INES ALPHA: A CONVERSATION ON FREELANCING
Ines Alpha on being a freelancer, paperwork and why failing is a good thing
Crafting a creative career unlike any before her, and without a doubt setting the precedent for those who follow, Paris-based 3D makeup artist Ines Alpha channels her playful eclectic process into remarkable, intangible and ethereal forms of self-expression. Challenging the expectations and limits of augmented-reality makeup and virtual softwares, she plays out her self-proclaimed fantasies of absolute aesthetic freedom of personal appearance.
Working primarily in the fashion, luxury and beauty industries – working for the likes of Burberry, Dior, and Allure (to name a few!) – Ines has worked with some of the scenes’ top names, however, this has not come without taking the bumpy road to get there.
Speaking to us about the realities of being a freelancer, Ines opens up about the trials and tribulations of the job’s practicalities, the advice she’d give those starting out, and practises she maintains to keep her work/life balance afloat.
Hey Ines! How are you?
Hi, I'm ok thank you, waiting patiently to get a little holiday break as everyone I guess! How are you ?
For those who might not be familiar with your work, or perhaps the name behind it, how would you introduce yourself and your practice?
I'm a digital artist specialising in what I called 3D makeup, which is makeup - something that can transform your face - but using digital softwares :)
Your work is always incredible! Where do you find creative inspiration for your practice, and how did you find the unique creative space you occupy?
Thank you!! Well I get inspiration from lots of different things to be honest. We live in a very visual world! Especially when you're a creative person connected to social media platforms. I can get inspiration from nature as much as from digitally created images. I think my main influences come from video games like Final Fantasy, sea creatures (Nudibranchs forever 💕), the drag queen and club kid scene, and of course other physical makeup artists like Hungry, Ryburk, Madroni Redclock... I created 3D makeup quite accidentally. I'm originally an art director in advertising specialised in beauty, fashion and luxury. I've worked in this industry for 7 years, creating makeup visuals daily, while at the same time I was experimenting with 3D for fun, mostly doing video clips with Panteros666. At the time I was already adding 3D elements in the physical world. One day, I decided to unite those two parts of my life : beauty and 3D! I never thought it could become a thing and now funnily enough it's my job!
Your lenses are somewhat hyper-real, or other-worldly – do you ever find that they are somewhat of an escape from reality?
I had this thought recently about beauty and how sometimes people struggle to fit in our society's standards and norms. It is so hard that sometimes you just want to be something else. Sometimes you just need to fit it NOTHING. I think that's part of my work. Help people experience their beauty in a different way that doesn't fit in our reality. Help them have fun with their appearance for once!
This might be hard, but out of all the people you’ve worked with in your career, who was the most fun to shoot with and why?
I haven't shot a lot of people IRL ! Most of the collaborations I did were made in distance (even before covid ^^). I had the chance to meet some of them IRL but very few! Some were living quite far from France, Sheidlina (Russia) and Charlotte Free (US). I'm so happy I could meet them physically. Even if I'm a digital person, I always feel it's important to have physical connection with people, it's not the same feeling and energy. Oh I also met Nana Youngrongkim when I was in Seoul, we went to a park to do the video, that was the first time I met him, the leaves were all red because it was autumn, he was wearing a makeup that matched the leaves colours, that was really lovely, fun and cute!
The world of freelance can often be a difficult one to navigate - talk us through your experiences when you were just starting out.
It's hard. I've learnt a lot just doing it. Asking lots of questions to other freelance friends who sometimes don't even know themselves the answers ! I've made mistakes but that's how you grow. I under-evaluated my fee, I forgot to ask for credits, I felt guilty following up for payment, I forgot to specify the maximum rounds of feedback to the client, I got my ideas stolen... But having worked in advertising taught me a lot about relationships with clients, that def helped me get started.
Help people experience their beauty in a different way that doesn't fit in our reality. Help them have fun with their appearance for once!
Speaking of which, what is the best piece of advice you could give to someone just starting out in their creative freelance career?
No free work :) even if it's for a friend. Ask for at least a lunch ^^ Your work has value and your hardware /softwares / tools might not be free. Also the time you spent finding your creative process on your own has a price. If you need to build your portfolio for free, just do your own stuff. A commissioned work needs to be paid. Don't hesitate to ask your friends, teachers, and forums for price ranges. People need to stop thinking creatives live on their passion only. It'll just keep creative opportunities to the more privileged. On a less "serious" note, failing is great ahah Any creative jobs require experimentation so it's totally ok to make mistakes AND to ask for help.
Recalling your own experiences, what are some positive and negative elements of freelance work? Do you think anything needs to change about the industry?
