There is no finish line – The freelance life


Two business rolled into one


It’s been a while.

The last post I wrote here was at the end of September. We’d just came back from a summer in France and I met with the slightly inconvenient news that my full time job was cut.

This got me in decision making mode.

I had been attempting to become a Front-End developer.

I’m a determined person. I love to learn stuff, seriously, my modus-operandi is “never get bored” there’s just too much to learn. But there is a large dose of addiction and stubborness and very little strategy in this MO.

Conclusion: I burn out. I never see the finish line and suddenly I let things fall out of my hands.

I lose control between the learning and the doing. I take monumental detours but…

Do I?

Learning something like web development today makes me think of people in the trading floor at the Stock Exchange.

Fast, loud, exhausting.

The feeling of “striving” is not a nice one, and I felt like that for many months, like I had to learn everything in order to be taken seriously. I didn’t acknowledge what I learned, I just saw what I still had to learn. I spent several hundreds of dollars to learn from some of the people I consider very good in the field but somehow I was nowhere near my goal.

It’s a cliché and probably not very tasteful to say that losing my job might have been a good thing, but I think it was. It made me take everything I had learned up until that moment and just throw myself out there as a web person. I had not only learned how to make websites, I had learned how to customize WordPress themes, how to secure a site, how to fix responsiveness, plus a bunch of other things.

I realized that the most powerful thought I can have is “I will figure it out”. At one point, in the middle of a self-doubt episode, my husband asked me: has there been anything you haven’t been able to fix? Like a little kid that suddenly stops slobbering I said… actually no. There is always an answer, there is always someone that will be willing to help you. So I marched on.

What bothers me in this Women Learn to Code hype…

We are bombarded by information and we just take it. We are marching against powerful gusts of wind, only it’s text, video, tweets, updates, etc. and most of it is MARKETING.

“What you need to do to work from your couch!” “The one thing you need to know to get the freelance career of your dreams!” “How to get hired in tech with minimal tech skills”

Are these familiar?

Women are very easy to sell to, certainly, myself included, I bought a course to learn Genesis on a whim and it taught me nothing, not because it was a bad course. I didn’t approach it in a healthy way, in a curious way, I approached it with the feeling of “I must know how to do this or I won’t be able offer my services”.  This is why online courses are a goldmine, we are letting people plant desires in our minds that are not actually our initial desires.

I wanted to learn to build websites and the very initial reason, before the women learning code movement was established, was to “not depend on the developers at my job”, it then turned into “Maybe I would like to have a side business”, but as I looked for the tools to learn web development, I got caught up in the “glamourized” world of freelancing.

Fast forward from September 2014 to March 2015.

I am working as a freelancer, officially.  I kept my old employer as a client, with a better rate, less hours, more flexibility.

I started attending WordPress meetups. In the last one, a panel organized by WordPress Montreal, I met with two lovely people, ver active in the WordPress community and in other endeavors. After an initial meeting, they invited me to become a collaborator with their small agency. I like their approach. Their values match mine, it’s not a “make money like crazy” type of agency. They accepted my rates and that was that.  A design agency keeps sending me little jobs here and there, mostly coding newsletters, ah! the old days of nested tables!

I started my own marketing campaings by sending emails to people I’ve met in the past to let them know what I’m doing and what my services are. I’ve had some results with this but I haven’t been consistent.

Is this “the freelance life I’ve been dreaming of?”. Errr no. Of course I don’t complain, it just pains me to see people having a really hard time with chasing the dream and perpetuating disdain for the “cubicle life” because in reality, in the “cubicle life” there is often a finish line, it’s at 5:00 p.m. and then you do what you want with your life.

For the first time in many years I’m answering emails on Sunday and having a hard time sleeping because I have  skype calls (which are a phobia of mine – introverts problem) and when I sit down to do my financials my palms get sweaty. Right now, I’m in the red.

And it’s not because I’m not trying hard enough, or putting in the hours, although I might be crazy for trying to create two businesses at the same time, it’s because the reality of freelance life is like the reality of anything, you name it: you dream of having a baby and you only see lovely bundles of joy quitely sleeping in their baby carriages but you never see the 60 diapers per day, you see someone’s art practice in their beautiful illuminated studio but you have no idea how many hours were invested to create ONE thing. Reality is reality.

