Looking for something fun to do during quarantine? Want your kids to learn history at home? Starting your family tree is an amazing, educational adventure that you can do from the comfort of your own living room. Since we're all staying indoors for a while, there's never been a better time to begin the challenge. Not too long ago, I released a sneaky peek at my own family tree design which I can't wait to get printed and hung up on my bedroom wall, just as soon as this pandemic has passed and life gets back to normal. In the meantime, I'm going to tell you how I started my tree — the free and easy way...
⟢ START WITH YOURSELF ⟣
Begin with yourself. The main points of interest when researching your tree include "vitals" (dates of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths). So, write out your full name, your date of birth, christening date (if applicable), any partners/spouses, your wedding date, any children and any divorces. Make sure you include where these events took place too! Do the same for your parents, fill out as much as you know — then your grandparents and you'll probably find yourself knowing less with each generation that steps back.
⟢ TALK TO YOUR ELDERS ⟣
If your parents/grandparents have passed away, then contact aunts or great-uncles to try and find out what they can remember about the past. REMEMBER: People may forget exact dates. So, if your older relatives are struggling to remember, ask questions like:
⟢ SIBLINGS ARE IMPORTANT ⟣
Collect as much as you can about the whole family. Brothers and sisters are so important to make note of because if your granddad was a middle or a younger child, knowing his older siblings' birth dates can help you work out when their parents were married. Their marriage record will then tell you their mother's maiden name and your search gets much, much easier! REMEMBER: If your ancestor has a very common name, like William Smith, going by his brother Bartholomew's records will keep you on the right track.
⟢ FINDING FREE RECORDS ⟣
For freebies, I personally use familysearch.org. If you're from my neck of the woods, you'll be happy to know that it has a big record collection for the North East of England. Create a free account and just start looking! REMEMBER: The county borders have changed over time, and you must write the county when you're searching on this website. Sunderland, for example, would be "Sunderland, Durham" and Newcastle is "Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland". If you're not sure, just search by county, like "Durham, England". Here, you can find vital records, censuses, military records, immigration records, church records, passenger lists on ships...
⟢ LEAVE WIGGLE ROOM ⟣
Back in the day, everything was recorded by hand. Typos and human error played a big part in record keeping, and not everything adds up perfectly. If you think your ancestor was born in 1925, try searching 1922 - 1928; just to be sure. Some records used to round up people's ages to the nearest 5. Be generous with spellings and nicknames too. I have the name Bollen in my family but it was sometimes spelled as Bullen, and Pallas was sometimes spelled as Palace. You might find Ann as Annie and John as Jack. Shorthand turns William into Wm. Here's a post on Victorian nicknames, it might help you figure out what your ancestor was called!
⟢ GETTING BACK TO 1911 ⟣
If you can get this far back, the adventure becomes even more incredible! There is a census going back every decade until 1841, and discovering the tales of your Victorian family members is mind-blowing and actually much simpler to do. You can see where they lived and unravel the mystery of what they did for a living, from street sweepers to looking-glass makers. Since many of those old job titles are no longer in use, they make no sense to our modern minds. So, here's a list explaining what's what.
⟢ ORDERING CERTIFICATES ⟣
To help you trace your ancestors, you can order vital certificates from the government for less than £10. While those little sums do add up, these certificates do well to answer a lot of questions. I have ordered a few over the years but only as a last resort, like when I've really hit a brick wall in my research. In my experience, they are definitely helpful and informative when needs must.
⟢ ANCESTRY'S FREE TRIAL ⟣
Ancestry UK is an amazing monthly membership, and while that can too be pricey, I would highly, highly recommend making use of the free trial during your self-isolation (just make sure to cancel it before you get charged)! Ancestry grants you access to a wealth of even more information than what you get through free records; it paints a much fuller picture of your family story. In fact, it allows you to see whether your ancestors were blind or deaf, you can see your relatives' own handwriting on some records and find out what they looked like (their eye colour, hair colour, height, and so on) through certain military records too!
Happy hunting, everyone! I hope this free guide helps you with your family history and I hope you all stay safe and healthy during this time. Thanks to Emma for this suggestion on Instagram! Please leave a like or comment, or share this with someone interested.
Over the weekend, I asked on Instagram which topic you would like to see me tackle in my next blog post and, overwhelmingly, you agreed with Olivia's suggestion: the pros and cons of freelancing and working for yourself. In this blog post, I can only speak from my own experiences and, naturally, everyone has a different point of view. Anyway, here is my take on working independently. Don't miss my Q&A with Aimee at the bottom!
⟢ HELLO, FREEDOM ⟣
Freedom is wonderful. Not being dictated to is the age-old teenage dream, right? You can eat when you want to, take breaks when you're bored, and break up your day with exercise or by running errands. Best of all, you can schedule your work around your life. Who says you can't see your loved ones when you would like to, or take time off if you're ill? You can even have an early finish if you really fancy it.
⟢ CREATIVE CONTROL ⟣
Not having a boss means that you decide what to work on. You can pick and choose which projects you want to do. In a creative field especially, having that free rein is amazingly liberating. Those decisions are yours to make and you don't have to get the okay from somebody above you... unless you're working with a client, then you should definitely make sure that you're both in agreement.
