We are fan-girling hard over this week's interview with designer and lettering legend Lauren Hom.
Known for her bright color palettes and playful letterforms, Lauren has created work for clients like Starbucks, Google, AT&T, YouTube and TIME Magazine. Her work has been recognized by Communication Arts, the Art Directors Club, the Type Directors Club, the One Club, and the Webby Awards. Lauren is also the author of the popular blog (and now book) Daily Dishonesty.
We could not be more grateful for the wisdom she shares below, including a brilliant tip about how salsa can solve your productivity woes!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and letterer.
Me becoming a hand letterer was a happy accident! I actually went to art school for creative advertising and started my career at an ad agency. I always had an interest in lettering, but it was just a hobby...until it wasn't! Senior year of college, I started a blog called Daily Dishonesty as a fun project to practice lettering, and it ended up going viral, landing me a book deal, and circulating my work around the web. Within about a year, I had enough freelance work to comfortably leave my full-time agency job, and I've been paying the bills with lettering ever since.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I attracted 99% of my first bigger clients through the exposure I got from Daily Dishonesty. My first editorial job was from Los Angeles Magazine. The design director had seen my work on a popular type blog, and he hired me to do some hand lettering for a feature article. Shortly after the piece hit newsstands, I had other magazines lining up for editorial work! That one magazine spread started a chain reaction of luck: within the year, I’d lettered 10 covers and 7 interior spreads for magazines like Time Out New York, Washingtonian Magazine, and TIME Magazine.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
My productivity tips are pretty simple: make realistic to-do lists, focus 100% of your energy on one task at a time, and eat light, healthy meals (big meals tend to make me sleepy haha). When things get really dire and I can't seem to focus or get motivated, my weird secret weapon is to stop what I'm doing, go to the kitchen, and chop vegetables to make salsa. People usually laugh when they hear this, but it's my tried & true method for getting into a more productive mode! I think that productivity compounds, so if I complete a small task like making salsa, it makes me feel good and that feeling carries over into my work day. Oh and also, now I have a delicious bowl of salsa, which makes the day even better.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
The flexibility! I love being able to have autonomy over when and where I work. I'm definitely a night owl, so I love that I can make my own schedule. If I feel a creative spark at 11pm, I can follow it down the rabbit hole and not worry about having to wake up early the next day.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
The same way I attracted my first big clients: organic exposure through my passion projects! I'm a firm believer that you don't need to wait for a client project to come along in order to do the work. For example: a few years ago, I wanted to get hired to do chalkboard lettering but didn't have any of it in my portfolio, so I came up with this project called Will Letter for Lunch to build up a portfolio and get my name out there. I offered to do "daily special" chalkboards for local restaurants in exchange for the exact menu items I wrote out, and the project got a ton of press and booked me lots of paid chalk work over the next years. I've noticed that the more passion projects I create, the more paid projects I receive.
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
Haha I feel like I'm going to sound like a broken record, but the answer to this is ALSO my passion projects. The same way a little productivity inspires more productivity in me, a little creativity inspired even more in me. Working on passion projects lets me explore a bunch of different styles, ideas, and mediums, which keeps me creatively inspired. I'm a big believer that every experience in my life contributes to my creative work. I've been just as inspired by sharing a bottle of wine with a girlfriend as taking a trip around the world.
You've written some great articles on your blog and on Medium regarding freelance work. What inspired you to share this wisdom?
When I was in design school, I used to love reading blog posts from designers like Gail Anderson and Jessica Hische, so I feel like it's my duty to share everything I've learned with the next generation of creatives. I used to feel like I was too young and inexperienced to have anything valuable to teach others, but one day I realized that you don't have to have 20 years of experience under your belt to teach; all you need to know is a little more than someone else. I try to share information that I would've loved to know 5 years ago! As designers (especially female designers), we're all on the same team. No one HAS to share their creative process or business tips, but so many people choose to. Why? Because smart creatives value community over competition. If you've ever benefitted from someone else sharing their wisdom freely, you should do your part and share yours. This quote from Kevin Spacey sums it up really beautifully: "If you're lucky enough to find success, it's your responsibility to send the elevator back down for someone else."
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I've never been a fan of paperwork, so I actually got an agent to represent me as an illustrator right before I began my full-time freelance career. I noticed that all of my favorite designers had agents, so I thought there must be something to it. Before lettering was my full-time thing, I was managing my freelance work by myself and spending just as much time managing invoices and contracts as I was actually designing things. While I think it's good to have a basic understanding of how your business works, it can be draining to have to do everything yourself. I think it's smart to hire someone who specializes in the areas that you don't. I have an illustration agent, an accountant, and a marketing coach. Trusting them to do what they do best helps me focus on what I do (and love to do) best: make cool shit.