A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Coping with work life balance

I’ve always been one to jump into things without fully thinking them through. I worry about the small things, but when it comes to big life changing decisions I am, in the words of Leonardo DiCaprio, “trippin’ dandy.” (He did say that. I read it in a magazine in the early 90s and it stayed with me.) So I was totally nonplussed at the idea of leaving London and trotting off to the countryside to pursue my dream of illustrating full time, thinking it would all work out perfectly.

Before a creative embarks on a freelance career, there are several things they need to be prepared for. Any relief of being out of a political, tension-fuelled office will be replaced with new issues. Isolation, both physically and creatively, can bring it’s own problems.

Freelancing started fantastically well for me. I started off designing, got plenty of work inhouse and started to find my feet. But moving to the countryside meant that my inhouse work would be replaced by full time work from home. The good aspects are many: I can look out over the fields and find a great deal of inspiration to work. I got some steady book deals so I am successful enough to illustrate full time and keep busy. What’s more, my work is based in the US, so I have a morning to be creative without any interruptions and an afternoon to work on feedback.

But there are downsides. Last summer was a wet one, so being outside wasn’t much of an option. It was colder than expected, and so all in all the great outdoors didn’t have that same allure. As simple as it sounds, I need to always make sure I’m warm and comfortable. Shivering in a nice summer dress stops being practical when you realise you havn’t felt your feet in several hours, so keeping warm is essential.

Secondly, deadlines mean you don’t always have time to go out and see people – but it’s important not to underestimate how much you need a friendly face during the day. A way of overcoming this is to work on the far-off deadlines early if you can, incorporating a set amount of work hours into your routine and sticking to that. I know that some days I don’t have to finish a drawing, but I know if I push things back I might regret it later. So, normally, I have a window of time to see people and finally get out of the house, blinking fearfully at the sunshine like the undead.

Everyone is different. I read about David Shrigley’s routine recently, and it’s vastly different to mine. He starts work at 3pm and finishes at midnight on most days. If I did that I’d start gibbering like Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’. 3pm is my least favourite part of the day, (I call it ‘death hour’) and by midnight I want to have had a glass of wine in my stomach having gone to bed an hour earlier. But this is his routine, and I have mine, and they work. I find that if I’m always changing things up I get flustered and disorganised.

Sitting on a chair feeling like a slug is another way to kill my own imagination, so exercising every morning helps my body and brain sort themselves out for the day. Walking the dog during death hour helps too, as I hardly ever achieve anything decent at that time of day.


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So I should mention that I got a cute ickle puppy to keep me company too. I know some people aren’t dog people, so I’ll keep this brief. DOGS ARE AWESOME! THEY CHEER YOU UP WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’LL NEVER PRODUCE A DECENT PIECE OF WORK AGAIN IN YOUR LIFE. There.

So, that’s it. For me, it boils down to planning and puppies. Take my advice! Or David Shrigley’s!

Beth_Straker_illustrator_picBethany Straker
BETHANY STRAKER is an illustrator and designer working in Kent and London. She is currently working on 6 picture books for Skyhorse publishing and currently has a book out written by Isabel Atherton, called ‘Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty’. Her new books include a book she wrote called ‘The Funny Bunny Fly’, ‘A Curious Robot on Mars!’ written by James Duffett-Smith and ‘Smelly Ghost’ by Isabel Atherton. Previously, Bethany has illustrated for magazines for Disney, CMP Information, Bliss magazine, the National Magazine Company and GoGo’s Crazy Bones. You can see some examples of her work on her website,

3 comments on “Coping with work life balance

  1. kateormand
    May 22, 2013

    Lovely post, Bethany! The pup is so cute 😀

  2. Abi Burlingham
    May 22, 2013

    What a lovely post. I can totally relate to this, Bethany. Teaching, being a mum and a writer… well, sometimes the writer bit gets squeezed into the little bits of time I have left. Those other times, when I can really get my teeth stuck in, make it worth it though! Your dog is so cute – completely agree with you on the dog thing too. I wouldn’t be without my hound walks.

  3. Rose Mannering
    May 24, 2013

    I have the same sort of timetable as you – my death hour is 3pm. I don’t know why, but my brain just will not work at that time. I get all of the important stuff done in the morning.
    Your pup is so cute! Great post 🙂

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