’d like. In every case I tend to short my personal needs the most but I’ve been making more of an effort to take “me” time even if that means stealing the time when my son is napping to read a book instead of working on something that would be better for my career. 

I totally identify with that.
Zara: Things have been a bit easier to balance since my son started going to a half-day preschool 5 days a week but even then things still get crazy.

I'm glad to hear it. What do you do about the mommy guilt?
Zara: Try to ignore it. The choices that I’ve made to be the primary caregiver for my son and be a freelancer mean that there is tons of guilt to go around. If I’m working too much (or if I want to work more) I feel guilty I’m not spending enough quality time with my son and planning super awesome activities for him and if I am spending a lot of time with my family then I feel like I am shorting myself and my goals. 
It's such a tough balancing act. Any tips on keeping a clean house? (It’s definitely something I struggle with.)
Zara: I’m not sure if this is a tip exactly but my best advice is to just accept that you can’t have everything. If my house is spotless then I am probably not spending as much time working as I’d like or not spending as much time hanging out with my family. Honestly, I’d rather have a messy house and a bit more time to work. That being said for my sanity we have a cleaner come in about once a month to do a deep clean and our house is not enormous so we take an hour or two on the weekends do a bit of a “reset” of the house. (put things back where they should go, vacuum, wipe things down, empty out whatever has gone off in the fridge etc) 

Good point! Spotless house means less work done... What have you given up to make more time to accomplish your goals?
Zara: Time with friends, time with family, time at the gym, sleep, a steady paycheck, a clean house. I’ve given up all sorts of things to make more time for my goals. The key is to not give anything up for too long. As a creative person I need external stimulus to keep me inspired. If all I do is work (even if it is towards something that I want) I find that my work becomes lifeless or just impossible to do. So while I do still give up things I try to make time for things that seem frivolous once in awhile.
 How long has it taken before you felt like you had your major breakthrough?
Zara: My major breakthrough in my career or in life? In my career I feel like I’m constantly having major breakthroughs. My career has gone through so many different iterations I feel like I am constantly reinventing myself and figuring out new things about myself. I think my best breakthroughs have come from just consistently sitting down and working towards some goal. I don’t believe breakthroughs come from nothing but from consistently working towards something.
That is such good advice! You can't get anywhere in your career if you are stagnate. Are their any resources that you've found helpful?

Zara: I like this article. It very much expounds on my philosophy of "just keep moving forward." 

Thanks! That is a good article! :) 

Any more advice to us freelance mommies? 

Zara: Be kind to yourself. Everyone is struggling to find balance and the best thing we can do is just accept that we are doing the best we can.

I need to remember to do that! Thanks Zara for all the advice! 

All art posted above is (c) Zara Gonzalez Hoang.

Meridth McKean Gimbel is a freelance writer and illustrator who loves anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. When not working on her illustrations or writing stories, she is busy building a time machine so she can hang out with her pirate buddies and find buried treasure. 

Meridth is happily represented by Linda Pratt at Wernick & Pratt. You can follow her work at:
 Portfolio | Blog | Sketchblog | Facebook professionalpersonal Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How to Get Work Done While Raising Kids: Interview with a Freelancing Mommy - Mary Reaves Uhles

Introducing the third of four freelance mommies, the very talented Mary Reaves Uhles

Mary is an Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI Midsouth Region. She has created illustrations for numerous books and magazines, and won many awards for her illustrations. She was recently commissioned to illustrate A Tuba Christmas (Sleeping Bear - Fall 2018) and Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee (Sterling - Fall 2018)You can find more of her work at www.maryuhles.comWhen she's not painting, she is taking care of her 8 and 11 year olds. 

Me: Hi Mary!  

Mary: Hey!

Thanks for letting me interview you! So I know you are busy. How do you manage your time? 

Mary's ToDo list
Mary: My primary tools are my to-do list and iCal calendar. I do my to do list for the week usually every Sunday night. I make it only stuff i think i can get done that week. I will add to it through the week, usually things like replying to an email or returning a phone call. I keep my due dates for projects and all the family stuff in iCal which automatically shares with my husband. Everyone has their own color coded calendar entry. I constantly refer to my calendar and calculate how many days or weeks I have on a project and how much I can get done on a daily or weekly basis. For example on the book I’m working on right now, I’ve calculated I can get one and half illustrations done a week. I track that progress every couple of days to see if I’m on track to make the deadline.

Wow. That's a lot. So how do you make and keep your goals? 

