Freelance: It’s a living. An interview with Cristian S. Aluas

We all have been there: sitting in front of a computer in a small office, wondering what is the true meaning of life? What are we doing selling health insurance plans when we have a master’s degree in Art History? We know every piece of artwork has a story to tell, and yet, here we are, listening to a wacky lady talking about her cat’s asthma issues. Wheezing and treatments. What is the meaning of life, seriously? Why aren´t we self-employed and start our careers as entrepreneurs? Why do tomatoes turn red?

Ok, let’s be honest. Maybe we all haven´t been there. But sure, it is difficult for most new artists to make a living, especially if they are freelancer virtuosos. Is not easy to survive in a competitive world. We have to choose: do we keep listening to the cat’s asthma drama or do we learn to value ourselves and start showing our unique entrepreneurial profiles to get some coins?

I think I will stick to Cristian Aluas’ book: “It’s a living”. Cristian is a Romania-born Canadian artist who has been working as a professional artist and art teacher. He has recently written a book about his experience as a freelance artist. He documents the link between self-employment and art ( you can buy his book in Amazon or you can follow his Instagram account @masterpieceartschool). In Teresa Magazine we want to know more about the face behind the book, so we have decided to have a little talk with him to learn more about his non-staff world and his career.

1. Thank you, Cristian for this interview. It is a pleasure to talk with you. So, let’s start from the very beginning: Could you introduce yourself and what do you do?
Thank you for Marshiari for the opportunity to share my story and hopefully inspire your Teresa Mazagine readers. I was born in Romania and grew up in Canada. I spent most of my life there and the first ten years of my career. Then I moved to the US, living in Las Vegas for three years and now living in Upper Manhattan, NYC. I’m a professional artist and writer and have been freelancing online and in person for all of my 18 year career. I’ve also owned two small businesses, including an art school.

2. What did inspire you to become an artist?
I don’t want to spoil the ending of my book but in the last chapter, I write about this. Essentially, my father always wanted to be an artist and never was. I feel that each individual is comprised of the unfulfilled wishes of your parents. So that’s the deeper answer. The more practical answer is that somehow this is all that I was good for. I went to an arts high school, in College, I studied Animation, and in University I majored in Creative Writing and took fine art courses. It was either I was going to do art as a hobby or full-time. I chose full-time. It was a question of how I wanted to be remembered. And I didn’t want to be remembered as a guy that cooked and served hamburgers. With an art dregree, you can’t really get any good jobs. It’s a pretty useless degree. Most employers would not count it and they’d have to train you to do something else. Anyway, I figured that because of my life-long interest in art and my schooling, I should do this. I could have also worked in the animation industry but for some reason that I did not know then, I wanted to work for myself. Basically, I didn’t want to be in an assembly line; I wanted to be the main artist.

3. What was the first piece of art you ever created?
I don’t remember the first piece of art I ever created but I remember a few of my early drawings. Just cartoon things. I was a kid. I can share an interesting story though. When I became professional, I threw out all my sketchbooks and my art before the age of 23. I thought, “I don’t want to be remembered for anything I created before becoming professional.” Very foolish, I know. So I threw boxes and boxes out in the garbage. 12 years alter, well into my career, a man called me. He said he bought some of my sketchbooks at a flea market. Apparently, someone found my sketchbooks in the garbage years ago and decided to keep some of them and sell them. The gentleman actually wanted to trade my sketchbooks for free drawings but I didn’t want to work for free and be blackmailed. I did eventually get him to send me a couple of drawings I did when I was sixteen, of my father and grandfather. The rest, I don’t know exactly what he had. I hope he did not have my journals and my personal writing.

4. What is the biggest difficulty or obstacle you have faced during your career as a freelancer?
To be honest, it’s money. There’s only so much you can make. So many hours in a day and only so much you can charge per task. It’s always a challenge of finding better paying clients and working faster and at the same high level. That’s really the challenge. And still give yourself time. Life is short. As much as I promote work and self-fulfilment, the most fulfilling thing is having time to yourself. Lately, with the quarantine, I look forward to the weekends. Journaling, going for a long walk in the park, sitting reading a good book, and puffing on a Cuban cigar. I really enjoy the little things. I think these times rejuvinate me for the freelancing week. I keep a tight schedule which doesn’t stress me at all. I also aleviate some of the challenges of freelancing by developing my own content which I can resell. For example, I have online art courses, online designs that I sell on a variety of merchandise, and my graphic novels and my book, of course. So those extra things bring residual income. They also take time out of my day to promote but I love it more because these are my babies, not just work for hire.

5. What do you find most inspiring about making art?
I gotta say that I love making art for clients, as much as I love making art for myself. Although the art for me is often a more satisfying investment. I find satisfaction in helping people realize their creative ambitions. When I make art for me, it’s something special. My favourite is to make art spontaneously. I just let the feelings well up in my soul and then I choose the day I’m ready and I take some paper or a canvas and I let the magic happen. I let my soul spill out onto the page. Often it’s something deep that only I know the meaning of, like a dream. It’s open to interpretation for the viewer and for me I guess it’s somewhat open too because by looking at it after, I learn things about myself and the craft of making art. I guess, it’s the learning and the growing as an artist that I love the most. It’s a shame that in this life we’re on a countdown but we’re lucky, as artists, that with our art we’re able to stop time. At least slow down our thinking and forget that the clock is ticking.

