Are you one of us? Y'know, a print or surface designer, maybe even illustrator who is struggling through this fuck up of a world to make money and survive?
Are you a recent graduate in print and you wonder who to ask for career advice (because hey, your professors have no idea, they have a full time paid job, why would they care about something so trivial as getting a job in the industry)? Or have you been recently laid off from a stressy job and the thought of going back into the lion's den makes your stomach bring back that generous lunch you just had?
Have you thought of pivoting your career? Evolving? Going lean?
You're probably thinking, what the hell is she talking about, but there is sense to my madness.
DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE IT REALLY BIG
Because ehh, I don't. Going freelance is one hell of a journey. More like a roller coaster with missing wheels. Or even gaps in the track. You get the gist. And me? I just want to work my 8 hours a day, eat good food and cuddle my kitten. No nefarious millionaire strategy, no need to take over the world. Just sleep, food and cat. This is exactly the reason why I'm working on devising a system where I can do what I love for a living and not kill my mental health for it - and hopefully, share it all with you guys.
BUMPS IN THE ROAD I started out as a textile & print designer back in good old 2012 – went through being an intern to a design assistant to a textile designer and ultimately to a design manager. And then I quit. Fashion industry is infamous for bad treatment of people, so I won’t have to elaborate on that as you can probably imagine – but I knew this is not the path I wanted to take anymore. I wanted to work; but I also wanted to feel like a human being.
One from back in the day: AT-ONE-MENT shoot in 2018. I had a productive 14h day and promptly had a mental breakdown as soon as I came home after this.
There isn’t a lot of things where I’m really that good – but there are a couple of things. I focused on that for the next year or so: menswear and stationery patterns as well as CAD work for product development (womenswear and menswear). But all of that meant depending on my clients, which I wasn’t comfortable with. Couple that with not being a great chaser after unpaid invoices and you get a daily headache. Not to mention the issues arising in 2020, when jobs are dropping like flies, the fashion industry is gasping and the traditional idea of a designer is more or less dead – so I had to rethink. And most importantly, evolve and survive. But never fear – I think the future is very positive for designers such as us. We will always be needed. Sure, design is democratising; the everyday Joe can do a business card in Canva in 0.7 seconds – but he doesn’t have the knowledge, the touch, the intuition we do. And this is exactly why people are drawn to buy digital products such as the ones I make a living out of. Plainly speaking – we are here to inspire. And we are here to stay.
HOW TO FAIL 99 TIMES AND WIN THAT ONE TIME
I’d love to tell you there is a recipe for success – but there isn’t. It’s trial and error forever – because we never stop learning. My story is one of perpetual failures and little successes that slowly build into a bigger one. Because statistically, if you win once in 100, then all I gotta do is fail 99 times, right?
But I’m not here to wax lyrical (even though I already kinda did), but here to give you some concrete advice. And even though I did fail a lot of fucking times – I am still really goddamn good at some things. So if you’re a fresh graduate, print designer, illustrator, painter, artist – looking to get your work onto products and make an actual living out of it, here’s the deal:
1) BE SMART IN HOW YOU SPECIALISE. Don’t shut the door on half the jobs you could get because someone told you at that posh design school you went to that you have to ‘specialise’. This is bullshit early on, especially when your portfolio is still graduate fresh. Set a clean aesthetic that is easy to diversify into different markets. Love doodling with pencils? Great, use it as a style across your entire portfolio. More of a Procreate dude? Cool, draw some graphics for t shirts, some for posters, some for cushions. Click here to read the full post I wrote about this.
2) GET FREELANCING SMALL. Easier said than done, right? Wrong. There are easy ways of approaching clients you don’t know exist yet. Granted, you won’t be making a massive living off of this yet, but it will expand your portfolio and your experience. There is a whole other post I have written about this, so I’ll just leave the link here.
3) MARKETPLACES ARE YOUR FRIENDS. My relationship with these is full of epic failures. I’ve chronicled my fails at Creative Market here and the worse ones, Etsy here. Go and have a giggle. Most importantly what I want to say here is please make sure your shit is plastered all over every (relevant) existing selling platform out there. Update regularly, do freebies, sneak into your products a text document with a link to your website and a discount code. The point of all this is not to make the most money just yet – the point is to see what sells, what fails and learn from it.
4) THIS IS YOUR FULL TIME JOB. Did you hear this one properly? This is your full time job. You are employing yourself. Pretend like you just hired an intern – and you’re playing that intern. I say intern, because usually that’s who gets clobbered with all the shitty work, like updating the company Instagram, making sure all the files are in perfect repeat, doing the color separation etc. Drawing and scanning is barely the 20% of your work. The rest is much harder. So take it as a full time internship and be sure you get everything done in a timely fashion.
5) LEAAAAAARN. I can’t stress this enough. I'm sorry I have to go all Silicon Valley on you about this, but we as designers keep forgetting who we’re designing for. Yes, that lovely Creative Market pack of spindly florals is great, but if you have no idea who it’s for, then you can go and chuck it in the virtual bin right now. Post smaller products; see what sells, do more of that. Who’s your client? What do they use? Photoshop? Illustrator? Procreate? Do they even care about repeats? Do they want easily changeable colors or just PNGs they want to fling onto their products? Do AB testing of your products. Learn from your customers. And if it’s only 20 of them for now, that’s fine too – give them a whole concierge approach (stolen from the amazing Lean Start Up book, which you can find here). Message them and ask if they need any help with anything. Are the files okay? Up to their expectation? Maybe fling in a little freebie to get their typing flowing. My point is, you’re going to need to learn from your sales and evolve. Not just draw blindly because we’re taught in school we’re better than the rest of the population and we know what’s better. We don’t.
6) ITERATE. Basically, keep trying. Fail 99 times so you can win that one time. And no, this isn’t some inspirational bullshit, it’s pure statistics; if you try enough times, you’re bound to make it at the very least one time. Try in different markets, different files, different approaches, different clients. Some day, you’ll hit that sweet spot and you’ll know it.
That’s all for now – but you can find much more extensive info on my other blog posts, which you can see below. In any case: good luck and don’t forget to fail at least a couple of times before you make it – so you don’t make the rest of us look bad.
As always, if you want more helpful posts on how to make $$$ doodling and drawing, subscribe to my email list below! I routinely send out tips, tools, trends and other helpful bits!