Meet Alicia: An Artist Turned Branding Specialist and Digital Nomad

by | Mar 2, 2023 | 1 comment

In this student spotlight series, we are highlighting some of our wonderful Virtual Excellence Academy members to share their journeys. All the ups, downs and surprises on the way to building their dream business. Giving you a realistic insight into where this career path can take you and how it can impact multiple areas of your life! Today we’re interviewing Alicia R. Thomas, a member of the VEA since October 2019, and a member of Team DNK since June 2021. With 15 years of experience as a freelance artist at the time, she wondered if the VA space would value her creativity, or if she would have to shift into a more technical role. She realized almost immediately that her strengths were both welcomed and needed. Adding more of her creative passions to her roster of offerings, Alicia has positioned herself as a multi-faceted branding specialist. Let’s dive in to learn her story!

Hey Alicia! Let’s start with an introduction, who are you, and what do you do? (aka what’s your elevator pitch)

Hey Hannah! I’m Alicia R. Thomas, and I provide branding services to streaming content creators, elevating their presence and amplifying their message with custom art, music, and writing that builds love and loyalty with their audience. I’ve had the pleasure of working with online coaches, Twitch streamers, as well as YouTube and podcast creators. It’s been an amazing journey to take the devotion and enthusiasm that my clients have for their work and translate that into artforms that convey that to their audience. I love building that connection.

Tell us more about yourself and how you got started in your chosen creative fields.

Maybe it’s because my initials are “ART,” but I’ve been drawn to creating art since I was really young. I wasn’t good at it, but I loved drawing to the point where I would practice all day, every day, and I improved! By my preteens, I knew I wanted to be an artist for a living, and in high school, I started working as a freelance artist. I predominantly did character designs and comic strips, and on the side, I did some short story commissions. Music was something that came along later as a hobby. I love listening to music but didn’t attempt to create any of my own until the early 2010s. I got serious about it when I wanted to create background music for my own YouTube channel, but it wasn’t until I released those songs as a mini-album in 2020 that it gained interest and I began to get requests for auditory branding.

Why did you decide to become a VA, and how did your lifestyle change after pursuing this career?

I decided to become a Virtual Assistant ultimately after taking the 5 Day VA Challenge, of course! But I initially came in that direction after researching how I could truly sustain a digital nomad lifestyle. When I stumbled onto DNK I was like “This is exactly what I was looking for!” I was at a point where I felt like I needed to change my career because, as much as I loved being a freelance artist, it didn’t always provide the consistency that I needed to comfortably stay traveling. It was really bittersweet at first because I thought I would have to shift into something techier to be successful as a VA, I thought art would fall into the background for me and it was daunting to think about starting over from square one. But still, I joined the VEA because I just knew I’d be able to obtain that lifestyle I wanted, and to my surprise, I was met with so much encouragement from you, Hannah, and tons of others in the Inner Circle to stay in my creative lane. I didn’t need to shift specialties, I just needed to package and market my work differently, and to a different clientele that valued what I had to offer, and the VEA helped so much in figuring that out. I planned to set off on my nomadic journey in 2020, but, we know what happened there. Even though my lifestyle change was delayed, I’m happy to say that I’m back on track and have been nomadding since December 2022!

How has your digital nomad journey been so far? You’re currently in Japan, how it is treating you?

It’s been amazing so far! My first stop was Thailand. It was a brief stay, but it was incredible to finally meet you in person after knowing you for 3 years!  You definitely had me hooked on Thailand, and I can’t wait to go back, but my heart will always belong to Japan. This is my fourth trip to Japan, but my first time visiting through winter. It’s been gorgeous.  As a freelance artist I was used to taking my work with me to Japan, but having that stability of VA work makes it so much better. The work/life balance that I’ve built is exactly what I was looking for. I’ve been able to see more sights, make more friends, and spoil my friends more often.  This was the lifestyle I longed for, and I’m really excited about where this journey will take me next!

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a remote artist?

Having the opportunity to immerse myself in new environments! That freedom to follow my inspiration, follow the desires that feel right for me in the moment. It’s cold in mainland Japan right now, so I went to the southern island of Okinawa with a good friend for a few days. I got to soak up the sunlight on gorgeous beaches, pick up shells, and go on adventures that just reinvigorated me and filled me with new ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I truly gained the freedom and flexibility that you always talk about at DNK and I can’t even put into words how rewarding it is. I’ve missed out on things I wanted to experience because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time… now I don’t have to miss out on the things that matter to me

What are some challenges that come with your type of services, and how do you address them?

