Insight: How to Navigate the Hustle of Freelancing While at University

Introducing DMY BY DMY x Freya Nates. Meet the artist behind our new range of custom cases, Freya Nates. Freya discusses how she balances her freelance work alongside her university degree and shares her best advice on reaching your target audience, staying organised, and building up a following.

Insight: How to Navigate the Hustle of Freelancing While at University - DMY BY DMY

Featuring Freya Nates (@_artbyfreya) in the Valentina (Havana)

When and where did you learn to paint? What sparked your interest in Art and Design?

I've enjoyed creating art since as long as I can remember; all the way back to sitting around the kitchen table with my mum and sister working on - rather sticky - arts and crafts projects. Art A-level and GCSE were when I was really able to practise the practical side of painting. I had a wonderful oil-painting teacher in my last year of school who generously spent many lunchtimes with me, answering questions and offering valuable advice.

To be honest, I have one word of advice that I cannot emphasise enough. If you enjoy art but do not think that you are good enough, please do not give up. Go and practise. It was only at Art GCSE that my creations started to noticeably improve. Up until then, I simply really enjoyed art and kept going because I believed in myself. I was actually warned by a few people not to do Art A-level. I believed in myself and put a huge amount of time and effort into it, and I achieved an A! This is one of my proudest achievements. I promise that in every single creation, you will notice improvement. People who practise have just as much of a chance at succeeding in the art world as people who are born talented.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs?

I love anything and everything colourful. The majority of my ideas stem from my own weird and wonderful imagination. At the moment, I am very much in a frog phase with my illustrations. If you think of a scenario and then place a frog in it, it gets 100x cuter. For example, a frog relaxing in a bubble bath, a froggy astronaut, two frogs having a tea party under a willow tree, a frog playing tennis! Just insanely cute. All of my designs make me smile during and after painting, and I aim to make others smile too. :) You can find my frog illustrations on Instagram @doodlesbyfreya.

Who is your favourite artist and why?

I absolutely adore David Hockney’s work. His bold and unafraid use of colour never fails to take my breath away. I find it intriguing how he uses such a vast plethora of colours, yet they never seem to clash. His style has inspired me to use a wider range of colours in my work, and even colours that may initially seem to ‘clash’.

His work, Garden (2015), was one of the first paintings I recreated on a t-shirt. It proved to be one of the most difficult paintings I have ever recreated. This came as a surprise to me. I initially perceived his mark-making techniques as simple, and soon realised that I had underestimated how much thought went into each little stroke and how many layers of paint each area of the piece required. It took around nine hours to paint Garden on the pocket of a pair of dungarees, as I spent absolutely ages trying to replicate the beautiful shades of paint he used.

As a full-time university student, how do you balance your freelance work alongside your degree?

Oh gosh, it hasn’t been the easiest to be honest. My friends can attest that my to-do list is never-ending. The good thing about this, is that I love being busy. I enjoy balancing a million different things at once and running from one plan to the next. It does mean I am often tired, but luckily for me, I enjoy the taste of coffee.

Juggling it all can sometimes be a little overwhelming. I do tend to overcommit myself, and this year I have attempted to balance: the role of Graphic Designer for two university societies; the running of my own small business, Art by Freya; working on Freelance work such as EP covers and pet portraits; and obviously this incredible opportunity working with DMY BY DMY. It has been difficult, but I do think it gets easier with time as you start to work out what your priorities are, and what type of schedule works best for you.

My advice to anyone looking to balance freelance work and a university degree:

It is definitely doable, you just need to remain grounded and calm, and use a planner! I wouldn’t survive without my calendar app on my phone. I write down all my university deadlines, my social plans, my freelance deadlines and anything in between. It is crucial to stay organised, and every time I feel myself spiralling, my mum reminds me to make a list of everything I need to do, and it always appears shorter than it does in my head.

I also think it is really important to make the most of what university can offer a young freelance artist socially. Go join some art societies and meet as many people as you can. The contacts and wonderful friends you can make at university are so valuable and can lead to unexpected opportunities. It is such a blessing to be surrounded by so many different types of people.

When did you initially decide to start working freelance and how did you go about marketing your work?