Positive: Freedom of course. You're the only owner of your schedule. The emotional distance you can have from the client or collaborators : priceless. Like even when a job is a struggle, when it's done, it's done, you don't have to deal with them anymore (until the next project). This is something totally different when you're working full time in a company. You work with the same clients sometimes for years, doing meetings weekly and you work daily with other people that have their own issues... I like not having to deal with people emotional ups and downs ahah
Negative: Paperwork. That can be quickly overwhelming, it's a real job. When you're freelance, you have to create, manage your accountability, follow up with your network, advertise your work... This is way more work than what you learn in school! I personally wasn't prepared for that. There are more and more tools to help freelance workers organise, get things done, do all the boring non-creative stuff. I think what needs to evolve maybe is the clients mindset so everyone can work in a healthier way. It would be for their benefits too!! Teach them to respect our work, credit us, listen to our advice when they pay us for our savoir-faire, leave the brief open enough so we have space to express ourselves creatively, give us a generous deadline so we don't overwork ourselves but also so that we have enough room in our head to create a good product... But overall I personally don't have to complain, I've had mostly good experiences and very respectful clients. So I guess it's already going the right way!
Managing your own workload can be a difficult task - have you managed to achieve a healthy work/life balance and if so, what is your current routine?
I'm going in the right direction I think but it's a struggle. I have an agent now that is helping with negotiating with clients, checking contracts and filtering propositions. I'm accepting fewer jobs right now, even if it means earning less, I'd rather have more time for myself than crawling under work. I've done it and I was unhappy. I personally need free space in my head to create. I even need boredom to have good ideas, to learn and experiment. It's hard not to be scared about whether you're gonna earn enough next month or not. Especially when you live in such an expensive city as Paris. My current routine isn't the best ahah but I wake up at 8am, snooze until around 9, pet my cat, get my coffee and breakfast while checking my emails. I just like to quickly start my day with stuff that can be easily done, so my brain can understand I can achieve things during the day that is coming, if that makes sense. Then if I don't have anything urgent to do I try to find time to do some yoga before taking my shower and dress up so I don't stay in my pyjamas all day :) Then lunch / work / dinner / freetime / sleep. I make sure to have some break to stretch during the day. (I listen to a podcast called Flow on spotify that is quite helpful to be reminded of stretching and taking a break while listening to pretty cool chill music) Being 100% transparent here, maybe too honest ahaha I wish people would have told me their real routine when I started ! Otherwise you feel guilty starting your day in pyjamas whereas lots of freelance workers do it too!!
How about managing your relationships with clients, whilst respecting your mental health?
I think the first thing is to be very precise about your boundaries. Listing what you can do and not do, how and when, even if you feel like you're repeating yourself or that it's super obvious, just do it and sum everything up in an email. Sometimes people just think very differently than ourselves, they pretend they got it perfectly but they're not in your head so better do a recap so everyone is on the same page.
Any advice for getting out of a creative rut, or struggles with self-motivation?
It's totally normal to have days where you have no idea and no inspiration and that's not something you should force. I've never understood why advertising companies would ask the creatives to stay in front of their computer screens all day long and have great ideas. You can, but I feel that the best moments to be inspired are when you're doing something else, walking, going to an exhibition, in your shower... You have to let your mind wander sometimes. Struggling starting a project when you don't know where to start is totally normal too. Starting is the hardest. Everything feels overwhelming and impossible. But I feel that once you open your software or notebook or whatever your favourite tools are, even though you don't quite know where you're going, it quickly feels easier and little by little the inspiration comes :)
Have there been points in your career where you’ve doubted your practice, if so, how did you get over the feeling of not being good enough?
I still struggle feeling good enough ahaha It's hard not to compare yourself to other creators and it's very easy to let yourself down and doubt your practice. Thinking you miss technical skills, that you should produce more projects, that you should do bigger, better, harder... That you're not even worth the likes, the follows, the interviews, etc. In those moments, I try to remind myself that there is room for everyone. That the most important thing is to enjoy what you do. Every little step of your progress and experiments. There shouldn't be any competition and of course there will always be someone that you think is better than you. But it's not because someone seems "better than you" that you're worthless! One day when I was a teenager, I told my mum that I didn't know how to react to compliments, it made me feel uncomfortable, what if they were lying ? In my head, those compliments couldn't be true so I used to reply like "oh no it's nothing, it's just a quick shitty drawing". And my mum told me "That's not really kind to you and to them. If they like your drawings and you say it's shitty, that means you think their taste is shitty? Just appreciate the compliment, thank them and accept that your drawing can be good to some people". There will always be someone to enjoy your work if you've put yourself into it :) if you don't love your work, people will ahah
My mum also told me that artists and creative people are always unsatisfied by their work, that's what keeps them going and pushes further their practice (she's so wise ^^). But I also think that sometimes you need to FINISH projects even if you're not satisfied. I see too many talented creatives start stuff, put them on hold and never finish them, never share anything. It must be so frustrating. It feels so good to put an end to something you're doing. Even when it's not "perfect" or "ready" you can always make a V2 later ! But at least you will have told your brain you're capable of achieving things if that makes sense ^^
As a digital artist, what is your relationship with social media, which is today a window on our work and a tool as creatives?
