Tania Guerra

If the beginning of 2018 is delivering a little dose of overwhelm (it certainly is for us) than this is the interview for you!

Introducing Tania Guerra, a New York City based graphic designer and illustrator whose work has been featured in digital and print at GlamourGlam Belleza LatinaBuzzfeedBeauty AtlasAllure Korea and Joe Fresh. Tania's perspective is deep, her style loose, and her insights grounding.

We hope you'll enjoy her wisdom as much as we do.

Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer and illustrator.

I started working as a graphic designer with in-house teams shortly after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Three years into working as a designer for Glamour magazine, I parted ways in order to begin doing something absolutely cliché: I quit my corporate job to travel indefinitely. I did this along with my long-time partner who probably heard the same whispers calling for Latin America. We wanted to disrupt the nine to five routine which, along with the one hour commute each way, left us with very little time in the week to be something other than who we work for. In order to afford what would end up being a year-long, sort of sabbatical, we worked hard at saving but also intended on picking up some freelance gigs while on the road. I had recently taken to illustrating which was something I wanted to build on during this time.

You mentioned that you were recently in a place of transition and big decision-making. Can you tell us more about that and where 2018 finds you so far? 

Embarking on this trip, I inadvertently decided I'd transition into being a freelancer indefinitely. Because our travels ended summer of last year (2017), the final months of 2017 became a time for adjusting to being back in the states and loosely planning the next year. There was a sense of endless possibilities, but the endless part was—well—endlessly daunting. We allowed ourselves the space to figure out the next steps but I felt more confused than ever, and anxiety took its toll. When we least expected it, my partner found a great opportunity in South America and I found some great in-house freelance design opportunities to work with until I make the move to reunite with him.
I learned a really important lesson during this time that I hope to carry with me going forward: Putting my creativity to use gives me a chance to become part of the world around me and not just a spectator, but an active participant. There really is value in life when contributing to something greater than yourself.
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom

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

Showing your personal projects brings fun things your way. Three years ago I started posting daily five-minute sketches on Instagram, which is how the people I worked with took notice of my interest in illustration, and it quickly became a fun addition to my job. They sent me assignments after I left the country, essentially kickstarting my freelance illustration pursuits. I have other peers who have rooted for me and kept me in mind for fantastic assignments. They also offer great advice on what they look for when hiring illustrators.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

Having a designated spot in your home where you do your work is generally good advice. It's your "where the magic happens" MTV Cribs style spot, but the magic being work—not baby-making. Without my own place to call home, being on the road so much meant a constant change of environment for getting work done. It keeps things fresh and takes the monotony out of the equation, which I'm all for every now and then. There is, however, nothing like having your own place to scatter your thoughts, materials, and make something of them.
For productivity tools, at the moment I'm using the Wunderlist app to keep track of projects. It lets you to set deadline reminders and add subtasks to each item on your list which helps to detail every step of a project instead of one vague task. Approaching an editorial project for example might require these steps (or subtasks): reply to client's request establishing deadline and budget, submit 2-3 sketches, illustrate and submit chosen sketch for approval, submit final illustration based on any feedback, email invoice, invoice processed. 
I also started adding ideas to a personal projects list so that when I have a break from assignments I have a list to refer to and no excuses not to get to work. I recommend trying one tool, making it work for you and if you find yourself wishing it had other features look for the tool that has that. Your process evolves, so it's only natural that your tools evolve with it. Start simple.
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom

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

Not knowing when to say "no" and time-management. It's embarrassingly hard for me to visualize time. Chronology has no place in my brain. Honing in on tools and a process that help me visualize my schedule will be the most important move of 2018.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

Seeing more of my family since I can spend days at a time visiting them while I get some work done. Also, sleeping in! I’m a night owl and am only slightly curious about what people do in the morning. There's nothing like the liberty of creating your own schedule and working with the hours of the day that are most productive for you. I'm actually a big homebody so it all works out. Now all I need is a place to call home...
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom

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

No tips here as of yet. I'm looking for advice myself and I've already found so many good tips on Freelance Wisdom that I'll be looking into for the business side of things. 

