a blog about freelancing, style, culture, and plants






a blog about freelancing, style, culture, and plants

My big announcement that I teased on Instagram this week is that I finally have my own office! I signed a lease last week on a 3rd-floor, 2-room office in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore City. It’s in a renovated historic mansion that I’m a little worried might be haunted… but it’s beautiful and I’m obsessed.

With my new office, I’m also relaunching this blog. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written anything here, but with this new life change, I feel like it’s time to get this business train chugging along.

I plan on really decking this office out since it’s a space that is fully, 100% my own. Working out my studio apartment (which I share with my husband) was getting really old, real quick. It only took a year and a half of making my corner of the apartment work until was able to move this business out of my home. Now I can create a routine that doesn’t involve rolling out of bed and into my desk chair.

Right now, my office is a white box. I bought some knick knacks, frames, and a lamp from Home Goods, but I still have to figure out my furniture situation.

Stay tuned as I turn my semi-haunted creative studio into an Instagram-worthy (midcentury modern, maybe?) office.

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but this website is brand spanking new. I’m excited to start with a clean slate, on a new platform, in my new little corner of the internet. Originally, my blog and portfolio were hosted and built on Squarespace, which was perfectly adequate. More than adequate, actually, but I wanted more flexibility to make my site look how I wanted. And that’s when I discovered Showit. Squarespace has beautiful templates, but it takes a little hacking to turn them into what you want. And even then, it’s rarely exact. Showit also has templates, but they’re a tad expensive, so I just decided to start from scratch.

Showit’s interface was a bit of a learning curve, but because it’s more complicated, it’s capable of a lot more customization than Squarespace. Plus, my blog is now hosted on WordPress, which we all know is the best. The only real pain point for me was designing the mobile version. Squarespace makes everything automatic, so you don’t need to think about making your mobile nav functional, etc. Showit tries to make it automatic, but it was a little janky, so I had to layout everything manually anyway. At the same time, though, I got to dictate exactly how I wanted the mobile navigation to look and what I wanted to hide or show on mobile.

Also, Showit has a private Facebook group for users if you have questions about the platform, so customer service is A+. I know this sounds like I’m an affiliate or something, but I’m definitely not. Just excited to have discovered something new!

So why did I do all this? I wanted my illustration work to have its own home (AmandaMustardIllustration.com), but still connected to my blog (AmandaLetters.com). I joined Shanna Skidmore’s Business Blueprint mentoring, which has really been giving me the kick in the pants I needed to turn this into the business I want. More on that later… In the meantime, I have so many plans for this site, so stay tuned…. I also really dug Shanna’s website, and I wanted to steal her layout. (No shame here.) She’s very transparent about the tools she uses in her business, which led me down the rabbit hole of revamping everything I do in my own business. Which is a little overwhelming, not gonna lie.

PS. If you find any bugs or mistakes on my new site, please send me a note! I’m a one-person QA team. 🙂

So you probably haven’t noticed since I have like 3 blog readers, but I’ve been MIA lately – from my blog, from my Instagram, from my creative outlets. I keep feeling lately like all I have time for is my paying work, which is frustrating since the whole reason I started out on this journey was to make more room for the art that makes me happy. However, I think this is just an excuse I’ve been telling myself. I absolutely have time for the things I would like to do; the trouble is getting myself to do them.

“Imposter syndrome” is a phrase thrown around the freelance world quite a bit, but that doesn’t make it any less true. This is Thought One that keeps me from doing the creative work I want to do. It’s the “Why do I think I can even do this? Why would anyone pay me to do this? What if they’re disappointed and find out that I have no idea what I’m doing?” Not awesome. And not true. But it feels true.

Thought Two is the dreaded procrastination monster. The “I’ll start right after this episode.” Or even “I’ll start when I finish learning all I can about whatever I want to start.” I’m extremely guilty of this in pretty much all aspects of my life. Go to yoga? Maybe after I nap. Switch the dishes in the dishwasher? When my show is done. Sheesh, I’m so tired of this one.

Finally, Thought Three is one that is probably the worst. This one is the existential crisis. “What’s the point of my work when so-and-so does it so much better?” “Is there room for me in an industry that already seems overrun by artists who are so much more talented than I am?”

