What better way to end my TENTH year of freelancing than by saying I’m a failure.
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, and I’m not a failure. It’s just that when I look back at the goals I’d set for myself this year, I realized I’d dropped the ball on nearly all of them. I either didn’t take the time to pursue those goals or I flat-out procrastinated.
I failed to make an attempt at making new connections in the entertainment merch industry. I didn’t release any new items in my shop which I poured so much time and effort into launching. I didn’t do a lot of the things I aspired to accomplish.
The reality is this year has felt like pure stagnation for me. 2021 has been riding comfortably on the coattails of 2020 and filled with so much self-doubt. Regardless, I continued to push through the “what the hell am I doing” moments and knock out a lot of killer client work.
Even if I didn’t chase after every goal I had set for myself, I still had a fantastic year overall. My business is thriving, and I spent most of this year exploring other passions which have helped fuel my creativity.
These review posts tend to get long, so feel free to jump to the section that interests you most using these handy-dandy links:
Part One: My 2021 Year In Review
Part Two: My Favorite Freelance Projects of 2021
Part Three: My 2021 Freelance Income Breakdown
Part Four: My Goals for 2021
Every day since January 2020, I’ve jotted down important happenings in my journal. Usually, these pages are filled with checked to-dos, achieved goals, and passionate note-taking. But this year has been a lot of nothing. When I look back on my “Work Goals” section for each month, they’re blank. (Of course except for the quarterly “Pay Taxes” reminder.)
If I don’t actively have a client project to work on, I procrastinate and overthink about all the things I should be doing or creating.
In a recent overthinking daze, I had a realization; I’ve spent the last decade trying so hard to be the best freelance graphic designer I can be for my clients. So much that it might’ve killed my soul.
Without client work, my brain can’t fathom creating for the fun of it. Where I was once an artist chomping at the bit to create something out of nothing, I’ve become a creative monkey, grinding obscene hours and aggressive deadlines to make a fortune for others.
The issue isn’t that I’ve made it my goal to see my clients succeed as a result of the work we do together. It’s that all motivation to push myself has been zapped. Now cognizant of this, I’m hoping to go into 2022 with a little more motivation to be my own client every once in a while. Push me to create meaningful art for myself, and grow my business in ways that don’t only involve client work.
When I look back at this year—outside of the confines of my work life—there’s been lots of joy. Aside from getting to spend every single day with my insanely adorable two-year-old daughter, I’ve spent evenings rediscovering things that fuel my soul: watching Studio Ghibli films, learning piano, opening packs of Pokémon cards, and reading fiction. (I’ve read every single day since 2020, and it’s a daily habit I don’t plan on breaking!)
This year—like most—can be summed up as; I spend every day working on client work – designing my butt off in order to support my family. Then the evenings are dedicated to unwinding. Rinse and repeat.
I hope to take the things I’ve learned to love throughout this year and let them fuel my creativity and express all parts of myself.
It’s also important to recognize how crazy proud I should be of myself. Turning my passion for design into a ten-year-long thriving career—being self-employed—is no simple feat. Even though the year was mundane to my current self, 2011 Brent would be mind blown to see how far we’ve come. I need to remind myself of this more often and not take anything for granted.
Fun takeaways from this year:
- I spent 39,710 minutes listening to Spotify (mostly lo-fi, pop-punk, and rock)
- I had roughly 71 designs approved (and can’t fathom the amount that went unapproved)
- I created a font with the typewriter my wife gifted me last Christmas: Corpus Typewriter Font
- I read 14 books (all fiction—mostly sci-fi and fantasy)
- I completed writing my first (terrible) rough draft of a novel
- I completed my base set childhood Pokémon collection (and expanded it far beyond that)
- I started teaching myself to play the piano
Anytime a project clicks with the creative mind … and the art naturally flows … and it gets approved … That’s the dream right there!
Above is a selection of art from projects that clicked for me this past year. If you want to check out all the latest work I’m doing, head over to my Instagram!
