9th May 2012

The Importance of Self-Initiated Work

Self-initiated work is the stuff you create in your free time.

This is not the same as Spec work

(when a client asks you to work for free)

I’m firmly in the ‘No’ camp on that one.

However I’m a huge advocate of Self Initiated projects.


There’s no client, no brief and no payment.

So why bother?


Because the stuff you don’t get paid for, leads to the stuff you do.


Here’s why self initiated work is a big part of my practice, some examples of the work I’ve created and some of the commissions they’ve lead to.




Work created in your own time is the perfect way to showcase a new style or idea.

Clients need to see examples of what’s on offer.

Saying you have a new technique up your sleeve isn’t good enough.

You need to show them.

A small sample piece in a new style helps entice clients to commission more of the same.


PSYBT Annual Report


Self Initiated project: LOVE typography

Client: PSYBT, annual report




Stuck in a rut of repetitive jobs?

Quit moaning and do something about it.

A monotonous portfolio tells clients you’re a one trick pony.

Whilst you might be a safe bet for specific tasks,

they’re unlikely to take a punt and commission you for something apparently out with your comfort zone.

Chuck in a few curveball pieces and they’ll suddenly see you in a whole new light.

If you’re folio is full of flowers, throw in some typography and architecture…

Kapow! You’ve just increased your client base.


Fashion photography illustration

Cover artwork, Harper Collins


Self Initiated project: Fashion photography illustration.

Client: Harper Collins, ‘Die For Me’ cover artwork.


Free Reign


“I’m being limited by all these crap briefs”

is just a rubbish way of saying

“I’m a bit lazy”

Not every paid job is going to push your creative buttons,

but they do all end up in the bank.

If client work isn’t challenging you,

take the initiative and create some awesome new projects in your own time.

There’s no restrictions (or excuses) when you are the boss.


Time Management


Occasionally we have lulls between jobs or waiting for feedback.

Don’t twiddle your thumbs.

Exploit these quiet periods and use them to work up some new folio pieces.

It keeps you in the creative mindset and avoids a stuttered work flow.


Susan Boyle album cover for Sony Music


Self Initiated project: Bella

Client: Sony Music, Susan Boyle album artwork


Profile Raisers


Sparse commission schedule?

Don’t panic.

Create some cool new pieces.

Stick them on your website, Behance, Twitter, Facebook.

Submit to design blogs.

Send out a showcase newsletter to existing and prospective clients.

Don’t be defeatist, take active steps to raise your profile and bag that next job

Or in my case, a book deal!


Edinburgh Fringe

The Famous Grouse

Smart Car


Self Initiated project: TwitterPicture

Client: The Edinburgh Fringe, 2010 Programme covers

Client: The Famous Grouse, custom drawn statue and artwork

Client: Smart Car, hand penned car of the future.


Dream Clients


Sometimes a mailer and cover letter just isn’t enough.

You need to pull out the big guns and go bespoke.

Show a prospective client that you value their business.

Invest your own time up front and do something amazing to capture their imagination,

show off your skills and demonstrate your passion to work for them.

Creative Review

Monkey Puzzle for Creative Review


Self Initiated project: Creative Review custom cover

Client: Creative Review, Monkey Puzzle Tree


Starbucks Cups

Vigo Street Wallpaper for Starbucks

Vigo street Starbucks

Self Initiated project: Inky Starbucks Cups

Client: Starbucks, Vigo Street artwork.


Forget advertising, subscription folio sites and agents.

Self Initiated work is my most powerful marketing tool.



Inky Emails From

Download a FREE colouring book

when you sign up!