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Marketing / Business branding

A Day in the Life: Illustrator Russell Tate

What does a day in the life of a fellow soloist look like? Today we're chatting with illustrator and graphic designer Russell Tate to find out!

Russell Tate is a highly successful illustrator and graphic designer whose work has been commissioned by such giants as NASA, McDonalds, Mambo and Telstra. His success is courtesy of more than just these corporate behemoths however – us little guys love him too! His stock illustrations, available via iStockphoto, Behance and Dribble, have been downloaded over 150,000 times! (Interestingly, for those who think these stock illustrations might negate the need for people to hire him for bespoke work, many commissions have come to him via people seeing his work on those sites.)

So what are the keys to Russell’s success? Well he credits it to a lot of hard work, healthy curiosity about the world around him, and willingness to try new things.

He’s certainly a super-interesting guy which is why we’re very keen to see what a day in the life of this successful soloist looks like. Here’s Russell Tate!

Russell Tate

Working in a home office on a computer is physically inactive, so three mornings a week start with a run around Centennial Park with my partner Catherine. Three nights a week I head to the local gym.

Exercise takes my brain out of gear and is a good way to think of new projects or re-think existing problems.

Quite a few of my clients are in the U.S.  and U.K. so I always scan my emails before going to the park and reply to any questions or new enquires before going out. (Different time zones can slow down the communication process so I like to keep things moving during the time I’m awake.)

"The afternoon is normally my most productive time and I do my best work then."

We drop our daughter Charlotte off at school around 8.30am, hit the park and are normally home again around 9.15am, for a shower, breakfast and scan of the papers

It’s definitely a luxury to sit down for breakfast at 9.15am, but I often go back to work after dinner.

9.45am finds me at my desk and straight into the email to keep up with correspondence – most of my work comes in through my website, my agent, and people who have seen my work on iStockphoto.

I’m in an upstairs office so it does have a business feel to it and this helps avoid home distractions. Having said that I’m looking up at a wall of Japanese kids’ masks, toy robots on a shelf, art posters and skateboards on the wall so it’s a “fun” office too.

Once I’m done with emails I’ll quickly scan Facebook for any comments on work I’ve posted before getting going on existing design projects. In an ideal world I like to have three to four work enquires in the pipeline, three to four different jobs on the go and three to four ready to invoice!

Of course the ideal world doesn’t exist so between logo design, character illustration, infographics and traditional design for print (I’ve found I need to offer a diverse range of services) I might have more than five jobs on the go at any one time. This will result in working long hours for a couple of weeks straight which is something I’m happy to do as, like everyone who works for themselves, I have quiet patches. (This is when I go into marketing mode which isn’t something I enjoy but you do what you have to do!)

I also spend those quiet periods creating stock illustrations for iStockphoto.com.

If I have a nice illustration job going on, however, I tend to get totally immersed in the job and am oblivious to everything going on around me –  it’s normally only the ‘ping’ of incoming emails that gets my attention.

I don’t usually love stopping for lunch as I’m normally in full swing by that time of the day so lunch is usually a quick sandwich around 1.00pm. The afternoon is normally my most productive time and I do my best work then.

Charlotte and my older boys come home around 4.45pm and that’s when the atmosphere changes! Music starts playing from the bedrooms downstairs and I’m aware The Simpsons are on TV (again). It’s not too distracting, but can be awkward if a client calls and Bart Simpson is screaming “Aye Carumba!” in the background.

We have dinner as a family around 6.30pm and everyone shares what they have done during the day. If I’m really busy I’ll go back upstairs once it’s time to do the washing up (perks of the job!)

I may only do another hour or so before coming down and joining the family around 8 -8.30pm, but sometimes I keep going till 11.00pm or so before going to bed.

If the work is intense and involves a lot of concentration, working till 11.00pm and then going straight to bed does not always constitute a good night’s sleep! Often your brain is still spinning and you can’t rest properly.

The biggest challenge I face in the average working week?

Juggling the workload and delivering artwork on time. As a freelancer I tend to not turn work down and am ‘always available for new work’ even when I’m bursting at the seams! If I do take on new work I still leave enough hours in the day to deliver what I’ve already committed to. So far, I’ve not yet missed a deadline 🙂

The reality of being a soloist?

Not knowing what’s coming up next. In some ways that’s quite refreshing that you don’t have monotony and routine but other times it’s a worry as you can’t predict work coming in and future.

What keeps me going?

Simply the thrill of creating designs and illustration. I like the satisfaction when a job goes well and it looks really good – especially when you can tell the client is pleased too.

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