Saturday, 28 January 2012

Lovey dovey.


February will very soon be with us and by a marvellous stroke of luck I just so happen to have a brand new illustration ready for a certain impending romantic event around the middle of the month!

In the event that you are indeed starting to feel flutters of romance and the overwhelming urge to profess your love to your partner/friend/avian pet/other object of affection, then head on over to my Etsy shop to take a peek at my new 'Dove you' illustrated Valentines card.

 As a little treat, I'll also be adding some extra little freebies in the packages of my next three Etsy sales up to the 40 milestone.

Alternatively, if you're currently seething or miserable at the thought of Valentine's Day, there's also a range of non-romantic products featuring the illustration over at my Society6 shop - all the usuals: t-shirts, iphone/ipad/laptop cases and skins, and prints/canvases.

How will you guys be celebrating/ignoring the 14th?

Friday, 20 January 2012

Think Act Vote ?!X

Before I start talking about my new illustration, thank you all for the great response to my last post about making money while freelancin - I got a lot of great feedback and comments! I'm currently trying to think of more future topics that might be along the same useful/explanatory lines. Is there anything that you would specifically like to see me post about?

Anyway, recently I took part in a project for Think Act Vote that I'm now allowed to share with you, where illustrators were asked to respond to quotes collected from various people about the future they would like to see. 

I can't explain the concept better than the team themselves, so here's a little snippet of information from their website"Think Act Vote (?!X) is a radical think tank that explores the new and creative ways we can and are shaping our future lives and communities.

Run by a powerhouse of volunteers and a vibrant community of collaborators and supporters, Think Act Vote (?!X) have spent the past two years asking thousands of individuals to think deeply about, and to believe in a future that they choose. Throughout this journey we have met some truly incredible people and heard thousands of dreams and fears about the future. And so, to capture some of this we're making a book all about the future and it's open to everyone to contribute thoughts and to get involved."

If you like the sound of what Think Act Vote are doing, you can donate here to help get the Futures Project launched fully and see the collaborative book created :)

The quote I got to illustrate was from Indy Johar: "The future I choose is not the future we can buy, vote for, or are given, but is the future you and I will MAKE.

I had a few ideas that sprung to mind when I thought about the quote, but the thing that stuck with me most was the feeling of hope around new life. In terms of the illustration itself, I think I need to get some more variety of different ages and looks into my illustrations of people... I don't want them all to look the same, and I think that's an easy trap to fall into when you're working in a set style! What do you think, and how would you have interpreted the quote?

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

How to make and save extra money while freelancing or studying

Not a very snappy title there, but I've been thinking about doing a post about this for a while and wasn't sure whether to. At the risk of seeming like a bit of a penny-pincher, lots of these methods do really work over time, and although it may seem silly doing things for a matter of pence it does all add up. If you're thinking I'm slightly mad or are reluctant to use these methods because they only give you small returns each time, just think about how you approach other shopping. Do you buy things from the sale section of a shop? Do you take up buy one get one free offers, or reduced items in supermarkets because it saves you a few extra pence? This is a bit similar to that. The savings seem insignificant initially, but once they start adding up you do really notice them.

One of the toughest things about freelancing is that you're not really sure where your next cheque is coming from, or when. Unfortunately I don't have a fantastic secret method for earning you loads of money, but there's various things I make sure to do regularly and make time for in most of my days. Some or all of these may be completely obvious to you already, but I thought it was worth posting for those who maybe aren't aware of these options or would be too dubious to bother with them otherwise. I'm always surprised when I talk to people about it how many of them either scoff, have never heard of the methods, or don't do it themselves as they think they have nothing to gain from it. If used in the right way, they can potentially be a great supplement to freelancers, part-time workers, students, people on maternity leave etc.

