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Work-Life Balance as a Freelancer: With Multidisciplinary Artist, Mia Penaloza

Estimated reading time ~ 7 min
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As the creative lens becomes widespread across the internet, we’ve watched the expansion of art broaden to a wide variety of expression and what people label as “art.” Not only are modern artists painters, illustrators, and photographers, but they are also graphic designers, brand strategists, and content creators. Interest in the art and design industry has become more popularized and artists continue to become more versed in a myriad of art forms in order to stay afloat in a competitive industry. We live in a world where art has become a multifaceted conglomerate filled with more than what we have classified as contemporary artistry in the past. In an everchanging ecosystem of creativity, it’s important to stay on a consistent path as a student in the game. Visual design artist, Mia Penaloza, exemplifies exactly what a multidisciplinary artist is, which is why her grind never stops when it comes to learning new skills and perfecting her crafts.

Growing up in Queens, New York, Mia has been inspired by her city upbringing and her artwork truly reflects her reality. Exploring her designs, you’ll find niche references to the MTA transit system, her love for the New York Knicks, and imagery that pays homage to her personal experiences being raised in the inner city. After taking a glance at her portfolio, you’ll see what it feels like to support a local bodega, to chase the Mister Softee ice cream truck, and why wearing Timberland construction boots during the winter is an NYC staple.

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Before exploring multiple streams of the creative industry, Mia took her talents to Parsons School of Design where she studied photography as her introduction to the arts.

“I went to college because my mom wanted me to go to college. She was like ‘as long as you go to school, you can choose whatever you want to get your degree in, but you have to get that degree.’ I decided that I wanted to study photography. In high school, I started photographing my friends and when the time came to choose what I wanted to do for school, naturally, I decided to do photography.”

Upon graduating, Mia began her journey as what she refers to as a “multidisciplinary artist,” learning new skills and building her portfolio in order to maintain a presence and find work in an extremely competitive field. It wasn’t easy at first, but after years of working freelance, part-timing at a camera shop, and taking on multiple visual design projects, Mia has solidified her vision and where she sees herself advancing in her career. The most important discipline you can have as an artist is practice. Years of practice have not only led Mia to become a better photographer, but she has also developed creative skills that have given her the ability to be adept in several forms of artistic techniques.

What is a multidisciplinary artist?

“The reason I refer to myself as a multidisciplinary artist is because I’m good at a lot of things that most people don’t know about. I can sew, my dad was a carpenter—so I know the basics of carpentry, for example. When I started pitching myself as an artist, it didn’t feel appropriate for me to just say that I was a photographer, or a graphic designer, or an illustrator. I didn’t feel like any of those single titles fully encompassed what I’m capable of. So to show that I can wear multiple hats, calling myself a multidisciplinary artist felt like it was most fitting.”

Amid the pandemic, creatives are finding new ways to earn income, which has also applied an extreme level of pressure to the creative community. Content is the key ingredient to the social stratosphere in this post-pandemic era and the demand for creative content appears to be higher than ever. Consumers are dramatically increasing their media consumption and studies say that this has led to a 60% increase in the amount of content consumed globally. This means two things, that there is a higher demand for content creators and a need for those creators to be well-versed in multiple capabilities. The expectation is not only for content creators to design but to also implement strategy, and create copy. “I always feel like I’m not doing enough,” says Mia. A common sentiment of content creators, especially in the wake of COVID-19. In these circumstances, it’s common for these levels of workload to create creative fatigue and burnout, which is why it’s important for artists to feel empowered to set boundaries on work and fulfilling their financial needs.

“I had to learn that if I’m taking a day off, it’s MY day off. No one’s going to die if I don’t finish this illustration within the hour, ” says Mia. A rare feat, in a world where this type of work ethic has been glorified and normalized. Not only has it become more difficult for creatives to rest during these times, but—especially for women of color—breaks seldom exist in this world.

As a woman of color in this predominantly white space, it’s been super important for Mia to make sure that her work is being recognized, that she is earning opportunities to work on meaningful projects, and that she is being valued for the work that she is doing. “In photography and any creative opportunities, we have to make sure that space is being made for Black, Latinx, and POC professionals that actually know what they’re doing.” Black and brown communities have been the victims of exploitation of their experiences for too long. Whether it’s creating art inspired by these spaces, taking photographs of POCs, and using the plight of these communities to create marketing campaigns—oftentimes, POC voices are being left out of the vision behind some of these projects. Artists like Mia are clear examples of the importance of integrating unique perspectives through art in order to appropriately build authenticity within the creative space.