Mary: When I’m on a deadline that becomes the short term goal. Sometimes that means there are LOTS of short term goals. I keep a bulletin board of yearly goals, these are usually things like ‘update mailing list’ or ‘re work website’. For even longer term goals, which I also think of as dreams, I just work on them a little bit every day when I’m not on a huge deadline. This might be things like finish a certain dummy or try to revise a story.

Oooh! That's a good idea. I like having the yearly goals visible. But still, that's a lot to juggle. How do you balance your life between the demands of a freelancer and the needs of your spouse, kids, and your personal needs?

Mary: Oh man this is the hardest thing of course.  I aggressively guard my primary work times. During the bulk of the week thats while my kids are in school from approximately 
8:30-3. I usually don’t do anything else, particularly in the hours before lunch. I hate lunch meetings because they chop up the best part of my day.  If i do have a meeting or appointment I try to schedule it right after school drop off. As much as I hate giving up my morning hours I’d rather have the interruptions before I even start work. In my particular situation my husband works 90 minutes away from our house. So he leaves before 7am and doesn’t get home till 12 hours later. I usually get up early when he gets up and check email, maybe work on sketches or try to revise a line for about 30 mins in the morning. Then its time for the morning school rush to start. 

After school I try to focus on moving my kids through homework and don’t even attempt to multitask with work. So much of the balancing act is making sure everyone else stays on track so that one missed homework assignment doesn’t snowball into a late night homework binge. And I’ll admit it… I don’t cut my kids any slack on meeting their deadlines since my life is so deadline driven. I’m a big believer in family dinner so we usually all eat together about 7 at least 3 nights during the week. After that I check back in on the studio, check email, determine what my nightly schedule will be. Unfortunately my husband and I have gotten in the terrible habit of flopping in front of the TV after the kids are in bed. Fortunately I’ve set up my ‘studio annex’ in the den so I flop there. I’ll sketch, work on my light table, maybe work on postcard mailers - from there I can do pretty much anything except the watercolor part of my process. 

 Best TV show to listen to and glance at occasionally? Once Upon A Time. Worst show to do that with? The Handmaid’s Tale. I just can’t look away from it. I will work like this right up through the first guest of Stephen Colbert. Now if I’m on a painting deadline I kick everyone out of my studio after the kids are in bed and focus on that. On the weekends I have two protected times - Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings. I rarely schedule anything early on a Saturday so that I can get up early and do the work I want to do. Sometimes thats ‘project-on-a-deadline’ work, sometimes its ‘dream-goal-project’ work. Sunday evenings are reserved for doing my to-do list and hanging out with my husband. We still flop in front of the TV but I usually don’t open the studio annex. I try not to work during the weekend days after everyone is up and about (although there have definitely been weekends when that hasn’t been the case.) I usually don’t check email from Friday night until Sunday night. 

Wow, Mary! I love that you have a strategy for organizing your time. But what do you do about the mommy guilt?

Mary: sigh… live with it? Actually I will say I’m not terrible with mommy-guilt. I feel guilty if I yell at my kids because I’m stressed out about something else. If that happens  try to apologize and explain to them. I feel like the best thing i can do is model the behavior of “yes people get mad or stressed and yell, but I still love you and I’m asking forgiveness.” I don’t feel guilty if they miss out on something because either of their parents is working. My 11 year old would tell you that the line I use when he’s whining about me being busy is: “No one likes it when we’re busy but everyone likes spending the money, so i don’t know what to tell you.”  If they are interrupting me every 5 minutes to look at a lego creation I try to calmly say, “I have 5 minutes to hear about this interesting thing but then you can’t interrupt me again until _____ time.” Sometimes that works better than other times. Since I do have my protected work hours during the week, I try to also protect family hours on weekends and on family vacations. For me that means no checking email or social media, no texting with anyone else if I’m in a place to be focused on them. By doing that I feel like even though my time IS so divided I’m clearly saying ‘you are a priority now.’ 

I love that!

Mary: I do have to say on a philosophical note that I think women buy into guilt too much. At one point when my kids were younger I read an article about how its not a parent’s job to solve their problems or make them happy. The philosophy to adopt is ‘I can’t fix this for you, but I can walk with you while you learn to fix it.” I really liked how that could instill a sense of resilience and independence. Trying to keep this in mind has really helped me alleviate the guilt if my kids are struggling with their life not looking the way they want it to.  The guilt doesn’t help moms be creative AND it doesnt help us raise our  kids. I think we have to make a conscious decision to leave it behind as long as our kids are fed and safe.

