EP 02: How to Find More Time to Practice Illustration

In this episode with Illustrator and Animator Irene Feleo, we talk about how to carve out time for your practice. We will help answer all your burning questions on how to find that perfect work-life balance in a way that doesn't drive you totally insane.


Practicing on top of a full time creative job

Finding the right balance for Irene can be really difficult since she's usually drained by the time she gets home from an intense day at the design studio Spontaneous she works at. But surprisingly by switching gears to do her own stuff actaully gives her a second wind that just further fuels her inspiration.


After work, Irene normally likes to work on her own stuff for about 3 or 4 hours and considers it a “real bummer” if she can only get about 30 mins of practice time in. So it’s a combination of her own intense motivation and strict schedule that keeps her afloat.

When I worked as a Graphic Designer back in 2012, I found it difficult to focus on my lettering since I wore so many design hats at my day job. I was in charge of everything from web design, to branding, to even print campaigns. It was a lot. But once I switched my role from design to social media, my brain would be on fire when I clocked out because I had so much pent up creative energy left over.

This got me thinking, is it better to have a non-creative day job so you can focus more on your own work? Irene says “Maybe, but it depends on your needs.” Skills like graphic design are more technical, but there is a lot of merit in gaining that experience because you can merge them with your own personal practice.

On the other hand, when Irene worked in retail while at University, she drew the most she ever had because her creative juices were untapped during the day. So there is a good side to both options but there is no shame in getting a day job that isn't creative because it will only benefit your enthusiasm for making.   


Scheduling more time to practice without going crazy

You need to figure out a routine that bests works for you while also making time for priorities like work and family. Irene recommends finding a time you can stick to every day where you can slide in some decompression time. To make her work days feel less stressful, she’ll put on a TV show or podcast in the background to do a little bit of drawing. That way her practice time feels more fun without feeling burnt out.

Typically her schedule is to come home, make dinner, and have about 3 hours to do her own thing from 9pm-12am. Although she doesn't always make her practice goal, the next day she’ll get right back at it to stick to her routine.

For me, it’s all about figuring out your priorities to schedule in time that doesn't mess with the rest of your life. Things like health and family come first, and then from there, it’s all about training your body to be creative on a schedule instead of relying solely on inspiration to strike.

Most importantly, you need to create this scheduled practice time with your home life in mind and communicate with your loved ones. You can even find compromises in your relationships where you can be together while still doing your own thing. I use the example of me and my fiance Rick and how we started listening to Audiobooks together so he can play videos games and I can draw while still having a shared experience.

“It's all about taking a step back and looking at what’s achievable with what's on your plate.”

I know splitting up time can be hard when you have people in your life you need to take care of but keep in mind that your family and friends want you to be happy. For most creatives, if we’re not consistently creating new work, our confidence can take a hit, making us not much fun to be around anyways.

In her early days, Irene made the make the mistake of putting everything on the same priority level thinking that she could do it all while being creatively fulfilled. Over time she just ended up putting herself last and would start to get emotional and angry if she couldn't find time to practice.

So after some trial and error, she learned that she needed to use a calendar to better pencil in her time. That way in a week she could make room for a date night with a few friend hangouts sprinkled in all while using her later hours to practice. She says, “It's all about taking a step back and looking at what’s achievable with what's on your plate.”


How accountability can help with practicing more

I often advise letting people in on your goals, so you have the social pressure to finish them. Whether this is making your weekly to-do list public or announcing a drawing challenge on Instagram. But like many of us, we start out with good intentions just to suffer from inspirational fallout.


Irene says that she does better with her follow-through if she is working on real-world projects that have a prompt. In the beginning, she couldn't just draw from her head but instead needed an approaching deadline from a design competition to stay on task.

She recommends if you ever run dry on inspiration check out a prompt online like the 30 Day Drawing Challenge or Inktober. Even if you run out of the steam by day 5, it’s those projects that help you overcome the blank page and begin to fill your feed with share-worthy work.



Be original already and stop copying others

For lettering artists, one of the hardest things to figure out is what words to draw. So many beginners start out creating the same phrases over and over again like “Dance like no one's watching” and “Wanderlust”, which results in everyone's work looking really similar. Although it’s easier to follow the trends, try to get out of that copying phase as soon as possible so you can start to create work that’s more original.

A great idea to get you started drawing more from your head is to figure out what your favorite things are and write them down, so you always have a prompt to draw. That way you can use your own experiences in your art to create more personal work.


I recommend always having a sketchbook or your phone handy to write down ideas. I’ve developed the longest Evernote page you have ever seen with over 10,000 ideas from years of just jotting down project prompts. So anytime I want to draw, I have an ample amount of phrases to choose from, some of which have made me thousands of dollars in product sales and client work.  

When Irene started her first illustration series based on her travel to Berlin she ended up getting a huge client job from Coca Cola out of it. So it pays to create more original work because what can start as an experiment can quickly turn into a paying gig.

Keep in mind; you will always have issues trying to find new things to draw for the rest of your creative life. So you might as well get used to drawing things that actually get you excited to get out of bed in the morning. That way you’re working on things you actually enjoy instead of just doing what everyone else is posting.

“The quicker you start to put yourself in your practice the better your work will become and the easier it will be to find your style.”


What's coming next episode

Next episode is the last in the series with Irene on how to find your style as an illustrator. Now that we know how to find our style, now all that's left in figuring out our audience by niching down. Your niche is how people remember you that helps you reach more people so you can start to get hired for your illustration work.