⟢ LIVING THE DREAM ⟣
Most people daydream about waking up everyday and doing what they love. For freelancers, that can be a reality if you are building a business around your passion. Even small victories will put you on cloud nine and have you feeling so empowered, and rightly so. Obviously, it's not all sunshine and roses, so we'll get to that bit now.
⟢ INCONSISTENT ⟣
Working for yourself can be really stressful and overwhelming at times, and it's hard not to take those setbacks personally. Some months are good, others are rubbish - especially in the beginning. My stakes are not as high as other small business owners and freelancers, I don't have a mortgage or children to provide for. Fortunately, my family are supportive and I'm good at saving my pennies, so I'm never down to my last one. Know that there's no shame in getting another job to pay the bills, if needs must.
⟢ IN THE DEEP END ⟣
Working solo can make you feel like you're in over your head. You are solely responsible for the upkeep and reputation of your business. Everything falls on your shoulders - customer service, social media management, re-stocking, tax returns... You can feel completely capable in one moment, and like everything is falling apart in the next (but maybe that's just me being dramatic?). Thanks to social media, you will probably feel inadequate at times - like you're not doing enough work or you're not reaching the potential customers you want to.
⟢ PEOPLE SURPRISE YOU ⟣
Some people can get a bit weird when you own a business or if you freelance. Customers might randomly cancel on you or challenge you on your prices. You might receive amazing support from some totally unexpected people, and perhaps you won't get the response that you hoped for from others. I've found that it's often easier to work with people who you don't already know, as they are more likely to deal with you professionally. My advice? Try to give your family and friends the same service you would give to any other customer and follow your usual procedure.
⟢ Q&A ⟣
I think a lot of artists I know don't really know how to value themselves and their work.
I think this comes from the fact that it's hard to feel legitimate when you first start out. You feel like you haven't yet reached the level of professionalism you aspire to but I think, as a creative at least, you're constantly evolving. So, it's best to just roll with it.
I'm really interested to know how do you determine pricing for your work?
For me, there are a few things to factor in, like time and material costs, meaning paper, pencils, paints, Adobe membership, if the work is digitally edited. There is also framing or packaging to consider, plus postal charges which are determined by the post office and not me. Original drawings have more worth than prints too, as do custom artworks.
How do you separate your work and personal time when at home?
I use a diary religiously. If I don't plan out time to relax, then I overwork myself. So, a to-do list is must-have for me. I really like getting out of the house on my full days off, just so I'm not tempted to do a little bit. Luckily, I have a good social life now.
Do you think it's balanced?
It's far better than it used to be. I've learned not to go about my work with this crazy sense of urgency that I think I developed as a student at university! It's taken a long time to unlearn my habits and get into a healthier groove. I still struggle to switch off though.
The best bit of advice that I can give you to take away from this is: have perspective. There is good and bad in every situation. If you're considering an independent career move, or if you're already a freelancer like me, then always trust your instincts and make the best possible decision that you can make at the time. I think self-employment tends to be a rocky road, but it is a rewarding one.
I was thrilled to have been invited to Employability Day this year. Flashback to November 2016, it has been three years since I attended Employability Day as a stressed-out student in my final year at University of Sunderland. So, I took it as a real compliment to be invited back to my old stomping ground. Only this time, the shoe was on the other foot.
Employability Day is a day full of networking and advice, created for BA students who are in their third year and MA students alike. Creative professionals, alumni and companies visit the university every year and offer their time and expertise to design students who are thinking ahead and wondering what their next steps should be. There is someone to cover every design discipline for the various courses studied at Sunderland, such as illustrators, graphic designers, fashion designers, animators and so forth. As they are all linked under the umbrella of design subjects, I had the pleasure of meeting students who were specialising in other fields.
I arrived to St. Peter's Campus in the chilly afternoon of the 11th of November where I had my own little booth tucked away in the Media Centre. It was a rather private area and I was delighted that so many students had booked appointments with me. One by one, they showed me their blossoming portfolios and each of them offered so much talent and potential. Better yet, they showcased a variety of styles, mediums and projects so no two looked the same.
We chatted in depth and in confidence. A few students really opened up to me about how they were feeling and I made sure to support and encourage them. After all, they are all such promising designers. I wish them all the very best of luck and I would love to support their journeys further during their final academic year. In the meantime, we have all connected on Instagram and I am looking forward to watch their portfolios grow even more.
Establishing an online presence is crucial these days. Every artist is expected to have their portfolio out in the open for the world to see, but how does anyone even find anything with so much being posted online? Well, last week, I thought it was time to learn about what SEO is and what I should be doing. As it turns it, it's all important stuff.
⟢ WHAT IS SEO? ⟣
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. That's a very technical term for how you get Google to like you. Google is programmed to determine whether your content is good or bad. A good SEO score means that anyone who is searching for you or for what you do is going to find your website quickly and easily.