6. Why did you decide to write a book about freelancing and art?
I love writing. And I love life. I wanted to share my experiences and in the process offer some helpful tips for artists that may follow a similar course. Everybody loves art. I’m part of a few Facebook groups. People love to share their drawings, their paintings. There are blogs and forums, fan sites, for writers too. The diference between some and others is that the fewest number of people are ones that can make the biggest sacrifices to do what they are destined to do. I want people to come to terms with who they are. That’s the journey that I’m on too. To unveil the absolute greatest potential in myself. Maybe it sounds hokey. But it’s true. That’s the journey I’m on. And you don’t have to be an artist if you don’t want to either. If you want to do it as a hobby, that’s fine. Especially, after you see what I went through. But at least, you can see what it’s like to be just a regular artist, plugging along, just making a decent living at his trade, but enjoying it. Making the best of it each day. The book is about satisfaction with ourselves as well. There are flaws in it. It’s my first non-fiction, after all, but the more I think about it too the more I really think I have something special here. Mostly because my message is genuine.

7. This might sound odd but: What is your favorite quote from your book and why?
There are two quotes from IT’S A LIVING that come to mind. One is a short one by Nietzsche. “If you have a why to live, you can bear with any how.” That’s what freelancing is all about. Each day you gotta motivate yourself to meet your daily goals that lead you toward long-term completed projects and accomplishments. And the line proves how resilient we are as human beings. The other quote is a longer one by the Chinese businessman Jack Ma. Basically, he talks about the different stages of life. It’s half a page in my book. He says when you’re young, you can afford to make mistakes. When you’re in your 20s and 30s, apprentice basically and decide if you want to be in business for yourself. By 40, focus only on what you’re good at. He says that trying new things can work but the rate of failing is too great. So do what you’re good at. Then, 50’s, work for the young people. They know better, according to him. Help them, help society. Then when you’re in your 60s, 70s, et cetera, relax on the beach. You’ve earned it. That’s kind of the gist. I love that quote. I feel like it’s true. And as people, we should always have a big picture. Think ahead, always.

8. Why would you recommend our readers to get your book and read it?
Because it’s good! It’s written by a visual artist that’s as much a writer. I’m a poet too. I think the last chapters, you really see that. I mean, I have a poem in there but also in the pacing of the text. The language. I really tried to offer value, in the sales techniques which are prominent in the Freelancing Online and Dealing with Clients chapters, and I have a lot of fascinating anecdotes that I think Teresa Magazine readers will enjoy. I see you guys have everything, from poetry to prose, to fine art. I think your readers are inteligent, based on the art tastes I see. And I’m looking for intelligent readers. I need to be challenged. I need to feel like my readers are smarter than me, they just don’t know what I know. So I’m sharing my info and passion and with that new knowledge, I’m sure they’re gonna make the most of it. Enjoyment and learning. If they feel they got a little of both and are entertained, I’m happy.

9. The COVID pandemic might change the way people work. We think freelance jobs are gonna be the future. What are your thoughts about it? Will art survive this post-pandemic world?
Wow! This is a big question. I’ve worked with a huge art collector in NYC and since most high end collectors bid anonymously over the phone anyway, that won’t be affected. People will retreat into private life and they will still want to have amazing art on their walls. People, including myself, still buy books online, on Amazon, eBay, etc. Most everything is delivered. I did a painting commission recently. I ordered the canvases. Delivered the artworks. Easy. Freelancing has been a big thing since I started in the early 2000s so I’m sure it’ll continue with COVID now. The next generation was already moving their lives to online. I think there may be some anxiety and depression problems for this generation but if you get my book, you can make an effort to safeguard for that with a healthy and balanced social and work lifestyle. You like how I turned that around to the book? Half joking but I do believe in it. In IT’S A LIVING, I start off by listing statistics about freelancing online and how it’s been growing in the past few years. Over 57 million Americans freelance. I’m more experienced now and am the older Gen X but the Gen Zeds and the Millenials and younger are all big into it. And more easily in some ways. I think with a formal business strategy, as I implement, really, you can make a great and satisfying living as a freelancer, on your own terms. Plus, although you can travel and work from anywhere, with the pandemic, it forces people to settle down somewhere, be happy with their family and their community and make the most of it. You can also grow and expand your community and patrons online. So the sky is the limit. Thank you COVID!

10. Can you share a few positive words to our readers?
Definitely! Each artist, writer, filmmaker, creative entrepreneur, or freelancer in general, you have so much at your disposal, it’s amazing! Be thankful! Make the most of today. Work. Regiment yourself. Be healthy. Don’t waste time with distractions that don’t help your goals. And most of all, write down your goals and hold yourself accountable. I myself am in the process of writing a new personal plan. I’m about one year away from my five year plan and planning the next phase of my life. I write business plans and personal plans, and I break them down to small individual tasks. I take them very seriously and I really believe that I will attain them because at this point I trust myself so much. I love myself. Not in an egotistical way. Like, I’m a good person. I’ve worked very hard in the past four years especially, in the process of writing this book too, to come to terms with all aspects of my life. I still have work. I have some anxiety. But am meditating and it’s gotten better, once I realized that’s what it was. Any, I’m hopeful. You stay hopeful too. But take your goals seriously. Don’t make wishes. There’s a difference. Set goals. And visualize them. Once you get there, enjoy them and dream further. We can’t go back. There’s only forward. And the importance of what you do now.

11.Thank you!
And thank you, Marshiari!


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