Plans change and that's okay - Artist Roxanne Coble
Roxanne is a planner. She plans what she's doing with her business 'by bun' two years ahead. TWO YEARS. And yet she'd never planned to be an artist.
She spent six years in a proper zero-creativity job before realising she could make a living through her art. And she's done that by growing an audience who enjoy her content across various social media platforms. Who support her, both socially and financially. But she realises plans can change, things change. And that's okay.
We chat about taking on and even creating social challenges, the pressures of constant content creation, making courses, hosting workshops and figuring out a way to balance her work-life as freelancer.
- Set up multiple income streams early on
- Plan for the long-term, and
- Don’t fear change
More from Roxanne 'by bun' Coble
Who the hell is Steve Folland?
Steve's a freelancer helping businesses use and make video & audio content in much better ways. Find out more at stevefolland.com, track him down on Twitter @sfolland or lay a trail of cake and he'll eventually catch you up.
Check out Steve's Being Freelance Vlog that documents his weekly wanderings and wonderings as a freelancer.
Transcription of freleance podcast interview with Roxanne Coble
Steve Folland: Roxanne Coble, freelance artists based in L.A., hey Roxanne?
Roxanne Coble: Hey Steve.
Steve Folland: Thank you very much for doing this. Let's just jump into it and find out how you got started being freelance.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah, it's a long, long story. It's taken me a long time to get to where I'm at now. I've always been interested in art and studying art and making art, so I started when I was a young kid obviously and that was something I was interested in but I never really knew that that was going to be a career that I would end up really going for. I always thought honestly that I was going to be a mortician, that was actually what I wanted to do.
I like dead things, which shows up in my artwork so that makes sense. But it was like after college I did what I think a lot of college students do and it's you go get a job. And I jumped into a 9:00 to 5:00 desk job in advertising and was there for about six years and was absolutely miserable until my boyfriend, my now husband kind of saw some of my artwork and was like, what are you doing? Why aren't you pursuing this art thing and that was kind of the start of it all. Was me going, okay maybe this is something that I could pursue and then just started to dabble from there.
Steve Folland: So what were you doing when you were working in advertising?
Roxanne Coble: It was not creative at all. It was specifically in infomercials. I was a media analyst and like executives, so I would buy the ad time and place the ads in various places, very boring.
Steve Folland: So then, how did you start to make that transition?
Roxanne Coble: It kind of just started that I just started to make art for myself. Just kind of was drawing a lot and painting and dabbling and all these sorts of different things and then I started to share it on social media. And that was kind of the big thing, is that I would make something and share it and then when someone would see what I did they go, hey that's pretty cool, can you make that for me too or can I get one of those too? And that's kind of how it started to roll a little bit. Especially, just my early stuff was really truly freelance and that I had clients that started off as friends and family and then it just sort of grew from there. But it was all sorts of random things.
I would do pet portraits and family portraits of people, I would do these huge seven-foot party banners. I would hand-paint these giant banners. It was just so funny because now people are always like, your work is so tiny, your art work's so small and it's like, when I started out, I was making like seven-foot murals, it's really funny.
Steve Folland: And that was all coming via social media.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah, I attribute it to social media, definitely. Because I kind of got into this thing where before I would go to work, I would carve out a little bit of time for myself in the morning and I would wake up earlier and I would set 30 minutes before I went to my desk job that I hated, 30 minutes just to make art. And I would post it on social media after I was done with the 30 minutes, usually. And if it was in progress, I'd post progress photos, if it was finished stuff, I'd post finished stuff but that's kind of also how I slowly built up just my own body of work and grew into my own style too at the same time.
Steve Folland: So at what point did you manage to wave goodbye to the appetizing job?
Roxanne Coble: A long, long time. I was doing kind of the random odd jobs here and there and then it wasn't ... Of course, this is my practical need a plan self. I thought, well, if I'm going to do art, if I want to become an artist, I should do something practical like let me go get my master's degree. I was working still full-time in advertising while working on my MFA in painting and drawing. Did that for about a year and a half, also miserable, staying up till like 3:00 A.M. painting in my easel and then going to work the next day, it was awful. So, I bailed out on that and then thought no, I'm going yo be more practical and go get my teaching credential. So stopped doing art school and my master's degree and then jumped into working on getting my teaching credential.
I had saved up enough money in my advertising job and became basically a full-time student again, getting my teaching credential but at the same time I was making a lot of my own work, my own weird mixed media illustration stuff and still posting that on social media while pursuing this teaching credential. So, it's kind of like nurturing two things at the same time and it wasn't until I hit the year mark on my teaching credential that I realized, I don't want to be a teacher, I want to be an artist. What am I doing, why am I being so practical about this.
