The Flexibility of Freelancing

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Some days ago we asked our community why they chose to become freelancers. The answers were quite interesting: the thrill of the unknown, the variety, the freedom, the flexibility.

In truth, flexibility seems to be quite a common theme for seasoned freelancers, and even for those just starting out. Freelance Creative Stuart Reeves has years of corporate experience under his belt, even working for top companies such as JCB. And yet, with what he himself defined somewhat of an interesting timing, Stuart decided to go freelance this year. Because he couldn't live without the variety of freelance life, and the opportunity to work with a range of incredible clients.

Stuart's story is just as interesting as his motivations. Spending his days in his studio, surrounded by life-size Muppet figures and his dog Henson, the man owes some of his success to a self-initiated Muppets illustration that brought him to work with Disney itself. And yet, he spent some of his early years trying to steer clear of the creative industry – believing that, once money made its way into the equation, his favourite hobby would be corrupted.

Clearly, it wasn't the case. And for this Member Spotlight, we are getting to know an incredibly talented creative and retoucher, to whom we wish all the best for his freelancing career. We're sure he'll make it with a bang.


How did you get into the industry?

My road into the industry was a very unconventional one. All my life I’ve enjoyed drawing and creating but I actually actively sought NOT getting into Design and Illustration from a very young age, despite encouragement to do so. I figured when deadlines and money came into the equation, I would no longer enjoy doing it as a hobby.

However, a strange twist of fate whilst working as a Telemarketer, and an amazing Marketing Director with a vision named Paul Keogh, landed me my first creative role at one of the UK’s largest privately owned companies, JCB, after seeing my scribbles on scraps of paper. I initially joined as Junior Designer in 2001 and learned the ropes from the hugely talented creative team there. Very early on, it was recognised that the images I worked on seemingly made a splash and snagged a collection of industry awards, so I eventually worked my way up to Senior Creative/Digital Artist whilst overseeing the Retouching department.

I was extremely fortunate to work under a Head of Creative, Steve Brazier, who shared my constant drive for perfection and with some hugely talented photographers like Anthony Burchett (Trigger Shoots), Guy Dixon and Nigel Harniman.


Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I recently moved to Lichfield in the Midlands after living in the beautiful Peak District town of Ashbourne for many years. This year sadly marked my departure from JCB after a 20 year career there. Though thoroughly fulfilling and working with a great team, I began freelancing during evenings and weekends in 2009, and over time yearned for more of the variety that freelance offered.

Over the years I’ve worked on a number of Global Brands such as LEGO, The North Face, Universal Pictures and Disney amongst others and that variety led to my decision to finally enter the freelance world fulltime this past April. How successful I will be, I really don’t know and only time will tell. I’m giving myself 6-12 months for it to work before a possible career change, after the seemingly bad timing of my decision given the state of the world. I have a number of self-motivated projects to fill in the time when there’s a lull in the work and I know I will give it everything I’ve got.


If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

That’s hard to say really and I may be about to find out! My Career Advisors at school had me pegged as a Hairdresser or going into the army, but neither really appealed. My roles prior to entering the design industry included being a Gardener for pensioners (paid with Choc ices), a Fish Monger, a Video Store Assistant, a Bartender, a forklift truck driver and working in a poultry factory. So I guess, if this doesn’t work out, I can return to any of those past careers…except maybe the video store!


Can you explain your creative process?

I always thought my creative process was fairly unique until getting to know other artists. It's generally: get a brief, re-read the brief and realise I read it wrong the first time, take a break, do many random tasks around the house that I’ve put off for years, which suddenly feel urgent, convince myself I can’t do it, search the internet for other possible careers, knuckle down and crack on with the project but doubt everything I’m doing before looking at it when it’s finished and think, “hmmmm, I think I’ve done OK”.


How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

I’ll be honest, technology scares the living daylights out of me - I’m way more comfortable with pen and paper!! With every new Mac, software update or new software, it just adds additional frown lines to my forehead. I guess the biggest improvements for me generally come from every new Mac Pro that comes along, as it just means my ever-increasing file sizes can be handled slightly better. It’s hilarious to think how much of my early career was spent looking at a progress bar!

That said, I personally think Apple have made a huge error with the latest Mac Pros, pricing most creatives out of the market, so I’m likely going to opt for a iMac next and even considering…a P.C. With software, occasionally Adobe will add things to their suite of software that suddenly makes you wonder how you ever coped before. I’m also starting to play with Zbrush, which is a hugely interesting software and I can already see the possibilities.


What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

I am an imagery hoarder, absolutely terrible!! I will collect any image from Facebook, Instagram or Twitter that I like, even if its just one tiny aspect of an image that interests me. I also take photo after photo on my phone for reference to how light falls, how a leaf looks, how different materials act with light. I’m also an artist who is a huge fan of artists, so I will collect any work that inspires me.


What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

Though my work has won a number of awards and I’ve created characters that have gone on to find great success, the work I am most proud of was a self-initiated Muppet illustration. It was created purely for me, however it has gone on to be a huge print and signed posters for cast and crew at Muppets Studio, at the request of an Executive Producer and Muppet Performer who came across the project.

The whole project started out after I had seen an image I loved and thought “that would look incredible with the Muppets in it”. I eventually decided to try and see what that would look like. Over time, after posting sneak glimpses on forums, people really started encouraging me to carry on with it and eventually, through an amazing spot of luck, found its way to a Senior Creative and all-round amazing guy, Tommy Andreasen, at LEGO. He sought to find me, leading to a fantastic time creating illustrations for the simply amazing people at LEGO in Denmark. I really thank my lucky stars for being able to work on their images and enjoyed every single smile-inducing moment, and because of my work with them many other exciting doors opened… all because one day I decided to draw a frog!


How do you recharge away from the office?

In truth, my design studio is actually a Muppet shrine (you may have guessed I’m a fan!). I’ve commissioned people involved with creating the puppets make me life-size versions of most of the main characters to fill the space as the Muppets were my earliest influences and the work of Jim Henson had a profound effect on me growing up. So even when I’m not working, I can generally be found in there with my Dog, “Henson".


What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking with young people trying to get into the industry and always tell them the same thing - "keep producing, keep promoting!" Great work counts for very little on your hard drive and we live in a fantastic age where it’s easier than ever to get your work out there and seen. It’s also pointless being shy and thinking you’re not good enough yet, as there will always be better, but also less gifted creatives out there. Keep striving to catch up with the creatives you consider better and you’ll continue to improve.


If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I think the one thing I would change about the industry would be to make people actually see the value in art. More than ever, in the rise of social media, art can become very disposable. It can also become disheartening when everything turns to cutting corners and compromising work to save a little money. When I get approached for projects and told “we want you to work for us, we have very little money, you have no time to do it but it will be great for your C.V.” - that doesn’t really wash with me as it shows a level of disregard to creatives in an industry reliant on them to stand out and thrive.

Stuart Reeves is one of our Member Spotlights. Find industry leading freelance creatives here!


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