Making your website SEO-friendly just means that more visitors will find your website. Imagine your website as a your shop and SEO as your shop front. Your shop might sell the best things in town but if your shop front needs a makeover, you're not going to get many visitors. Instead, you want a clean shop front which is easy to find, one that looks trustworthy and attractive to potential customers. If you keep polishing your sign and you put some pretty lights in the window, then Google will move your shop to a busier, better street in the city. That's what you want.
⟢ BECOMING SEO ⟣
Just like with hashtags on social media, it's really simple. Your content should include buzzwords and short phrases that are really relevant to what you do. These are called keywords. Unlike with hashtags, less is more.
See the image above? The Google preview should look familiar. Since this is what appears in the search results, it's crucial to get it right. The blue link is called a title tag, the green link is your website URL and the black text is your meta description. For your title tag and meta description, you need to use keywords to summarise everything you do in a few words. My green ticks mean that Google approves.
Keywords state who are you are, e.g. "illustrator". "portrait artist", where you are based, e.g. "North East", "Sunderland", and what you do, e.g. "private and commercial commissions". Your call-to-action is important too because it gives visitors a focus on what to do, e.g. "contact for a free quote". That's it. Just be clear, there's no need to dive into your CV just yet.
If you're like me and you're not into coding, and you've used a website builder to create your own website, then you're able to make every page and blog post SEO-friendly. I use Weebly but there's also Wix, WordPress and Squarespace to name a few and apparently they're all quite similar. With Weebly, you can make your pages SEO-friendly by going through your Blog Editor, into each page and into SEO Settings.
See the image above? Up until last week, everything on the left was blank. I didn't understand what information was supposed to go where and how much of it. But by following the pattern of the Google preview in the last image, you can edit your blue title tag link, your green page URL link and your black text meta description here. You also have meta keywords which are essentially just your hashtags. Whereas, last time I was writing for my website as a whole, this page is for a specific project in my portfolio. So, your descriptions change each and every time to suit the page or blog post.
⟢ TIPS & TRICKS ⟣
Improving your SEO score further can be tricky. Some website builders are better programmed than others for certain aspects of SEO-friendliness. Some things you can't just re-code yourself if you haven't got a clue what you're doing. But here are some easy things you can do to start improving your online presence.
A short custom domain name
If you're ready to buy your own domain name, that's great. Google approves. Google also thinks that the longer you have your domain name registered and renewed, the more trustworthy you are. Keep your online address short and sweet so people can remember how to find you.
Alt text on images
All of your images should have alt text descriptions for two reasons. Number one, computers can't see and they rely on text to decide what is good and bad. Missing descriptions mean that your images might as well be invisible to Google. That's bad, especially if you are an artist or your work is mostly visual. Number two, visually impaired visitors to your website rely on alt text for the context of images. Keep your descriptions to 150 characters maximum, including spaces.
Font size legibility
Make sure that your website's text is big enough to read on all devices. That's pretty self-explanatory. Your headers and titles should be bigger than your body text. Large text is trendy at the moment at about 16px but as long as it's comfortable to read, Google approves.
Use a contact form on your website. Don't type out your business email address and certainly don't publish your personal one. This encourages spam and Google is not a fan. I didn't know this, so I had an angry red cross for sharing my business email before switching to a contact form.
Link up the holy trinity of social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to your website. If you don't have accounts on these platforms, consider signing up. Google and potential customers alike want businesses to brand themselves and engaging in social media marketing.
It's good to give credit where credit is due. Google wants to see you linking your website to other websites and vice versa. So, if anyone was to read this blog post and then link my website to their own, we would both be better off. The more links you build up over time, the more your online reach grows and the more your SEO score improves.
So, there you have it. I'm brand new to all of this too but I'm already seeing a rise in visitors to my website. If you're interested in finding out how I discovered out my SEO score for free, please leave a comment below. Let me know if you want me to share how I monitor my web traffic or if you'd like to see another post about SEO in the future. Be sure to hit like down below if you found this helpful and follow me on social media for regular art updates.
Returning to my former studio to deliver a presentation to the Illustration and Design undergraduates was so nostalgic. This was my third time doing so at University of Sunderland. I first showcased my portfolio to the first year undergraduates while still a student myself in 2016. Then again, in 2017, I returned to chat to the second and third years. Only a few months had passed since my own graduation ceremony, so putting myself into their shoes was near effortless as the memories remained fresh. A year on, the time had come again. Now, however, I felt myself returning with more professionalism and experience under my belt. Instead of just imagining what could be after higher education, I actually had some things to report.
My university tutors and mentors urged me to share these post-grad experiences with those now in their final year of the course. I prepared a formal presentation that I delivered before opening up an informal Q&A. The students gathered to look through my university portfolio and previous sketchbooks; seeing my creative progression from first year to third year. I gained uplifting feedback from students who told me that my talk was helpful and reassuring. A few connected with me on social media too. I was able to get involved with portfolio critiques and see where they were up to with their latest projects, offering my advice during the studio session which followed. I am happy to say that I have been invited back for future talks.
This is Hannah's up-to-date blog. Hear all about her art news, latest projects and recommendations here first.
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