It can be really challenging if you aren’t self-aware about how you work. You need to be able to outline a structure and workflow for yourself and to do that you have to be honest about your capabilities so you can set reasonable expectations for your clients.  I think a lot of creatives feel pressure to create brilliant things quickly, maybe even more so now with the presence of advanced AI, but the time we invest in handcrafting our creations is a huge part of the value. Stay honest and authentic with your process and workflows. The right structure and predetermined conditions can help with client challenges too. Some clients are unsure of what they want and need, but when they see your concepts and suddenly have a surge of ideas. The constant request for revisions could complicate or prolong the process, so I’ve structured a draft phase into my process to contain these requests, and of course, set the condition that post-delivery edits come at an additional fee.

Can you describe your creative process and how you come up with ideas?

For my personal projects, my creative process can be surprisingly passive.  Going through daily life taking in information, whether it’s a post I see on social media, a tree I walk beneath, a cool sign, or a stranger sitting on the train. Different things and how the encounters make me feel, I’m storing the memories of these inspirations, and when blended together they can come out as something new and exciting. A beautiful Frankenstein creation.  For my client work, there’s a lot more intention. Listening carefully to the client’s tastes, needs, and goals. It comes with a lot of research and curating to make sure that I’m capturing the essence of what they have in mind. Things like mood boards are a huge help in conveying that and keeping all of these ideas in one place. After firming up a concept, I usually go into a draft phase, which gets shared for approval or alterations before finalization and delivery.

What do you do during times when you’re feeling creatively drained?

I approach it one of three ways. Either I shift lanes, embrace the break or fall back to old faithful. Sometimes it’s not a complete creative drain. For example, I might feel drained making illustrations, but maybe shifting to a different genre or medium will re-energize me. Even more so, different art forms entirely, like writing instead when I feel too drained to draw.  Secondly, I could simply embrace the break. We don’t have to constantly churn out something new to call ourselves creatives. We’re artists, not machines. I might read a book, binge Netflix, or hang out with friends. I especially love to take that time to study something related to the arts, like a new technique. It’s okay to take that break, often times a great creation comes afterward. The last method is falling back to the old faithful. If you have a muse or an inspiration source that just never seems to let you down, indulge in that. Whether it’s a particular person, a topic, or a rhythm that’s always stuck in your head… indulge. Even in repetition we grow and level up.  

What role do you feel creative arts like design, music, and writing play in the online business world?

They play a huge and crucial role. Some like to believe that the arts are some non-essential luxury or a nicety that’s ultimately unnecessary, but that’s so far from the truth. There is art and design in everything, especially online. Creative arts give us the power to tell stories, conjure emotions, create things that engage the senses, engage the mind, and make deep connections and lasting impressions. 

What are some of your biggest influences or inspirations in your work?

I love being an artist, I get to reflect my own background and culture as a black woman, a queer woman, a goth/alt kid, and a total nerd with a broad range of interests. I get to combine all my favorite things and share them with the world. Fashion to fantasy, the deep sea to outer space, dinosaurs to giant robots, so many things influence me, but it’s probably no surprise that some of the biggest inspirations in my work stem from Japanese culture and art, and the things I see or experience on my travels here. Also, it just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention my love for a niche Japanese music scene known as “Visual Kei,” I get so much inspiration from those bands and their music.

What are 3 tools that have become essential to your workflow? (Software, productivity apps, etc.)

I have to give a quick shoutout to software like Procreate and Affinity Suite for arts, Grammarly and Hemmingway for writing, Audacity and Bandlab for music. These are all programs I use heavily, but the real MVPs in my toolbelt are the ones that make up for the things I’m bad at.

  • Otter.io for note-taking is so essential for zoom briefings, especially when a lot of ideas are getting thrown out left and right. Sometimes reviewing those recordings and transcripts helps me pick up little details that I can incorporate to really give my clients the best deliverables.
  • Toggl for time-tracking. When I was young, experimenting and learning to draw, it was so easy for me to lose track of the time when I got in the zone, and that habit still lingers even now, especially when I’m having fun with a project or trying something new. But we can’t just let time get away from us with client work, so time-tracking is key.
  • A good list app. It changes for me occasionally, sometimes it’s Notes app, or Notion, or Todoist, but as someone who has a lot of passing thoughts and ideas, it’s important to keep track of them because I don’t remember what I ate for dinner last night, let alone that cool idea that popped in my mind on a train last week.

