China Kautz

China Kautz is the boss lady behind Olive Paper Co. a modern lettering and design studio currently based in Cincinnati, OH. She is also a member of our Creative Lady Directory! We're loving her warm spirit, calligraphic hand-lettering, and grounding productivity tips. Thanks for sharing with us China!

China Frost | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and letterer.

Becoming a freelance designer came around full circle for me. When I was in high school and even in college I wanted to have my own stationery business. I was always doodling and crafting things but never really knew what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” After bouncing around through jobs I knew I needed to be in a business where I could be creative and be my own boss. So fast forward to 2015, I got engaged and took the challenge to DIY and hand letter everything that I could for my wedding. I started documenting my lettering journey through Instagram and found this amazing community of letterers. After putting my work out there and getting great feedback from people I decided to get a business license in 2016 and do this thing for real, even if there was a possibility for me to fail. It’s crazy to me now when I look back at my past self who wanted to have a stationery business cause now I sorta do!

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I attracted them through Instagram. I never really knew the power of social media until I started a business that uses it on a daily bases.
China Frost | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Staying productive has got to be the most challenging aspect of running a business. Here’s a few tips that I do to stay productive even when I am unmotivated.
1. I have a to-do list every morning that I draft the night before. This really keeps me on track. Whenever I skip doing a list I find myself doing random  tasks in the morning and my mind doesn’t start to really focus until 11am.
2. I always eat breakfast. I have to thank my parents for instilling this in me when I was in high school. Having a good breakfast really just starts my day off right and puts me in a good mood. I mean, who doesn’t love a healthy avocado toast first thing in the morning?!
3. Now this tip is something that I am still trying to work hard on. It’s staying off social media throughout the day. There’s been days where I know I have work to get done but I find myself scrolling through Instagram and 30 minutes flew by.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My favorite thing about freelance is that I control the direction of my business. Every victory and failure is on me. I love being able to have that power. Another bonus is to be able to spend time with my corgis.

"My favorite thing about freelance is that I control the direction of my business. Every victory and failure is on me. I love being able to have that power."


Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I think it is important to take time for yourself. A few things things that I've done is make my husband's and amy bedroom a tech free zone. When we would get ready for bed I would continue to check emails. Now I put my phone on the other side of the room so I can’t even reach it. Also depending on the day I have started to set a time for when I stop working, regardless if I still have things on my to-do list. Once I am done working for the day I make a new list of the tasks I didn’t get around to and pick up right where I left off the following morning. My husband has definitely helped me create a work-life balance as well. He works a 9-5, so when he gets home he knows I’ve been cooped up all day and he encourages me to leave the house for a little bit, whether that’s taking a short drive through the city or grabbing a beer at our favorite spot.

"I have started to set a time for when I stop working, regardless if I still have things on my to-do list. Once I am done working for the day I make a new list of the tasks I didn’t get around to and pick up right where I left off the following morning."


What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I love to explore the city. I really have been blessed to live in Cincinnati where small businesses are popping up left and right and the creative community here is incredible. All of the creatives who I have met here so far are so supportive and we feed off one another. Everything about this city I live in keeps me inspired. Trolling through Pinterest also doesn’t hurt to spark that creative buzz.
China Frost | Freelance Wisdom

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Deva Pardue

This week we are honored to chat with Deva Pardue, a graphic designer originally from the Republic of Ireland. Deva came to New York to attend the School of Visual Arts where she graduated with her BFA in 2011. From 2012 to 2016 she worked at Pentagram in New York, under the direction of Emily Oberman. Just this past October Deva made the switch to full time freelance after taking a 3 month sabbatical traveling Europe. We're glad she's back designing because we are particularly smitten with her most recent venture For All Womankind.

Looking to feel empowered? Dive on in!

Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

Your preliminary studies were in Psychology. Can you tell us what drew you to studying graphic design and ultimately becoming a graphic designer?

I kind of grew up around design, my dad is a graphic designer and he had a studio in Dublin, Ireland when I was a kid. He eventually closed it to work from home so that he could be around more for my brother and me. I was often found hanging around his home office after school drawing and stuff. That said, I didn’t really consider design as a career path for myself until much later. I don’t know why that was really, maybe because I didn’t just want to copy my Dad, haha.
I was very interested in Psychology—I still am—but I think I realized pretty early into my studies that my interest was a bit more of an intrigue and that I didn’t necessarily want to spend my life as a psychologist nor did I think I’d be good enough at it! I had been taking elective art classes that I really enjoyed so I decided to shift my focus more in that direction and it all sort of happened naturally from there.

Do you find that you bring elements of your psychology studies into your graphic design?

Absolutely. I think that psychology does play a role in understanding and implementing good design, so I like still trying to insert that thinking into my work.
Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

You worked at Pentagram in New York. How has your time at Pentagram prepared you to take on freelance work?

