The other day I went to a panel talk themed Networks. It made me very curious how other creatives and especially freelancers who work on their own find communities to be part of or if they have a support system in place. I did a poll on my instagram and 68% of people didn't have a community or support group. The ones who had support systems in place it was friends 75% and 25% were part of organisations. It was interesting to see that exactly 50% had support systems in place online and the other half offline.
When I started my career I was pretty much on my own. I didn't know any illustrators (all my uni friends had change of heart or were workin in house) or makers who were making money from this and couldn't ask for advice. I started selling on etsy and I used teams and forums section a lot. And went for meet ups organised by Etsy where I met several people who became my close friends but our relationship started as sharing experience of being creatives/makers. I also started selling at Crafty Fox Market (pop up Markets) where I met a lot of like minded people (some of whom I knew from Etsy). They also organised some social meet ups where people could come in and mingle, which was super fun! As my career developed and I took it more into real life I made some connections but also I kept in touch with lots of people who I found through instagram. In the beginning all the support network was more unorganised and sporradic.
But couple of years into my freelance career and after attending numerous business talks I became part of business club (we named it that way ;) with a photographer and pattern designer. We met once in two months in person, talk business plans, vent fears, dream big and give each other advice or just listen. It was the most important thing. All of us were approximately on the same level in development of our careers, we were making money in different ways and our fields were slightly different. Which meant we could give each other a different view on things but still understand every aspect of the business and creative side of things. We have stopped meeting now as our lives and careers became busier.
At the moment I'm part of several groups. First is my friends who I met through Etsy and Crafty Fox, we are good real life friends but can always rely on each other for advice, support or just venting.
I'm part of a small online group of illustrators (we are based in different places and some of us have never met in real life). Some of us are based in the same cities and we can meet up and talk business or recommend each other for jobs or just overload on coffee and falafels. But we talk all things creative and business, burn outs, contracts, money, negotiation, health. From which chairs to get and what kind of excercises to do for wrist or back pain to how much to charge for jobs and what to look out for in contracts. The most important part of this group is the community and support system. We are ready to lift each other up and celebrate each other achievements and milestones. We are there as friends and colleagues and not as competition.
I work from a shared studio Kindred Studios, I'm in the room with 6 other people who different things but Kindred Studios is a community where you can talk to people, make friends and connections. For me it's such a joy to be working alongside other creative people on daily basis.
I'm also part of The Assosiation of Illustrators (any illustrator can join, you don't have to be UK based). I don't have an agent and they provide a lot of incredible useful resourses including portfolio reviews, help with pricing and contracts. I strongly recommend considering joining them.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if at the moment you feel a bit isolated in your work, they all are based on my experience and are extremely subjective and in general some thoughts on the subject.
📺 Both internet based and real life based communities are equally valid.
If you live in a remote place with no like minded people around you or don't have the opportunity to join your local network because of accessibility or meeting times don't feel that the only way to build support system is to meet people face to face. Choose whatever works for you and your situation, don't feel like you have to do one or another
🙋🏼One person and you is already a network/team :)
👯Reach out to people who are in the same place as you in their careers.
If you know of (online or offline) people who are in the same place as you in their careers or are interested in the same things as you, they might feel as isolated as you and want to have that connection both personal and business. Growing together, supporting each other and lifting each other up is an incredible feeling and also incredibly helpful, you can share your experiences and find out shortcuts. It's a great adventure and it's easier and more fun when you have people you can rely on and people you can support.
Be active locally and online
Find local etsy/market anything group. Go to talks, meet ups, join online chats and live streams, FB groups and connect with people on instagram.
Consider getting a studio space
If you feel lonely and isolated consider becoming part of a collective, finding a studio space or a co working space. Some of us work better on our own and some of us need people around us but you will never know without trying and you may make some friends along the way.
Join professional network
Does your profession has an association or maybe a huge FB group? Maybe joining them will benefit you.
Talk to people
Be it online or in real life. We are all people and we all make connections and friends somehow. If you want to say something - say it, if you know someone who might light someone else's work - share the love. I personally believe it takes time to find likeminded people (it certainly took a while for me) but even the most fleeting of connections can be so meaningful. There could be people with who you just chat on instagram about Queer Eye occassionally and there can be people with who you are chatting on daily basis. Both are important.
Don't look for validation from outside
Build it from within. Please do seek constructive cryticism and reviews but do not let anything from outside to affect your personal and professional self worth. I am a strong believer that if you love doing something no one can tell you that you shouldn't draw/crochet/dress making. And sometimes our work doesn't reflect our taste and that's where your support system will help you grow but they can never replace your inner voice which will push you further in your career.
Last but most important..
Be kind to yourself and people around you. There is space for everyone, we are not competition we are peers. ✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿
Some resources (a lot of them were recommended by lovely people on instagram, THANK YOU!):
Local Etsy Teams (if you are selling on etsy)
London Local Etsy Team (they are a fabulous bunch)
In Colourful Company
One Girl Band
The Association of Illustrators
Ladies Wine Design
Women of Illustration
And many MANY more amazing places. Please comment below more networks. And what is your story?