I grew up in Dubai and had the pleasure of living there for 12 years. In November 2018, my mum and I went to this wonderful, huge art shop to buy some tie-dye, as I couldn’t get enough of it. My mum spotted some fabric paints and suggested I try them. I went home and painted a few t-shirts and was hooked! I painted a few t-shirts for friends every now and again in sixth form and ran my Instagram page, but it was lockdown 2020 when it all really began.

I had just finished my A-levels (or rather, didn’t get to finish), and found myself with a lot of time on my hands. My grandpa runs a company that buys and sells stocks of clothes and he kindly gifted me 100 t-shirts. He has been my t-shirt supplier ever since, and I am so incredibly grateful for his help.

Over the course of lockdown, I painted an astonishing number of t-shirts and continuously posted them on my Instagram page. When lockdown restrictions eased, I was eager to sell in person, as selling online proved to be quite difficult. This was due to not having a large platform or finding the right audience for my work. I secured a stall at Portobello Market in London and it was so much fun. I now run a stall there every time I am home from university.

It was a combination of handing out business cards at my market stall and continuously posting my work on Instagram that eventually boosted my followers.

Whilst my small business started as a business selling hand-painted clothes, I now work as a freelance artist and people approach me on Instagram with a wide range of things, such as magazine submissions and art for Spotify releases!

What advice would you give to young independent artists who want to get themselves out there?

  1. Believe in yourself. You’ve got this. If you enjoy creating art and it makes you happy, why ever would you not follow your dream? I was initially intimidated by a career in the art world as it appeared to be a very competitive place. I then realised that realistically, every career path is competitive and you’re so much more likely to succeed in something you actually enjoy. If every single career requires a crazy amount of time and work to ensure success, why wouldn’t you follow the career path that you would be willing – and even overjoyed! – to put that time and effort into.
  1. Social media is your friend. It is your way to reach your target audience and future adoring customers. Post regularly and build up a following. I think it is important to first establish a platform with loyal followers (and friends!) and then you can take it anywhere. Don’t be disheartened by a small number of followers at first, it will almost definitely grow – and usually quicker than you think!
  1. Don’t create what you think others will like. Create what you like, and like-minded people will be drawn to your work. As soon as you start creating for yourself, you will produce stronger and much more unique art. 
  1. Don’t be worried if you feel like you don’t have a ‘style’. I think there is a lot of pressure to have a distinct style and often we actually have one without realising it. Just create art you enjoy, and a style will emerge with time.
  1. Whilst social media is a helpful tool, try and get yourself out there in person too. It is always heart-warming selling at my market stall as I can meet my lovely customers and hand out my business cards – get business cards printed!! – to people who are just browsing. It is also really encouraging seeing people’s live facial reactions to my art as they walk by (especially to my dinosaur jeans!), which you sadly just don’t get online.

Freya's Round of Speed Dating with DMY

1. What is your go-to drink?

Either a glass of red wine or a Bloody Mary

2. What was the last thing you Googled?
Charity shops in Budapest! I am visiting this week and I absolutely love seeing how second-hand shopping varies in other countries.

3. What was the last book you read?
Mrs Dalloway. I study English Literature at the University of Edinburgh and I am just finishing my second year!

4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

5. What is your favourite TV show?
Gilmore Girls is my comfort show.

6. What would be your ideal date?
A picnic by a stream with some fresh lemonade, cheese and baguette, and a pot of olives.

7. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Car boot sales!! I go every week and sometimes even factor the early wake-up into my Saturday night plans. It’s terrible!

8. What’s the best and worst purchase you’ve ever made?
Best: A hand-felted hat which is shaped like a strawberry, I get lots of smiles from strangers whenever I wear it. My parents treated me to it when we went to Amsterdam, but let’s just pretend I bought it!
Worst: A corn shaped paper grinder. It’s gorgeous and looks beautiful on my kitchen counter, but there was a reason it had been given to the charity shop. It’s broken and doesn’t grind! :(

9. What was your first concert?
It was either The Rolling Stones or One Direction, I can’t remember! Both equally iconic though.

10. Make a party playlist with only 3 songs:
Mika 'Grace Kelly'
ABBA 'Waterloo'
Blondie 'Call Me'