So all this to say that if you’re learning web development, design or trying to become a “creative” of some sort, it’s really important to step out of “striving” mode and to take it slowly. Taking into account what you already know and not focusing all the time in what you have to learn.

Side note

Today I finally transferred my first WordPress site from a local environment to a live server. I had been avoiding this since the beginning. I was so afraid of breaking something that I always did the unthinkable. Created the theme and then finish the site in my live server with a maintenance plugin in place.

The site that I transferred has a story: It was developed in Cuba, where there is no readily available internet. The people that developed it must have learned this with very scarce resources, try getting an internet connection once in a while to just read about WordPress. This website was basically transported in a USB key from Cuba to Montreal, where a friend of mine and of the developers bought a domain without knowing anything and so he bought it in GoDaddy. He thought he’d bought hosting but no, what he bought was a website builder inside GoDaddy.

When he asked for my help,  I was in the “enough of working for free” phase, I almost said no but I couldn’t bring myself to not helping him.

So he handed me this USB key that contains the work and portfolio of a stained slass artist from Cuba.

What is commonplace for most developers for me was like walking on a tight rope but I succeeded. I still have to fix the broken images and links but the site is on it’s little corner of the internet, the stained glass artist can now show his work globally and I feel good.

This is the type of things that make me keep going. Even when I’m in the red and I get a knot in my stomach every time I see another “How to make money doing what you love” headline.

My web services web site is Flux Gusto. I’m very easy going!

My hand drawn graphics and clipart are at my Etsy store.

And here, well, I’ll continue to ponder about the exciting world of website development!

What’s next on the list: Front-End Development


Links at the bottom to help you with focused reading.

If you follow Sara Soueidan on Twitter or anywhere, you might find that she provides the most in-depth tutorials about CSS shapes and SVG.

I have to admit I haven’t looked into SVG, mostly because the websites I’ve been working on rely more on photography than on illustration. The few icons we use are PNG’s and the sites themselves do not receive high amounts of traffic to justify investing the time in changing into SVG graphics.

However, every time I mark a tutorial as a Must Read, there is a risk of leaving it to linger for a year and when I finally get around to it, I’m way behind in my learning. So up next is diving into learning the basics of SVG and following some of Sara’s articles.

After that I really want to explore CSS shapes, even if they are not widely available yet.

One of my constant dreams is to create a zine or magazine but most online magazines are constrained by the box layout. A magazine with images needs a different spirit, that’s why I continue to buy them in print.

CSS Shapes might be my future joy.

Another update I need to apply to myself before it’s widely spread instead of desperately trying to learn it once it’s adopted by all browsers is The Grid Layout.

For this one, Rachel Andrews published the updated version of her book CSS Layouts. She has an accompanying website with handy examples.

I continue to plough through Neatly Polished’s WordPress course. There is a missing link there. I really need to look into some other resource to fully understand how to merge an HTML file with the starter theme we are building in class.

Last but not least, shifts in my current employment situation are gently forcing me to make decisions about what I want to do in terms of web development. Which skills need working on, which I can rely on. But most of all, what kind of work I want to do.

I recently bought the domain I will use for my freelance work. I’m so happy with it, the name can expand into different areas, it has the potential of becoming a brand of some sorts. It can cover all my creative projects. I’m in love with it and with the concept I’m developing.

It’s easy get lost in the amount of online classes there are, but if I must recommend one and if you don’t know anything about branding it’s Skillshare’s Non-Traditional Branding with Rich Greco. The class is 15 minutes (but you have to watch it several times). The first time around I thought you might go: What? but as I listened a second time and then a third time, you will learn how to lay the groundwork for creating a brand for anything. But be aware, you really need to listen to the videos several times and do the thinking!

I bought a new monitor. My MB air is killing my eyes and my neck. Can’t wait to get it!
Meanwhile, over in Je Suis Éclectique, there is an Instagram account being populated if you are somewhat art inclined.


Design your website: the diy approach

Designing your own website is really difficult. You are your own client, you know what you like but for some reason you are just never done!

If you do a site for client, you will normally have to work with their goals and your taste has nothing to do with it. You are there to make their vision possible.

