Sara Faber is a Freelance Illustrator living her dream life in Berlin with her Husband and newborn baby boy. She has always had a passion for art but especially loved drawing. After graduating college she began working in the corporate world as a UX designer and then a product designer. She never saw herself becoming a business owner, but that all changed when she decided to take a chance on herself….
Read the full interview to learn how Sara quit her 9-5 and built her dream business.
Sara, Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business. How did you get started as a freelance illustrator?
I started in 2016 when I wanted to get back into art after years of completely neglecting it. Teenage years:) I wanted to keep myself accountable so I started posting my drawings on Instagram. It wasn’t my plan to have my own business one day or make a living with it. All of this evolved naturally – my account started growing, people asked for commissions and other jobs like book covers and book illustrations came around. I worked on those jobs on the side while having a normal 9-5.
I started to really love the thought of drawing for a living and working for my own business. After a while, I felt like it was time to try to go full time with my own business.
I opened my own online shop, worked on freelance jobs and commissions, filmed studio/work Vlogs for YouTube, then I stopped doing freelance work to fully concentrate on my own projects like the shop, YouTube and I opened a Patreon page as well.
What does a day in the life of an illustrator look like?
My daily routine changed completely once I became a mom two months ago. Nowadays I try to work whenever my baby boy naps 🙂
But let’s take an average day before becoming a mom: I wake up at around 7 and like to start my day with a workout. Then shower, breakfast, coffee and start work at around 9 in the morning. I respond to emails (should get better at that though) and messages on Instagram and Patreon. I create a lot of content for Patreon so I check my content plan to see what things I have to prepare and post.
In case you are not familiar with Patreon: it’s like a membership subscription – creators offer different rewards for different tiers and you can support this creator by pledging any amount you like to get your rewards. I do drawing tutorials, step by step process pictures, access to all of my sketches, live drawings, Q&A videos, podcasts,… I probably forgot some 🙂 I do all rewards once a month so I am always working on these. I also film studio Vlogs, where I basically just show how my daily work life looks like as a work from home artist. I try to upload every other week, so I am always either filming or editing 🙂
And lastly, I draw (of course)! I draw mostly every day, sometimes at night and sometimes during the day. I also do Instagram all the time in between all the other things – post stuff, comment, engage with people, answer questions, post stories,… I love being active on there! I like to keep a healthy schedule and not overwork myself (been there a couple of times – not fun) so I try to stop work at around 5-6 pm. Then I go outside for a walk with my dog to unwind. Then my husband or I cook something delicious or we go out for dinner. After that, I am either super tired and fall into bed or I draw a little more. Yes, I draw to relax and get my mind off work haha. That’s what you get for making your hobby your job 🙂
You had a career as a UX designer before you became a freelance illustrator and you seemed to be doing pretty well in your industry. What motivated you to leave and start your own business?
I think I just needed a while to really figure out what I want to do as a career. I always knew it had to be creative. When I graduated, I thought of the more obvious ways to make money being creative so I went with UX design. Being an independent artist was not in my mind as I didn’t really think I could ever make a living drawing. I went from UX design to product design because I was hoping it would be more “hands-on-creative”. After a while, I knew I need to actually hold a pencil and draw on a surface to be happy :).
I also like to have the freedom to choose when and where I work. In an office environment, I felt tied to the rules, like I had to be creative from 9-5 and do what other people say. Especially in my job, sometimes I am most creative at night or on weekends but not Monday morning for example. Do you know what I mean? I am a loner as well, I really like being alone and doing my own thing.
I felt much happier once I quit the 9-5 and suddenly was able to freely decide for myself when to work, what to draw, what to post and where to work from that day. It also made me work many, many more hours than before, but that’s okay, because now I really love what I do.
I imagine it must be unnerving to make the jump from the corporate world to being a business owner. Can you tell us what that was like and give an overview of the process you went through?
I started posting on Instagram a month before starting my first full-time job. I was working in the office all day and I was drawing at night and on weekends and always posted my drawings on Instagram. When the first couple of small jobs came in I knew I wanted to make art my full-time job.
I worked harder, practiced more, painted all night, early mornings before work, and every weekend… my social life was pretty much not existent. But it paid off because I got more and more jobs and my Instagram account kept growing. I asked to reduce my work hours from 40 hours to 30 hours per week to have more time for my own business. When I started getting a lot of work requests I eventually quit my old job.
I also opened my online shop right away because I knew, it takes a while to get it rolling. I kind of transitioned into being a business owner naturally because of the increase in work requests and interest in my work. It’s crazy to think about it really…
I had no idea about running a business, I honestly winged it most of the time. But I knew it was right because it felt really right and I have been super happy ever since. Of course, I have had rough times and made a lot of mistakes but that’s part of the game.
Were you nervous telling your friends and family that you were quitting your job to start your own business? How did you explain to them what you were doing?
I was super nervous! They all knew that I was drawing all the time and they have all seen my Instagram page. They also knew I worked on small illustration jobs on the side. So it wasn’t a surprise for any of them. Still, I felt super nervous, probably because it was the first time actually saying it out loud and it sounded crazy! My husband runs his own business, as well as both of my parents so they supported my decision and helped me with all my questions 🙂
I am really thankful to have such a loving family and supportive friends.
You started your journey in 2016, at what point did you start to see income from this and at what amount did it become enough to quit your corporate job?
After only 4 months of posting my drawings on Instagram, I got my first illustration job – which was illustrating a book cover. After that, there wasn’t anything for a long time. Then after about a year, it started rolling and I got more and more job requests. After a year and a half I started going full time, but not because I was earning enough with my art… more because I knew that if I had more time for it, I would make enough money to sustain myself. Which worked out luckily. I also saved some money before quitting, which helped me a lot in the beginning!
What were some of the goals you set for yourself when you decided to become a freelance illustrator and how did goal setting help make this dream a reality?
To be honest all I really wanted was to enjoy every day and do what I love – as cliche as that sounds. So my only goal was to literally make it work haha! I wanted to be excited and motivated each day when I wake up, instead of dragging myself to work while thinking about all the other things I would rather do like I did in my 9-5.
When I started I wrote down some goals to make that happen. I like having short-, mid- and long term goals. Short time goals were, for example, getting my portfolio done or posting a new illustration on my Instagram. Long term was consistently earning enough money to support myself, pay all the bills and things like that. I don’t obsess over goals, but it definitely helps me to see the good things when I have a bad day and reminds me that I’ve already gone so far.
If someone wanted to get started as a freelance illustrator, what advice would you give them?
Start today rather than tomorrow!
It takes a while to build a foundation of skills and online presence, so don’t think too much about being perfect and just start. Oh, and also build a following on social media platforms. Nowadays one of the main ways artists get jobs is because someone saw their work online.
What are the best and worst parts about being your own boss?
Best things: deciding what to work on/what to do, being free about working spots/hours, working on your own business.
Worst things: never really stopping work and blurred work life/private life. Working all the time! (also on weekends, holidays and nights)…
What does success look like for you?
Success is for me to truly enjoy what you do every day – being happy essentially!
If someone wanted to thank you for this interview or take a look at more of your illustrations where can they find you?
When I graduated from college, I was flat broke, stuck in a job I hated, miserable in my relationship, and had no clue where to go from there. With no idea what I wanted my future to look like, all I could do was look around at the people who seemed to have it figured out. The “lucky” ones that knew exactly what they wanted…