Although the teaching credential really ended up helping me quite a bit because it gave me a lot of skills in terms of teaching and organizing that now has really become a big part of my creative business now. So I definitely don't regret all of these things that I've jumped into and bailed out of. But I had nurtured and had grown so much of my own body work that I was able to leave teaching credential, drop all of my random part-time jobs and go completely full-time as an artist.
Steve Folland: Crikey. Just to put this in perspective, when was that?
Roxanne Coble: I went full-time completely two years ago. And the other big nudge of this too was, again, my husband, it's so funny, he is such a big integral part of where I've gotten to today. He is also creative and he is a television writer and he had to move because he was doing a really gnarly commute. So he was like, you know what, if we're moving, I'm moving with you obviously and this is the right time, this is the time to do it.
So, that was kind of the nudge off the cliff that I needed to just do it, to just go into it. And I kind of gave myself a deadline like, if I can't make money in like 30 days, 60 days or whatever it is, I'll jump out and start Ubering or do something random ... I'll walk dogs because I don't care. I think I even like signed up for a dog walking thing to like prepare myself.But thankfully it ended up working out because, again, it's been something that I had been nurturing for literally like six years until I had really done the full plunge into going full-time.
Steve Folland: You talked there about the need to make money.
Roxanne Coble: Yes.
Steve Folland: You seem to have quite a few different ways of doing that.
Roxanne Coble: Yes, it's an endless list.
Steve Folland: So let's go through some of those.
Roxanne Coble: What I've realized it's so important and this was something that I was really planning for. Again, I'm a huge planner, organizer, I always think the worst is going to happen, which I think is both a good and bad thing. But when I went full-time, I knew that I had to set up multiple revenue streams. I knew that I wanted to have something where I could have stuff sitting at an Etsy shop, so it's physical merchandise, things like digital downloads and this is where the teaching comes in. Is that I began creating my own online classes. So, I would film myself in my studio, create design, build these entire online classes and then put that up in my Etsy shops that students can then purchase, download and make artwork alongside me at their own pace.
So, the online classes are a big thing for me obviously, physical merchandise. Then I have all sorts of random things. Obviously, I'm on YouTube, I'm on Twitch now, I have a partnership with ArtSnacks, that's also been really great. So just a whole list of things.
Steve Folland: And with the classes then, when you were creating that first one, presumably you had quite an audience on social media.
Roxanne Coble: Yes.
Steve Folland: Those were the people you were kind of putting that towards? Did you reach out to them first and say, would anybody be interested in this or did you just dive in?
Roxanne Coble: It was interesting. I think there was something that a lot of people were asking from me as they would stumble into my work on social media or on Pinterest and they were like, who is this girl that does all these creepy things. I want to draw and paint like this too. So it's actually something that was really requested of me but it wasn't until I went full-time that I really had the bandwidth to take on a project like that. Where I'm filming literally hours and hours and hours of footage then I'm editing it and then really structuring it into a class. So yeah, it was more of a request and I think it's something too in the world of mixed media, specifically in art journaling which is kind of one of my main formats that I work in. That's a common thing, is these online classes that people take from all over.
Steve Folland: So how much work would you say went into creating the class and is it like an ongoing thing then? As in, do you interact with the students or is it posted up and people do it at their own speed?
Roxanne Coble: So, most of it is people do it at their own pace but we do have like a private Facebook group that students can post their work and share there. And it's kind of its own community, so with every class that I put out, each class has its own private group and students share their work, they ask questions. They're like, hey I bought this one paint, maybe I want to try something else, what do you think? So, it's kind of each class has its own little community which is really, really cool. So there is an interactive element to it, yeah.
But the time for me to create an online class and each one is different pending on how long it is like, I have one class that's like four hours long, like four hours worth of videos. I have one that's on the shorter side that I think it's like maybe two and a half hours but usually they take me at least a full month to a month and a half to create start to finish, and that's me working at it full-time every day.
Steve Folland: But when you did that first one, did you take that month out or were you having to like fit it in amongst all the other things which were bringing you actual money?
Roxanne Coble: Yeah. So, I think that was when I went full-time, the class was kind of the 30-day, 60-day limit that I gave myself. It was like, I have this idea for a class, I'm going to try to execute it in the way that I think will work and I'm going to give myself this deadline to do it and launch it. And I really put a lot of eggs in that basket of like, the success of this class is really going to kind of be that validation for me of like, is this something that I can do or do I need to start walking dogs or doing something.