How do you whet your creative appetite?

I love seeing what other people are doing in all fields, while remembering to compare myself to them as little as possible. I'd say, be inspired by others but remember your success will manifest differently from theirs. You may have noticed I also like to travel which is the best way to see what's out there in terms of art, design, culture, politics, etc,. I also find the range of emotions you feel on the subway in NYC to be full of possibilities. 
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for closing out 2017 and setting yourself up for success in 2018?

Placing an emphasis on working well with people and doing your best work pays off. Being valuable or reliable to the people you work with, or people you respect, will be one of your greatest investments. 
2017 was one of the toughest years for a lot of people—I had a small ulcer to prove it—but in 2018 we should take that frustration and turn it into magic. In terms of setting yourself up for success, it's easy to put yourself down about not finding that "thing."  I think a lot of us aren't really meant to do one thing and it's a hell of a journey discovering all the little things that make you amazing. Accept that the roads deviate and get a little muddy when it rains. It's only natural.
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom

Any special projects you are looking forward to in 2018?

Working on fun editorial projects including an awesome international title. Once I move, I look forward to finally diving deeper into personal projects I've had on the back burner while I've been hustling here in NYC. I'll be making moves to expand on my La Greñua character who began as a character on my Instagram stories. I’d love for her to be the beginning of my online store before the year ends.

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

Knowing your worth, enjoying your worth, and recognizing where there's a lesson in every project.
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom
Tania Guerra | Freelance Wisdom

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Kati Forner

Kati Forner is a Los Angeles based designer, with over 10 years of experience in print, digital, and production. After studying classical design and form at Arizona State University, Kati began her professional career in Chicago working with several design agencies. Three years ago, Kati brought her studio to Los Angeles where she is currently accepting new design opportunities. 

Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

I started in college, studying Graphic Design at Arizona State. The program director was originally from Basel School of Design, so the curriculum was focused more on traditional design principles and less on learning the actual software needed for design execution. This principle-based structure played a huge role in me finding my design voice, and not always relying on the computer to find visual solutions.
A couple weeks after graduation I packed up, moved to Chicago, and began working at larger agencies with mostly stale corporate clients. It took me about 6 years to realize that wasn't for me. Between that and the rough Chicago winters, I made the decision to move to Los Angeles, where I wanted to work with smaller studios. I spent my first few years at a couple different shops. When you do not have the luxury of support staff, like say at a big agency, everyone has to wear many hats. That is honestly where I learned a lot about the business side of running a studio.
To be completely transparent, I had a bad experience with one studio that honestly pushed me to want to start my own thing. I didn't have a set plan, but I knew I could not carry on with the way things were. So, I took the leap completely unprepared. I was terrified. But, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I wish I would have done it sooner. However, my experience with large and small studios was crucial to getting me to where I am at now.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

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

With the quick decision to go out on my own, and with no plan in place, I had zero clients lined up. Not the smartest move, but it forced me to hustle. I reached out to businesses I wanted to design for and started putting my work out into the world, sharing on Behance and Instagram (something I had never done before). I gradually began to build up my portfolio with the few projects I was taking in, and those started to attract other like-minded clients.
I also consciously made the time to photograph and art direct every finished project, working on photoshoots with my partner, TJ Tambellini. I think this played a huge role in attracting new, interesting clients.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I try to stick to a schedule throughout the week. As a personal rule I try to take all meetings between 9:00-11:00, and then I can focus on concepting and design until I stop for the day. But having that uninterrupted design time is crucial to my personal process.