Social media is where I get my jobs now. Especially since I've started doing face filters, it is where the magic with AR happens. It's my portfolio and contact point. It is also where I've built my community, where I met people that enjoy my work and want to play with it. I've connected to so many people and artists I look up to, it's crazy! Without it I wouldn't be in any galleries I think, I have no other art network, without it my work wouldn't to be honest. But it's hard to keep up, posting frequently isn't really my thing, I post when I have something to say and that I have a piece ready to share. But unfortunately the main platforms (IG hum hum) keep pushing people that are super active on them, the algorithm is really strange. It's definitely a pressure and it can quickly become toxic. Those platforms make you think you HAVE to perform. And I'm not even talking about the fact that you can easily tend to compare your work to thousands of other artists around the world that you think are "more talented than you" thus making you think you're worthless, which is NOT true of course. People need to understand that there is room for everyone, from different "levels", different production pace, unlearn competition maybe ? The algorithm shouldn't determine the quality of your work and negate your worth. I think it's healthier to take it easy and to sometimes log off but it's so important in any creator's job now that it's quite difficult to do!
People need to understand that there is room for everyone, from different "levels", different production pace, unlearn competition maybe ? The algorithm shouldn't determine the quality of your work and negate your worth.
On a different note, do you have any practical tips for freelancers regarding the more boring side of the profession – such as invoicing or managing difficult clients – and how did you learn these skills?
There are more and more platforms to help with invoicing and paperwork. I've been using Wave for years now, even though it's not made for French administration, it's pretty convenient, I'm sure there are many newer tools like this now. Managing difficult clients is tricky for sure. Some breathing exercises might help ahaha I would recommend staying as practical as possible. Ask as many questions as you need. Remind yourself of your workflow, don't hesitate to even explain it, what you can do and not do and how you're going to do it. Follow up if you haven't heard from the client but need answers quickly. Try to ask for a deposit prior to starting working (even though very few clients accept to do it, especially big companies...). I've learnt those skills by working in advertising and later on by just making mistakes :)
What is a question you wish I asked you?
We could have talked about maybe when you don't come from a famous art school and have no network to go freelance, when you cannot afford financially to go freelance, when you want to be an independent creator but have no idea what you wanna do and how to express yourself... All those things take time and reflection and it should not be rushed. I feel creative opportunities are more and more accessible now thanks to social media, free tutorials and now NFTs.
You moved on from a beauty company when you started freelancing. How did you find your first clients?
When I started freelancing I tried to approach some clients using emails friends would share with me, or searching on linkedin, but it didn't work ahah My first client was a friend of a friend who noticed my first face filters on Snapchat and asked me if I could do something for Nike France. The Second client was Bimba y Lola and they contacted me directly by mail that they found on IG. That's just crazy, I would have ever thought it could happen to me in such a natural and fluid way! I'm very lucky and thankful that people keep contacting me. They mostly discover my work through social media, press articles, trend reports or other collaborations I did with brands. So I don't really have any advice on that to be honest. Keep doing what you like to do, share it on social media, participate in online or offline conferences maybe, ask questions, get in touch with people you look up to, collaborate, until someone notices :)
Any final thoughts?
I'm just glad younger generations and students have access to a more open conversations about practical things and personal experiences in the creative industry, you don't learn those things in school apparently.
Thanks so much for your time Ines! Always a pleasure!
💕Always happy to help when I can. Hope it helps at least one person 💕
Film: The Cell. It's pretty underrated yet so beautiful.
Show: Arcane. Just watched it. It is just SO GOOD.
Book: Any Lipovetsky's, otherwise more related to my work maybe The Beauty Myth by Naomie Wolf and Beauté Fatale from Mona Chollet.
Podcast: Creative Pep Talk or Good Point Podcast by two artists that I've always looked up to, Jeremy Bailey and Rafael Rozendaal.
Album: I've been listening to tracks, podcasts, playlists more... But White Poney by Deftones will always be a full hit for me.