Looking Forward to What's Next

Take a look at this picture…


This is my daughter after she walked in covered in diaper cream. I share this not only because it’s funny, but also because it’s a great representation of what my life is like. Not the Insta-worthy, picture-perfect artist life one might wish to have—it’s messy and makes me want to laugh and cry all at once (like this picture).

I’ve had a hard month dealing with a lot of frustration personally and professionally. For those who don’t know, I work mainly in book publishing as a freelance designer. I’m proud that I have those skills and that I’ve built a business from it, but I LIKE it—I don’t LOVE it. It’s not painting and drawing for a living, which is what I WANT to do. Sure, I’ve had a few art jobs here and there—little successes—but I’m not quitting my “day job” anytime soon. Even so, the art that I share with you here on this site, that is my passion.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m sure there are many of you who are in the same boat. Maybe you're striving to achieve a creative dream that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe you’re jealous of all the talented artists on social media with perfect studios and lots of followers. Perhaps you’re a stay-at-home mom striving to build your own home business. I’m here to tell you that I am with you. I get up every morning, put on my ugly sweats, and work by myself in my humble apartment that needs cleaning. My desk is overcrowded, I often have screaming toddlers around me begging for snacks, and I’m usually working on jobs that are not so much fun.

I guess I just wanted to remind myself, and you, that no one is as perfect as they might appear on Instagram. Life is messy and chaotic and takes a lot of work. Everyone has their own journey and struggles. I hope you enjoy the art I share because I put my heart into it. It is what I love to do. Maybe one day I’ll find that elusive “success,” but maybe not. For now, I’m happy to have fun making and sharing with you, and looking forward to what’s next!

M is for...



My new monthly theme! I am looking forward to making time for some relaxation this month. I’m headed on a cross-country road trip to visit family for a few weeks, which should be lots of fun! I’m going to use this time off to breathe, refocus, and get back to creating for fun.



This page is from a fun alphabet book that I illustrated called E is for Economics by Veronica Goodman, and it’s available now. Check it out HERE.


After a busy April, I’m excited to see what this next month will bring!


I always enjoy celebrating all the wonderful mother figures in my life on Mother’s Day.



Last month’s personal project (book designs) got put on hold due to time issues, and I will return to it—but not quite yet. Since I’ll be on the road a bit in May, I’ve chosen to do something more portable. I recently invested in an iPad and have been exploring various art apps. I absolutely LOVE apps like iOrnament and Amaziograph for creating mandala art, so I want to experiment more with those. I might work in some traditionally drawn mandalas as well. Follow along on my Instagram (@nicolejonessturk, #sturkartchallenge2018).

Welcome to May, everyone!

Sincerely, Nicole

Blessed with Work

Holy moly, this month was hard.


I think every client I have hit me with jobs at the same time. Work piled up, and I was so overwhelmed that it literally brought me to tears. I worked early mornings and late nights to get things done, and it wore me down. Then there were my daughters. My oldest is living up to the “terrible twos” with countless tantrums and mischief throughout the day. My younger one-year-old has been especially prone to whining lately, probably from lack of attention due to my heavy workload. So imagine long hours of stressful work + lots of screaming. Not fun.

Yet despite all this, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how lucky I am. The past few months have been some of the most productive and fruitful in my short career as a freelancer. With my husband in school, I’ve taken on a major role in our financial support, and it gives me great pride knowing that I can take care my family by not only working hard, but also using the creative skills and talents that I’ve built over the years.

I know there are a lot of hard-working mamas out there who struggle with tedious jobs, or not making enough money, or being away from their kids, or putting dreams on hold in favor of family, so it’s not lost on me that what I have is special.

While I cannot wait for my girls to grow out of their tantrum stages, I love that I get to spend all day with them. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I know that work will level out soon (and, hello, vacation...), and there are bound to be slow times again. With so many people working jobs they hate out of necessity, what a luxury it is that I’ve built a respectable career that I love, that I am good at, that I can do at home, and that provides for me and my family needs, and then some. I am truly blessed.