I have a side project and I wanted to design a site for it, I wanted it to serve one purpose, I wanted to use it to learn a bunch of things on the way and I needed it to feel like home.

Some of my questions:

1. Should I hire a designer?

The answer was pretty obvious. I can’t afford one yet, plus I wanted to do the exercise myself.

2.  Should I go through my process to build my site?

I have a questionnaire, I have my layouts, I have my planning guide for clients, should I follow that?

3. Should I create my own graphics?

For the moment, my site is mostly text and watercolour illustrations which I photograph or scan. Unless I become fluent in illustrator, I don’t need custom graphics at this time.

4. Should I concern myself with branding? Do a branding exercise?

My side project is less of a business than a place to put my thoughts so, no, not at the moment.

5. Do I have a vision?

Short answer, No.

Ok, I know this goes against everything that we read about in web design but hear me out…

My brother-in-law is a woodworker, he and my sister have been married for 15 years and it was only last year that she had her kitchen cabinets finished. It’s the same with designers.

Any designer who sets out to design their own website will spend months if not years working at it, and when it’s almost ready they want to start over. So if you’re going the DIY route it won’t really help to have a vision set in stone.

So what did I do?

Here it goes:

  1. Pinterest:

Moodboards are helpful but I discovered that a Moodboard for your own design project takes time. You can’t sit an afternoon and pin images like crazy and draw a conclusion. My moodboard has been brewing for a while. I’m ashamed to say how long though. It started with bold Mexican colours, it ended with the subdued South-of-France tints.

  1. Design in the browser if you’re coding yourself.

Unless, of course you require lots of illustrations, you need a graphic for your header, you are planning on adding lots of font-icons or SVG etc. Maybe you might consider designing in photoshop, but what I have learned over the past year is that good typography can sometimes lift a design way more than graphics. It happens when we decorate our home as well, if we buy wall art we get tired of looking at it over the years. Of course it depends on your aesthetic and your taste, but I really recommend you design in the browser so you can get the feel of your site immediately.

  1. Do a quick style-tile or if you’re more ambitious, as you design build your style-guide, either way get your palette, fonts and buttons, straight quickly.  My style guide was a sticky on my mac, since I’m not into pre-processors yet and generated a Kuler color palette.

  2. If it’s your personal website and you are learning to code as you go, I strongly suggest you create a static site with the help of a static-site generator like Jekyll or Middleman. You will see all the pieces working together: creating templates, layouts, includes, modular code, git and github. I can’t recommend this enough.

  3. Use Github to keep track of the things you want to tweak, add or change using issues. I found this to be the ultimate to-do list. Forget Trello, Wunderlist et al.


(Actually use Github for everything! Even free hosting!)

  1. Document your process. Bookmark the tutorials that were useful, thank the people who wrote them, choose a reference site like the Mozilla Developer Network or any other of your choice and get comfortable using it so you speed up when you need help. Visiting Google search results makes you waste time, plus if you really want to understand how an element or property works, better to read the standard than to copy and paste code.

Lastly if you’re so inclined, write a blog post about the experience.

My side project is a website where I explore creativity from a different perspective, far, far away from the popular adage of “Do what you love (and then turn it into a job)”, I want to explore what is talent, artistic expression and creativity and what happens when you discover your one true creative outlet, how to protect it, how to hone it and how to be joyful in creating.

Designing the website was part of it. This is the current version which will certainly evolve.


 Do you design without considering yourself a designer? How do you go about it?

It’s Tea Time, Jekyll website finished.

This is  a cross post between my new website Je Suis Éclectique and Variable Skies.

There are wishes, some people want to call them goals, but I prefer wishes, they’re dreamier and not intimidating. These wishes are recurrent, they live deep down in your subconscious and they are fool-proof clues.

I was a web designer a long time ago. I wanted to refresh my skills and become a web developer. But the wish I kept verbalizing was: I want to build my website from scratch.

Every time I started to learn a new technology, I went back to: yes but I will build my website from scratch.

I started learning HTML5 and CSS3 again. Then I decided to take up on WordPress.

This blog was built off a free theme and I just fiddled with the CSS. Not my website.

