Gracia Lam was living a creative paradox. Being a world-renowned illustrator, her work circulated in the likes of The New York Times, Medium.com and The Walrus. She won multiple awards. Her success bred exposure, but personally, she felt isolated.
She described this as a common feeling amongst illustrators.
“If we have questions we go online and ask our friends. We never see our clients,” she said. “I didn’t have to talk to anyone for weeks at a time.”
A recent collaboration with fellow OCAD alumni Hugh Langis and Kassem Ahmed changed this. Langis and Ahmed were creatives themselves, operating as co-founders of Half/Hunter, a digital design and branding shop. They were seeing that across their networks of creative freelancers, common business concerns kept arising. They partnered with Lam to address them under the brand Good Gorilla.
“We wanted to focus on building a community of freelancers: Illustrators, designers, photographers, filmmakers,” said Langis. “Everyone can relate to each other when they’re experiencing (similar) challenges with clients.”
From their office in the iconic artist hub of 401 Richmond, they began hosting game nights that would bring together likeminded people. Game nights turned into discussions, and they formalized a monthly series focusing on topics ranging from self-promotion to how to make margins and invoice clients. As their community grew, they were transparent about plans to open a co-working space, inviting the groups to feed into how the space would look, feel and cost.
This past April, the trio moved downstairs and opened their doors to The Station. From there, they continued adding to their event series, offering still life drawing sessions, artist critiques and free days to trial the space.
The result: People began leaving their comfort zones, forcing themselves to be better through peer feedback. “You see what other people are doing to grow their business and there’s a sense of urgency to be at that level,” said Langis.
Lam’s illustration community, for example, began workshopping solutions to protect freelancers in an industry with tightening client purse strings, but an ongoing demand for their product.
“You don’t realize it until you start having physical people around you in a community and seeing familiar faces and having actual conversations that the isolating freelancer lifestyle is pretty detrimental,” said Lam.
As The Station grows, the founders are using online channels to attract members. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts showcase events and benefits of membership, and their site encourages people to take a tour. The team also creates flyers for the building, and uses meetup.com to bring footfall.
Online channels won’t replace face-to-face communication, however.
“It’s just not the same,” said Lam, who after seven years of working solo, now collaborates daily with fellow freelancers. “You can talk to so many different people online (but) the tactical and visceral feeling is still not there.”
The next Good Gorilla event will be hosted at The Station on January 9, 2017. The topic is money and finance. You’ll find details here.
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