Anyway, those were just some thoughts I’ve been having. It helps to keep this in the forefront of my mind during stressful times. I’m not always great at remembering to do that (did I mention the tears?), but as with anything, it’s up and down. The key is to try to stay up more than down. Everyone’s circumstances are different. We all have our struggles, but I would encourage you to pause and take stock of the blessings in your life because we all have those, too.

Sincerely, Nicole

Upwork for Artists - Helpful Tips

As a follow-up to my extensive overview of Upwork as it pertains to the artist and designer, I'd like to offer some helpful tips to those who've decided to give it a try. In general, I don't think Upwork is a perfect solution, but it can give budding freelancers a jumpstart to finding work and building experience. Here are my suggestions:


Your Profile

It is super important to have an attractive profile that highlights what YOU have to offer over everybody else. Be specific about the types of work you can do and the skills and software you excel at, putting greater emphasis on the types of work you WANT to do, because of course you want to attract clients with those jobs first. For example, in my own profile, which you can view here, I start out by listing the types of work I do at the top, so it is the first thing you see. I then outlined my background in art and illustration, because that is the type of work I prefer. I talk about my style and list specific types of jobs I would be well-suited for. Then I go into my book design experience, which I also like to do. Towards the bottom, I go into the drier stuff. I list some FYI information, such as software I use, my location and timezone, language, etc. Upwork also provides areas where you can enter your education, employment history, and skills list much like a resumé. They also provide software and language tests that you can take, which just help give additional proof to potential employers of your skills and proficiency in certain areas.

Before Hire—Choosing Jobs and Applying

So many jobs are posted on Upwork constantly, all with a huge variety of tasks, scopes, experience levels, etc. If the description sounds like something you could do, go for it and see what happens! At first, I eased myself in with smaller jobs. Much of your hire-ability is based on past experience and ratings. Obviously, if you have just started on Upwork, you need to build that up, so beginning with smaller jobs is good in that respect. (For more tips on creating an attractive Upwork profile and getting hired, I've linked to a great resource website below.) Once you are hired, you can use these jobs as an opportunity to develop experience and get positive feedback from clients.

Be Picky—"Good" Jobs and "Bad" Jobs

There are many things to consider when choosing which jobs to apply for. First and foremost, it should be something you CAN do (duh) and, ideally, something you WANT to do. As I wrote about in my review article, there are many "bad" jobs to watch out for. Some of the common red flags that I try to avoid include:

  • Low budget and/or pay history

Obviously, you want a client who is willing pay fairly for the work they want done.

  • Client's refusal to accept any other rates

This is a sign of inflexibility and unwillingness to consider the experience and skill of the freelancer, so they don't care about the value YOU have to offer.

  •  Poor job description

I've seen job descriptions that are literally, "I need a logo" and that's it. You need to know more than that to accurately assess the job and give a fair bid. Bad spelling and grammar is also a warning sign. This could mean the client is either unprofessional or not a native English speaker (or whatever language they are using). Either way, they are indicators that there could be trouble with communication, which is important to a client/freelancer relationship. You want to know that the client is able to clearly convey to you what they want, which will make it a whole lot easier to give them what they want and end up with a happy result for all.

  • Low rating (or no Upwork experience, though not always)

If their rating is on the low side, read freelancer reviews to get a good idea of what it's like to work with the client. You can get a good indication of whether they are difficult to work with, unfair with their pay, and/or bad at communication. Some clients are new to Upwork, so they won't have history or reviews, but that's not necessarily a reason to shun them. But if the low ratings are there, it is a sign to proceed with caution.

  • Asking for free work

Some clients want proof that you can do the work by asking for a "test" job as part of your proposal. That is FREE WORK. The client should be able to make a decision by your cover letter and existing portfolio. Asking for a "test" seems unprofessional and unfair in my opinion. Sometimes you can consider these instances on a case by case basis. If they just want to see a sketch, for example, that would take just a few minutes, that's usually not a problem for me. The client most likely just wants to see that you are on the same page—just be careful you aren't handing them free ideas. If I see requests like this in a job description, often  I will either move on or suggest a PAID test in my proposal.