That's so true! Mom guilt aside and onto the subject that I loath the most... Any tips on keeping a clean house?

Mary: What is this “clean house” you speak of. 

Hee hee.

Mary: I am unfamiliar with this concept. A while ago a really good illustrator friend of mine informed me cheerfully ‘oh we just don’t clean.’ Instead of being horrified I found this quite freeing. So whenever I see the cobwebs building up around my windows I think ‘oh its ok, i just don’t clean also.’

OK in all seriousness this is something that all working moms struggle with - no matter the industry. Full disclosure, I’m a Virgo… organization and order tends to come a bit more easily to us. However the flip side of that is disorder and clutter bother me MORE than most people. It’s like visual noise that makes me anxious, but I’m the only one in my family really affected. My solution to this is keep the flat surfaces clean and uncluttered. I put away things from the counter tops and pick up things from the floor (or make my kids put it away if its their sneakers causing a pileup on the stairs.) Dust is very irritating to me so I just don’t buy or keep knick knacks that have to be dusted. I actually do enjoy organizing so occasionally decluttering a dresser or kitchen sink is Mom’s version of ‘fun.’ However we regularly live out of the laundry baskets piled up instead of getting clothes put away immediately. I clean the toilets and sinks when they actually show the dirt. I’ve also taught my kids how to clean a bathroom. When they want a new toy or gadget I hand them the sponge and dust rag. Cleaning a toilet and sink in this house will net you enough to add onto the Lego Friends collection.

That is great. I'm sure it keeps them motivated to clean. (And I need to invite you over to my place for some organizing "fun.")

Mary: The one housekeeping chore I don’t slack on is cooking and meal prep. I like to cook and it’s also an essential part of managing our household finances. I plan meals that have left overs and usually cook two to three times a week. The nights that I cook coincide with my weekly work to-do list. I usually plan ahead on Sunday night which nights I should count on cooking vs. heating up. 

What have you given up to make more time to accomplish your goals?

Mary: I think its various things over the years. Here’s one thing that always comes to mind when I think about giving up stuff: In 2010 my kids were 5 and 2. It was still the recession and I had taken on a couple of design projects to fill in the gaps as illustration was slow. I started to realize that whole days would go by and I would not draw anything. So by late 2010 I made a new years resolution that I would draw every day in 2011. The question was when was that going to happen. At the time my only free time was the 15-20 minutes at night that I read in bed before going to sleep. I had been very careful about guarding that time…. I needed to read to turn off my brain from the day. But in reality, it was the ONLY for sure time I had to draw. So I did it, I drew every night before bed for about 15 - 20 minutes, and I read for maybe 3 minutes. Or most nights I picked up the book and then immediately feel asleep. What happened was two things: a) my average time to finish a book went from a week to a month, and b) my character design improved dramatically. Even though these days I don’t always draw every day, what I really learned from that year was that I needed to work my dream every day.

Right now the thing I’m giving up is social media. This is not the easiest thing in the world since everyone’s life happens on Facebook or instagram. Art directors expect you to be promoting yourself online to get the book and marketing people expect you to promote it after it’s published. However I find social media to be an energy suck.  Sure i like seeing random pictures of my friends vacations but I can’t stand the notifications pinging while I’m working so they are all off. I check in a few times a week and I open conversations with ‘sorry if you already said ____, but i havent been online the last few days.’ 

The other thing I’ve given up recently was my blog. I wrote a blog for about 10 years that chronicled being a mom, freelancing and working toward publication. But in early 2017 I officially ‘closed’ it. That made me sad because I really loved writing those posts but it was getting harder and harder to find time to do it. I went from a weekly post down to three a year. I had to realize that my Facebook feed was basically standing in for my blog and that I just needed to be realistic about where my time was going. It’s still out there - I’m keeping that domain name, blog or no blog;) 

EAT was a finalist in the 2014 SCBWI Bologna Book Fair Gallery
(Well you are pretty fabulous.) And that's good advice. I know I need to change how I spend my time on social media. It can be a total waste of time. 

So how long has it taken before you felt like you had your major breakthrough?

