Tag Archives: advice

Hello, Alan. I’m looking for some advice with beginning freelance graphic design. The main advice I find online is to market yourself to long-term clients who you can form a good working relationship with. I’ve seen you develop relationships with some great creators over the years on YouTube, but for a beginner, do you have any tips on how to get started? Is it enough to reach out through social media and have a design Tumblr or what additional things could you advise? Thanks so much! -Josh


I guess it depends on your end game, but I can talk about how I did what I did. And throw in a few other examples from friends of mine.

Okay so, those YouTubers, I got to know most of them slowly through their videos. Then, when the Partner Program first kicked off (invite only), suddenly lots of people needed lots of branding materials. There were channel banners and avatars, and sidebar banners on your video pages, and for a few years you could even completely html image map your whole profile.

So I designed a couple of banners for free, without being asked, and just sent them to some of the bigger partners. I included a little message that said “hey, I like your videos, I made this if you want to use it, no restrictions”, or something like that.

And what do you know, some people actually used them! MysteryGuitarMan, nalts, and I’m pretty sure Hank and John for like two days before Hank designed the one they ended up keeping. And yeah, some didn’t use them, like daxflame (though the daxflame banner was my personal fav).

But when others saw my banners on some of the bigger channels, I got a ton of referrals. I ended up making banners for a lot of new partners as they were added, some for pay, others for fun.

I had no idea those silly little banners would lead to some of the jobs and collaborations they did, so keep that in mind and always do your best, even on a small or seemingly unimportant gig.

(Quick real world example: I first met Michael Buckley when he hired me to do some design work for him. Then we became friends. Then he hired me to design and update his website. Then he hired me to edit some of his videos. That first little banner turned into a very steady gig for a couple years.)

Back to your question…

You can’t really find “long-term clients”, you just have clients who become long-term. Do good consistent work, and then when those clients need a new Thing done, you’ll be the first person they think of.

Like, risarodil, for example. She did some great typography designs, not commissioned, just “for fun”. But now everyone is hiring her to design their quotes for posters and shirts because she does good consistent work. There’s little risk. You know what you’re going to get when you hire Risa. And that’s how long-term clients are made, not found.

The same could be said for karenkavett. She does good work, so John and Hank and others keep going back to her for new stuff. Why take the risk on someone else/someone new? Karen delivers, so you keep going back to Karen.

And that is true for any freelancer, not just design. I hired hello-the-future to edit a short piece I wrote a few months ago. She did a terrific job, not only did she deliver when she said she would, but she explained why she made some of the bigger changes, and overall the piece was stronger because of her involvement. I then hired her to edit all of the static pages on my personal site, and I’ll continue to hire her when I have writing in the future that needs editing.

Okay, I’m starting to get off track again…

Don’t be afraid to do a lot of your own early work for yourself. Design a poster that you’re interested in, not one for a client. Post that. Then make five more. If I were hiring you, I’d want to see a number of completed pieces so I would feel confident in what to expect when you’re finished.

A design tumblr is a great idea to showcase this work. Tag it properly so people who might be interested in your work can find it. And for the love of all that is holy, make your contact information very clear and very easy to find. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’d want to contact someone so we could sell their designs via DFTBA and there was just no way to get in touch with them. Don’t lose the job before you even get it.

I hope that helps. That’s a huge wall of text. I’m sure there’s a ton more to be said too, but I guess start here?

Reblogging for reference and for fellow artists

Hey Alan! I make some videos on youtube, including educational videos with voiceover and ukulele covers. I was considering getting a microphone since I’ve been recording using my laptop/iphone and the sound hasn’t been great. Do you have any recommendations for something that would be a step up from that but not too pricey (<$100 CAD)? BTW my boyfriend got those headphones you recommended and he's basically in love with them! Thanks again :)


When doing any voiceover or important video work, I personally use the Samson C01U. It’s a condenser mic. The original C01 used an XLR cable and required phantom power (which meant buying a separate preamp), and I used that for over ten years. Now the C01U uses a USB cable and draws the power it needs directly from the USB port! What a time to be alive. =)

It’s only $61 on Amazon which converts to $65 CAD so well within your price range, so maybe you could even add an inexpensive pop-filter if you don’t already have one (I highly recommend one for voiceover work).

