Get to know freelance illustrator and designer Hayden Davis. Based in New York City, Hayden is taking full advantage of the flexibility of his schedule and designing a life that’s perfectly suited for him. Get inspired by his colorful and playful office space and see what a typical workday looks like for him!
Where do you work? Tell us about your space(s).
As a freelance designer/illustrator, I have the pleasure of working out of my apartment in Harlem, New York. I have a large (always messy) wooden desk in an open space where everything I need is within arms reach: be it my favorite paint markers, my computer tablet, planks of wood, a collection of random dice, or something from my collection of ephemera. Simply put, it’s a flat surface to physically work through my ideas on. My workspace must have access to a variety of pens and markers, my daily planner, two plants, a scanner, and a variety of different scraps of paper. My desk is steps away from my bedroom. It’s a cozy space with good natural light. My room is littered with books and plants that bask in the warm sunlight.
I prefer working from home because I am able to manage multiple projects at one time, and I can easily transition from work into my personal life. It’s a nice home base where I can safely sort through the different facets of freelance life and have easy access to most anything I need (including my bed for a power nap). That safety creates a comfortable, calm energy that fosters my best work. It’s also a secluded place where no one can hear me sing along with my endless playlists of pop music.
What hardware and software do you use to create your designs?
I took a graphic design class in middle school where I learned Photoshop. In college, I learned how to use the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite and now use it almost exclusively. I tend to do more technical illustrations and vector-based typography in Illustrator, page layouts for zines or client presentations in InDesign, and everything else dealing with color and texture in Photoshop. I still think making the “real thing” beats defaulting to digital. I often will take textures, lettering, or sketches I’ve created in a physical form and implement them into my final digital designs.
Since my desk is covered in colored pencils, paint pens, piles of paper, and glue sticks, I am constantly reminded to keep my mind open to the many possible visual forms a project could take. I feel like utilizing a variety of materials in my work can bring a distinctive voice to each solution. So, I do a wide exploration and curate the best components then develop those ideas further. My style is all about accepting and celebrating the quirks, hiccups, and happy accidents that happen from making things by hand. I have always felt most comfortable working with my hands, so I love using that as a starting place as I explore the possibilities of each artistic endeavor.
Tell us about your routine (or lack of one.) How do you structure your days to get things done?
I’ve never done well with a set schedule. I like to plan, but I always roll with the punches. The flexibility of my freelance schedule is its most redeeming quality. I am not a morning person, so my mornings usually move pretty slowly. I’ve set my alarm to go off at 9:00 am each morning. Waking up at a regular time makes my body feel better. I get on my phone as I gradually get up, moving to my desk where I put on some music, check emails, make checklists, and work on projects. I usually have 1-2 days a week where I scan and digitally upload all the things I have physically created so I can implement them in projects on my computer.
Working from home gives me the flexibility to take breathers away from a stressful problem, and allows me to work on personal projects while I wait for clients to respond. I fully believe in the power of personal projects to rejuvenate creativity, develop new skills, and cultivate individual artistry. When I was working full time I didn’t have the time or energy to work on anything in my spare time, so I take advantage of this structure to ensure a feeling of creative fulfillment that comes from working on something that is purely made for the love of making.
I’ve worked to add scheduled parts to my life that help create some kind of structure. I teach art classes, paint monograms part-time, attend regular social events, and go to a monthly figure drawing class. This freelance schedule keeps me productive but also allows me to leave and meet a friend for lunch if I choose, or even allow me to work on a project all night if needed. I often start working before getting ready for the day, so showering and getting changed ends up getting postponed until the moment before I go out to meet friends for dinner. I aim to be in bed before midnight but usually end up drifting off around 1:30 am. I’ll force myself to go to bed but usually can’t calm my mind as quickly as I try to calm my body. My mind will continue chugging along at full steam as I lie in bed so some of my best ideas come as I drift off. I keep a notepad and pen on the bedside table to scribble anything noteworthy down before I forget it.
I am a complete night owl. I seem to be the most motivated and productive at 11:00 pm. There’s some kind of magical freedom in the night. After the sun goes down, the possibilities feel endless and time seems to slow down a bit. Even on nights when I know I have to get up early the next morning, I’ll remember something I meant to do as I am brushing my teeth before bed. I then get distracted trying to complete whatever the task is, and when 2:00 am rolls around I remember I was supposed to go to bed hours before. Luckily, my schedule lets me work as late as I want/need. If I’m on a roll working on a project, I can continue to work on it as late as I choose with as many sidetracks as I need and then rest the next day. Working nights is great for me, but there’s one thing that’s for sure: I am always more effective when I plan out my day. When I take the time to organize my schedule, even if it’s just blocking out the things I need to do the next day, I seem to be more productive, more focused, and just plain happier.
How do your space, tools, and habits benefit you? What about those things do you think needs improvement?
I’ve always been a collector. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always collected a wide assortment of things. As I grew up, I recognized I would bring things home that inspired me or reminded me of places I had been, and I’d use them to adorn my personal space. As an ISFJ (my Myers Briggs Myers Briggs personality type), my mind works to connect dots and look for patterns. I find that looking at collections can be very informative, be it a collection of pages in a sketchbook, liked photos on Instagram, or even our Facebook profiles. I try really hard to collect, capture, and document everything in my life. Gluing tickets in my sketchbook, drawing comics in my journal, recording quotes that move me; anything to capture what inspires me.
When I can mentally digest what it is that I do in each aspect of my life, I can more easily identify the meaning and motivation behind my actions. On the days when I need a pick me up, I pour over these collections and records and feed off the memories and new ideas they inspire. Looking over these collections with new eyes and a new perspective help me inspire new, better actions. Hindsight is 20/20, so when I look back through these archives I’m better able to see my strengths, understand my individual voice, and reflect on the most valuable moments of my life. Revaluating those events helps me implement habits that address those revelations and better foster a creative life.
For example, a few years ago I came to terms with being described as cute. As a twenty-something-year-old man, the word “cute” never really sat well with me. After hearing it from so many people, I finally decided to surrender to it. One day I filled an entire page of my sketchbook with as many cute typographic explorations of the letters “C-U-T-E” as I could think of. I remember loving what I did and feeling like I had discovered a real strength that I had always shied away from. Each time I look back at that page, I remember the commitment I made to myself to lean into my style; to really embrace that ‘cuteness’ and to let my style be just that—my own. It’s a constant reminder to me to offer authenticity and honesty in every part of my life, and I hope that this authenticity is reflected in the art I create.
When I first moved to New York City after college, I lived in a small space. I shared a bedroom in an apartment that was already furnished with a hodgepodge of used furniture left behind by the interns who lived there before me. I didn’t have anything to contribute to the apartment, but there wasn’t free space available for anything new anyway. Two years later, I moved into a new apartment with a friend who agreed to let me make the space my own. So, I started to decorate by spreading out objects around the apartment that resonated with me. Now my space is filled to the brim with things that I love, things that inspire me, and things that collectively feel like ‘home’.
Since I created a place that reflects my interests, my style, and my personality, I’m surrounded by organic textures—potted plants, woven linens, wooden fixtures, etc. Plants teach me about patience, and they help keep me grounded while simultaneously bringing me hope. My space is cute and comfortable. It’s neat but playful. My work reflects that. Most people paint their workspace their favorite color. However, I can’t ever seem to decide on a favorite color. I prefer them all together. I think each color’s voice is heard best when it is placed next to another one it can talk to. My space is sprinkled with different colors all talking and giggling with each other.
I’m lucky to have my work life and home life blend together well in a space that serves both. A place I can call mine. A place I call home.