  • Unreasonable deadline

If the client asks for work that you know should take more time than they're asking, this might be another sign that they have no idea what they're asking for as far as the work and skill involved, and the value attached to that. I also often see jobs needed for holidays and events that are posted just a few weeks beforehand—another sign of poor planning and lack of professionalism on the client's part. Those jobs are usually not worth the hassle. Of course, it's up to you if you think you could get the job done. If the client is well aware that it's a rush job, see if they're willing to compensate with higher pay. In general, make sure you have a good idea of the client's deadline and the scope of work BEFORE going in so you can avoid running into problems.

With these red flags in mind, here is a summary of what you DO want to see in a job post:

  • The job description is something you feel confident you can do, and preferably something you want to do.
  • The client has high ratings and reviews from past freelancers.
  • The job description is clear, detailed, and well-written.
  • The client is willing to pay fairly, indicated by their budget and pay history.
  • Note the client's country and time zone and make sure you would be willing to be available to them during their business hours if needed.
  • The client gives the overall impression of being professional, flexible, pleasant, and a good communicator.


Job proposals are composed of your bid and cover letter, and occasionally additional interview questions and a portfolio.

Bidding is a whole topic that deserves its own post. I went into it a little bit in my previous article. In summary–pay attention to the client's history, ratings, and budget, and make the judgment call on whether the job is worthwhile. Value your work and place a bid that reflects that. There are many factors to consider–your experience, the scope of the job, schedule, etc. In the end, charge what you're worth! It is so important. Fees are paid either hourly or as a fixed price per job. Especially with fixed price jobs, it is important to have a mutual understanding between you and the client what expectations are for the work and what is included (and what is not) in that fee, so sometimes your bid at this point will still be up in the air until you get more information from the client, should they decide to continue with the interview process.

In general, it is best to give each cover letter special attention. It might be tempting to create a generic text to attach to all of your proposals, but clients want to know that you've taken the time to read about their job. (Some even say something at the end of their post like, "Type CROCODILE at the top of your cover letter so I know you've read the whole thing." Something to watch out for...) Once in a while, the client will have additional questions specific to their job that they will want you to answer as part of your proposal. Don't skim over those, either. Do your best to show that you took the time to read and answer their questions.

That being said, there are certain things you would probably say to any client that you don't want to type each time. In fact, I DO have a generic text that I use over and over, but I don't just copy/paste and leave it at that. I have saved several different versions of Upwork cover letters tailored to the different types of work I do—one for illustration, one for adult coloring, one for book design, etc. Then I will go in add to it to fit with the job I am applying to. I'll state what it is I can do for the job, why I'm interested, why I'm a good fit, ask questions, give an estimated timeline...you get the idea. It lets the client know that you already engaged in the job and showing interest.

Since I do several types of work, I don't keep my portfolio directly on my Upwork profile. Instead, I usually point the client to my website, where I have my work separated onto different pages, and in some cases I will send samples of work that are specific to the client's needs. But if using the portfolio section on the Upwork profile page works well for you, it is a good idea to go ahead and have it right there for the clients to view.

After Hire—Building a Reputation

After you start getting jobs on Upwork, it is important to keep high standards since you are rated at the end of each job. Higher ratings make you more attractive to clients among your competitors, which leads to more jobs. The things you need to do to maintain a good rating are pretty much common sense—

  • be on time, or early, delivering your work
  • follow design briefs and technical specifications
  • maintain clear, consistent, and friendly communication

In summary, give the client an overall pleasant working experience. Give them what they need, and more. Of course, this works both ways. We've all heard stories of nightmare clients, and don't worry—you will have the chance to rate your employers as well. It helps to avoid trouble in the first place, though, by avoiding some of the red flags as outlined above when choosing your jobs.


These are all general guidelines I follow when choosing my jobs, write my proposals, and execute my work. I've done some learning the hard way, but I hope this article is helpful to others who are looking to see what Upwork can do for them.