Also, for those of you who are not long time readers here at alandistro.tumblr.com, the headphones I recommended to her boyfriend are the Sennheiser HD 201s. They are not the best headphones in the world, but they are the best headphones under $300. So at only $25, they are a steal.

Thanks! That looks like a really good option. I’ll let you know if I decide to get it 🙂


I’m helping Maya draw again because I know she likes it when I do that. It’s important to do the little things that make the people you love happy.


21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You’re Depressed.


A while ago, I penned a fairly angry response to something circulating on the internet – the 21 Habits of Happy People. It pissed me off beyond belief, that there was an inference that if you weren’t Happy, you simply weren’t doing the right things.

I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember. It’s manifested in different ways. I did therapy. I did prozac. I did more therapy. My baseline is melancholic. I’d just made peace with it when I moved, unintentionally, to a place that had markedly less sunshine in the winter. I got seasonal depression. I got that under control. Then I got really, really sick. Turns out it’s a permanent, painful genetic disorder. My last pain-free day was four years ago.

So, this Cult of Happy article just set me off. Just… anger. Rage. Depression is serious – debilitating, often dangerous, and it’s got an enormous stigma. It leaves people to fend for themselves.

It’s bad enough without people ramming Happy Tips at you through facebook. There is no miracle behaviour change that will flip that switch for you. I know, I’ve tried.

A friend of mine suggested that I write something from my point of view because, surprisingly, I manage to give an outwards impression of having my shit together. I was shocked to hear this. And I find this comical, but I see her point. I’m functioning. I’ve adapted. I’m surprisingly okay. I think the medical term is “resilient”.

So, here it is.

My 21 Tips on Keeping Your Shit Together During Depression

1)   Know that you’re not alone. Know that we are a silent legion, who, every day face the solipsism and judgement of Happy People Who Think We Just Aren’t Trying.  There are people who are depressed, people who have been depressed, and people who just haven’t been hit with it yet.

2)   Understand that the Happy People are usually acting out of some genuine (albeit misguided) concern for you, that it’s coming from a good place, even if the advice feels like you’re being blamed for your disease. Telling you these things makes them feel better, even if it makes you feel like shit. (If they insist on keeping it up, see #12.)

3)   Enlist the help of a professional.  See your doctor. You need to talk about the ugly shit, and there are people paid to listen and help you find your way to the light at the end of the tunnel. 

4)   Understand that antidepressants will only do so much. They’re useful, they’ll level you out and give you the time you need to figure out your own path to getting well. They can be helpful. There are lots to choose from. They may not be for you, and even if they are, they take some time to kick in. Conversely, they may not be for you. Work with your doctor.

5)   Pick up a paintbrush, a pencil, an activity you got joy from in the past and re-explore that.  Or, sign up for the thing you always wanted to try. There is a long history and link between depression and creativity. It’s a bright light of this condition, so utilize it to your best advantage.

6)   Eat nutritionally sound, regular small meals. If you’re having trouble eating, try to focus on what you’d like to eat. I went through a whole six week episode of tomatoes and cream cheese on a bagel twice a day. Not great, but it was something – helpful context, I’m a recovered anorexic. Conversely, if all you want to do is scarf down crap, try to off-ramp it by downing a V-8 and doing #9 for 15 minutes, and see how you feel.  Chucking your blood sugar all over hell’s half acre is going to make you feel worse.

7)   While you’re doing #3, get some bloodwork done. If you’re low on iron or vitamin D, or if your hormone levels are doing the Macarena… these can all contribute to zapping your energy or switching your mood to Bleak As Hell.

8)   If you’re in bed and the “insomnia hamsters”, as I like to call them, are on the wheel of your head, watch Nightly Business News on PBS. This has the effect of Nyquil.  Swap out your coffee for herbal tea. If you just cannot sleep, try the next tip….

9)   Learn how to meditate. Start by focusing on your breathing. Not sleep, not thoughts. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Meditation is focusing on being present in your body, not careening around in your brain. It may not be as good as sleep but it will give you some rest and recharge you.