1. Cashback Websites.

If you do a lot of buying online, even second-hand or cheaply from eBay, or you're planning on making some big purchases (appliances, phone contracts, technology, furniture etc) then think about utilising cashback websites. The idea is that you get money essentially for free by shopping with a retailer through their links on a cashback website. (People are more likely to choose to buy with retailers offering cashback, so retailers pay the cashback sites commission on each sale made through them, which you then get a certain proportion of back). Different ones work in different ways, but usually you will get a payment to your bank account, paypal, or vouchers. Personally I use Quidco who pay directly to your bank account each month that you have accumulated earnings, but there are other good ones out there, and different websites have different cashback rates or retailers. Another of the best cashback sites is topcashback (thanks Harriet Gray!) who will of course have different retailers and rates from quidco - it's probably a good idea to check both before making a purchase.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that cashback sites should generally be used as an additional bonus -i.e. shop around for the best deal first, and then check to see if the retailer offers cashback before you make your purchase. This way you get the cheapest price, and a little extra money back. Shopping by just choosing the top-paying affilate retailer on a cashback site may mean that you get a few pence cashback but not the best deal on the market. Cashback is not guaranteed. Sometimes purchases don't track properly, or get declined by retailers for various reasons, so it is imporant not to get too bothered; only think of the money as an added bonus. As well as making purchases, there are often deals to get large cashback amounts upon signing up with certain providers for services or free trials etc through the cashback site links. Over a year or two it's possible to literally make hundreds while buying things you normally would online, or taking up offers (although this obviously depends on how much you shop online). Last year was a particularly good time for me to utilise cashback offers to make savings as, due to moving house, we had a lot of big items to buy and utility providers to sign up with etc.

(You may notice that my links to Quidco and topcashback are personalised ones - this is another usual benefit of these kind of sites that I'm sure you're familiar with - you earn extra incentives or money when you recommend friends who then start using the service. Not my motivator for the post, honest!)

2. Competitions.

Competitions are very high on the list of things that makes others glaze over with patronising smiles, presumably because (like me a few years ago) most people have never or only rarely won a competition in their life, and think it's a waste of time as the odds of winning are seemingly almost non-existant. I'm by no means a serial competition enterer, I don't particularly seek them out, but I do make sure to enter them when I see them (which only takes up a couple of minutes of my day at the most). Before the internet, it used to be that you had to specifically spend out on a stamp or phone call to enter a competition, so I can see that the effort of entering doesn't seem worth the low odds of winning. However, although a lot of competitions still work like this, there's usually the option to enter online for free, and when you're freelancing and spend a lot of your time on the computer anyway, it doesn't take extra expense or a great deal of time to do. To give you an idea, last year I won in the region of 20-30 competitions, ranging from free mascara or face cream, to a set of paints, lovely illustrated childrens books for my collection and [my best win ever!] a digital camera and lenses. People who I tell this to tend to tell me that I must be really lucky, but the fact is that I enter several competitions a week, so it really is just the luck of the draw. The more you enter, the more likely you are to win something. 

I usually make use of everything that I win, but there is of course the options to give prizes away as gifts or sell them in another effort to save money. One place where I draw the line is small-time/personal competitions. I've had what you might call 'pro competition enterers' enter my giveaways in the past, and what I would not advocate is entering small-time competitions such as these if you don't actually want to win the prize. It sounds like a bit of a grey area or perhaps hypocritical, but if I don't like the prize in a competition (especially one by a small business owner or artist) I would not enter the competition as I feel that someone else would treasure the prize and the person running the competition wants to see their prize appreciated, not sold on or thrown away. Does that make sense? Probably not.

3. Shop Around & Use Coupons (and be aware of false offers)

Possibly the most obvious, but before you make purchases, do shop around! Google shopper and barcode scanner apps make this even easier, so it really doesn't take too long. There's price comparison sites all over the place - Google Shopping, Find DVD / CD / Book , My Supermarket etc. The prices aren't always accurate, but it's usually a good guide and sometimes you can make enormous savings by checking other retailers before you buy. There's also HotUKdeals where special offers and deals are regularly posted on all kinds of products... you usually have to sift through things that won't apply to you, but occasionally there's the odd gem that makes it worth it.

