Wesley Bird is an Art Director, Illustrator, and Designer currently living in Los Angeles, California.
After majoring in painting and printmaking at San Diego State, Wesley got her start working in the art department at Hurley. Three years later she moved to Sydney, Australia to work with Hurley's International division. Wesley currently works as an Art Director at Society6, responsible for all marketing creatives and initiatives. As a freelancer she has illustrated designs for home goods sold exclusively at Urban Outfitters, created custom apparel graphics for Mate the Label and Daydreamer LA, and illustrated type projects for clients and personal promotion.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer, illustrator, and art director.
It evolved pretty naturally actually. I studied painting and printmaking in college and interned at Hurley after my first year of school. It was there that I learned how to use the Adobe design programs and all about apparel design, production and printing techniques. After school I worked for another surf company doing apparel and graphic design. It was a very small company so I wore a lot of hats and just learned along the way. I worked on tech packs, marketing materials, apparel graphics, went to design tradeshows and grew a ton. I then went back to Hurley to work in the art department and design women’s apparel graphics and textile prints.
After a few years, I started to feel a little burnt out on apparel and made the shift to marketing design at Society6. When I started there, our marketing team was myself and one other person. I was given the freedom to build a lifestyle brand with very little direction and hand-holding, which meant I learned how to shoot lifestyle photography, build emails, create marketing campaigns, and learn how to read data so I knew what was working and what wasn’t. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, and again, I learned a ton. After almost two years at Society6 I was promoted to Art Director and that’s what I am currently doing while freelancing on the side.
I think it was important for me to get a degree in fine art. It helps me as an illustrator to not feel confined by my computer. If there is something I can’t solve with a cursor, I can pick up a pencil and paper and work it out that way. All of my time spent in marketing design helped me learn best practices and become a smarter and more effective creative. I know some people do just fine starting out as freelancers and I am incredibly impressed by these people, but I am definitely not one of them! I needed the structure of a full-time job, a corporate environment, difficult bosses and creative directors to thicken my skin and teach me better communication skills to be an effective freelancer. Everything I learned in my early days of design shaped who I am now and taught me skills I can offer my clients now as a freelancer! It also taught me accountability, organization, and patience. All of which are incredibly important when working for yourself!
"If there is something I can’t solve with a cursor, I can pick up a pencil and paper and work it out that way."
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Honestly, it was from posting my work on Society6. At the time, back in 2010, they had a licensing program with Urban Outfitters and I was selected for inclusion in their print shop program. My art prints were sold on Urbanoutfitters.com and in their stores and it got me a lot of good exposure. From there I just started to get freelancing requests from clients who had seen my art at UO and it just kind of went from there. At that time I was also working in the Art Department at Hurley, and as I posted the work I was doing there on my website and social I got a lot of interest that way too.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I make lists and love checking off items. I am also a huge advocate for taking breaks and going outside. Thankfully, I have a dog on a schedule so it forces me to get out of the house and walk a few times a day without a screen in front of my face. Also, I know I work best in the morning so I try to knock out as much work as possible while the juices are flowing and then I stress less in the afternoon. I have a lot of friends who are most productive in the afternoon so it’s just about knowing when you’re at your best and taking advantage of your energy and inspiration!
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
I am not the most patient person and I expect a lot, sometimes too much, from myself. These are pretty terrible traits when it comes to freelancing haha. We’ve all had those clients that drive us up the wall, give terrible feedback, and very rarely, make us hate our jobs. It’s in those moments of terrible impatience and intense personal pressure that I have to remind myself how grateful I am to have these talents and be able to create for others.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
Every new project is so different! I love the variety. I also love the feeling of wrapping a project where the client leaves stoked. That “feel good” moment is probably the best part.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I think it’s important to stay active on social media, post on your blog if you have one, and keep your website fresh and up-to-date with your best work. In periods of less freelance work, create work for fun that represents your own design style. The ultimate goal as a freelancer is to attract clients that want you for you, not just someone who knows Photoshop and can follow orders. So constantly post personal and client work that you are proud of on your social channels. Social media can serve you in two ways, it can act as a mini work and life portfolio and it shows potential clients that you are busy and have other work. This makes you relatable and desirable. The ultimate win, win!
"In periods of less freelance work, create work for fun that represents your own design style."
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
This is my ultimate least favorite part of freelance work (doesn’t every designer say this?!). I am pretty bad at responding quickly to emails, but it’s one of the things I promised myself I would work on for 2016. I literally have to schedule an hour a few nights a week in my iCal for answering emails. If I don’t schedule it, it doesn’t happen and emails (aka projects and MONEY) just get lost in the void.
Invoicing is my favorite admin thing to do because I actually fully designed out my invoices so they look rad - and I kid you not, just doing that made the whole process way more fun for me. If that’s what it will take for you to get stoked about invoicing, do it! I tricked my mind into thinking it’s fun haha.
Lastly, definitely hire an accountant. I married one so I totally lucked out (he gets weirdly excited about doing our taxes). But don’t let the stresses of trying to figure out how much you owe the government get in the way of your happiness. You will be more organized and productive and your quality of life will just be better if you hire a professional.
Since you still work for Society6 and freelance on the side, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Honestly, it’s hard! But having a full-time job has actually given me the freedom to be pickier about the freelance I take on. I am pretty good about knowing my limits so if I know I simply can’t handle one more thing, I will say no. I think it’s okay to do this. Not only would you be sacrificing your quality of life, but you’d be giving your clients less than 100%. I have had clients wait a decent amount of time until my calendar cleared up just to work with me. People respect honesty.
I’m not going to lie though, there are times where my husband has gently told me to shut down work for the night. Know your limits - and if you have a partner, know their limits too :)
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Great communication skills, Organized, Efficient