Sincerely, Nicole



Upwork for Artists—A Review

All Business, But Having Fun

Freelance to Win
A website I found super helpful when starting out on Upwork. It goes into much more detail on some of the ideas I've only skimmed over here, and more.


Upwork for Artists - A Review

As I outlined in my previous post, I first started freelancing almost two years ago. I didn't know what I was doing. One of the first things I did when I was trying to find jobs was what many others might do in my situation—I turned to Google. I did a web search for "freelance jobs," and that is how I found Upwork.

Upwork is a website where many companies and individuals from around the world find freelancers for their various jobs. The idea is that they post a description of what they need done, and freelancers can then bid on them by submitting their rate, cover letter, and portfolio, where applicable. The company chooses whom to hire from the submitted proposals.

Upwork was a lifesaver for me as I was starting out. When life happened, and circumstances forced me to finally commit to working from home, I had no idea where to begin—hence the googling.

There are definitely pros and cons to Upwork, especially as it pertains to work in creative fields, such as graphic design and illustration. I want to share how my experience has been so far, in the hopes that it will help other artists who are deciding whether to use Upwork as well.


The Pros

Pro #1: Upwork is a good option for beginners.

So many jobs are posted on Upwork constantly, all with a huge variety of tasks, scopes, experience levels, etc. The jobs range from those that are small and quick to larger long-term projects. At first, I eased myself in with smaller jobs. The great thing about the site (and being a freelancer) is that you can pick and choose what jobs you apply to and accept. Once you are hired, you can use these jobs as an opportunity to develop experience with real-world design work and following client briefs and technical specifications.

Pro #2: Upwork is one way to find regular clients.

Finding a good client can be a difficult task (read more about that under Con #1), but once you do, you could end up developing a relationship with steady work, which is crucial for success as a freelancer. I have a few clients myself that I have been working long-term with—some pretty regularly, and others coming back to me every once in a while.

The Cons

Con #1: You must weed through a lot of "bad" jobs and clients.

After you've set up your Upwork profile, the first step, of course, is to find a job.  You can search by keyword or category based on what you're interested in. Unfortunately, this is where you'll have to do a lot of browsing and analyzing to find the "good ones."

Here comes one of the major problems when finding creative jobs on Upwork. The "starving artist" is a popular cliché born out of the (IMO erroneous) idea that art is frivolous or easy, which causes many to devalue the work that goes into creating it. This makes it hard for artists to get paid fairly for their time and skill. This is SO apparent on Upwork. When I browse through the various listings, I am often shocked and disgusted by what some of these clients are asking for versus what they want to pay and how fast they want it done. Not only that, but you are competing with artists who will actually accept their terms.

Just as an example, I once took on a job to do 40 adult coloring book designs for—and I'm ashamed to admit it—a flat fee of $60. Forty full-page drawings for $60, as in $1.50 per page. This was such a mistake, and I don't even believe I ever did it. And I KNEW it was a mistake, but I rationalized it by saying to myself that I was doing it for fun and experience, so it was just a throwaway job anyway. There were so many red flags in the job description. Of course, there was the low, low budget. Not only that, but the client strictly refused to accept any higher bids, and you know why? Because they already had artists that were working at that rate, so they insisted it was typical pay for that amount of work (which, of course, is absolutely ridiculous, and a good example of how artists who compromise can hurt other artists—a discussion for another day). They promised consistent work and up to $30 a day if you could do 20 designs daily. First of all, who draws that fast? And second, who works all day to earn a whopping total of $30? Say it takes you a half an hour to do one drawing (and that's for sure underestimating by A LOT) that's 10 hours of work at $3 per hour. The drawings will be junk, because you rushed through them. Oh, and you give up all rights to the art (more on that under Con #2 below). So anyway... boy, was I stupid. Learn from my mistakes. Don't take jobs like this, even if you just want the experience. It's just not worth your time—you would be better off working on a personal project for your portfolio.

