Becoming A Location Independent Illustrator: Andy Fox

Wed 6th June, 2012 @ 11:00am by zero2illo

I’m Andy Fox, a freelance illustrator and designer. I’m originally from the UK although I’m currently staying in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.

Since 2008 I’ve lived in five different countries and visited quite a few more. Sadly I don’t have access to huge amounts of money and so I work as I go. Thanks to the internet however, remote working – or location independent working – is becoming widely accepted and has opened up the possibility of travel for lots of self employed people, me included.

Here are my thoughts on the ups and downs of living a nomadic lifestyle, attempting to further my illustration and design business, whilst at the same time hoping to hold on to any amount of sanity…

How I Got Started…

Aside from art and design, the other thing I really love is to travel. It took me a while to summon the courage to go backpacking for the first time and I was 25 before I spent two months making my way around the well trodden backpacker route of South East Asia.

Looking back, this was a fairly tame affair that involved hanging out with lots of other tourists (mostly in bars), but the trip opened my eyes to what independent travel could be all about and really was a life changing experience. Since then, I’ve spent more and more time away from home and in March 2008 I left the UK and headed off in the direction of New Zealand.

I spent 15 months in Auckland, and aside from all of the fantastic people I met and great times I had, I was lucky enough to land a job with Ogilvy New Zealand which proved to be a brilliant learning experience. After this I made my way across to Australia and freelanced as an in-house designer at Coles’ (supermarket) head office in Melbourne.

During all of this time I was working from home on various freelance illustration and design projects to help fund my travels. I also became aware of people like Jonathan and Lea, as well as a few others I read about online, who were running their own businesses whilst simultaneously travelling the world. For me, the opportunity to become fully self employed and continue my travels sounded incredible.

Making the Leap..

I left Melbourne in mid 2010 and have worked as a full time freelance illustrator and designer ever since. My business is very much still in its early stages and I don’t yet have anything close to the amount of paid work that would help me sleep easier at night – like many other freelancers I could probably count on one hand the number of days I’ve taken off over the last couple of years. But I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have spent time in Barcelona, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, Vietnam plus a few trips back home to the UK during this time, all of which has been paid for by my work…

The Pros

The good things about living and working on the road include:

Quality of life

A few weeks ago when I was in Cambodia, I spent a morning cycling around the ancient temples of Angkor before heading back to my hotel to finish off some illustrations for a client back home in the UK.

Four weeks prior to this, I would have been able to take a break from the computer and have a mosey up to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which was a twenty minute walk from my apartment.

Not having a fixed address opens up the possibility of visiting amazing countries for extended periods, without having to worry about taking time off work. This was the main draw for me. I love to travel, and I love making pictures, so to be able to do both at once has been unbelievable.

Cost of living

The cost of living a nomadic lifestyle can be surprisingly low, and much lower than basing permanently somewhere more expensive like the UK and many other countries. I certainly don’t have access to huge sums of money, I’ve never earned a particularly great salary and I don’t have any real savings stashed away. This is all very depressing for me, but I think I’ve surprised even myself as to how far so little money has taken me.

I am aware, however, that I’m extremely lucky to come from a rich European country and that even a relatively small sum of money back home can go a long way elsewhere. I’ve met so many people in the same line of work as me, particularly around Asia, who sadly won’t receive the same cost benefits as I do. Saying this, the internet has opened up the world for us service providers. Taking on clients from richer countries whilst enjoying the excellent quality of life in cheaper places is perhaps something we could all benefit from.

Artistic inspiration

If you’re working as a creative, it’s obviously essential to stimulate the brain and keep the new ideas coming. For me, travel is a great way of doing just this.

Places that I’ve spent time over the last few years have directly influenced some of my work. Not only in terms of the surroundings – for example Barcelona’s architecture or Thailand’s beaches, but also having a look at what’s going on locally in art and design. I always pick up Computer Arts Thailand and one or two other magazines when I’m over here, as well as visiting galleries such as the fantastic Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre which shows the work of local contemporary artists and designers.

The Challenges

But as with everything in life, it’s not all positive…there are some downsides and challenges to overcome too!

Internet connections

Being completely dependent on a local internet service can be a problem. For around 90% of the time, I’ve had access to a stable service without any major dramas. However there have been occasions where unreliable internet has caused me difficulties.

For example a couple of weeks ago I was in Phnom Penh and urgently needed to send a large zip file across to the UK. My hotel’s internet had conveniently just stopped working and so I had to run out into an unfamiliar city late at night to try to find an internet cafe that was open. I managed to get the file across eventually, but this kind of thing happens relatively frequently which can take up quite a bit of time and energy.

Not having a dedicated workspace

Not having a proper studio or workspace is something that I really miss. As I move around frequently, I carry with me only the bare minimum. This means that all of my art books and drawing things are stored in boxes at various family members’ homes back in the UK.

I’ve also been dying to buy some new posters and prints from a few of my favourite artists, but right now this just isn’t practical. Over the last few years, my studio has basically consisted of any desk/table/flat surface I can find – I once designed a corporate ID while perched on the end of a futon in Bangkok – plus my laptop, tablet and small sketchbook. Whilst on the whole this has obviously done the job, I do miss being able to surround myself with inspirational stuff, and have all the equipment that would really help me to hand.

Travel Challenges

General travel problems crop up too, usually around the time of an imminent work deadline! Theft, lousy accommodation, bizarre levels of red tape and bureaucracy, corrupt officials, an earthquake, a bank whose staff refuse to pay attention when I let them know of my travel plans and countless train/bus/boat breakdowns are all things that I’ve recently experienced. On a normal holiday, these things happen, but sometimes I find it tricky dealing with this stuff when alone in a foreign country, whilst at the same time keeping up with work and client expectations.

Before writing this post I explained to Jonathan how things have been a little challenging of late with my own business and general life on the road. I was slightly worried that I’d paint a negative picture, which wouldn’t be a true reflection of the last couple of years as a whole.

To have seen so many amazing places, and met so many bloody marvellous people from across the the world has been incredible. A younger version of me would never have believed what was about to happen.

It has been very hard work at times, but I wouldn’t change anything and I think I’ve learned so much, both as a person and in relation to business in general – all of which I’m sure will come in handy in the years to come. If you like to travel and have ever considered taking your freelance business on the road, I would definitely recommend it. It’s pretty crazy, but extremely rewarding.

For now I feel as if this particular chapter of my autobiography is coming to an end…

Although there are so many places I plan to visit (Japan – soon I hope!), I’ve really been getting into my artwork in a big way over the last year, and I have quite a few big ideas that just won’t be achievable without having a proper home somewhere. Where exactly that home will be however is another question, but a return to Barcelona is top of my list right now.

If this has tempted you to hit the road, good luck, travel safe and come visit me in Barcelona sometime soon!

All Illustrations Copyright Andy Fox



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