10)                  Face a window as often as you can – at work, at home. Look out into the world. Watch. Observe. Try to find something you find pretty or interesting to focus on. And, handily remember that one in five of those people out there feel the way you do.

11)                  Cry. Better out than in. Sometimes it’s not convenient or career-enhancing to cry, so find a private place as best you can and let the tears go. Carry Kleenex and face wipes and extra concealer if you wear makeup. You can always claim allergies.

12)                   Any “friend” who resolutely believes that your depression is because you’re lazy, because you’re not trying hard enough, who blames you for not bootstrapping out of it- that friend needs to be cut off. Polite (#2) is one thing, but there is a limit. You don’t have to explain, you can just not respond. You feel badly enough, you don’t need their “assistance”.

13)                  Limit your time with people who drain you. You know who they are. Often you don’t have a choice- but you can put the meter on. And, subsequently, be aware of what you’re asking of those close to you.

14)                  Everyone has shit they’ve got to deal with. What you have been saddled with is your shit. Recognize, just as you’re not alone, you’re also not unique. The grass may look greener, you may be jealous or envious of others who don’t have to deal with depression, but you likely do not know everything that’s going on with them.  

15)                  Let go or be dragged. This is an old Buddhist saying. It’s a very useful way to frame aspects of depression. Betrayal, anger, fear… letting go is a process – often a painful and difficult process – but it’s ultimately going to show you the path out of this terrible place. Repeating the mantra can help when you’re feeling gripped by these feelings.

16)                  Wear clothes that make you feel confident. It takes as much time to put on nice clothes as it does to put on sweatpants. You will want to wear the sweatpants. Fight the urge. The whole “look good/feel better” campaign isn’t limited to cancer and chemotherapy. Or women.

17)                  Avoid fictional drama and tragedy like the plague. No Grey’s Anatomy, no to The Notebook, or anything that won a Pulitzer prize. You’ve got enough going on In Real Life. Comedy only.  Or trashy stuff. Old episodes of WonderWoman? I’ve got the box set. Mindless drivel, like the latest CGI blockbuster. Or clever, funny books. David Sedaris. Jenny Lawson. Fiction exists to elicit emotion, and the emotion you need to express most right now is laughter.

18)                  Simple exercise, if you can. It can be something as simple as taking the stairs up a flight, or walking around the block. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it doesn’t have to involve climbing a mountain or running a marathon. Baby steps.

19)                  Depression will lie to you. Depression will try to tell you what others are thinking.  That you are unloved and unworthy, that others think little of you or don’t care – or even wish you harm. You are not a psychic. Keep repeating that. “I am not a psychic”.  Repeat. The only way to know what another person is thinking is to up and ask them.

20)                  If you are well and truly losing this battle, reach out to someone. I’ve been the random friendly-but-not-close person who has fielded the occasional outreach. I like to think I’m not judgemental and generally resourceful, and others have thought the same, so they called and asked. You know someone like me. And they will help you.

21)                  Forgive yourself.  I’m writing out all these tips, and I can’t always muster the strength to even stick my nose outside, or walk up the stairs, or eat my vegetables. Today, I got outside for ten minutes. I will try again tomorrow. And I will try again the day after that.

This list will not cure you. This list will not flip on the happy switch. God, I wish it were that easy. The theme here is to not to unknowingly sabotage yourself. All these little things? Like your blood sugar, or watching nonstop episodes of House, or endless Try Harder lectures from your Perpetually Perky sister?

They all make dealing with depression just a tiny bit harder than it needs to be. And it’s hard enough, all on its own.

UPDATE: Wow, guys. Thank you. The feedback has been wonderful – all I wanted to set out to do was something helpful.

For those of you who want to see the original rant, Here it is.. www.diycouturier.com/post/41923259437/to-the-person-who-wrote-21-habits-…
And here’s the response to my response (?) – basically, after posting my retort, the happy people came at me with torches all over the interwebs.

Also, a few people have mentioned that having a critter is a great thing to keep you on track, that taking care of something and having something rely on you keeps you going. I went back and forth on including that, but for some, it’s just not feasible to have a cat or a dog… but my cat is my Prozac.