In December 2013 I bookmarked a Github pages tutorial that appeared on 24 Ways. (It could use a little updating though).
At that time I didn’t even attempt to try it. I was too busy with WordPress, learning it and hating it.

Ashley Baxter has written about the importance of having a project when you want to learn something.
If you are going to learn to build websites, you need to have a project. A real one or it won’t work. (More so if you want to build an app lest you lose yourself in the million and one tutorials out there, your life will pass you by.)

Let me restate that: You need to have a project that you care about.

What did I build?

This year I discovered I could draw. It was an accident, I stumbled into it after years of wishing I could draw. Not only did I know how, I also discovered that drawing soothed my anxiety like nothing else.  In three months I went from drawing this to this.

This discovery pulled me away from web development for a while which was salutary.

Inspired by the colours of the south of France, I built a website about finding and pursuing your creative outlet and artistic expression. It’s not like all other creativity sites. This site is basically the foundation for a book I’m writing titled “The Someday Creative”.

It’s easy to go from inspiration to pollution, from collecting to hoarding, from intention to paralysis. I decided to create a simple site where I can be free to explore and maybe help other people in discovering where their creative outlet truly is.

The site in question is Je Suis Éclectique (I am eclectic). I chose that name because it’s really the way I conduct my life, even if everyone else is screaming focus! focus! I realized I’m not like that. Hence, this path to the font-end is illogical and has only the best bits that work for me.

So hop on to my little (ultra-fast) site and if you wish to plunge into your artistic expression fully and with abandon, leave your email in the blue-violet box. Only good stuff.

You can also follow my repository on Github and see my code.


Back on track.

I’m not going to be a freelance web developer. That was never my aim. I wanted to learn how to develop websites to have a part-time side gig. But I soon discovered that what I needed to learn was not what I wanted to learn.

Rounding up

*I love simple, fast, easy to read websites.
*I like websites that feel like someone’s home.
A WP site doesn’t feel like that. I visited many Jekyll sites. They were simple, mostly built by developers but later I discovered a few that taken their Jekyll sites further with lovely design.

That’s what appealed to me, something that works, something that weights very little and that allows people to read the content without a million sponsors and distracting widgets.

It made sense for me to focus on that simplicity.

The Tools:

*Github Pages offer free hosting. They allow only HTML, CSS and JavaScript
*But I wanted a blog, so Jekyll was the immediate choice.
*A CSS framework, I chose Foundation.
*Sublime Text
*Git for version control

The tutorials I followed:

Getting Started with Github Pages
Understanding Jekyll
Jekyll by example
The most comprehensive Git tutorial
Jekyll Documentation which could be a bit more accessible for non-developers.
Websites built with Jekyll I spent quite a bit of time here because many of these are abandoned sites, but to be listed there you need to have the source code public, therefore lots of bits to learn.

Is there a market for Static Websites?

I have no idea. I imagine so because there are several tools to generate static sites, some are Open Source like Jekyll and Middleman, or Statamic (a proper CMS which requires a license).

The problem is that these tools would be challenging for non-technical users.

To update your content you need to go into your code and into the repository so this represents a poor choice for clients who want to manage their sites on their own.
And you can’t publish on a whim from your phone but then again, sitting down and composing a post is more mindful than dictating it to Siri.

There are a few tools like Octopress (which I haven’t tried) and to quickly create blog posts, you still need to pull those posts into your local repository (which  I forgot and then spent hours trying to figure out why my repositories were different.)

Normally I compose my posts on which allows markdown and then copy/paste them into sublime text, commit and push live.

I know it’s kind of retrograde when I could simply login to a WordPress dashboard and type away, hit publish and be done, but building my site with Jekyll has allowed me to learn how to build a workflow for myself and it allowed me to learn things in context.

So why again?

Because a portable website,
I want to have it in my hard drive
I want security
I don’t want to have to update plugins and versions and be afraid of losing everything if an update goes awry.
I dread databases
I don’t want a bloated CMS injecting p tags all over the place.
I like writing in Markdown
And I want free hosting.

So after all this, I’m drinking my black tea with milk  and marvelling at the fact that I built my site from scratch (ok, minus Foundation but I just wanted the grid).

If you have questions, about Jekyll or Github (or about drawing and painting)  feel free to contact me. I’ll try to respond but I’m not an expert yet!