You probably thought you’d find an answer or solution at the end of this blog post, but I’m just as lost in the woods as you are. If you have a solution to your own creative inner demons, I’d love to hear it.

Sidenote: I’m in the process of moving this entire website to a new platform, which might account for some of the thoughts above.

1. If a client sends you an example of something they like, they’re basically asking you to make that thing. While I’m not saying you should just rip it off,  I am saying to not be surprised when the feedback comes back saying “this is great, but can you make it more like the one I sent you?”

2. Admin work is a necessary evil.

3. You have to learn to put your foot down. It’s tough, but if you don’t stand strong, you’ll end up doing a lot of work for free. And that will never pay the bills.

4. Flow states are like rare diamonds, just as precious and hard to come by. For me, at least. A flow state is when you’re in your groove, and you completely lose track of time and distractions because you’re doing the one thing you were meant to do. Note to self: must learn how to make this a regular part of my day.

5. Find time to meditate. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The difference in my days when I meditate in the morning is staggering. And yet, I still find myself neglecting it. UGH. Why am I like this???

And this is just 4 months into this adventure. Phew.

My iPad Pro was one of those things that I debated over buying for months and months. It was quite a splurge, but I’m so obsessed with it, that I think it was well worth the money. I spend countless hours on it everyday, which is probably making me blind, but here are my favorite apps so far…

1. Procreate

I do like 75% of my illustration work in Procreate. I begin in my sketchbook, and I put the final polish on everything in Photoshop; however, Procreate is an essential tool for me. Of course, you need the (way overpriced *sorry*) Apple Pencil, so that’s unfortunate. But once you bite the bullet, you can find all kinds of brushes on Creative Market for Procreate, personalizing the app to your needs.

2. Texture

I’m a magazine hoarder, so Texture has been a godsend both for my wallet and my countertops. Plus, I love that you can take screenshots of your favorite pages. Was I the only teenager who saved all her favorite magazine stories in a binder? Anyways… it’s a good source of design inspiration.

3. Headspace

Yup, this is a meditation app. And I’m obsessed for multiple reasons, including 1. the narrator has a British accent, 2. the animations and illustrations are freakin adorable, 3. I’m legitimately more productive if I meditate in the morning. Not sure why yet, but it works.

4. Skillshare

For obvious reasons.

5. Astropad Studio

So I haven’t delved into this one too much yet, but the concept is right up my alley. It basically turns your iPad into a Cintiq. If you don’t know what I’m saying, it connects to your computer, mirroring your screen, letting you use your iPad as a drawing tablet for any software you have. So you can draw in Photoshop, taking full advantage of your Kyle’s Mega Brush Pack. I kinda hate that you have to purchase a subscription, though, which is probably why I don’t use it more.

One of the first books that really got me going on this entrepreneurial journey was #Girlboss. I devoured that book. I was never a customer of Nasty Gal – the style was a little too out there for my closet, but I love Sophia Amoruso’s story of how she launched her empire. And honestly, now that she’s free of Nasty Gal and on a new media mogul adventure, I’m an even bigger fan. 

Since I’m a book hoarder, I bought her new The Girlboss Workbook, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so illustration heavy. It’s a bit like an interactive comic book. Gotta love people who appreciate illustration. It’s not purely business related though. It’s almost like a guide to living your best life, and I need all the help I can get.

There’s a section that asks “If you were a combination of four badass women, who would they be?” I think in my professional life, my goal is to be a combination of Sophia Amoruso’s business savvy, Grace Bonney’s eye for style, Anna Bond’s talent, and basically everything about Joanna Gaines. Yes, I’m that basic.

There are days when I absolutely don’t want to do any work. This is a problem when my whole livelihood depends on me actually doing work. I don’t get paid to get out of bed and show up at an office. I only get paid when I’m clocking those billable hours. (No offense to people who work in offices, but I know the truth. I’ve been in offices where watching Netflix is a totally viable option.)

So, when I’m feeling like this, I would like to feel like I’m not totally wasting my life. Enter: Skillshare. I can spend hours going down the Skillshare rabbit hole. Honestly, watching other designers’ processes inspires me more than simply scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram. Sometimes, scrolling through those sites actually makes me feel worse. Like, “I’ll never be able to do that. I should just quit and be a barista (again).” But having people actually show me how they created something cool makes me feel empowered. 