And, I wrote this in Canada, where we have universal health care. It breaks my heart that people don’t have access to professional support. You can sometimes find a community health centre, or sometimes your work benefits will have an employee support or assistance plan as part of your insurance. If you’re without benefits and hitting desperation, phone someone. Friend, family – even your local distress centre.

Stay well, my melancholic interweb friends…xoRR

I don’t know if I agree with every single word of this article but I think it has a lot of great points and is overall really positive. I found some parts really touching.

Highly recommended read (thus reblogging full text)

OK tumblrites… tumblrians… and tumblrs. I have a question for you. What do you think I should do?


Is it a bad idea, in first year university, to have a number of back to back courses on one day, and leave a couple weekdays open? Or is it better to have a couple classes each day with space in between?

Any and all thoughts on this would be appreciated


Okay, so basically you have to work every day (or nearly every day) when you’re in university. Classes take up at most half of the hours you work, and can take up as little as a quarter of it. The benefit of leaving days open is you can sleep in or do something else one one of those days every once in a while if you work extra the rest of the week. Also you can work on the same subject for a long stretch without interruptions if you find it easier to focus that way. The downside is that all your classes will be clumped together. It can become very hard to focus after hours of classes but profs don’t slow down for anyone and classes are pretty much entirely lectures. You’ll be spoken at for the entirety of classes and absorbing as much as possible makes life possible (the more you absorb the less cramming the  more sleep). So it depends how long you can focus well, and how disciplined you can be about studying when you technically don’t have scheduled classes. Something that’s worth more consideration is who teaches the classes on different days. Check them out at ratemyprof.com . Having a good prof makes a hard class easier, and having a bad prof is hellish, so read up ahead as much as you can. Also, consider something other than the extremes. Having 8 hours of class a day is a lot for anyone to handle, but having a lighter day, say 2 or 3 hours of class, in the middle of the week and 5-6 hour days the rest of the week can relieve a lot of stress. Also keep in mind that lots of assignments tend to be due on Fridays (at least from my experience) so it’s nice to have a lighter work day on Wednesday or Thursday just in case you’re not, you know, done before that.

Dear James,

I know a fair number of James(es?) but this is written to two of my favourites (not that I don’t like the rest of you!) It was James Flynn who asked me for advice about going off to unversity, and it’s to him and Thegiant that I now write. You’re both going off to university in the fall, albeit different sides of the country, and this is my advice to you (and your friends, if you so feel like sharing it.)

Basically the hardest thing about university is managing time. When you get to school there’s a ton of fun events and new people, and music, and workshops, and projects, and student teams, and clubs etc. etc. etc. not to mention homework and class. Basically, there’s a group for everything and anything you’re sort of interested in. There’s incredibly interesting people to meet and many friends to be made. There are nerdfighters, and geniuses, and people who play great music. Don’t forget to meet people, as I’m sure you’ll meet some who inspire you, and some who outright blow your mind. Campus is like it’s own little world, buzzing with potential and fun and nerdiness. Meeting people and joining clubs and starting your own projects are really important things to do, but it can get very difficult to balance social and extracurricular stuff with classwork, so just beware of that. There are so many great experiences to have at university, and it took me till around now to realize that you really do have to pick between them sometimes. Or your grades or sleep will suffer (actually, your sleep will probably suffer anyways.)

As much as I’d like to claim to be a god of time management I’m not. There’s lots of books on it and different people have different opinions about it. Scheduling can be helpful, multitasking rarely is, and environment can have a big influence, but most of all, I’ve found it all boils down to one thing: Just do it. Personally I find playing music helps a lot. I like to do math in the morning and writing after 10 pm. I like taking a full hour off for meals. I don’t do homework on fridays. I love working in groups, but find it to be much less efficient. On the other hand I’m likely to enjoy it more and work longer. I like having all my materials (textbooks, notebooks, pens, pencils, eraser’s, laptop, formula sheets, stickynotes) within reaching distance because getting up to get stuff tends to be enough to get me sidetracked. I find keeping track of how much I’m working using a stopwatch is an odd trick that helps me focus. I try not to take breaks more frequently than an hour (I often fail this one.) I keep a calendar (google calendar actually) that has when each of my assignments is due. I find foreign, especially french, music less distracting when I need to focus. But all of these are really just techniques I use to get myself to just do it. I’m sure you’ll find many of your own tricks.