As a designer at Pentagram you really get a lot of hands on experience in all aspects of the job. There aren’t really production managers and there isn’t a middle man between the designer and the client so you really get used to managing clients needs, timelines, production schedules, etc.  I also got a lot of personal presentation practice and exposure to some of the most respected designers in the world making client presentations. All of that has given me confidence when it comes to communicating ideas and speaking about my work. Additionally there’s quite a bit of transparency internally there when it comes to proposals and SOW’s which definitely helped me with writing my own for freelance clients.

How do you attract, and continue to attract, your ideal clients?

I try to be careful about the kind of work I say yes to. I’ve found that if you take on a certain type of client you’ll attract more of that kind of client so I only take on jobs that I think are worthwhile. If I find myself wanting to do something just for the money, I have to check myself. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself or anything, but I know the kind of work I don’t want to do.   
Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I get asked this question a lot and I’m never entirely sure how to answer it. I don’t think that I have a specific way really. I mean, I know that I’m least creative if I’m working super long hours and unable to do other life things besides sitting in front of a computer. I like to take boxing classes, cook, and I have a pretty amateur photography hobby. I think it’s really important to have interests outside of design, not only to be a well rounded individual but I also do think it’s a good way of staying creatively inspired. It helps you bring something new to the table—or the desk— when you go back to work.
Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

"I think it’s really important to have interests outside of design, not only to be a well rounded individual but I also do think it’s a good way of staying creatively inspired. It helps you bring something new to the table—or the desk— when you go back to work."


Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

The anxiety of what’s next, haha. And I haven’t even been doing it very long!

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The freedom, it’s a doubled edged sword really. I like being able to call the shots, it’s empowering.
Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

"I like being able to call the shots, it’s empowering."


Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

You recently launched For All Womankind. Can you tell us more about the inspiration for that project?

Sure. I had wanted to find some way to to express my outrage after the election, some way to help or contribute in whatever small way I could. It was about a month later that I had the idea for For All Womankind. I had been asked by Magenta (Huge’s digital publication) to submit an existing piece of protest art that I thought was successful for an article on History’s Most Powerful Protest Art. I submitted the clenched fists motif because it’s such a universal image that’s been appropriated by so many movements all over the world for so long because it’s so immediate and soulful. While I was looking at different versions of the clenched fists on the internet for this submission I realized that none of them really looked feminine in a traditional sense, which is a look that I think our generation of feminists is really reclaiming. So that’s when I decided to do my own version of the clenched fists, from there I designed a series of posters, some typographically driven, that I think have this nice balance / tension of being soft and feminine and also strong and bold.
The name For All Womankind seemed so right to me because it quite simply encompasses the idea that this movement, or beginnings of one, is not just about American Women but about oppressed women of all ethnicities from all corners of the world and their right to be free and equal. Angela Davis says that in order to be successful, movements must succeed in making connections, affecting the perspectives of those who do not necessarily associate themselves with those movements. She says it’s not possible to separate issues of gender from issues of race and that we have have to encourage a sense of community when neoliberalism attempts to force people only to think in terms of the individual. I think she’s absolutely right and For All Womankind continues to be inspired by that thinking.
Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

I’m still getting the hang of that stuff myself! I’ve hired an accountant for my taxes this year for the first time. I guess one tip I have is to always build in an administrative fee to your scope of work with freelance gigs for all that time you spend emailing, overseeing production, etc.
Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

"One tip I have is to always build in an administrative fee to your scope of work with freelance gigs for all that time you spend emailing, overseeing production, etc."


Deva Pardue | Freelance Wisdom

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Time-management skills, confidence, and drive.

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Danielle Kroll

We are smitten with this week's interviewee, Danielle Kroll, an artist, illustrator, and textile designer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her whimsical style is captivating. It inspires curiosity and will certainly make your day just a little bit brighter.  

In the past, Danielle has had the pleasure of working with such brands as Anthropologie, Kate Spade New York, Land of Nod and Papyrus. Additionally, she is a co-founder of Beech Hall, a multi-disciplinary artist collective that is currently in it's second release of theme based collections.

Thank you Danielle for sharing your whimsy and wisdom!

Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming an artist and freelance designer.