My 6 Favorite Classes to Watch When I Need a Pick-Me-Up

(Yup, I rewatch them… like a total weirdo.)

1. Misprint: Smart Texturing In Photoshop

I picked up a few clever Photoshop tricks in this class.

2. Customizing Type with Draplin: Creating Wordmarks That Work

I just love listening to Aaron Draplin talk.

3. Inky Illustrations: Combining Analogue and Digital Media

I’m hoping that watching this dude’s videos will make his talent rub off on me.

4. Choose Must: Learning from the Paths of Others

I also read Elle Luna’s book. She’s got some smart things to say.

5. Digitizing Hand Drawn Sketches with Character

Another talented illustrator making things that I wish I could make.

6. Animated Self-Portrait: Bring Your Evil Twin to Life

More adorable illustrations to stare at, but this time in motion.

The favorite part of my morning is the ritual of making coffee. Yes, I’m trying to avoid a mid-morning caffeine headache, but also I love coffee. And there’s something relaxing about brewing a cup.

There are two ways of making coffee in this household. When we first moved in, we splurged on a Nespresso. The hubby and I are espresso NERDS, and I’ll be honest, the Nespresso makes an amazing shot. And in the realm of espresso machines, the Nespresso is a bargain, but it’s by no means smart spending. In fact, over time, we’ve stopped using it for two reasons. 1. You can only get coffee pods for the machine by ordering online or by visiting your local Bloomingdale’s. And now that I no longer work in DC, I never step foot in a Bloomingdale’s. 2. To get enough coffee for a month, we would usually spend about $50 on pods. Which brings me the next method of coffee making…

Pour over. Also known as quite possibly the cheapest way to make coffee. We have no more room in our studio apartment for appliances, so buying a normal coffee machine was out of the question. I think I found my pour over coffee funnel at World Market for like $4. Sure you can only make one cup at a time, but that’s all I’m ever doing anyway. And so you have to buy a box of coffee filters, once every like 3 months? Big deal. I can buy coffee any time I run out, and I even get to “splurge” on the good $!2 bag.

So hip, right?

Working for yourself, having time to grow creatively, developing your craft: this is the dream, right? I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve found that going freelance is so mentally exhausting. I know what you’re thinking. “Duh, starting your own business is tough.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Right, working in your pajamas and rolling out of bed whenever you want is so tough.” I think I was on the latter train when I first began this journey, but now that I’m in the thick of it, I’m waking up earlier, working later, taking a heck of a lot more phone calls/meetings/Google Hangouts than ever, and feeling a new kind of mental exhaustion.

When Saturday rolls around, I basically sit on the couch and stare at the wall/TV/iPad for hours. But then Sunday night comes, and I’m back to trying to get a jump start on the week.

This turned into more of a rant then I planned. I wanted to talk about Oprah, because 1. I love her 2. she did a Vogue interview last month that gave me a peek into the dream life I would like to have and 3. thinking about her career helps me remember why I decided to do this to myself in the first place.

I saw Oprah in New York maybe 5 or 6 years ago at Radio City Music Hall. I always thought she was pretty cool, but seeing her in real life, I learned how much a real person she is. She DGAF. She’s just who she is. 

Also she lives on a plantation that she built in California complete with live oaks that she got shipped in from somewhere in the south, I presume. That’s so badass. 

So, all this is to say, when I want to blow off all my work, lay down on the couch, and take a nap, I think of Oprah sitting under her ancient oak tree and think, “WWOD?” 

By the way, I highly recommend reading that Vogue interview. Oprah is a boss.

I’m almost 2 months into living that freelance life, and I think one of the worst aspects is loneliness. Working from home is pretty great, but I miss having the occasional random conversation about current events.

One of the ways I combat this is by listening to a bazillion podcasts all day. Another way I plan to combat it is by blogging. Maybe if I pour random thoughts about freelancing, illustration and design, and maybe some plant lady things, I’ll feel better about sitting alone at my kitchen table everyday.

Also, I’m trying to expand my illustration skills, but I really struggle with confronting a blank page. I can sit down with every intention of drawing for hours, but then I experience some kind of brain block and I give up before I begin. I’m thinking that if I make myself draw something for each blog post, then I’ll get better about practicing and creating. 

And so begins the experiment!