Working in 6 cities in less than a year: an interview with Sara Gelfgren

Berlin Co-working

Today’s interview is with Sara Gelfgren, a London-based illustrator who has lived and worked in 6 different cities – all within the span of less than a year – and has illustrated the experience on her blog Illustratour. I’m currently away in Japan for 2 weeks and so I’m really intrigued with how she has managed to pull off such a feat – it’s always been a dream of mine to work in different cities, and she’s proof that it can be done! I get the dish on how Sara has pulled it off right here in the interview below. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m a Swedish illustrator normally based in London. I moved to London almost a decade ago to do my Art & Design Foundation at Central Saint Martins. I went on to completing a BA in Fashion Management. After graduation I realised that working in fashion wasn’t for me so I ended up working at a business/lifestyle magazine instead. That didn’t feel like my calling in life either so eventually I decided to do what I wanted to do all along: illustration. Rather that going back to studying I jumped in at the deep and tried learning on the job. It took me a over a year to start making any money to speak off, but for the past 2 years I’ve been able to support myself working exclusively as an illustrator.

6 cities in 6 months – that’s quite a feat! What was the inspiration behind this project, and why did it come about?

I went to a talk in late 2014 were ‘Nomadlist’, a website that lists the bests places to live and work remotely in the world, was mentioned. That website made me realised that there’s a large group of people around the world living nomadically as their jobs are location independent and as a result they can work from anywhere. The term ‘digital nomad’ is usually used to describe them. I then had the ‘aha’ moment were I realised that my job as an illustrator doesn’t actually require me to be in London. Most communication required to do my job is carried out via email and I can easily do meetings over Skype. I decided that I wanted to give living nomadically a shot over a fixed period of time and try out living in as many cities as possible, whilst still staying long enough to be able to set up a routine. Hence 6 cities in 6 months felt right.

 

Beach Taghazout

How did you determine which country you would venture to? Was there a list?

I thought that finding a good co-working space was essential to not get isolated and have a functional work routine. So that was one of the most important criteria for choosing the cities. I was on a budget, so the cost to rent a room through Airbnb in the city was important and the lifestyle I would be able to afford. Climate was also a deciding factor and how expensive it was to fly there!

Which country has been your favourite so far?

That’s a hard question to answer, because I had really different experiences in each place. I’ve had a really good time everywhere!

Lisbon things

 

Cycling Barcelona

 

How did you sustain yourself on the project? I know a lot of artists and illustrators who would love to do what you’re doing, but money is a big concern. How did you address that on your travel?

Throughout these months I’ve been working full time and I haven’t actually seen any decline in clients, quite the contrary. So I’ve been earning the same amount as I did in London, but many of the cities have been cheaper to live in. So I’ve actually had more spending power than in my normal life. The main problem was that I’m a bit of a compulsive planner and wanted to have all my flights and accommodation sorted before I left London. I booked most of my accommodation through Airbnb which requires you to pay in advance. I had some savings that I could use for this advance payment. But I’m able to pay off that dept to myself now. So I’m returning to London having not seen any decline in earrings and without having had to dip into my savings, so that feels good!

Hong Kong

 

Food - Hong Kong

What was the biggest takeaway or life lesson that you’ve gained from this project?

I’ve gotten insight into so many different ways of living over the last few months. For me the difference between being on holiday somewhere as opposed to living and working there is immense. Because I’ve been living in Airbnbs with locals and working in co-working spaces I’ve got a much better idea of what a normal life looks like in these places. I feel like this information makes me much better equipped to make decisions about where and how I want to live going forwards.

Another life lesson (which may sound like a no-brainer!) is that I’ve really understood the importance of relationships. I’ve met a lot of incredible people during these months, many of which I was sad to move on from when I went to the next city. And that for me is the biggest problem with living nomadically. I want to maintain longterm friendships and also be able to create new ones by having a stable base in one place.

What’s next for you?

I do feel that I want London to remain as my base going forwards and I’ll be coming back to live there permanently on the 1st of January. My friends have started up a new co-working space so I’ll be working from there.

Although if the opportunity to work somewhere else temporarily presents itself I’ll definitely be open to it!

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Thanks Sara!

She’s now in Indonesia, and you can catch up with her on her blog!

