Sunday Mailbag

November 4th, 2007 | Posted in Freelancing

Q: Are you ever distracted working out of your home, and have you ever considered getting a studio outside your house?

A: Having a studio in my home is both good and bad. It’s good in that I do not have to drive anywhere, the studio is always close and ready to go, and I do not have to miss family things like the baby’s first step or my kids getting home from school, etc. It’s bad in that I am never really away from the office… work is always calling to me from the other side of the door, distractions abound from the telephone to the refrigerator to the fence outside that needs fixing.

Still I have never seriously considered getting an outside studio. I tend to work late hours and in spurts, so I might end up at the office for all nighters or at the very least later at night. The things that distract me most, the telephone, e-mail and the internet would still be there to distract me even in an outside studio. The expense of renting outside space is also hard to justify. No, I prefer to stay and home and try to discipline myself as best I can to stay on task and get my work done.

It’s not easy. E-mail and the internet are my biggest distractions. I have all too often found myself spending half an hour writing posts on some internet message forum debating something with another poster when I’d only meant to take a few minutes to check my e-mail. I was starting to think I might be addicted to forums like that when this fall my friend Doug Mahnke, a big time comic book artist, told me his theory behind the attraction of internet forums. He said he had a similar tendency to be distracted by forums and e-mail, and said he believed it was to fulfill a need for basic human interaction. That makes sense to me. Freelancers spend their days holed up in a small space working in solitude, yet humans are social creatures who need to interact with each other. E-mail and forums may be a poor excuse for real human communication, but it perhaps does satisfy that basic need. Doug, incidentally, just moved into an outside studio after years of working in his home, but he’s sharing it with a fellow comic book artist and that kills two birds with one stone.

The key to it is self discipline and setting honest goals. I try and use things that I want to do as a reward for reaching a certain stage of a job or project. If I want to watch a Tivoed episode of “Heroes” I may say that I can’t watch it until I’m done inking two more pages, or done with the pencil roughs for this illustration. It’s the same with checking e-mail or going on the internet. I set a goal I have to reach in order to get to do that. They have to be realistic goals, though. You can’t demand that you finish 14 hours of work before you get to check your e-mail… you will inevitably tire and get distracted and then you’ll have to deal with the guilt of not meeting your goal. Make them attainable and then collect your reward. It’s a little Pavlovian, but I only drool if my reward is cookies.

I don’t think I will ever get an outside studio space. I wouldn’t mind a separate building on our property (not that we have a ‘property’ capable of a separate building to be built on), but across town or even down the street a mile or two? No, thanks. I like my studio arrangement as is.

Thanks to Bill McMichaels for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Trevour says:

    I just moved into a new apartment in June and turned the second bedroom into the “studio.” My other main studio is in a converted shed in my friend’s backyard, about 6 blocks from here. We work on projects there all the time. I also have more equipment and supplies over at the shed (not to mention a comfy couch, mini fridge and video games!) but I’ve found that I get more work done at home – more peace & quiet, as well as a private bathroom. 🙂 And I can work in my pajamas if I want!

  2. Mark Hill says:

    Your reasoning is good. It seems like today, with many people in the creative business not having to meet with clients face to face very often, the need for an outside office is much less than in the past.

    My own experience includes renting office space for over eight years. I rented three separate offices…one had a beautiful view of the mountains, which was not only of less than anticipated value to my work, but it even distracted me from it. The last one included a receptionist, access to a large conference room and a full kitchen. This was the office that convinced me to move back into my house. I had very little need for the conference room, since 95% of my clients are out of state. The receptionist was nice, but I do just fine answering my own phone. And the kitchen was never as well stocked as the one at home.

    As you mentioned, the studio at home offers more time spent with your kids and spouse, (hard to put a value on that), as well as the opportunity to work late hours without having to be completely absent for hours on end. The rent you save can be put into home improvements or paying down the mortgage. (And you still get to deduct a % of the mortgage costs based on the home office space on your taxes.) I see almost no downside.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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