I had an early interest in art and started painting after I won a summer’s worth of acrylic lessons in the 5th grade. After that I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I was very shy in high school and hated the thought of rejection so much that I only applied to one college, Tyler School of Art. I got in and although I thought I wanted to be a painter, I chose practicality and majored in Graphic Design. After graduating I got a job at Anthropologie on their web design team. I wasn’t interested in interactive design but working for Anthro was totally a dream job, no matter what I was doing.
While working on the web team, occasionally I’d get to illustrate for an email or homepage and that would be the highlight of my week. After a year or so I moved to the Art Department where I worked on store invites, branding projects, and customer gifts. On the side I was keeping a blog of the illustrations I had painted for Anthro and for me. My coworker sent my blog out to a larger design blog, they posted about me and after that I started getting clients. I devoted my week nights to freelance projects for about a year after that. Although my focus was on design with my schooling and my job I felt much more passionate about the non-computer illustration work I was doing on the side. So after 3 years with Anthro I decided to quit and went out to California to do a long distance hike (211 miles!) through the John Muir Trail.
After coming back to the East Coast, I settled in Brooklyn and got to work on my (not very) bustling freelance schedule. I struggled for a while with finding work and, even more so, finding work that I actually wanted to be doing. When I didn’t have commissioned projects, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’d think up personal projects to work on. Eventually more and more client work that I cared about started coming in. My relationship with Anthropologie has always been pertinent to my career and bringing them on as a freelance client has been a really natural fit.
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I feel fortunate because I really didn’t do much. I just posted what I was painting on my blog and then the internet did the rest. This was when Pinterest first started and a lot of my original clients had found me from that. I think my association with Anthropologie helped clients trust my credibility.

You are an independent artist as well as a founder of Beech Hall. That is a lot to manage. Do you have any tips for being your most productive/for balancing multiple ventures?

For me, being busy with 10 things at once is when I’m thriving. I’m definitely a procrastinator and if I have just one thing to do I’ll dread it and avoid it. So if I don’t have several projects going on, I try to make jobs for myself to fill the gaps. That might involve experimenting in a new medium, shopping for art supplies, going to a museum, organizing files, scanning in sketchbooks, cleaning my studio, making ceramic test tiles. Anything that feels productive to my work in some way.
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

What has been your greatest struggle as an artist, and as a designer so far?

I think the great struggle lies in my desire to feel completely fulfilled with my work. Although I am happier than ever with the work I’m making I am still always sightly dissatisfied. That feeling has led me to explore many different pathways and mediums. I like to challenge myself. Seeing how my work adapts to a new situation is really interesting but can also be quite frustrating. I will feel briefly fulfilled when I finish a painting, as that's my comfort zone. But then I’m immediately looking for my next challenge. It wares me down mentally to always be reinventing but I think that dissatisfaction is what motivates me so I’ve grown to embrace it as a positive trait.  My path to a fulfilling career has been sinuous. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel completely fulfilled, but I’m pleased to report that I’m currently content.

What is your favorite thing about working for yourself?

Definitely the flexibility of my schedule. I hate early mornings more than Garfield. Being able to start my day at a time that feels right to me really helps with my productivity.

For Beech Hall you work as a member of a founding team. Do you have any advice for handling communication as a partnership?

It’s definitely tricky to navigate a business amidst a friendship. The three of us have been friends for so long and only started collaborating in the past few years with Beech Hall. What has always been clear is that talking about problems is the best way to fix them. Being open and upfront with each other is the most direct path to a solution that can make everyone feel happy.
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

"Talking about problems is the best way to fix them. Being open and upfront with each other is the most direct path to a solution that can make everyone feel happy."


Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I take a lot of mini adventures. Whether it’s just in my neighborhood, right out of the city, or farther away. I get most of my creative ideas when I’m actively doing something, not even trying to brainstorm. I can always find inspiration at thrift stores, plant nurseries and on hikes. A waterfall of ideas will come to me and it’s actually hard to keep up with them. I actively keep about 8 sketchbooks, all for different things. One for painting sketches, one for pen sketches, one for poems, one for tasks, one for short stories, one for ceramic sketches, one for random ideas… I always have a sketchbook with me, no matter where I’m going. Although it seems that I’m bursting with ideas, I’ve definitely had a tough time this past year with feeling completely uninspired to make anything of my own (client work not included). It was kind of devastating because I’d never felt like that before. Forcing myself to be inspired feels awful so I just waited it out and trusted that I’d feel normal again one day. Luckily that worked though it took about 6 months to shake it off completely.  
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

"I actively keep about 8 sketchbooks, all for different things. One for painting sketches, one for pen sketches, one for poems, one for tasks, one for short stories, one for ceramic sketches, one for random ideas… I always have a sketchbook with me, no matter where I’m going."


Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

Ugh my least favorite part of being self employed! I am very unorganized by nature so it’s a challenge to keep the business side of things in order. Naming your files appropriately and organizing projects with sub-folders would be a good place to start. I just started doing this after 4 years of working for myself and it’s made a huge difference! I would also highly suggest opening a business account and doing all your business related spending on that card. It really helps to have all your expenses in one place when you go to file your taxes.

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I don’t think I’m very good at it so I don’t know if you should listen to me. I just love what I do so much that I always want to be creating. The line between my work and my life is definitely blurry. I do try to accomplish my business work in the mornings: emailing, invoicing, mailing out orders, working on client projects. And by ‘morning’ I mean before 3pm. Then if I get all that done I can do what I want with the rest of my day. Whether that’s working on my own projects, spending time with friends, going to yoga, or cooking a nice meal.
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

"I just love what I do so much that I always want to be creating." 


Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

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