The Artist’s Guide to Trello

Trello is an increasingly popular website for many freelancers, including artists. It’s an excellent way to keep track of commissions for both yourself and your clients! This post is just a simple guide on how I utilize Trello in my business, and how you can use it for your own.

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Trello in it’s most simple form is a bunch of cards which you can rearrange by dragging them around. It can be used for all sorts of purposes from flash cards to business, here we’re going to focus on using it for commission lists.

My commission list can be found here. (Beware, there are of course NSFW images on there too – I am not ashamed to say I do a large variety of NSFW artwork).

Trello is a very easy platform to sign up for and to begin learning, so instead of simply being a ‘how to’ post, this will instead be about how I use Trello specifically for tracking my commission work.


My Basic Layout

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This is the page I see when I log in to my account. You can see my two ‘starred’ boards are both commission boards – I have separate ones for my main commissions and my collaboration commissions with Pyropaws. The other boards are for my other projects, but we’ll leave those alone.

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This is the page which is public – my actually commission list. As you can see, it looks a bit messy but it works for me! On the furthest left column you’ll see general information related to my commissions. I make sure to constantly update the ‘Last updated’ card to show my clients that I am active on the board.

My commission opening dates are posted here too. I usually advertise them on FurAffinity and Twitter, but if I have a concrete date I’ll stick it on Trello too.

Underneath that is my planned absences. The little ‘=’ type symbol there means that there is text in that card. Upon clicking it, it opens this (which will look a bit different to someone else not logged in as me):

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Although I usually give a heads up on my twitter if I am going to be off that day, sometimes I forget and so this card acts as a public statement of my ‘pre-booked’ off days.

Under that is a link to my other commissions board, in case someone is looking for that. And below that is just… a photo of an opossum. Just something to personalize it!

Down a bit and you’ll find my label key! Labels are colour ‘tabs’ in which you can apply specific meanings. I don’t always remember to update them, but they are incredibly useful for letting your clients know where in their commission you are. Here is my current label key:

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Columns

I have a variety of columns on my trello, all of which often get renamed and rearranged.

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From left-right: 

Finished (Month/Year): I move cards which have been completed to this column every month before archiving it on the last day. This is mainly to show what I have been working on, as well as reminding me how much work I have been doing that particular month.

Working on: Cards will often move back and to between this column and ‘waiting list’. Commissions in this column are actively being worked on, whether I have my focus on that one at that particular moment or I’m doing bit by bit.

Waiting List: These are commissions I have taken but not yet started. Commissions where I waiting for client feedback also go on this list.

CFZ Badges: This was added this month and is just a separate list for conbadges I am completing for the UK convention Confuzzled. By keeping them separate from the other commissions I can see how much work I have at a glance. This also makes sure they don’t get mixed in with other commissions by accident and prevent me from missing the deadline. I will often put time-sensitive commissions in separate lists like this.

Personal Projects: This list is simply to keep track of personal projects I have going on. These are projects I work on outside of my work hours. As you can see, this currently contains a fursuit project, reference sheets for my characters and some cosplays.

Trades: I don’t often take art trades, but when I do they are listed here.


Cards:

Each individual card will usually hold at least the following info:

FurAffinity username/Twitter handle: I do not put real names on trello, due to privacy. If the commissioner requests a private commission then it gets added to another private list that is not publicly viewable.

Email: Email is the primary way I contact people! I used to use FA notes but their horrible lack of search function eventually ruled that one out for me.

General information: I use Google Forms for my commission slots, then I generally copy/paste any information I need for the commission into my trello for easy access. I will also copy/paste reference images here.

WIPs: I usually share work in progress images via my trello too. This is both for the client and for myself (to remind myself where I am in this commission).

An example of one of my cards containing a description, some WIPs and the finished resized version. This card will be moved to the Finished (Month/Year) column, before it gets archived. You can see the finished version of this commission here!


So this is how I use Trello! Lots of people use it nowadays as it’s simple to use and easy to update! Although not all artists use Trello, it is still essential to keep an updated commission list at all times.

Do you use Trello? How are you finding it? Maybe you use a different format to keep track of your work, I’d love to hear about it! Let me know either in the comments or by email.

I hope you enjoyed this post and have a lovely and productive day!

 

 

Setting Work/Life Boundaries – My Struggle

When you work from home it is more than easy to get absorbed into working almost every waking hour. However, a structured schedule is much healthier for your mental and physical health, as well as knowing when to let your clients know you are working on their commissions.

This is a bit about me and my struggle with this simple but amazingly difficult concept.

If you just want to skip ahead to the practical advise, don’t worry! I won’t be offended!


My Story

When I started taking commissions in 2003 I was still in college. When I moved to university I began to find it difficult to complete commissions in a timely manner, often taking over 6 months for an individual image! I struggled to balance my commission work with my university and my reputation in the fandom took some serious hits. Back then I was known as ‘Wingedwolf’, by the way!

This went on a couple of years until I finally finished university. Although I worked in a supermarket chain at that point, I continued to take commissions and started to catch up with my list. I rapidly improved my quality of art too, gaining more clients and being able to raise my prices. They were still not at a living wage, but it was good enough for me. I worked on them when I could, but not when I should.

