Maddy Nye is a Minneapolis–based designer. After studying graphic design and sustainability, she went on to work as an illustrator and designer in studio and retail settings before starting her own freelance business. She works as a designer and letterer with ban.do, Design Love Fest, and other creative companies.
What made you decide to pursue a freelance career?
At 23, I basically "retired" (for a while). Out of art school and after a spell at a tiny agency, I got an old camper and set out on a wild trek across the Southwest.
That freewheeling formative time ensured that I could probably never settle into a "corporate" job (though I secretly wish I'd had that experience too). Afterward I held several in-house positions around town while moonlighting on side projects. The freedom of self-employment was seductive so I transitioned to freelancing.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I did (and still do) a lot of small projects locally. I like designing for people I know and one good gig will lead to more. A wider network of fellow designers is also awesome for referrals back and forth. And of course the internet is where it's at. I don't exactly have a portfolio online which is pretty irrational, but I've always felt that while I love my job, I could actually shift gears and open a yurt b&b in the desert. I should probably commit to my design career but I'm still figuring out what that is. Branding and websites is what many clients need and it can be your livelihood but I find my focus moving towards stationery, illustration, editorial ideas, and other collaborations. I'm habitually "beginning."
"Branding and websites is what many clients need and it can be your livelihood but I find my focus moving towards stationery, illustration, editorial ideas, and other collaborations. I'm habitually 'beginning.'"
If you work from home, do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Turn on, tune in, and jam on it. I could goof off all day so simply getting started on the task at hand is the only way to make progress. One can take advantage of bursts of creativity or concentration with a home studio. I admire the discipline of those who can seemingly flip their "productive" switch but it's very fluid for me. I do like the sentiment (adapted from Baudelaire) on Delfonics' folders: "Inspiration comes of working." It echoes what many prolific creatives have shared about their practices (Brain Pickings rounds up a bunch of fascinating stuff on this topic). But a lot of "distractions" inform my work as well. It's worthwhile to have well–rounded interests!
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
The autonomy! I'm a lone wolf in many ways but I crave abit more interaction with colleagues. Sometimes it feels I'm reinventing the wheel when it comes to certain aspects of my business and could use another artist's eye or help with project management, so I'm definitely open to working under creative direction and with others who have compatible skills.
What is your favorite thing about being a freelancer?
The lifestyle! Flexibility for daydreamers. And the variety of projects. I like bouncing around between surface design, my shop, identities, personal projects, contributing to a blog, and just everyday living and partying.
Tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Others have so many useful tips to share (5 Questions for 100Designers is full of pros) ; I am winging it a lot of the time. The usual: streamline your process + keep track of everything incoming and outgoing in Google Docs + set aside a good chunk of your income. I'm lucky to have Fox Tax (in Minneapolis) which specializes in taxes for artists.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Work–life overlap is very fuzzy. I'm totally not always working. I take on enough interesting jobs to sustain my (admittedly ordinary) life and what I enjoy. And work is just embedded in living so I don't draw a line between it and everything else I do… I think however you balance your time is fine as long as you make it happen!
Fill in the blank: The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Ingenuity + diligence + audacity.