In supermarkets, be wary of 'special offers' that aren't always what they seem. There was a Panorama program on television about this recently which was really interesting. The gist is that often supermarkets and other retailers raise prices for a couple of weeks, before dropping them again so that they appear to be 'on offer'. Whilst this is difficult to spot unless you're constantly keeping track of prices, you can be aware of similar visual 'offer' tricks that they use. When you're comparing similar products, check the price per kg of the products. If fruit and veg don't have these details on, use the provided scales to weigh them and compare. Sometimes the products that are on offer or that appear to be better value actually aren't. i.e. A 500g product marked with 'extra large family value pack' to look as if it is a special cheaper bonus size may actually be more expensive than buying two 250g packs of the same product. There's also a surprising number of products that I've noticed recently that are on, for example, '2 for £1.50' offers, but are only 60p to buy singley. Again, it seems a bit inconsequential and like too much hassle to be checking prices, but ignoring big yellow offer signage and looking straight at the price/weight quickly becomes second nature and can save you a lot over a whole shop.

Coupons! Some people seem a bit embarrassed about using these, but I don't really see a problem with it. I frequently come across coupons online, this year particularly there's been a huge surge in companies offering coupons as incentives for 'liking' their Facebook fan pages etc, and sometimes it's possible to use these in conjunction with supermarket offers. Last year I had quite a few cartons of smoothies, and various other items either free or for about a quarter of their usual price using coupons carefully. However, like with the cashback, try to use coupons and offers sensibly. Try not to be tempted to spend out on something you don't need just because you have a small discount coupon for it.

4. Online Surveys

 There's hundreds of these places floating around online, many of which I've tried, and many of which I have found don't offer decent rewards for the effort involved. My absolute favourites, after a lot of trial and error, are Onepoll and Valued Opinions. This is mostly because they pay out in cash or vouchers rather than points or 'rewards', and because they offer clear/obvious and comparitively sizeable rewards for the size/length of survey you do. For example, other websites may make you do a survey for half an hour to earn a number of points that take months to accumulate into real money. Although you only get a matter of pence on Onepoll (usually 5p, 10p, 15p & 20p) the small poll-style surveys usually take between a few seconds to a couple of minutes to complete (some only consist of one question!), and it is quite easy to get to the £40 payout limit if you do them regularly enough. Valued opinions works in a similar vein, but with longer surveys (5 minutes to half an hour) and larger reward incentives (usually 50p-£5 per survey). Their payout limit is lower at £10, but you can only claim in vouchers, not cash, for retailers such as Amazon, Boots, Argos, Topshop etc. I quite like the voucher method as there's a nice sense of them being a reward when you receive them, and I use them to buy treats for myself such as illustration books from Amazon, that otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford. Doing it this way can also curb your spending, if you only let yourself buy online treats for yourself with 'survey rewards'. Some of these sites even have their own phone apps, so you can make little dribs and drabs of money while you're bored on the bus or tube!

So... I think that's about it! Apologies for the marathon post, I've tried to pepper it with some old [slightly irrelevant] illustrations to ease the sea of text. Obviously all of these methods might not work for you as well as they do for me, but if you're curious then do check them out and have a go, you might be surprised! Although it's not a viable way of making a lot of money for most people, an extra £30 in your bank account every month or two, or a surprise competition win through the post isn't to be sniffed at and at the least is a great little treat every now and again for a small amount of effort. One little tip though - once you get going on these things they can suck up your time, so whether you're a freelancer, student or anything else, set aside a little time in your morning before work or at a time when you feel you're bored to do these things, then get back to work!

What do you think - will you be trying out any of these things? Do you use them already, or have anything else to suggest? All comments much appreciated :)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Portrait commissions

Now that Christmas is over I can share with you a portrait commission I did a couple of months back for a very nice lady :) There were four portraits commissioned, but I think these two are my favourites.

If you'd like to enquire about commissioning an illustrated portrait of yourself/partner/friend/pet/favourite vegetable, do feel free to drop me an email. Valentine's Day is looming around the corner, so if you'd like to commission a lovely unique couples portrait in time for that then now is the time to do so, so that I have time to get scribbling!