The sad thing is, though this example is extreme, it is difficult to find anyone on Upwork who is willing to pay over $25 a page for adult coloring designs, and most offer $5 to $15. And I've seen many, many other illustration and design jobs on Upwork that are equally sad. (For example, children's book illustration is another difficult field to find quality jobs on Upwork.) I can't say that I haven't compromised on rates since that awful experience (sometimes, you just need money, right?), but I've been slowly working up to a higher standard. I still have a long way to go before I'm a roaring success, but I've learned that with some searching, patience, and hard work, the good jobs eventually come through.

 Con #2: Jobs on Upwork are all work-for-hire by default.

According to Upwork's official terms (emphasis mine)...

"Upon Freelancer’s receipt of full payment from Client, the Work Product, including without limitation all Intellectual Property Rights in the Work Product, will be the sole and exclusive property of Client, and Client will be deemed to be the author thereof."

I'm no expert in these things (I'm an artist, not a lawyer.) but this part is important. The default contract for all Upwork jobs is categorized as work-for-hire, as in the client owns all work created for them during the course of your contract. So basically, you have NO rights to any of the designs that are created for that job. Make sure you understand that when going in. Even if all you want to do is use an image for your portfolio, it is best to get permission from the client. (I have had clients who did not want me to use designs in my portfolio, and others who have been fine with it.) But in the end, you don't even have the legal right to be credited for your work.

Con #3: Upwork has HIGH fees.

Upwork takes 20% of whatever you make up to the first $500 with a client, and then 10% beyond that, and 5% after $10,000. Ostensibly, this is to encourage the development of long-term client/freelancer relationships. But... TWENTY PERCENT! In my opinion, this is a HUGE chunk to take from the freelancer, especially when you're trying to get established. An illustration agent might hypothetically take a similar cut, and they're out there actively promoting your work, finding you jobs, and helping you handle all your business affairs. Upwork provides a nice service, but they're not an agent—you're still doing a lot of that work yourself—so their fee is definitely a big downside. In addition, Upwork has an optional subscription to access other features, such as more "connects" to apply to more jobs per month and viewing competitors' bid amounts, but I haven't found that is something I need.


After taking all of this into consideration, here is a summary of what I think artists and designers need to know before using Upwork:

1. Charge what you're worth.

Evaluate on a case-by-case basis, but keep your standards high. I've gradually increased my rate as I've gained more experience and positive feedback on my profile. Get as much information about the job from the client as possible so that you are able to make an accurate analysis of the work to be done. Try not to make too many compromises. Make it clear from the get-go what is included in your fee and what isn't (particularly regarding jobs with flat fees). And if the unexpected comes up after hire, don't be afraid to ask for additional payment if you feel it is justified.

2. Understand work-for-hire.

Know what you're getting into, and take it for what it's worth. Jumpstart your freelance career and gain experience, but don't expect to retain rights to the work you do on Upwork, and if you don't know what you can or can't do, just ask the client and refer to the Upwork's terms.

3. For creatives, Upwork is best used as a stepping stone.

Given the whole work-for-hire situation, the sea of mediocre job posts, and ridiculous fees, I find that for artists, Upwork is best used for building professional experience and for those jobs that are, let's face it, just paying the bills. That's not to say you can't find great jobs and awesome clients on Upwork—you definitely can!

I, myself, have made it a goal to start pursuing other avenues to find clients and work. I just don't think Upwork is ultimately going to lead me where I want to go. But that's just me.

In the end, it's all about taking a step and putting yourself out there. Just don't put all your eggs in one basket. Explore other options as well. While Upwork may not be the best choice for artists, it can be a worthwhile tool if you use it the right way.

Sincerely, Nicole

Disclaimer: Please recognize that this is just my personal experience, and the advice and opinions expressed here may not apply the same to those in different fields or circumstances. And although I discuss a few legal issues, I am by no means an expert in such things (not even close) so I would suggest referring to Upwork's official terms here



My Upwork Profile

All Business, But Having Fun

My Journey Into Freelance Design and Illustration