So I really had kind of just only concentrated on that when I went full-time. And a lot of these other revenue streams sort of happened later or within that first year. Because at the same time I was also doing a lot of ... Another thing that I do as well is I teach in-person workshops, so that's something else that I'll do. Is I'll travel to different places to studios or to private residents or private homes and I'll come in and I'll teach classes as well.
Steve Folland: And how did you go about letting people know about those things? Like, do you have an email list that you'd built up or is it all just via putting messages on social media?
Roxanne Coble: Yes. It's usually across any social media thing but I do have an email list on my blog website as well.
Steve Folland: And when did you start making videos on YouTube then?
Roxanne Coble: YouTube happened shortly after I had moved and went full-time, so I'd say like maybe two years or just under two years and that was something that I thought would be purely like a side project. Is just a fun thing because I like making videos and I wanted something just kind of fun that I could have fun with it. I really didn't think of it as a revenue stream but it did sort of end up becoming that and has certainly opened up other doors for things which is pretty cool.
Steve Folland: In what way? In growing your audience or people getting in touch with you or?
Roxanne Coble: It's a little bit of everything. So, definitely the audience because I think YouTube has its own community, its own bubbles, so that's definitely has been an interesting way of sharing my work and my life. And then like partnerships, businesses as well. So that's how my partnership with ArtSnacks began which is a monthly subscription service for art supplies. And I was doing reviews of their boxes on my channel and I would do them in this kind of fun way and they ended up reaching out to me. It was like, hey, we really like your YouTube videos, we want to work with you. So I have YouTube to thank for that.
Steve Folland: Cool. So that was one type of video, so like an unboxing type thing but you do a lot of, as you say, about your life like vlogging about your career or your life.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah. It's funny, the vlogs have become like the main videos that are up there now. When I started the channel I thought that I needed to do those kind of like tutorial listy kind of things like my top five favorite things. I thought that's how I was going to do it and then I started to do Vlogmas, which is where you vlog every day in the month of December or whatever it is. And I started doing that and it just like the views were crazy and the reaction that people had to me sharing my life in such a unfiltered way was really interesting.
Steve Folland: How do you cope with the expectations of all of the different places where you're putting out your work? Particularly when it comes to YouTube, for example, where you're filming and then you have to spend a long time editing, because when it comes to putting an image of your work on Instagram, you were doing that work anyway, but doing stuff for YouTube or for Twitch for that matter, that's different. How do you juggle that when you've got a lot of work on or a lot of life on?
Roxanne Coble: It's hard to juggle the wheel content of where do I put my time in this week or today or whatever. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with YouTube, more so recently because of the time situation. And last year I was kind of in this place where I was vlogging every day. I was putting up a video every day, which looking back on that now, it's insane. The amount of time that I would put into editing and just being in that mode of I'm constantly carrying a camera around and documenting my life is very bizarre.
But I haven't really been posting a lot of videos lately because of that. It just takes so long to produce that kind of content and it's that ebb and flow too of like how much do I want to share. Because at the end of the day too, it's like I'm still a creative person and I need to make sure that I'm still nurturing myself as an artist and giving myself time that I'm not sharing with the world to create art and to develop my skills and develop whatever it is that I'm working on. And I think that's been what's so enticing with Twitch is that I've really started to stream and do a lot more there because just time-wise it's so much easier. I'm not really producing, I'm not edit, I'm working on something that I would already be working on and I'm still creating that sort of community, and also being able to make a little bit of money at the same time. So Twitch has been a really good thing for me in 2018.
Steve Folland: Yeah, interesting. Because actually in a way, YouTube Live was probably trying to catch up with where Twitch was.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah, for sure. And they failed. As I say, YouTube Live is garbage, yeah.
Steve Folland: Okay. So, why is it that you prefer, not prefer Twitch to YouTube, what are you getting from Twitch?
Roxanne Coble: Well, Twitch is a lot. I think the number one thing is I'm not having to edit any videos, that's number one. So, the three or four hours that I would spend editing a vlog, I'm just streaming, which is great. So, there's the element of multitasking, is that I'm not editing but now I'm also making art, which was one of my big goals for the year was to increase the volume of creative work that I'm making. And Twitch allows me to do that while at the same time I'm still able to interact with followers and the community because it's all happening there.
Like on Fridays, I stream my Friday night art parties, so we call it the Hermit Art Party where us hermits who aren't going out on a Friday night can just stay in and wear sweatpants and we make art together. You pour a glass of wine and put on sweatpants and just create and it's really fun. It's just fun and less pressure and less time I'm having to put into something. Also business-wise, it makes a lot more sense than YouTube does.
Steve Folland: Because Twitch is aimed at being a bit like a Patreon type thing you can tip, is it tip? You tip the people?
