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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Aimee Guzman

Welcome back and Happy New Year!

This week we are chatting with Aimee Guzman, a Creative Lady Directory member, graphic designer, brand strategist, and founder of Little Trailer Studio in Los Angeles. We love her clean lines, soft color palette, and general optimism and spontaneity. Thank you for sharing with us Aimee!  

Aimee Guzman | Freelance Wisdom

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

I'm going to break this question down in three parts in order to give you more of the full picture.
Part 1
I received my degree in theater and LGBTQ studies (yes that's a thing!) from UCSB but a few years into the "real world" I realized I liked graphic design. So after getting fired from my corporate job I figured that was the perfect opportunity to explore more of my creative side and my curiosity in design and I decided to do that in Mexico City. While hanging out there for a summer I volunteered at a travel magazine called Travesias and that's where I was really exposed to design. After spending a few weeks there I saw how cool it would be to have a career where I get to argue with coworkers about fonts.
Part 2
So once I came back from Mexico City the next thing was how to get a career in design. I completely felt like I was starting over and I thought I was too old to do that (keep in mind I was only 23 at the time). But I felt that having a career that I knew I would love was worth the wait. Design isn't a career where you can just switch over, you need a portfolio and the easiest way I thought to do that was to go back to school. I had many people telling me to just teach myself by watching youtube videos but I know my learning style and I knew that having a nicely laid out curriculum would be less overwhelming and more my style. While I was in school I got a design job on campus, I became president of the design club and pretty much surrounded myself with all things design.
Part 3
My first official design job was working as an in-house designer at Pressed Juicery. It was extremely fast paced and I enjoyed working in the marketing department because it showed me the role that design plays in a larger message and a business' goals. I liked the environment, the free juice, and the whole world of wellness that I was exposed to but after a short while I felt that it was time to move on. When I started looking for potential jobs I didn't really see anything out there that fit the type of clients I wanted to work with or the type of design I wanted to do. And keeping it real, I didn't feel that my portfolio was up to par for the jobs I was attracted to. So my plan was to quit and then freelance for a while until my portfolio was good enough to get my dream job. Along the way I thought to myself "hey maybe I should give this freelance thing a real shot and open my own studio." So I quit my job without really knowing what services I would offer but I was really ready for the next chapter of my career. So I took the plunge and never looked back!
Aimee Guzman | Freelance Wisdom

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

I'm still in that process now. I think the more specific I've gotten with what I want my position to be in the market and who I want to attract is when things started falling in to place. I recently redesigned my website and got clearer on my services and approach to branding and that for sure has given me more visibility with the right type of clients.

Can you tell us a bit more about your brand strategy process?

My process revolves asking a lot of questions and getting to the core of a business. It's easy for clients to say "make my brand look like that brand over there" or "so-and-so is doing xyz on their Instagram so I'll just do that." And we've all been there right? But I help clients set the foundation so that every business decision stems from who they are and what their clients need from them. We get really specific on who their customer is, determine brand attributes, the brand voice, what makes their biz special and different from the rest. After doing extensive discovery session I get to work on the visuals which is the fun part! My clients love seeing how strategy gets translated into something you can actually see.
Aimee Guzman | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Figure out when you are most creative and design your schedule around that. For example, I used to start my day by reading blogs and just perusing the internet, but now I get straight to work and save my reading/social media time for when I need a break. Another thing I do is have my phone on silent and on the other side of the room. That way I'm not interrupted and don't have the temptation to check my social media every half hour.

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

My greatest struggle has been figuring out what type of business model works for me. Do I want to be a soloprenuer forever? Do I want to grow a team? What are my offerings? That type of stuff.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My favorite thing is knowing that all my successes are mine and all of my failures are mine. It used to bother me when higher-ups at previous jobs would make bad decisions that affected me but I had no input in. And I like that my success is dependent on me just having the courage to do it!
Aimee Guzman | Freelance Wisdom

"My favorite thing is knowing that all my successes are mine and all of my failures are mine."


