One of the cliches around freelancing is that it gives you the chance to be your own boss – you can do what you want, how you want, when you want. But the flipside is that it can leave you feeling isolated and cut-off from the support of colleagues. It can also make it harder to attract well-paid gigs from larger clients, as you don’t have that support network around you.
The answer, in Ohh Deer’s case, was to form a collective. The benefit of uniting to form some kind of elite band of illustration-mad people is that there is strength in numbers. One person’s reach is increased tenfold when you pool all the resources available. The collective is able to do things each of us would struggle to do alone. Because we’re able to offer a far wider range of styles, there’s more chance of spreading our web. Ohh Deer deals with products primarily, but we’ve also worked on several group projects together, for clients like Universal Music, The Teenage Cancer Trust, Not Another Bill and Artichose.
The key to running a successful collective is that you need to be organised. Ohh Deer has a central core, which helps to keep everyone involved and the direction clear – without that, it’s difficult to sustain any momentum. If you’re a singular body, you also need to know who’s in charge. It might sound like a crazy dictatorial regime, but it’s necessary. Running the collective then becomes about maximising your time, and because there are a lot of us, projects can be shared if the workload is too much.
One of the drawbacks of being a collective is that we’re not all based in a single studio but scattered around the country with one of us on the other side of the globe, so we’re not able to sit and meet as much as we’d like. There’s an element of studio interactivity that’s lost when you’re sat at your desk alone; it’d be nice if we could critique each other’s work if needed.
I don’t think you need any experience to start up a collective. I didn’t have any successful projects under my belt or a black book full of useful contacts. I founded Ohh Deer during my year in industry studying architecture, and nearing the end of that job, I took the project to the next level pursuing it full-time. You need to be motivated and have your head screwed on, because you’ll learn more than you’ve ever learnt in a very small amount of time.