Roxanne Coble: Yes. Well, there is a tip element. There's bits too, which is a very similar thing but the main things that people can subscribe to your channel and support you directly, which is huge. So, when you really compare the two platforms, Twitch really backs its creators and allows more opportunities for followers and viewers to support you whereas YouTube, that's really not the case. A little more difficult on YouTube.
Steve Folland: Okay. So, to pick up on one thing you said, because you mentioned Vlogmas, which so ... I mean, the challenge of vlogging every day in December, which sounds horrendous.
Roxanne Coble: It is.
Steve Folland: But you do like to like go with those challenges. I notice at the moment you're doing one, for example.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah. Like right now I'm doing ... Well, every year I host the April Art Challenge, which is a daily drawing challenge or art challenge rather that happens in the month of April and it's for 30 days and I put out a prompt list. But yeah, I like those challenges, it helps just to kind of mix things up and I think it's part of just my planner or organizational brain. I like having something laid out that I can kind of like tackle. So certainly Vlogmas was like that and this challenge now is definitely like that, yeah.
Steve Folland: I see but I didn't realize that's one that you actually host, that you create.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah. Three years ago, I started that. I put out a little prompt list and just kind of put out the hashtag even though it's not that unique of a hashtag. And people started to do it and it seems like every year it has picked up steam and just more and more people have been jumping in and doing it. It's pretty cool.
Steve Folland: Is most of the actual work that you do like commissions, actual where people are paying you for your art, does that come from individuals or from businesses?
Roxanne Coble: See now, it's interesting, my business started out like that, in that I was doing sort of commissions but I worked really, really hard to steer away from that to where really that only happens now with businesses. Where I'm producing a video for a business or something like that. I don't really have like one-on-one clients per se anymore and that was definitely something I was working towards, to drift away from.
Steve Folland: Amazing. You've got to the point where you're creating the art that you want to create-
Roxanne Coble: Yes.
Steve Folland: but everything else is almost like this audience to that or wanting to learn how to do it too.
Roxanne Coble: Exactly, exactly.
Steve Folland: Let's go to the side projects then. Because clearly you don't sound busy enough, so what else are you up to?
Roxanne Coble: Well, our podcast which is something that I do with my husband, that's definitely a side project that's pretty fun, The Pug Party Podcast. And that came about just because he has a pretty crazy work schedule and so it was our way of sort of spending time together but also still cranking out content and that's been really fun. We kind of just talk about random things and we have a little creative segment where we both compare and contrast different creative topics, which is really fun. But yeah, that's definitely a side project that's fun to work on.
Steve Folland: That's really nice though. Almost like some people say let's have a date night and you're more like, no actually let's do a podcast.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah, let's do more work. Pretty much, yeah.
Steve Folland: And whatever other side then?
Roxanne Coble: I think the other kind of side projects that I'm working on is just my own private artwork or my own artwork for myself that's not for an online class I'm developing, not for a video that I'm producing for something. And I find that very challenging because my plate is always so full and I'm doing so much that just making art for myself is its own side project. The April Art Challenge is a little bit like that and just that I'm cranking out artwork every day and then sort of sharing it but at the same time I'm hosting that, so it kind of still has that job sort of feel to it. But I know more recently and actually this came about through the April Art Challenge is I've started to make these tarot cards for myself and it's something that I've always wanted to do, is design my own deck of tarot cards. And I started making them. So I would say that, that's definitely a side project that's like officially underway as of 48 hours ago.
Steve Folland: All of this to somebody could sound quite overwhelming. Does it ever feel too much?
Roxanne Coble: It absolutely feels too much. I think that's probably my greatest downfall is that I don't take care of myself enough. I know towards the end of last year I definitely kind of got into a bit of a rough patch of just feeling really stressed and overwhelmed and really needing to rethink things. So I literally kind of just like shut down everything for two weeks. Kind of hit the reset button and just gave myself some time to really plan for the year ahead and that's what I've really done. I've kind of re-shifted a lot of my priorities for this year and even looking into 2019. Again, I'm a crazy planner, can't help it.
I'm pulling back on something. So, for example, like YouTube I'm not making those daily videos anymore because that's just insane. I'm not teaching as many in-person workshops because that itself is a lot of work of me prepping for the class, preparing for students, traveling to wherever I'm going, setting up, teaching all day, doing it all over again the next weekend. It's just re-shifting my priorities that's definitely something I feel like I'm continuously working on, is just taking better care of myself.