After uni I went through a few jobs and left two because of bullying/discrimination (I was unaware there were transgender discrimination laws at this time) and another I got fired from for spending time on the internet cultivating my eBay and Etsy business at the time. I was also working on commissions almost every night, staying up until 4 or 5am to complete them. It was rough and I also had been dealing with un-diagnosed mental health problems, family arguments and relationship problems. Everything seemed to be closing in on me.

In 2012 finally got my butt into gear and began going at my art business full time. I’d been signed onto ESA (disability benefits) for due to my health taking a nose dive after all these job losses I deemed as failures and the aforementioned mental health. I was taking commissions but stuff was slow. I’d work on commissions at ridiculous hours, often until 3 or 4am just simply because of procrastination. However I had the right foundations in place – I created a business plan and proposed various schedules.

None of my schedules really worked and I would find myself working on artwork constantly, burning myself out, having a day off for illness and then burning myself out. Every time a client sent an email I would freak out, thinking it was a nasty message – I have had my fair amount of struggles with this in the past. This continued for many years – the only thing I knew was that I never wanted to work for someone else’s company ever again.

Now it’s 2017. I’ve been officially ‘open for business’ as a furry artist for 13 years and it’s been rough. It’s affected my physical, mental and spiritual health. It’s put me into debt and caused me many breakdowns. But I’m still here, and I’m still sticking at it.

This year I finally got it. I needed to treat my business as a business. I needed to set clear work/life boundaries. Although not all my clients seem to understand, me (the artist) is separate from me (the person) and I need to treat it as such.

I feel so much better, I get exhausted but I feel rewarded. My mind is much clearer and I can complete tasks much faster than before. I know where to put my focus at one time and I feel generally happier and more social than before. What did I do? Here, I’ll share it with you.


My 6 Tips For Separating Work and Life:

  1. Separate email accounts: It’s a good idea to have separate work and general emails. That way, at the end of your work day you can log out of your work email until the following day. It gets quite a bit of getting used to but the reality of it is that your clients shouldn’t be expecting you to reply at all hours, especially as a business.
  2. Set clear work hours: This is one I’ve been struggling with a LOT throughout my career. I find it incredibly hard to make a schedule and stick with it, but this one has been working for me the last few months. Of course I have off-days due to my chronic health conditions, but then I just pick up where I left off. My work hours are currently 9am – 5.30pm. After 5pm I put away my tablet, make sure all emails are replied to, work out my schedule for tomorrow and then leave anything work-related until the next day. If I have an approaching deadline I might break this schedule and work in the evening, but generally I stick to it.
  3. Take regular breaks: I take two breaks throughout my work day – one at 12 until 1 and one at 3 until 3.30. I also take occasional five minute breaks if I am working with the pomodoro technique. During my breaks I move away from my work and take a quick walk around the flat, make food or coffee, play with my cat or do chores. I find breaks necessary for separating my day into chunks, as well as letting me return to my work with fresh eyes. I might spot a mistake I didn’t notice before!
  4. Don’t use instant messengers or social media for commissions!: This is a hard one and I know a lot of people do this and work with it fine. However, I struggle a lot with keeping work and personal life separate when I use social media and easily fall into the trap of replying to clients late into the night – neglecting my free time and stressing myself out. Instead, I always use email for commission correspondences – it’s more professional and has the added benefit of being searchable in case you need to access the commission information.
  5. Keep a Distraction Journal: I talk about my work life spilling into my personal life, but the opposite often happens too. So I started a journal in which I write down my distractions throughout the day. This way I can keep working on my commissions whilst knowing I can check whatever I was thinking about in my next break or after work. If there is an urgent matter, I will attend to it and then go back to my work. If it requires me to go out, then the work day will be stopped and the matter attended to. But I will still write down what it was, when it happened, and then set my schedule for the next day. I also sometimes use distraction blockers to help me, specifically ColdTurkey.
  6. Keep a Schedule: A schedule, like work hours lets you know when you are to be working. However, it’s more focused on the actual task you’ll be working on. For instance, right now in my schedule it says ‘Write content for Neonpossum’ until 11am. So that is what I’m doing. At 11 I’ll stop, whether I’ve finished or not and will continue onto my next task (replying to emails, updating Trello and updating my website). Although it seems counter productive to leave tasks unended like this, I write down what I need to do in order to finish my task and will work on it during the next ‘blog’ slot. Think of it like high school – You wouldn’t finish your French classwork in maths class, would you? If this is confusing, I’ll make a full post relating to my schedule for you guys, just let me know!
  7. Separate Work and Personal Expenses: If you plan to go self-employed, it is very good practice to keep your receipts and separate business expenses from everything else. I won’t go into the details of this in this post as it changes with each country, but it will be very important no matter where you are for filling your taxes. I use MoneyDashboard to help me with this, as well as keeping any physical receipts, printing out my Paypal reports and bank statements.

 


So there you have it. A little insight into how I separate my work and personal life! I could go on for hours and write about business, it’s one of my passions! If you haven’t implemented these points into your life and you’re struggling with commission work, hopefully this will help! I know some people work fine with mixing things up and that’s fine! After all, this is just my approach and it works for me.

If you have any questions or comments please do let me know below, otherwise you can email me!