Aside from dismantling stereotypes in the creative field, Mia continues to work and stand her ground as a Latinx female artist. Although she recognizes the clear diversity deficits in the industry, it hasn’t swayed her from her mission to create art inspired by her unique inventiveness. We spoke with Mia about the future of diverse art, her career growth, and how she balances self-employment and her personal life. Continue reading for an inside look at what freelance life looks like for this multi-talented, NYC-raised artist.

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Jopwell: How do you balance your workload and personal life while working on numerous projects at a time?

Mia: I definitely struggle with that. There are times where I’ll wake up and immediately start doing things. Sometimes I even forget to eat until like 4 pm because I’m so tapped in. There are times where I tell myself, ‘I’m just going to work through lunch’ and I’ll just try to finish whatever I’m working on so I can chill. But lately, it’s something that I’ve been trying to prioritize. In my current role, I’m working West Coast hours, so I’ve gotten a lot better at balancing everyday tasks. For me, it’s been helpful to let my friends know what I’m doing so I have people to hold me accountable and make sure I’m taking a walk or taking breaks in between tasks. Getting into a routine has definitely been helpful. I’ve been struggling with separating having multiple clients with having time to myself, but I know that I need to start prioritizing rest.

Jopwell: What keeps you pushing through in your craft to ensure that you are constantly building and getting the inspiration you need in order to keep creating?

Mia: Definitely building your own community is important. One of my best friends is a freelance writer. We constantly ask each other questions. We work together to make sure we are asking for the right rates, creating invoices properly, etc. I would say that the one thing I lacked was a mentor. I feel like that would’ve helped me so much. I needed someone very seasoned who I could go to for advice. It’s clear that our generation has very different jobs than our parents did, so I do look at freelance as a privilege. For me, it’s really about having that community where you’re able to learn from each other. When people ask me production questions, I’m usually reluctant to answer because you can google that information, but I’m always open to giving advice. I think it’s really important to lend a hand to those who are a part of the creative community and I feel especially inclined to give advice to fellow women of color pursuing creative careers. There is enough money and work to go around.

Jopwell: For people trying to transition into the freelance creative industry, what do you feel are helpful ways for them to do so?

Mia: It definitely helps to get a semi-stable job at first while you are freelancing. That’s been helpful in my career. I would advise people to have a job and start weeding into freelance slowly. I worked at a camera store for like 3 years. I think it’s okay to get a job like that and work on what you want to do. If you really love being an artist, a writer, a photographer, you will make enough time to do what you have to do. There’s this book called 10 Percent and it’s about dedicating 10 percent of your time and your life to something you really love so you can cultivate it into something that you can do full-time. Researching, reading, and putting in the work is the only way that you are going to be able to do freelance work. When you’re working hard, opportunities will come, but you have to stay active.

Jopwell: In what ways do you feel like design culture needs to shift to bring more diverse perspectives to the forefront?

Mia: Companies can do a better job of acknowledging when something has been created by a POC by really presenting the fact that this wasn’t created by a white designer. It’s not a secret that the design industry has been occupied by white male designers. Ultimately, it really comes down to what people are getting paid. There have definitely been times when I felt like I wasn’t getting paid enough. I feel like transparency is important. I think it’s important for white men in the industry to be open about what they’re getting paid and what the status quo is because it would really help people like me and designers of color to know what to ask for.

Oftentimes, we are left out of those conversations and I’ve been a victim of getting paid based on what I look like and not what I bring to the table. If you really want to be an ally, that’s how you can start. And whatever they’re getting paid, should be the industry standard. As a WOC, you really have to be your own hype man. I’ve had a friend disclose how much he was getting paid for a gig and I remember being like, “what! I would’ve never asked for that much.” That’s when I decided I needed to get to that level of security where I feel like I deserve that kind of money. When companies are saying that they value POC creatives, they need to actually show it with their respect and their money.

You can explore more of Mia's artwork here.

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