Steve Folland: You've kind of feel like, actually it's okay, I'm just going to sort of unplug all of these various bits of content I've put out.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah. Because it's hard when you do produce so much content that ... And when it's your own business too, it's terrifying when you go from posting a YouTube video every day to not posting videos anymore, it's like okay, my business now going to suffer because I'm not nurturing this one thing that I'm doing all the time. I'm really working on trying to relieve that pressure that I'm just putting on myself all the time that I have to be juggling all these things at once. It's okay to let one of those things fall and focus on something else, focus on one or two of them and do it really well than 10 of them and not so well.
Steve Folland: As you're planning out your year, as you said, are you literally thinking okay, I want to do all of these big things but I'm going to leave that one until June and I'll do this one in September.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah. I plan out everything like a crazy person. I literally plan two years at a time and I take each month and kind of decide like okay, how many in-person workshops am I teaching for the year and I spread those out, maybe it's every other month or once a month. Particularly with the online classes, I really have to prepare for those and I think this is one of the reason why I plan so much of my year in advance like the two years span is because I know if I want to put out an online class, it takes me a month, a month and a half just to produce that. So I really have to get that into a planner and really create a production schedule for myself and just be prepared for the launch or whatever that is.
Same with even just merchandise. Like the start of this year, I released for the first time a little ... I call it a zine but it's really like a little book of kind of a collection of all matter at work from 2017. And just that alone was a month to design it, another month to once I got it packaged it all. Design with the packaging is going to look like physically do that labor and time into it. So a lot of the things that I do they're on such a big scale that I have to be looking 12 to 24 months in advance.
Steve Folland: Man, that's huge. What about when your creative mind then goes, but what about this?
Roxanne Coble: I'm trying to let that happen more often of where if I have that itch to do something, I'm going to scratch it. And right now is kind of a perfect example is like these tarot cards. I'm in the middle of creating a brand new online class that I have like thoroughly detailed and outlined what days I'm filming. I have already skipped to filming days because I've just had this desire to create something for myself and that's okay and it's been really, really hard to accept that. But as an artist it's so important because those days where maybe I spend the whole day drawing or painting, at the end of the day I feel like I didn't have a productive day. Because I didn't edit a video, I didn't send 20 emails, I didn't post to Instagram posts, I didn't do my structured thing. But as an artist, it is being productive. That is a full day of creating making and that's so important to do.
Steve Folland: What about when it comes to the business side of things? So much of this is about creation and then also content for your audience, and it's great that you've clearly got this planning side to you and you've got your teaching side to you, but then there's the running the business side of it that inevitably has to come along to any freelance career as well.
Roxanne Coble: It's odd. Actually, I think that I'm pretty good at that side of it, which is sometimes dangerous because that's where I will end up putting a lot of my time into, where I should be working on more creating the thing and not the business end of it. But I've always been really good with finances and keeping things, again, organized. So the business side of things really has not difficult for me, that's actually probably the easier side.
Steve Folland: That's cool. I have to ask you because you kind of have a brand as well of by bun.
Roxanne Coble: Yes.
Steve Folland: When did that come about?
Roxanne Coble: That came about six or seven years ago when I was making my very first website and my boyfriend, now husband, again, all comes back to James. He was helping me create my website and he was like okay, what do you want to call your website and I didn't want to call it roxannecoble.com or anything like that so, bun was a pet name. He called me bun from bunny and he's like, well how about by bun, everything's made by bun. I was like, okay by bun let's do it, sounds good. And have called it that and have stuck with it ever since and yeah. Which I'm glad I have because I'm realizing that's so important when you are creating a brand especially I think as a creative person to like really just stick with something and not change it ever.
Steve Folland: That's a very good point now, yeah.
Roxanne Coble: It's tempting because you come up with other ideas or you get to a certain point. I think I always thought that I would come back to my name, that like by bun was just a cute like blog sort of thing. I think I always thought that I would come back to Roxanne Coble, artist or whatever, something really official and professional sounding but by bun and bun is just who I am, so it stuck.
Steve Folland: Now, if you could tell you young yourself one thing about being freelance, what would that be?
Roxanne Coble: Probably that plans change, things change, the path that you take is going to change and that is okay.
Steve Folland: Cool. So even as someone who loves to plan.
Roxanne Coble: Yeah. I know. It's hard. It's hard advice to dish out to my younger self. It's an important one though. Because just looking back, I think of all these different avenues that I thought I was going to go down and how committed I was to each one and then how sort of a little bit of heart broke and I was at the end of each one, realizing okay this isn't it, I'm going to pursue this other thing instead. That just looking back, it's okay, I would tell myself that, that stick to being you, do what you want to do. Planning is okay but things do change and that's okay.
Steve Folland: Roxanne, thank you so much and all the best being freelance.
Roxanne Coble: Thank you so much.