Tell us what your experience has been like as a member of Team DNK?

It’s been the greatest experience! Joining the VEA was the biggest investment I had made as far as training/coaching is concerned, and I felt so good about it not only because the course has so much value, but because your personal values aligned with mine.   When you spoke about visualizing our ideal clients, I knew right away that you were a prime example of my ideal client. Some businesses will preach one thing and practice another, but I was thrilled to see that behind the scenes you really lived and embodied all the things that DNK promotes and stands for. I love being a part of this team, everyone is so invested, so supportive of one another and there’s warmth and determination in everything we do. I also appreciate the opportunities to experiment with new things, like creating Adobe tutorials for the VEA. #DNKRocks!

To anyone considering offering creative services as Virtual Assistant, what advice would you give them?

Do it! I can’t put into words how fulfilling it is. What we deliver as creatives is much more than a pleasing visual, a block of text, or a sound. Our sense and style of creativity, our process, and the intentions we put into it, all of that is unique to each one of us. Like a fingerprint. Meaning there’s no one who can create the kind of work that you do, use those talents and skills to help others and to help yourself live your dream lifestyle.

Whether you have a burning passion for the arts or just a knack for it, if this lane of virtual assistance piques your interest, it’s worth pursuing.


How do you see your work evolving in the future, and where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

Now that I’m living as a digital nomad, I imagine my work will become more influenced by the places that I visit and the experiences that I’ll have. I can’t fully anticipate what that will look like, but I know it’s going to be awesome! 5 plus years from now I see myself semi-nomadic, mostly based out of Japan, and branding for Japanese clients to further promote and support a culture that’s inspired me so much.

Also, there are some evolutions that I’m setting into motion like delving into 3D art and design, as well as creating more passive income opportunities for myself through selling assets for customers who may not need a full-on branding package.


What skills did you come to realize were essential to your success as a creative in the VA space?

Communication, hands down, and also being open.

Communication is essential in any field of course, but I feel it’s especially important when you’re dealing with something that could be as varied and conceptual as art. Being able to explain to your client what they’re getting and how is massively important for building trust and creating a smooth client experience.

Being open to receiving critique and opinions and ideas is huge. The arts are very subjective. Your clients may have some opinions or ideas that seem appalling to you, but it’s important to listen to your client’s thoughts and wants. Our way isn’t always best, be flexible and open to new ideas and approaches.


What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever had that you wish to share with others?

That would be your advice to take imperfect action. In creative communities I’ve seen can be a lot of perfectionism, or even imposter syndrome and fear/self-doubt masquerading as perfectionism. 

No matter the reason for the hesitation, it’s your worst enemy. The people thriving and succeeding are the ones who start where they are, learn as they go, and upgrade as they grow. Waiting until you get all the expensive gear, master XYZ, and built the world’s greatest portfolio is just going to hold you back and destroy what could have been an incredible career. Make moves! Amazon started in Bezos’s garage.


Where can people follow you?

You can follow me on Instagram @alicia.arthomas, and keep your eyes peeled for a website launch coming soon! Ooohhh!

Thank you Alicia for taking the time to share your journey and insights! We are mega proud to have you as a valuable part of Team DNK and our DNK community!


Author: Hannah Dixon
Hannah Dixon is a Business Coach, Recruiter, and Founder of Digital Nomad Kit and The Virtual Excellence Academy (VEA). The VEA is a leading educational program and diverse global community that has honed the skills and confidence of over 30,000+ virtual assistants and freelancers. Committed to ethical hiring practices, she also provides VIP recruitment services. Hannah views freelancing and self-leadership as potent tools for social change, empowering anyone, anywhere, to unlock potential and create life-changing opportunities. As a 16-year digital nomad, she speaks internationally, demonstrating progressive business and lifestyle approaches, and powerfully compelling audiences to action.

But, how?

1 Comment

  1. Siya

    Love it! You are such an inspiration! I also have to say the DNK team is so wonderful!


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