One foot in front of the other

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We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

We made grand plans. Big, big plans. Ginormous plans that make us toss and turn at night, giddy with excitement. Plans that you try to hide inside you that could just burst right out of your chest in a big bloody showdown, much like in the movies. You know,  Aliens-style. But instead you grin. A secret smile that only you know why.

There’s a list. There’s even a list of lists. A list so long that you continuously add to it until it becomes this snake of a paper trail that makes you beam even more in excitement.

A dance in the dark, a skip here and there.

It’s BIG. Oh yeah.

But then.

Nothing happens. You might cross one thing, or two off that list. But then you forget.

Days pass. Weeks. Months. And then before you know it, it’s been a year. Where did the time go?!

I’ll tell you where it might have gone:

Kids. Chores. Being a household manager. Dogs. Cats. Canaries. Parents. Relatives. Simply put: we all have lives outside of our dreams.

Full-time work. Part-time work. Freelance engagements. Contract work. Shitty day at the office. Hey, all valid – we need to eat, don’t we all?

Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. Youtube. Etsy. Ebay. No? Really?

It’s easy to let other things creep into the cracks of our already fragile plans, hopes and dreams. Nothing is holding them together quite yet.

It’s easier to see what’s right in front of us, and wanting to settle the problems that’s plaguing us before we can even try to grasp something that isn’t quite there yet. Not yet.

It’s easier to say we don’t have enough time, instead of being ruthless with how we spend it.

No time is ever perfect, no situation is ever calm enough. The baby will cry, the dog is sick (and probably vomiting all over the lawn), your house is in a mess, and you have 20 tabs open on your web browser. You’re everywhere, and yet you’re nowhere.

Breathe in. And out.

Close your eyes.

Lie down.

Face down if you feel like it. (it helps me sometimes)

Take some time to think about that BIG dream you’ve been holding on to. 5 minutes. 10.

And when you get up, instead of going straight to your kid/dog/chores/*insert whatever needs your attention*, how about you take that one small step and cross one thing off your list?

No matter how small.

One step.

And wouldn’t you know it: you’re already on your way, getting back on track.

[Illustration credit: Hilarious comics by Sarah C. Andersen]

Review: Unlearning to Draw & The Kitchen Art Studio

 

When I reviewed three of Peter Jenny’s books in the Learning to See collection 3 years ago, the books offered great tips for beginners and also serves as great refresher material for more experienced artists.

Three years on, Jenny – professor emeritus and chair of visual design at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland – has come up with another two books to add to the collection: Unlearning to Draw and The Kitchen Art Studio, published by Princeton Architectural Press. 

 

UnlearningtoDraw_cover

UtD3

In Unlearning to Draw, the author encourages the use of family photos as the basis for creating new works, as looking at other people’s pictures may be uncomfortable. Through his exercises, he pushes artists to set aside the personal meaning behind these personal photos and find your own meaning behind them instead.

What caught my eye was this quote in the section on “Defamiliarizing the familiar”:

When we blink, what changes is not the distant, but the nearby. Television would have us stop blinking altogether, encouraging us to rely on someone else’s view of the world; but when you take a closer look at your own photos, you will continue to form your own pictures.

Using your own family photographs enables you to experience an added dimension to art-making, as can be seen in the various exercises within the book (22 in all). The idea behind using personal mementos is at once intriguing and haunting – especially when it involves the various emotional memories past. The thought of digging out photographs of my grandparents still make my heart ache, so I’d say this would be a challenge for me (a good one, nonetheless!)

KitchenArtStudio_cover

 

TKAS27

In The Kitchen Art StudioJenny turns to the kitchen for new materials; playing with ingredients and opening one’s eyes to the many textures, smells, colours and form that food offers. Much like cooking, art is a process of transformation through experimentation.

The book welcomes the participation of entire senses: eyes, nose, ears, hands and mouths to create new works of art through unexpected, and yet familiar materials. The images within the book is beautiful – an invitation to look closer at our larder (and fridge!) for a universe that exists outside our own.

These two books are excellent addition to the previous three books in the Learning to See series: The Artist’s Eye, Drawing Techniques and Figure Drawing, and are available for purchase via Amazon.

Happy weekend folks!

[Flipthrough of the books by yours truly; the rest of the images are courtesy of Peter Jenny]
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