Ep 18: Switching from a design job to a full time illustration career with Olga Zalite


We’re sitting down with Olga Zalite, Russian illustrator, and total foodie, on her on the path to becoming a full time illustrator. She shares her secrets of getting organized, attracting illustration clients, and growing on social media. Oh yeah, and did I mention she’s only been at it for a year!?!


How would you best describe your style?

I like geometry and the balancing act of being able to contrast the simplicity of a shape with chaotic and playful environments. I gravitate towards warm colors, though I will admit to feeling the need to expand on my color palettes lately. 2019 is the year I am going to step up and out of that comfort zone! Though, to put it simply, my work is colorful chaos with a sense of humor.


And you’ve only been doing this a year! How would you define what you do as a living, and is illustration a source of income yet?

So I started around July 2018, not only in terms of getting a website up and kickstarting my Instagram, but drawing too. It wasn’t such a leap as I already have a background in the design industry, so I knew how to handle clients, where to look for clients, and being comfortable as a freelancer.

September 2018 was the first time I saw my work bring in some revenue, but 2019 has been the year in which I’ve started to earn off of my own illustration style. I am usually approached to create content for web usage, editorial material, but also in creating print assets for stationery sets.


Why the transition from having a day job to freelance illustration?

I was creating interfaces. Boredom and annoyance justified. Getting deeper into it though, it’s not a job I was proud of or stand behind in any way, though it met my needs in that I was coming out the other end of a divorce and I needed to make ends meet.

Basically, I was the designer called in to market pharmaceutical products categorized under what you’d call “black market” goods. You wouldn’t be able to buy these in any pharmacy, but they were goods that wouldn’t have any effect regardless. Usually just a very standard combination of herbs combined with aggressive marketing.

Say, you’re self-conscious, you want to lose weight, and then you see this website which is very much up to par with what one would deem professional, and trustworthy; that’s how they reel you in.

Again, it’s not something I am proud of, and I don’t want to come off as an asshole in saying this, but it was a very interesting experience to have as a designer. Gaining further insight into how design, as a language, can really work on the perspective of a person; especially within this age of persuasive technologies.

That being said, it didn’t, and doesn’t, align with my morals, and is not the intention with which I want to create work with. Upon showing my mom one of the web interfaces I was working on for these weight lose compression tights and seeing how, even she, my notoriously hard-to-persuade-mom, caved and wanted to buy a pair too, was the last straw.


Looking at the last year as a full time freelancer, how have you seen yourself grow?

Wrapping my head around new technology has been a big game changer for me. Coming from designing interfaces to illustration gives you a general dialogue with the software itself, but not the specificities of what this separate industry calls for.

At first I was still doing the whole sketch-scan-in manually, but now I am jumping between Procreate and Affinity Designer on the iPad Pro, and it’s really upped the level of efficiency of my workflow. Side note, Affinity leaves Adobe Sketch in the dust.

I am also going to credit Affinity in allowing me more freedom as an artist to work with bigger canvases, which I’ve noticed has also contributed to my experimentation composition-wise.

Finding a flow within the realm of marketing oneself is another particular asset I am learning to define. I like to say I am greedy, so I eat my info like I do my food! I also did a year of Human Resources and Social Media Marketing within one of the companies where I was designing user interfaces, because I just feel that it is so closely linked to what you can cater towards as a designer in general. I haven’t really been able to put that to use within these past two years, but now I am finally getting to flex that muscle again.

Even looking a little more closely at fellow illustrators and their marketing techniques, imitating those, and seeing it reflect upon the engagement with which I am putting my content out there is a good way to further strategize marketing. Sometimes I set goals to hit a certain number in likes, but with a following close to 4,500, I am still only reaching 200-300 clicks on a good day.


So how have you actually sourced clients and opportunities so far?

I started out on Fiverr, one of those freelance service marketplaces just to test the waters. I wanted clients that weren’t going to be picky, and usually those types of platforms have a number of low key jobs where there’s not a whole lot of fuss involved.

There were cases where I’d have people approaching me because they liked my style, but then give me an example of what they’d want done, which low and behold, was the complete opposite of my work’s aesthetic. In those situations we’d go back and forth a bit, I’d meet them halfway, and sure enough they’d like the final product. It can take some investment, but I wouldn’t forego giving platforms such as these a chance. At one point I reached Pro Seller status and it can make for a good income; even the Fiverr offices were placing orders of my work.

Whilst I was building this up, I was seeing my engagement grow on instagram and Dribbble, and eventually was able to take on gigs via these two platforms instead. I do still have my Fiverr account, but since scaling up my rate to what I am comfortable with, no one’s reaching out!

On Fiver, they request that you establish three packages in which you deliver your specific services. The first being the most affordable, the last being the most expensive. I was usually receiving orders at around $300-700, and then taking on smaller jobs that would hit at around $150.


What advice you give to someone wanting to get into illustration with no experience?

Oh gosh, we’re going in for the eye-rolls here, but I’d really get to know yourself. And I think that speaks to any career transition that one’s looking to make.

So much time is spent on developing career skills, that we don’t necessarily look to developing ourselves as a person. And this makes for situations such as this, where you might find yourself in a job which no longer speaks to you, burnouts, the mid-life crisis.etc...

I would really advise people to correlate their life, not so much with the output of trained “productivity”, and more so on the whole of our human experience. By doing so, we’re that much more aligned, and can then operate from a place of strength, hence, authentic productivity.


Ok, failure, let’s get into it! What’s your biggest failure been so far as an illustrator?

I’ve gone through so many failures at this point that I don’t really take them into consideration anymore. I think it all comes down to perspective. Traditionally we may perceive something to be a “failure” if it didn’t benefit us, or work out the way we want it to. Rather than seeing it as an obstacle, look at it as a crossroads through which you’ll decide your next step.

“Failures” are simply feedback, and it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to apply that feedback.


Let’s go big, I am talking next decade-level plans? What direction do you want to go in?

I’ve got my brand, I’ll be working with cool clients, I’am doing products, I want to write a book. I just want to be multifaceted and have the space to be able to express all of this. And you know, I might not even be an illustrator in ten years. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll take something else up that I am super drawn to and just need to do.

During the few painting and drawing classes I took whilst trying to figure out the direction of my studies, I found myself to be so bored. I genuinely felt that I could not create with my hands in this way. Now look at me, I am an illustrator!

I am looking at different mediums and formats through which I can reflect what my brand is all about. Being able to translate yourself in this ways makes you a viable resource on a multitude of spectrums. For example, you could be a potential hire as creative director for a project, but you’re also then able to turn around and lecture younger generations on user interface, user experience, and the softwares that comes along with that.

I don’t want to limit my capacity. Be open.


What are you struggling with the most right now as an artist?

Seeing as I’ve just started, and have a pretty good client-work-flow going, my immigration to the US is presenting itself to be a difficult step to navigate. For the first half year that I am in the country, I am not allowed to partake in compensated work. So how do I counter this and keep the momentum going!? How do I set myself up for success within this next half year, so that when I can take on clients again, there’ll be a demand for my work?

I also don’t exactly know how to approach that dialogue between a potential client and myself when the time comes to turn down a project. I could be ecstatic about the design brief, the client, and perhaps work for free...but then I don’t want to devalue my worth as an artist. So that’s my dilemma.



Russian Illustrator


Rachel Campbell - Show Notes
Illustrator and Animator
Based in Amsterdam
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