Mary: Define major breakthrough. I started freelancing in 1998. The short version of that part goes like this: 24 year old kid loses animation job, gets job in design, wants to freelance. About a year later same kid gets a book contract. Kid is ecstatic. Puts in 3 weeks notice at design job. 2 weeks later book contract is canceled. Kid has to decide, still quit and strike the freelance trail or go back to design job? I quit. I managed to build up steady work in editorial, magazine, and advertising, even some mass market publishing. But nothing in trade which was my goal. In 2007 I had a portfolio review that changed everything. It wasn’t a contract slid across the table or a phone call a week later saying "we love your work we have a book for you." It was just advised about the direction in which I needed to push my work. I pushed that way for 5 years. In 2012 I sat down with that same art director who said “oh yes, this is MUCH better.” But I still didn’t get any projects from that house. Then in 2013 I got my first job with Cricket Magazine (literally 16 years to the day after my first rejection from them) and I illustrated a chapter book series. Around that time I started being ‘tested’ for jobs from a few big publishers. Then, in 2014, I was called by Sleeping Bear to work on my first book, The Little Kids’ Table. Kooky Crumbs followed 3 months later. So when I do count the breakthrough? Was it in 2007 when I was handed the map to make my art better? Was it in 2012 when I got validation that I was on the right track? Or was it finally breaking into trade? I honestly don’t know. I know we all hear about the artist who graduated or won a contest and BOOM! Agent! Contract! Accolades! But I really think working slowly but steadily is more typical. I don’t even know if I believe in a ‘big break’ so much as a lot of little breaks, listening for every opportunity, and playing the long game. 

That's reassuring. I think it's good to have that perspective. Are there any resources that have helped you organize your life and accomplish your goals?

Mary: For organization I’m always interested in hearing from people in the restaurant industry. Restaurants have to operate on the knife edge of efficiency in order to survive so people who are successful in restaurants tend to have great organizational tips. I recommend the podcast Freakonomics for all kinds of business and money management topics. I recommend Chris Oatley’s blog and podcasts for inspiration and actionable steps toward a career goal. I also recommend Giuseppe Castellano’s classes and blogs

Any more advice to us freelance mommies?

There’s a lot of people out there “advising you on your career” for a price. If you hire a consultant for your portfolio or freelance business make sure you are getting advice from someone who has the same success you want to have. 

Time is your most valuable resource. Always think about where a project or a career move will put you two years down the road.

Such great advice, Mary! Thanks for your time!

All art posted above is (c) Mary Reaves Uhles.

Meridth McKean Gimbel is a freelance writer and illustrator who loves anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. When not working on her illustrations or writing stories, she is busy building a time machine so she can hang out with her pirate buddies and find buried treasure. 

Meridth is happily represented by Linda Pratt at Wernick & Pratt. You can follow her work at:
 Portfolio | Blog | Sketchblog | Facebook professionalpersonal Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How to Get Work Done While Raising Kids: Interview with a Freelancing Mommy - Lorian Tu-Dean

Introducing the second of four freelance mommies, the wonderfully talented Lorian Tu-Dean.

Lorian has illustrated for Highlights magazine and quite a few picture books. She is currently working on illustrations for six (6!!!) picture books including the recently commissioned Dress Like a Girl by Patricia Toht from HarperCollins (released in Fall 2019). You can find more of Lorain's work at www.paperpencilplaystudio.comWhen she's not illustrating, she is taking care of her 4 and 8 year olds. 

Me: Hi there Lorian! Super congratulations on your recent slew of commissions!

Lorian: Hiiiiii!!!!

Thanks for letting me interview you! I've always wondered how in the worldy world you are able to get so much done!

Lorian: Thank YOU for wanting to feature me on the blog! How exciting!

Wahoo!! I agree! But really... How do you manage your time? 

Lorian: I have three tools I use to organize my tasks: a monthly calendar, which hangs above my desk and includes personal things like dentist appointments and stuff with family and friends; a project notebook, which is portable and more specific to the art stuff I'm working on, and I also have everything in Asana, which is an app on my phone that sends me reminders and tracks progress. I also write out a list every morning that takes me through each day, hour by hour. (I realize that seems like SO much, but I need it all, I really do!)

What do you do to keep track of all your goals?

Lorian: Mostly I write everything down in my project notebook, on the front page or something, so I can just have things in writing--- my big hopes and dreams list. Short-term stuff is mostly made up of deadlines, appointments, and stuff like that, that are more like things I need to do along the way... 

Inline image 10      Inline image 6

Wow! I love that you are a list person. Even with how organized you are, how do you to balance your life between the demands of a freelancer and the needs of your spouse, kids, and your personal needs?

