How Illustrator Fran Meneses Went from Unemployed to Full-Time Artist (and How You Can, Too)

 

Patreon is like that dreamy cottage in the middle of the woods. If you’re an artist, you know exactly what I mean: We all want to be there, surrounded by trees (or the sea), with lots of tea and coffee, endless snacks, mountains of art supplies (or maybe instruments), music and blankets, and just be able to work without worries on personal projects for as long as we need.—Fran Meneses, Illustrator and Vlogger

But life wasn’t always a beach for the UK-based artist.

In 2015, self-taught illustrator Fran Meneses (aka Frannerd) was an unemployed, struggling artist in London with no savings, no commissions, and no plans. So she rolled up her sleeves and embarked on Inktober, a yearly challenge in which artists from around the world create one ink drawing a day throughout the month of October.

“Spoiler alert: I survived, and that period made me stronger and happier than ever,” Fran tells us. “I wish I could go up to my past self and say, ‘You’ve got this. Everything is going to be okay.’”

Just last year, Fran announced her Patreon page on social media.

“The feedback was great, but some of my fans were really scared,” Fran explains. “I asked them why, and the general fear was that I’d disappear from social media and stop posting.”

However, the opposite occurred because Fran’s Patreon page made it possible for her to pursue art full-time and therefore interact more with her fans.

“I can buy and review art supplies thanks to them, set a couple of days to film, and even take the train and go to London and draw at a museum,” Fran shares. “All of these expenses (museum tickets, art supplies, books, train tickets, filming equipment) and time are covered by my patrons. So I film videos with tips on how to become a freelance illustrator and draw illustrations to make them smile. I want to help them because they help me so much.”

Now, with a stable income fueled by her patrons, more than 5 million views on YouTube, and the ability to create illustrations (and get paid!) full-time, Fran has well surpassed her childhood goals of developing an artistic identity and becoming her own boss.

In fact, Fran has become the go-to expert for illustrators interested in getting paid for doing what they love and making the leap to full-time.

Straight from Fran herself, here are 7 tips for turning your side hustle into a full-time business:

1) Grow your audience organically.

“Post regularly, post content that really means something to you, and be true to yourself. I know it sounds cliché, but being honest and raw and real on the internet is something you don’t see very often. It’s easy to tell when someone is pretending to be someone else.”

Pro tip: Use Hootsuite to schedule your social media posts ahead of time!

2) Diversify your income streams.

“By far, the most effective monetization method is having several sources of income. Especially as a freelancer, you need to have multiple income streams, whether they’re small, medium, or big. My income typically comes from my online shop, Patreon, commissions, book royalties, and ad revenues from old youtube videos.”

Pro tip: For creators with multiple income streams, QuickBooks Self-Employed is a great way to create and send invoices, pay taxes, and track and organize expenses.

3) Join Patreon!

“I joined Patreon a year ago, and it’s been the best decision I’ve made in the last couple of years. Let me put it this way: Right now, I’m working every day from 9am until 10pm on a graphic novel, and I couldn’t have done it without my patrons. They know this, and I keep telling them how awesome they are, but it’s true. And that’s how Patreon has shifted my creative process: I can take the time to work on personal projects and create new material without having to worry about anything else. This is the first time in my life I have the space to do this, and I’m incredibly grateful.”

Pro tip: After joining Patreon, check out these 5 data-backed tips to crushing your first month.

4) Believe in yourself, and JUMP!

“I say ‘Believe in yourself, and JUMP!’ because there are so many ways we sabotage ourselves as creators. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I get it. I spent years doing illustrations halfway and not committing because I was terrified of failing. Seriously, just jump. Not literally (You can if you want to!), but if you truly want something, you need to go after it. That feeling of ‘this has to work, there’s no plan B, etc.’ is obviously risky, but it’s the best motivation to work insanely hard and make something that sounds impossible (like being a freelance illustrator in the most expensive city in the world) become a reality.”  

Pro tip: Try using the SELF Journal to help break down your lofty goals down into manageable chunks with daily action steps!

5) Know what keeps you going.

“I think many illustrators are going to relate to this, but every time I get stuck in a creative rut, I watch a Studio Ghibli movie. I also love going out and walking. Right now, I’m living in Hastings, which is a small city on England’s southeast coast, and walking next to the sea is a great way to calm my nerves. When I’m having a tough time, I also try to take it easy and read, draw stuff I like, take a bath, work at a cafe, meet up with my fellow illustrator friends, and talk with my husband Ed. He’s a creator, too, so we go through the same emotions that surround creativity. In my opinion, talking with someone can be one of the fastest ways to overcome a tough time or a creative crisis.”

Pro tip: Suffering from creative block? Here are 20 expert strategies to help you overcome it.

6) Send a lot of emails.

“I remember when I first started out as a freelance illustrator, I told everyone I knew about it. And I sent emails to friends, family members, and former colleagues, letting them know I was looking for work. I sent 15 emails in one day to all the blogs I was reading because almost all of them were reusing old photos. One of them actually replied, and I started working with them on a regular basis. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a job, and there’s nothing wrong with letting people know that you’re looking for a job. We, as illustrators, can breathe so much life into companies.”

Pro tip: Boomerang is an easy way to schedule emails, track who’s opened and read your messages, and remind you when to follow-up.

7) Be nice.

“Be nice to clients, fellow illustrators and colleagues, and other freelancers putting themselves out there. Be nice to everyone. You never ever know who’s going to recommend you or ask you to work on a commission. Being an illustrator and even a creator in general is like living in a small town, so you need to have a very good reputation.”

Pro tip: Consider hosting a meetup for your fans via Eventbrite, a one-stop shop for setting up, promoting, and managing every detail of your event.

* * *

What’s next for Fran? A graphic novel about friendship for adults. “I’ve noticed there’s not many books about friendship for grownups, and I asked my husband if we could work on this together,” Fran reveals. “He’s a writer, and we’ve already interviewed psychologists about why it can be so hard to make friends as an adult.”

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