The world of freelancing is incredibly diverse, and full of interesting people. So our My Freelance Story interviews are an opportunity to hear from people at various stages of their self-employed careers. Find out why they decided to run their own businesses, how they manage their work each day, and what advice they have for anyone choosing a similar profession.
This week, we’ve spoken with Kar Lee, a leading motorcycle concept visualiser in a specialist niche of the freelance design world. After working as an Art Editor on a variety of magazines, he understands the value of both great work, and the opportunity to build brands through publishing, particularly on Youtube and social media, where he’s built up an audience of hundreds of thousands of people eagerly waiting to see his latest creations. Alongside that, he also freelancers as a graphic designer for a wide variety of clients.
Can you introduce yourself, and what you do?
My name is Kar Lee, I’m a motorcycle concept visualiser. That is, using Photoshop I visualise photorealistic images of bikes that don’t exist… yet.
My clients can range from members of the public wanting a new paint job on a project bike, a magazine wanting a realistic finished production version of a bike that they have spied out in testing, a website looking for a futuristic concept of a bike for a feature or promotion, or a specialist bike builder.
I’m also a graphic designer, specialising in magazines but do all the other stuff too like branding, vehicle livery, illustrations, animations etc.
How long have you been self-employed? What were you doing before?
I started Kardesign Limited after taking voluntary redundancy in 2007. Prior to that I worked at emap, which then became Bauer, as an art editor working on motorcycle publications such as RiDE, Bike, and Performance Bikes.
Why did you choose to become a freelance motorcycle concept visualiser and graphic designer?
I fancied a change! I found the repetitiveness of working on magazines creatively stifling and after a decade as a staffer felt an urge to spread my wings.
Do you focus entirely on client work? Or do you have any personal projects going on?
I have a healthy mix of both client work and personal stuff right now, which I lenjoy. The client jobs keep the money coming in, the personal jobs also generate revenue through my YouTube channel and showcasing my work to potential new clients.
What does your typical day look like?
I’ll go to the gym in the morning to clear my head and get my activity in. I believe it’s important to keep that sense of balance and maintain some sort of mental wellbeing and exercising does that. It also means my back doesn’t seize up when sat at my desk all day, which it has done in the past resulting in me walking into a client’s offices with a hot water bottle shoved up my back! Not doing that again!…
I’ll post on social media and spend some time replying to messages and comments. I’ll typically work on a concept for a magazine – these usually take around 2-3 days to complete and often involve writing too.
What skills or talents does a good motorcycle visualiser tend to have?
As well as strong Photoshop knowledge, a solid understanding of the motorcycle market helps. If there’s stuff I don’t know I’ll research it until I do, or at least have a vague idea. I recently had to look up Harley Davidsons and P51 Mustang WW2 aircraft. Good comms with the client is a definite advantage too, as fully understanding the brief and what the client has in their head will save a ton of heartache and revisions further down the line.
Are there any qualifications required to become an motorcycle visualiser? Or any that can help secure more clients or higher rates?
My work is quite niche, I don’t know of many people doing it specifically for the market I’m in, but I’d say no qualifications are needed at all other than a proficiency in Photoshop. Even then, you may not need it – I know a guy who creates decent-looking concepts using a free app on his phone which is mind-boggling. Design agencies working for the bigger manufacturers would have their own requirements but for someone going solo I’d say showcase your portfolio online so clients can see the quality of your work and attach some context to it too.
As for securing more clients at higher rates, make your work memorable and different from others out there, try and infuse your own identity into each project. Know your worth, especially if you’ve the experience to back it up and stand your ground on pricing – a good portfolio and the ability to transfer a client’s brief to an inspiring ass-kicking visual is essential.
How do you tend to find clients? Has that changed over time?
When I took redundancy in 2007 I was in the fortunate position of already having made a ton of contacts in the magazine industry so had plenty of clients already on the books. Then in 2015 I started a Facebook page to showcase some of my motorcycle concepts with the aim of just raising awareness further. My images were really well received and turned out to be massively shareable!
My following grew so I started another account on Instagram which after a few months was showing solid growth, and all I was doing was sharing previous work I’d already done.
Once I started repurposing my content properly to make it even more shareable (this is crucial if you want to grow on social media) it really took off, and my posts were regularly being liked in their tens of thousands.
After seeing my work plagiarised on YouTube I started my own channel which I monetised with some success last year, though finding the time to create content on a regular basis is the real challenge!
I’ve gained numerous clients through the strength of my online presence, and having my art published in magazines helps the credibility of my work too. Currently, across Instagram, Facebook and Youtube I’ve got over 350,000 followers – which still blows my mind!
What are your favourite freelancing tools and equipment? Is there anything special or unusual about your workspace?
My Mac and iPhone and an Adobe subscription are all I need. Actually a good accountant helps, fortunately my wife is one! Working from home it’s beneficial to know what can constitute a business expense, like home office costs and could even include a portion of your council tax as a sole trader.
Where do you prefer to work? Home office, coffee shop, co-working space or somewhere else? With music or background noise, or in silence?
At home is the best environment for me, though I’m having an extension built at the moment and the constant banging and drilling is slowly driving me insane, but just a few more weeks to go, hopefully! I used to spend a fair amount of time working onsite at client’s offices though COVID has put a stop to that.
Surprisingly, I don’t miss it half as much as I thought I would – though bouncing ideas off others in the office was always fun. I’ve also pivoted away from magazine design work which also negates the need for that anyway. I find background music is essential for getting my head into that creative sweet spot.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a freelance motorcycle visualiser?
Get a good understanding of the market, what’s been and gone and what is coming. I knew very little about custom bikes and BMWs but one of main clients regularly commissions me to create BMW custom bikes so I had to step out of my comfort zone in order to fulfil the brief.
How can you see freelancing changing in the future for motorcycle visualisers?
One future in this area has to be in 3D, it’s something I’ve been dabbling in for a while but the complexities of it and a constant influx of Other Things I Have To Do means I struggle to prioritise it as much as I should.
What’s the best thing about being freelance or self-employed?
One of the reasons I went freelance was so I could get out of working 9-5, 5 days a week. And now I have my own business I can work up to 18-hour days, 7 days a week! It’s lucky I love what I do!
If you want to find out more about Kar and his graphics design work, you can visit the Kardesign website. Or take a look at his concept motorcycles at Kardesign Koncepts. Or you can follow his work on social media via Facebook, Instagram or Youtube.
Want to read more inspirational stories from freelancers across a variety of industries and sectors? Try previous interviews;
- My Freelance Story: Freelance Coach Jenny Stallard
- My Freelance Story: Virtual Assistant Louise Richman
- My Freelance Story: Photographer Jak Spedding
- My Freelance Story: SEO Consultant Steve Morgan
- My Freelance Story: Journalist Thomas Hobbs
- My Freelance Story: Content Creator Liz Randell
- My Freelance Story: WordPress Specialist Rhys Wynne
- My Freelance Story: Nail Technician Jade Conneely
- My Freelance Story: Writer and Marketer Dan Thornton
- My Freelance Story: Motorcycle Concept Visualiser Kar Lee
- My Freelance Story: Presentation Designer Illiya Vjestica
- My Freelance Story: Videographer and Editor Tom Rayner