How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

One thing I've started doing is create work that I feel represents my aesthetic even if it's not actual client work. I also think about what my ideal client (I've named her Elena) is going through and what does she need to see, think, hear in order to trust that I'm the best choice for her! Then I design my marketing strategy around that. ;-) Also the new website has definitely helped!

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

Having a social life and traveling keeps me the most inspired. Even being a tourist in my own city gets me inspired. The other day I took the bus around Santa Monica with a camera and just took a bunch of pics like a tourist. When I came home I had the cutest idea for a little owl logo that was inspired by a hotel I came across. For me personally it really is about having little adventures like that and pretending like I'm in a Wes Anderson movie.
Aimee Guzman | Freelance Wisdom

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

I just started using 17 hats for sending quotes and one thing I love about it is that the client can approve the quote, sign and give their deposit all at once. They can even add add-ons to the quote. So for example, let's say they want to add on an email template and social media banners, I've already set a price for that so they can easily check those little boxes and they get automatically added to the quote!

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

I want my business to succeed but I also don't want to work so hard that I resent my business so for that reason I don't work on weekends unless I really really really really have to and I don't take my laptop with me when I travel for the holidays. I also don't check my email when I'm out and about. Basically all the stuff that I didn't like about my previous jobs I make sure I don't do in my own business. Ultimately you have to decide where your boundaries are and stick to them because once you let things slide it's too easy to get stuck in bad habits. And I make a real effort to leave my apartment on weekends and hang out with non-business friends.

"Ultimately you have to decide where your boundaries are and stick to them" 


Aimee Guzman | Freelance Wisdom

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

Self-awareness, dedication, a mix of "this is important but it's not that important."

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Nicole Miyuki Santo

For our final interview of 2016, we bring you another inspiring female creative from our Creative Lady Directory, Nicole Miyuki Santo, a lettering artist, graphic designer and teacher who specializes in the simplistic details and bringing individuals' and businesses' stories to life.

From working in house for Bash Please, to helping create the Wellen Women brand, to teaching calligraphy workshops in person and online for the Modern Calligraphy Summit and Brit + Co, Nicole Santo has had quite the freelance journey. With the new year on the horizon we are grateful for a dose of Nicole's enthusiasm as well as her productivity and self-care tips. Enjoy!

Nicole Santo | Freelance Wisdom

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

This freelance life is actually recent for me! I went fully on my own in January 2016 so I'm nearing my one year and boy has it been a ride! Looking back, I think my life has been paving the way for me to be a freelancer. Growing up, I've always been someone who juggled things, with sports, activities and even in college being a part of every association I could. I liked so many different things and being around different people and taking it all in. When I had a full-time job after college it was a hard transition to be at a 9-5 staring at a computer all day. I was inspired by my friend Jen B Peters (who you did an interview with you - hey girl!) who started a tumblr and drew an illustration everyday for a year. I've always loved quotes and watercolors so I decided to combine the two and Grounded on the Daily was born. Wow it's crazy looking back on that! This snowballed in to starting an etsy store and selling at Unique LA ( a craft show in LA). Then I fell in to the wedding world working in house for the crazy talented Bash Please as well as working part-time with a dream job to help design and create a brand called Wellen Women. A few years passed and when things started shifting, I knew it was the time to take the leap to do this on my own - so here I am now :)
Nicole Santo | Freelance Wisdom
Nicole Santo | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us a bit about your teaching? What inspired you to offer online courses and in person workshops?