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

Definitely work/life balance. I truly love and am passionate about what I do. Because of that, I have a hard time taking breaks and saying no. For the first year or so I worked almost every weekend and 10-13 hour days. Not the greatest for my mental health, and it started to affect not only my work but my personal relationships as well. I'm still working on this, but I have learned the importance of, and am getting better at, setting boundaries and taking breaks. Obtaining more of that balance is a big goal of mine in 2018.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

Coming from the 9 to 5 world, the flexible freelance work schedule is obviously a perk. But as I mentioned before, in the beginning I felt like I was more strict with my schedule than if I was working at an agency. Over the last few months I’ve learned to embrace my situation more and allow myself more flexibility.
I also love the ability to choose the projects I'm passionate about and truly excited to bring to life, something I wasn’t able to do at first. Being able to work with more creative, artisanal brands has been so refreshing, especially thinking back to my more corporate agency days.
In addition, I am lucky enough to work with a majority of women business owners. Being able to play a small part in bringing their vision to life has been a super rewarding part of going out on my own.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

When you take on jobs that you are passionate about the final work shows. Then our portfolio resonates with other similar like-minded clients.
I also mentioned this before, but art directed photoshoots of finished collateral is an important investment. I know there are great mockups out there... but it makes for a much stronger presentation when you show the identity the way that you’ve intended it to be seen. Whether it's detail shots of the textured paper, or a custom sticker you created to seal an envelope, you made all of those decisions for a reason and when potential clients see these details it makes them want something equally as thoughtful. Working with you becomes even more appealing to them.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about the biggest creative risk you’ve taken in your career and what you learned from it.

So far, taking the leap to start my own studio. I'm overly cautious in life so risk-taking doesn't come easy to me. However, I am planning to make some exciting changes this year so stay tuned!

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

I use Harvest to keep track of my invoices, payments, and expenses. It's super useful and connects to Quickbooks seamlessly. I use Asana for scheduling and project management. I have also recently brought on a Producer to assist with larger projects so I can focus more on design and less on the project admin tasks.

How do you whet your creative appetite?

Stepping away from the computer and looking for inspiration outside of graphic design always works for me. To be able to understand what makes good composition and harmony not only in graphic design but also in architecture, interior design, music, cinema, photography, etc., makes for a well-rounded creative in my opinion.  
In addition, my partner is a photographer and musician with great taste (if I do say so myself :-)) so he is always exposing me to new and interesting things that I most likely would not find on my own.
And not to sound too cliche but travel is the absolute best thing to stir up creativity. In general, exposing myself to different and new perspectives always inspires.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

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

I know this is something that I still need to work on. However, setting boundaries and passing on projects I'm not passionate about has been working for me. In the beginning I basically took on every project that came my way and worked crazy hours in order to meet unrealistic deadlines. Burnout quickly set in; it's impossible to be creative and produce your best work when you're mentally exhausted. I made some changes last year including taking on fewer projects at a time, trying to work as little as possible during the weekends and keeping that time for myself. This has helped a ton.

Any special projects you are looking forward to?

I am working with a super amazing actress/model who is creating an equally as incredible lifestyle brand and I'm also working on the branding for a few fashion and beauty brands that I'm excited to share soon!
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

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

Crazy strong work ethic.
Passion for what you do.
Having a point of view.
Kati Forner | Freelance Wisdom

Get Social with Kati

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#fwportfolio

Your work inspires us daily, so we decided to carve out another space for celebration. Below you will find some of our recent favorites from #fwportfolio

Thank you for sharing and we hope you will enjoy!

You just saw "colour to brighten a gloomy day" by @melanie.johnsson, a fun branding project by @littletrailerstudio, watercolor inspiration by @claudiabdesign, art direction by @kaileycreative, reflective illustration by @leysaflores, surface pattern design by @laurelautumn, the research phase of graphic designer @fernandetfirmin, @amberasays color version that did not make the cut, refreshed website design by @annawassmer, 2018 planning by @studiolmh, #nationalbirdday painting by @patricehorvath and a Palm Springs pattern by @jenbpeters