Now regarding homework: The work isn’t that much harder, at least in first year university, but profs move much faster, and you are expected to do all of your work outside of class. That takes some getting used to. Focusing can be hard. I pulled a couple all nighters. It’s especially difficult studying for finals at the end of the term because you feel so burnt and so much is riding on that last grade. Maybe you’ll just be stellar and won’t run in to these problems, but I’m just speaking from my experience. I’m not great at the whole time thing myself but here’s what I recommend. Keep your notes neat and go after them every day after class, even though it’s a pain. That way you won’t need to study as much at the end. I like keeping my notes in a little ring notebook and then doing assignments on looseleaf. Highlighters and sticky notes are your friends. Try to come up with a review system that takes only half an hour per class per day so that you’ll have time for assignments as well without getting overloaded. Seek out other people to work with. Make friends in your class and compare answers. When hw loads are really heavy its worth doing hw with friends because then you get to be semi social, and even with distractions will probably get it done close to as fast since there are people to help you with questions that you may have struggled with for much longer if you were by yourself. Keep on top of the material cause it’s much easier to do that then it is to catch up. Schedual your time (google calendar is great for this).

Then there’s the fun stuff: There’s probably a clubs/student teams sort of fair at the beginning of the year, check it out and sign up for a bunch of stuff. You won’t have time for everything but you may not realize what you’ll enjoy the most so you can try a bunch of stuff out at the beginning. I mean I thought I’d for sure end up doing engineers without borders and the rubik’s cube (twisty puzzle) club, but I spent way more time going to concerts, slam poetry and juggling. So pick a bunch of stuff and you’ll get email notifications about when events are. you can reroute them to your spam folder or unsubscribe if you end up not having time or being uninterested. Or save them, I signed up for juggling in the first term but didn’t go till right near the end. Also student events, clubs, and often even seminars often have free food. So look for that incentive to show up. (free food usually means pizza, omnomnom)

There isn’t much time for tv at university, so if you’re going to watch something make sure its your absolute favourite (BBT!). However, movies are good, even though they’re longer, becacuse they’re done in one go and then you don’t have an urge to watch the other 20 episodes of something when you realize you’ve missed the entire third season of such and such. There is lots of time for music. Music during homework makes it a hell of a lot less painful when you’re on your fifth consecutive hour.

Also, please, please, please, get involved in your residence. Hopefully you’ll get to live in a nice lively place. My residence encouraged everyone to leave their doors open, so we visited with each other regularly. I had a few friends who just walked in whenever they felt like, and a few friends who I knew I could go to whenever. You may feel like you’re ready to be away from home now, and you very well may be ready, but being alone can still, suck, like a lot. So having friends on the same hall is a fantastic way to crush the homesickness and feel more connected at university. Residences also tend to plan events like dances, movie nights, various contests where you build stuff etc. Attend at least a couple of them, they’re pretty fun for the most part.

Here’s a quick recap (and a couple things I didn’t previously mention but thought to throw in hee)

  1. Managing time is hard, use whatever tricks you can to get yourself to “Just Do It”
  2. Music is great study company
  3. Sticky notes and highlighters are you BFFs
  4. Stay caught up, even if it’s a pain to review daily it is worth it
  5. Try out different study environments, times, settings, study partners
  6. Be friendly to people, everyone else is as nervous as you in first year
  7. Get used to having friends who are smarter than you
  8. Study with those friends
  9. Get involved in residence
  10. Take time to go to social events
  11. Sign up for a bunch of clubs, and then pick your favourites
  12. Remember to sleep, at least occaisonally
  13. Eat fruit (I know someone who knows someone who got scurvy…)
  14. Don’t forget your studies despite having an awesome time
  15. Be prepared to meet some mindblowingly awesome people
  16. Soak up all the crazy ideas those people have
  17. Write me about your adventures

Okay, I love you guys, have a great first year!



Iron Warrior >> Lore of the Lumberjack