Working Remote: How to stay focused, inspired, and motivated

Raul Ramos is an Illustrator and Concept Artist who graduated from RMCAD in 2012. He interned at Dire Wolf Digital during his time at RMCAD, which transitioned to a full time job opportunity before graduation. Raul worked his way up from an intern creating art for online trading card games, to a Junior Illustrator working on projects including Eternal Trading Card Game, Elder Scrolls Legends, Mystic Warlords of Ka’a and Clank. Upon moving to Oregon, Ramos took on the role of an at-home contractor. Ramos’s love for paleoart and dinosaurs caught the attention of those interested in commissioning him for paleontological reconstructions. He’s been working for Dire Wolf Digital as a remote employee since 2015, and working on several projects for clients including figures, collectibles, museums, and educational apps. Ramos shared his experience about being a remote employee, staying focused, and remaining creative.

What are some of the benefits of being remote?

The lack of a commute is awesome. I think we easily forget how much time we spend driving from place to place. I read that in the United States the average, one-way commute time is approximately 26 minutes. If you commute to a full-time job, 5 days a week, round trip this adds up to over 200 hours per year. That’s nine whole days spent sitting in your car. Needless to say having all that time back to get additional work done is great. 

I also like that I can completely personalize and customize my workspace. I can create a space that is both functional and inspiring. The very first workspace I had when I moved to Oregon was anything but inspiring or functional and it really took a toll on my creativity and mental health. Now my workspace is full of my favorite books, action figures, collectibles, art prints from friends and artists I look up to. I’ve selected the equipment I use very carefully to improve my productivity and promote healthy working habits.

How do you time manage and prioritize (while in a remote environment)?

Having a regimented schedule really helps with time management. I keep regular work hours that match my primary clients work hours. This allows me to effectively communicate with them during the work week and keep pace with the projects we are working on. I dedicate additional blocks of time to other clients after hours or on the weekends. If a client needs a project done with quick turnaround, I might block off time close together to complete it. If they are able to be more flexible, I space sessions out over the course of the week allowing me to have some downtime. My schedule is constantly in flux which means I may have to juggle a few projects at a time.

It’s important to stay flexible and communicate clearly with your clients about how much time you have and when time becomes available. Keep in mind it’s okay to tell a client that you are currently unavailable. One thing you don’t want to do is overcrowd your schedule. This can cause a lot of unneeded stress and potentially affect the quality of your work. I’ve found that my clients are very understanding of my schedule and are willing to wait or alter their schedules to allow me to work with them. 

What are some of the challenges faced in this environment? How do you overcome those?

One of the biggest challenges for me is learning when to stop working. Because working from home is so accessible I can literally work on my projects any time I want to. It’s very easy to find myself working for long stretches of time without breaks or any downtime. This is an easy way to burn out, which can lead to health problems. I have had serious injuries related to too much time sitting, and not enough time being active. It can have a tremendous effect on your body, as I’ve experienced.. All of this can be easily avoided with regular breaks, a conscious effort to sit with good posture, and regular exercise and diet.

How do you practice creativity while being remote?

Constantly pushing myself to learn new things inspires me. Since I’ve begun working from home, I’ve really tried to expand my skill set as an artist. This is motivated by both a desire to be more versatile and offer clients more range of services and a simple need for variety in my workflow. I like being able to tackle problems in multiple ways and I don’t want to be limited in the types of projects I can work on because of a lack of knowledge. Lately, I have been focusing on the 3D side of things. digital sculpting, 3D printing, molding and casting, making game ready assets, rigging, texturing, animation and a host of other things. I’m constantly coming up with projects designed to learn a new workflow or tool. Pushing myself to learn these skills has gotten me more freelance opportunities. I love when the things I originally started doing for fun actually become things I can begin to sustain myself with. It’s such a rewarding experience.  

Are there any tools that have helped you be efficient and effective?

I’ve taken to list making as a way to keep my tasks in order over the course of a day. In the morning when I sit at my computer I open up a google doc or notepad and list all the things I want to try to complete that day. I try to organize it in order of priority. If I don’t get to a task by the end of a day, I roll it over to the next day. I like this approach because of its simplicity. I’ve tried many things over the past few years to keep myself efficient and organized. These have included filling out planners for days or even weeks in advance, and using apps like Wunderlist or Trello to keep track of progress on projects. There are some apps that offer great tools to improve productivity and I would highly recommend trying them out. It really takes a lot of self observation to understand what is working for you. When you find something isn’t clicking, try to ask yourself why and be aware of those tendencies when you look for other solutions. Eventually you will find a method of organization that works for you.  

How has working remote helped develop your career?

Working remotely has allowed me to start expanding my client base. I’ve started to focus on expanding my skill set and with that has come some very cool opportunities and a newfound confidence in my creative abilities. I’ve been able to start establishing relationships with people who I have looked up to and wanted to work with for a long time. I’ve been lucky to have several personal heroes of mine get in touch, wanting to know about my process, share tips and tricks or just chat about things we have in common. This process takes a lot of time, and patience is required. One of the best examples of all of this is my recent contribution to Creative Beasts Studio’s Beasts of the Mesozoic line of action figures. This line of figures is the first of its kind in the industry. Scientifically accurate dinosaur action figures are something I wished someone would make ever since I was a kid. The creator of this line, David Silva, had a very similar desire. He had a very successful Kickstarter for his raptor figures that I became aware of. When I heard he was creating another line focusing on a new group of dinosaurs, I jumped at the chance. I introduced myself, shared some of my work, and offered to help with anything he might need. After seeing this, David gave me the opportunity to create the majority of the package art for the whole line. I’ve been able to articulate several of the figures and prepare them for 3D printing. I’ve even sculpted parts of the figures themselves. I continue to work with Creative Beast Studios and we have some exciting new figures that are being developed right now. 

What tips do you have for our students who have recently transitioned to an online modality?

My suggestion for anyone who has just started to work remotely is to try and develop a schedule and maintain it as best you can. If you are used to getting up at a certain time to head to class, try to be consistent with that time frame while you’re home. It can take a while to settle into but eventually you will establish a rhythm that will help you focus on work when you need to.  

It does sound a bit funny but don’t lounge around in your pajamas all day. Make sure you make an effort to get dressed as if you were going to class or work. There’s something about getting ready for a day’s work even though you may not be going anywhere, that can really help put you in the right frame of mind. 

Your surroundings affect your ability to focus. Try your best to designate a specific area for work. It’s probably not a good idea to set up your workspace right next to your TV and video game consoles. It can be hard because not everyone has several rooms in their home they can designate to specific functions, but do what you can. Surround yourself with things that inspire you to be creative. Make your workspace someplace you look forward to going to everyday. Personalize it and have fun. 

To learn more about the work Raul Ramos and his work, check out the following: