Jess Bruggink is an artist and designer residing in Minneapolis. She is currently self-employed as a freelance designer with a focus on surface and pattern design. She has 6 years experience as a stationery and product designer at Mara-Mi. Her designs can be found in Mara-Mi, Russell + Hazel, Target, TJ Maxx, Papersource, Indigo, Patina, and boutique stores across the country. AND she is a member of our Creative Lady Directory.
Thank you Jess for sharing your wisdom!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.
I've always known that I wanted to pursue freelancing at some point. I dreamed of having a flexible schedule, setting my own hours, and working with clients directly. I also loved the thought of having more time at home while still pursuing a career that I'm passionate about.
After my daughter was born, it felt natural to pause and have some time at home with her. I left my full time job and used any free time I had to work on putting my website together and building a catalog of new pattern work. I also took this time to get organized (at least more so than I had been!).
Then after a few months, I started pursuing design and illustration opportunities and working at my studio a couple days a week.
You worked at Mara Mi for 6 years. How did your time at Mara Mi prepare you to take on freelance work?
I started working at Mara Mi when I was pretty young and still learning a lot about myself as a designer. Working there, I learned how much I loved to paint and hand letter. It's hard to believe, but I used to be scared to pick up a paint brush. Now that's usually my first step!
I worked with many talented women, all with different styles and perspectives. It was an excellent place to develop a range of skills because I touched so many different types of products and projects.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
Work has come from a relatively equal balance of social media and word-of-mouth referrals. Instagram and Dribbble have proven to be great ways to attract clients that are looking for my skill set and my style. I use these platforms to reintroduce past client work and present new personal work. I'm nearing the end of a 100 Day series of patterns. That series has been a really fun challenge that will not only broaden my catalog of work but also draw in new clients.
However, as beneficial as social media has been, I've probably had more success making real life connections. It's been extremely helpful to meet with people in the industry and pass my work along. These meeting don’t always lead to an immediate project but keep me top-of-mind when something does come up.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
My biggest struggle has been the social side of freelance: both networking and communicating with clients. Naturally a shy person, the thought of directly reaching out to potential clients and clearly articulating my work made me a bit nervous.
However, it's definitely been a good challenge for me. I learned that I actually enjoy presenting my work to clients, especially on a one-to-one level. Networking in the industry has also been more enjoyable and less awkward than I initially thought. It's been incredibly helpful and inspiring to meet so many talented people with similar career goals. The Creative Lady Directory has been amazing for this!
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
What I love most about freelancing is that every day can look so different but I can set the tone. I can work from different locations, meet someone for coffee or spend the whole day painting. There is plenty of variety but I get to set my schedule and manage my own work load. I can work late on a project one day and the next day I can take a few hours off to get inspired or run errands. I like being in control of my day and I that I can switch it up so things feel fresh.
How do you stay creatively inspired?
If I'm in a creative rut, it's usually helpful to go somewhere that may not seem directly related to art and design. Then I view my surroundings through a creative lens. For example, I love visiting our nearby botanical conservatory. I'll take photos of leaf shapes and flower colors and leave incredibly inspired to make new patterns with new palettes.
My husband, Ross, is also a designer. I love that we can bounce ideas off of each other and share what's inspiring to us at the time. Our aesthetics are pretty different so it's enlightening to see how we both interpret shared inspiration in different ways.
Since you are your own boss and a mom, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I'd love to say that I have this figured out but I certainly don't! I've never liked categorizing my life into "work" and “home”. There is a great deal of overlap between the two. It's helpful for me, however, to have a couple days of the week to fully dedicate to work. When I'm home, I always make an effort to be fully present with my daughter and use her nap times to check and write emails, make mood boards or scan new art. I'll usually make a to do list each day, but acknowledge that very little of it may get done when I'm home with her. I'm really thankful that she'll grow up seeing me working in a career that I enjoy so much.
"I'm really thankful that she'll grow up seeing me working in a career that I enjoy so much."
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
passion, discipline, and patience