Teaching, yes! First off, I am not someone who has liked public speaking or the attention all on me. I'm quite the opposite. But I think this has allowed me to embrace what I do love, which is one-on-one connection. My teaching style is focused on each person individually as it's my goal to help shine the light and for them to see that they too can do this! In my workshops, I do a group lesson in the beginning and then go around the room and help each student one-on-one. Everyone is different - maybe it's their grip, or the angle of the brush or the amount of water they are using. But I love helping each student work through it and when that AH HA moment happens and it clicks, that is the absolute best!
Now to online. I soon realized that if you weren't in the city I was teaching, there wasn't a way for you to take my workshop. And as life was doing it's thing, a special opportunity popped up for me and I was part of the first Modern Calligraphy Summit online where 9 of us recorded videos on our craft and shared it with over 2,000 lettering enthusiasts who signed up and joined us. This was a new challenge to make sure that these students would still achieve that same AH HA moment even without me being there in person. And scary, to say the least, that I would have to record a video! But it was a huge success and it's been so humbling to receive messages that my class was very approachable, that they enjoyed my teaching style and that they learned to love watercolor brush lettering! win win :) I also have another online course with Brit + Co, available now and that one is a great way to dive in to the craft for newbies and anyone looking to brush up their skills. Ha no pun intended.
Nicole Santo | Freelance Wisdom
Nicole Santo | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

O yes being productive. Everyone is different and I think things will always be changing for me, but here's a few tips:
1) Listen to podcasts \\ When I'm lettering or doing something that doesn't require an email writing brain, I love to listen and just take in the awesome knowledge of others. A few of my favorite podcasters are: Jess Lively, Jenna Kutcher, Sean Wes, Liz Gilbert and so many Ted talks.
2) Break up the day \\ For me I work well in spurts rather than sitting at my desk for an entire 8 hours. I live right by a pool, so I'll often take a 20 minute swim break or go to lunch with a friend. It helps to break up the day and be productive for the time that I do have and make the most of it.
3) Keep a notebook with you at all times \\ It's nice to have something to jot your thoughts down. I recently listened to a podcast that was saying if you think of something to do and you don't do it right away, your brain will subconsciously keep popping that thought up in your brain throughout the day until you release it and let it go (writing it down) or actually doing it. Working freelance you have so many things going on at once so this has been super helpful!
4) Get sleep! \\ Recently I've been putting my phone on sleep mode when I go to bed (it allows you to still receive texts but your phone won't light up or buzz) and it has been the best, seriously. I used to think that I was invincible and that I didn't need sleep. Not sure if it's with age (might be) but I am way happier and productive when I get 7-8 hours of sleep!

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

Self-doubt. That little voice in your head that likes to creep in and tries to tell you that you don't know what you are doing or that x person is better because he/she is doing this. For anyone who can relate, please know that I'm right there with you and I can imagine SO may others are as well. What has helped me personally with these thoughts is actually doing yoga. This may not be for you, so I totally encourage you to find your safe space whether that be a physical activity or surrounding yourself with loved ones. For me, yoga has been that place that I return to on the daily and get out of my head and back to that space of living with love rather than fear.
Nicole Santo | Freelance Wisdom

"I totally encourage you to find your safe space whether that be a physical activity or surrounding yourself with loved ones. For me, yoga has been that place that I return to on the daily and get out of my head and back to that space of living with love rather than fear."


Nicole Santo | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

Connection. Being able to help bring other's visions, dreams and ideas to reality. It's getting to work one-on-one with a client who is taking the leap, starting his/her own business and needs help with bringing it to life. Or a student who is nervous to take the step to take on their first calligraphy job and needs someone to tell them "hell yes you can!" In addition, this freelance journey has allowed me a space to be connected to myself. When you are your own boss and no one is telling you what to do, you have to be hard on yourself to push through and yet still be kind and be your own cheerleader. This past year has been about learning to love myself and understanding that by following your heart and doing what you love, that too may shine the light on others to do the same.
Thank you Freelance Wisdom for having me here and being a space for creatives to come to. I am honored to be amongst such talent and wonderful spirit.
Nicole Santo | Freelance Wisdom
Feeling inspired? Nicole has a few workshops listed for 2017!

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