Also, in an effort to speed up my illustration process and save on scrap paper, I finally upgraded to an 11-inch iPad Pro (256GB). Not only has it helped streamline my workflow, it’s led to a lot more approved illustrated work. (Like the "Computer Overlord" design I did for Weezer.)
Onto everyone’s favorite section: my freelance income report! It’s also my favorite part to look back on and compare the past years. Hopefully, by sharing how I diversify my income, you can find motivation and learn from what’s working for me.
Quick note: these numbers and graphs represented are gross revenue, meaning before taxes or expenses.
My 2021 Monthly Freelance Gross Revenue
Given my monthly income a birds-eye-view, I’m glad to see things improved since the big initial impact of the pandemic in March, 2020.
Overall my income remains to be sporadic as ever. And it’s crazy how one or two BIG projects can skyrocket my monthly income. In October I took on the most aggressive, mentally taxing project I’d ever done: designing 150 TV show logo concepts within 48 hours for a design firm. All covered under a heavy NDA of course. But I digress.
This year more than ever had passive income kept my business afloat. Here’s how that went …
My 2021 Freelance Income Streams
- Client work: Client work remains to be the foundation of my entire business operation. Most of my work comes from clients with who I’ve worked for well over five years now. I’m also excited to have added some new clients into the mix this year, and looking forward to branching out even more in 2022!
- Digital products: selling mockups and texture packs on Creative Market has been my safety-net whenever client work is slow. Cash flow is key when it comes to freelancing, so having income from different sources is crucial. Especially when that income flows in passively, even while I’m asleep. I can’t recommend it enough to all creatives: start your passive income projects sooner rather than later. If there’s a resource you personally need/use, then chances are others will also find value in it.
- Merch: Even though I failed to add and promote new products on my shop this year, just having it available and online has led to a handful of passive sales.
- YouTube: Another area that I’ve been lacking in … However, the videos that are on my channel continue to be watched and earn a very small amount via Google Adsense.
- Affiliate links: I haven’t put any additional effort into using affiliate links. Any minuscule earnings I make are from old links on things like YouTube video descriptions or blog posts. How does it all work exactly? I use Amazon affiliate links when recommending products I use, as well as Creative Market referrals when recommending it to other designers. It’s all very organic and built slowly over time.
I want to go into 2022 and let my passions fuel my creations. Create more for me, and not any algorithm. Even if that means sharing and posting things that are outside of only client-approved merch designs.
I need to start expressing all parts of myself but I can’t do that if I’m spending all of my time only sharing bits and pieces to other people in order for them to accept me. Because at the end of the day, my biggest fear is being disliked or rejected. It’s become a cycle of hating myself or not knowing who I really am or want to be.
It’s time I write my own novel rather than be the side character in everyone else’s story.
In order to revitalize my creative soul and be the best version of myself, here are some general goals I hope to achieve in 2022:
- Express all parts of myself through passion-driven and emotional-based artwork. I want to take all the things that are feeding my soul outside of client work, and let them inspire the art I create. And hope it’s found relatable to the right audience.
- Add color to my shop with new and fun items. I have the expertise in merch design and the platform in place to launch new merch, so I need to put it to use!
- Continue to create digital products. I want to experiment with my typewriter font on more font foundries, as well as create more texture packs based on certain themes and aesthetics.
- Continue my reading and writing habits. I wrote a terrible book. Now it’s time to do it again and again until the next is not so terrible.
Aside from my business and creative side of things, I’ll of course need to implement a better self-care routine for myself. If I continue to let my mental and physical health slack, it’ll sabotage all the other goals I have set for myself. I already cut most coffee out and replaced it with green tea. Now I need to drink more water and workout consistently. Thus, the struggle continues. But with fun gadgets like an Apple Watch and my supportive wife, Anita, I think I can make it happen!
That’s a wrap for this year’s review! If you’ve read this far, that means you’re a real one, and for that, I thank you! Hopefully, you were able to pull inspiration from all this.
If you have any words of encouragement or want to chat about anything you’ve read here, feel free to shoot me an email or DM on Instagram.
I appreciate you! Hope you and your family have a healthy and happy New Year!
Here are my past Year In Review posts for comparison: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.