Tispr Stories: Bernadette Sosa is Making Work Her Own
Every Friday we check in with a freelancer or small business person who is following their dreams and doing what they love. This week, we’re chatting with Bernadette Sosa, a freelance creative who left her full-time NYC ad gig behind to pursue her real passion: illustration.
Here’s what Bernadette had to say about following her gut, finding inspiration, and how her grandfather’s talent inspired her to create.
To start, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a freelance creative working as an Art Director in Advertising and as an Illustrator. I recently moved out of Brooklyn and now live in a small town in western New Jersey with my dude, dog and an obscene amount of colored pencils.
What made you decide to pursue a freelance career?
I worked full-time for over ten years as an Art Director in Advertising. My work involved concepting on brand campaigns for broadcast, print and digital. I often dreamed of becoming an illustrator, but my hours did not allow me the time to build an illustration portfolio. Shifting to freelance was the only way I could balance advertising work with my illustrating and personal life.
How did you get into illustrating?
My grandfather. He played the piano, saxophone, clarinet and guitar. He also loved making dollhouse furniture, train sets, sailboats and especially painting on wood. The man was full of talent, yet never bragged or tried to make a profit. He simply created because it made him happy.
As a child, my grandfather and I would sit quietly in his workshop, listen to records and paint on scraps of wood. His workshop was my happy place and sometimes I can still smell it. I had no deadlines or clients. I simply had the time to paint whatever I wanted, free of critique.
Later in life, my grandfather was in a nursing home and partially blind. I remember showing him my college artwork and him telling me how beautiful it was. I knew he could not see it well, but felt it. It was at that moment I realized art was more than just visual, it was something that made people feel, and that felt good.
Why do you do what you do?
I can’t help but do what I do. To be completely transparent, I’ve tried many times to ignore my inner creative drive and pursue a “9 to 5” with a sweet 401K. However, there’s a very persistent voice inside that pushes me to pursue art. So here I am, following my gut, and hoping it turns into something, someday.
“Don’t wait for your portfolio to be perfect to start reaching out to people in the industry. Don’t wait for that piece to be perfect before uploading it to social media. Just get it out there.”
Where does the inspiration for your illustrations come from?
I’m not completely sure. Some days I feel like I’ll never have another idea, then something just comes. I get a thought, write it down, sketch it out and build from there.
How do you feel when you’re working, doing what you love?
I’ve been told by my family and husband that I become really focused when I'm working, blocking out whatever is happening around me. In a way, I become a part of what I’m working on. For example, I’ll smile when drawing a character’s smile. It feels like I’m in their world for a moment, and it’s sort of fun to escape reality.
What’s it like being in your line of work?
Awesome. I get to come up with ideas and create something that didn’t exist before me, and that's a pretty cool job.
What have you learned from illustrating?
Rejection happens, but you will waste a lot of time focusing on it. In the beginning, I would stop drawing for weeks because someone rejected me, my story, or my artwork. Now when I get rejected, I ask why and what I can do better for next time.
“As a child, my grandfather and I would sit quietly in his workshop, listen to records and paint on scraps of wood. His workshop was my happy place and sometimes I can still smell it. I had no deadlines or clients. I simply had the time to paint whatever I wanted, free of critique.”
What’s the biggest thing you’ve gained from freelancing?
Before freelancing, I was deathly afraid of the client. They were portrayed as these mean monsters that would attack your work and rip it to shreds in front of everybody. In reality, clients, art directors and editors are human. My advice: do not hesitate to reach out for feedback and ask questions. They won’t bite, promise.
How has illustrating and freelancing changed your life?
I’ve learned that you don’t have to be a workaholic to achieve your goals. Since quitting my full-timer, I have a better relationship with my family. I met the man I married and I eat a lot healthier. I used to feel that I lived to work and now my life is the opposite, which I’m very grateful for.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t wait for your portfolio to be perfect to start reaching out to people in the industry. Don’t wait for that piece to be perfect before uploading it to social media. Just get it out there. Your work will never be perfect. That piece will never be ready. Just get it done and move on to the next piece.
What does being a freelancer mean to you?
Making work work for you.
What’s been the hardest part about being a freelancer so far?
It has been challenging explaining to people what I do. Nobody seems to understand, except other creatives.
This interview has been edited for clarity.