Technology allows graphic artist to be a homebody

'I work here more than I live her; my work is my life'

By Lisa Klug
Special to the Examiner

Jeannene Hansen's dining room houses two Macintosh computers, a modem, CD-ROM, filing cabinets, two exercise bikes and a rowing machine-everything but a table to at at.

The dining room of the 38-year-old graphic artist and computer consultant is her office in a three-bedroom flat atop a strip of merchants in the Mission District. "I work here more than I live here," she laughs. "my work is my life."

Hansen is one of thousands of Americans who work out of their homes using state-of-the-art technology, a lifestyle gaining popularity as a 90's alternative to the fast lane of the 80's. Without ever printing a hard copy, Hansen sends pages of images to her mail-order catalog clients via modem and their fax machines. She receives revisions on her own fax machine. Never needing to set foot outside, the gregarious, unmarried freelancer with spiked cropped hair can-and does-do everything for her work all within the walls of her home.

The Nebraska native moved to San Francisco in 1977 after college and worked as a professional photographer until her boss closed his business in 1982. Hansen had already set up a darkroom in her kitchen pantry and began using her dining room as a portrait studio. She also started designing-by hand-the graphics for a client's book about three-dimensional holograms.

The project was painstakingly slow and took four years to complete. Hansen noticed her artist friends with computers working faster and, after much prodding on their part, she invested $2,500 in a Macintosh SE.

She was initially overwhelmed by the technology,but realized it was the future. Eventually she hooked up a hard drive and modem and picked up tips from the Berkeley Users Group, a nonprofit club.

Hansen the artist no longer has to rely on paper and pencil, let alone her car, to pursue her craft. To meet a recent deadline, Hansen transmitted computer artwork for a client's catalog by modem to a local print shop at 2 o'clock in the morning.

Within 12 hours, a messenger service had dashed the final copies from the printer directly to Hansen's client.

She's not unique
In the same ways most people make a habit of checking their answering machines and mailboxes, everyday Hansen uses her modem to retrieve electronic messages sent from friends and colleagues to a clearinghouse in Marin called The Well.

"I'm not that unique," Hansen says. "there are hundreds of thousands of people doing this kind of work out of their homes these days."

The relatively low prices for personal computers, facsimile machines and other sophisticated devices allows folks like Hansen to easily set up shop at home. With her next purchase, a Macintosh IIci, Hansen will own close to $7,000 in equipment.

Luckily Hansen's two flatmates don't mind the dining room-cum-office.

Last year she bought a CD-ROM [drive] and used it to co-design a special Macintosh computer program that allows computers users to bring video images to their screens.

There's little expense for business attire, no mad rush to make the morning commute and, best of all, Hansen gushes, savoring her words, no 9-to-5 rut.

The trade-off for her flexible work style is long days and nights. Hansen doesn't start working until 10 a.m., but she will keep it up until she finishes a job, sometimes into the early morning. "I get to call my hours. If I don't want to work on a sunny day, I can stop and smell the roses and then make up for it by staying up until 3 in the morning," she says.

Cats are her only company
There are disadvantages, too, of course. Like all freelancers, Hansen has no fringe benefits. And, were it not for her two cats, X-ray and 18, she would be completely alone most of her day.

Her work comes in fits and starts. Her income of less than $20,000 a year fluctuates so drastically that some months she has to dip into her savings just to get by. Then she may suddenly collect as much as $4,000 in a few weeks.

For Hansen, though, the benefits of working at home far outweigh the drawbacks. "It's not about money for me; it's about being an artist and being able to express myself. And look at all the toys I have to play with," Hansen says glancing around her cluttered dining room. "I'm a pretty happy gal."