Lorian: I structure my days as much as possible, and allow for as much flexibility as possible too. I'm a pretty adaptable, easy-going person, so if something doesn't get done, or needs to be re-scheduled, or fit-in last minute, it's not much of a problem for me to make a change like that. My problem is more keeping track of all the little things that need to get done, so nothing slips through the cracks. Like, often, folding the laundry will fall through the cracks, but I try to prioritize things as much as I can. I cook when I can, but sometimes we'll order out. Sometimes the sink is full of dirty dishes the whole day, or the kids watch an extra episode of their favorite TV show.... some days, I have less work to do and I can make homemade bread, and do arts and crafts projects with the kids. Some things are just fixtures though. We read together every night, no matter what. And I need to draw SOMETHING everyday, even if it's in the car on the way somewhere or on a napkin at the cafe. My husband is incredibly supportive of me and my work, and picks up wherever needed whenever needed, and I honestly could not do what I do without him.

Inline image 1

Structure... and support! I love that! But, what do you do about the mommy guilt?

Lorian: My mommy guilt used to be crippling, but it's gotten easier to cope with over the years, I think in part because I just love illustrating for children so much that it's almost like I just have another child, and I kind of just find the balance the way I'd have to if I really did have another child. A good friend of mine, who is also a writer, told me once that Quality is more important than Quantity when it comes to spending time with the kids, and I took that to heart. When I am with my kids, I try to be fully present in the moment with them, when I'm working I'm fully present with my work. At this point, it's just become a very natural balance, and my kids respect and understand what I do for work, so I don't think they feel any kind of envy. I also try to share what I do with them as much as possible, and encourage them to make art with me when possible, too. Often my older son will draw comics in my bedroom/studio while I'm working on roughs for a book. It's really very nice.

That is so sweet! I love it!! Any tips on keeping a clean house? (My house elves are on strike.)

Lorian: Clutter stresses me out SO much, and what I've been trying to do lately is minimize my home. That way, there's just less STUFF to have to clean. Every morning, while the kids are having breakfast, I tidy up the kitchen, and laundry happens on the weekends, and general cleaning stuff happens as needed during the week, when ever there's an opportunity. And as I said before, my husband is incredibly helpful too.

What have you given up to make more time to accomplish your goals?

Lorian: A few years ago, I left my teaching job in order to care for my son, who has Autism. He attends school now, but at the time he was in Preschool and really struggling, and it just made more sense for me to be able to work from home and be more available to him. We had to sell our home and move to a small apartment, then we had to move to another state to find more educational support for him at school. So really I guess these "sacrifices" were made more so for my son's sake, but they enabled me to focus more on my illustration work as well. Sometimes I wish we didn't have to sell our home and live in a small apartment with no yard, little space, etc.... but it makes it so both my son and I can be more successful and happy, so in that way it's more than worth it.

I'm glad things have worked out for you and your son! (Hugs!) How long has it taken before you felt like you had your major breakthrough?

Lorian: I'd say the first three years was me just trying to figure everything out (it was a messy messy time-- figuratively and literally). After that, I had a better handle on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I started to get involved in my local chapter of SCBWI, I attended more conferences and other events, I connected with people in the industry... once I got there, and made the commitment to the long game, I signed with an agency, and things kind of just started happening from there. I suppose that my most recent contract with Harper Collins made me feel like I was finally a "real illustrator" because it was my first book deal with one of the "Big 5" houses, and my agent made me feel like it was a really really good step in my career. 

That is so exciting!! (And well deserved!) Yay, hooray! Are there any resources that have helped you?

Lorian: I'd be remiss if I didn't plug my favorite podcast, All the Wonders, with Matthew Winner. Endlessly inspiring. I also enjoy watching Frannerd's videos on youtube, which are always helpful with the Illustrator Life.

Ooooh! Yes! Those are great resources! Do you have any more advice to all of us freelance mommies?

Lorian: Do what you can, when you can, however you can. Just do something. Even if it feels like nothing, it's not. Enjoy the time you can with your kids while they are still little and want to be with you. Illustration will always be there waiting for you... don't overload yourself with more than you can handle or unreasonably high expectations. Don't compare yourself to others. Take it a day at a time. You can do this. 

Thanks friend! I feel revved up and ready to go. It was so nice to chat with you!

All art posted above is (c) Lorian Tu-Dean.

Meridth McKean Gimbel is a freelance writer and illustrator who loves anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. When not working on her illustrations or writing stories, she is busy building a time machine so she can hang out with her pirate buddies and find buried treasure. 

Meridth is happily represented by Linda Pratt at Wernick & Pratt. You can follow her work at:
 Portfolio | Blog | Sketchblog | Facebook professionalpersonal Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest