Interview

Katie Thierjung

Katie Thierjung is a designer, visual artist, and Creative Lady Directory member, living in Orange County, CA. Inspired by color and form, she’s always searching for new ways to create and incorporate visual joy into her everyday life. Her lifestyle brand/shop, The Uncommon Place, features unique accessories that have a bright, mid-century twist.

Katie Thierjung | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming the creative designer behind The Uncommon Place.

Growing up, I always had some sort of creative outlet. I would find any chance to draw during free time and doodle on my homework assignments while in school. Art projects were always my favorite and they really gave me a chance to shine. I appreciated things that were both unique and visually pleasing, and I always knew that my creative brain wouldn’t be able to handle anything having to do with logic or math, no matter how hard I tried.

I never considered art as a “real” option for a career, but deep down I knew that a very strong part of me desperately craved it. With the support of my friends and family, I decided to go all-in and pursue a creative path in college. I went to a community college for 2 years, received an associate’s degree in Fine Art, then transferred to California State University Fullerton where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Visual/Studio Art.

While I was in college, I would spend a lot of my free time on Instagram (pre-algorithm). I was hooked. It was virtual portal that instantly transported me to so many creative people all over the world and I always felt so inspired while scrolling through my feed. My creative urge was sparked. I stopped posting normal everyday photos and I started posting more colorful, styled photos. As time went on, I started trying out different art mediums (like watercolors and calligraphy) and I would post snippets of my work on Instagram along with my other curated photos. My style evolved and developed as the years went by, but I would always wanted to share what I was working on with my community. Eventually I decided to take the next step and sell my work, so I opened up an Etsy shop and started selling enamel pins. One pin design grew to two, then four, and now I sell art prints and other accessories as well. Having the shop has been a lot of fun for me and it has really opened up a lot of opportunities for both myself and my work.

Katie Thierjung | Treat Yo Self Pins | Freelance Wisdom

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

Instagram! My first good clients and customers were the ones who were there with me from the very beginning. They followed my story and stayed with me during the highs and lows, and got to know me as both a human and a creative, which just made our connections more personal. My first big client came along when I was in my first year of college, and they had been following me for a while already. I was making art for myself and sharing it with the world because it was something that I liked. Even though my work wasn’t refined or “professional” by any means then, they chose to take a chance on me because I brought something different and unique to the table. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but I made sure to stay true to myself and my work, and that’s what made them stay.

My first shop customers were mostly ones who had seen my work on Instagram. I knew that in order to win them over I had to make their overall experience as joyful as possible. So, I used my past retail experience to make sure that all aspects of customer service and branding were covered from start to finish. I designed fun packaging and custom little flat cards that doubled as mini art prints, and I would hand-write a note for every order I received. I became obsessed with the details. For the first year that my shop was open I even sprinkled in some confetti into each package--ha! I really cared about those little details, because those were the details that made a difference in the end. In the end they probably won’t remember the cute stickers I put on the outside of their bubble mailer, but they’ll remember the happiness they experienced when they received their package in the mail and all of the thought that was put into it. It’s those kinds of details and feelings that bring people back for more, and they make all the difference.

Katie Thierjung | Rainbow Stripe Desktop Wallpaper | Freelance Wisdom

Opening a shop is so much more than just creating the designs you sell, do you have tips for balancing tasks and being your most productive?

I like to designate certain tasks for certain days so that I don’t get too overwhelmed, which can happen to me easily if I have a long list of items to cross off. Once or twice a week I pack up orders and take note of my inventory levels. On separate days I focus just solely on making designs or I’ll break up a bunch of small tasks, like writing emails or keeping track of invoices. I wish I could be extremely organized and have a strict calendar with designated time slots and a full itinerary, but I can’t thrive with too much structure. I live day to day and each day is different depending on my mindset. Some days I feel more creative, so on those days I make sure to prioritize designing vs taking care of menial tasks that aren’t top priority. What works best for me is having a list of goals for the current month, then a list of goals/tasks for each week of that month. Then I have a separate post-it note of things to do for each day. I try to fit as many tasks onto that note as possible, and I’m usually able to finish them all in an entire day. Writing down my work to-do list helps me visualize what needs to be done without overwhelming myself, and breaking up tasks and goals into daily, weekly, and monthly sections makes it all feel less intimidating.

Katie Thierjung | Palm Springs House Gif | Freelance Wisdom
Katie Thierjung | Palm Springs House Gif | Freelance Wisdom

What is one thing you can't live without while working on new designs?

A warm beverage (usually tea), a nice music playlist, and natural light! That’s three things, but they all help set me up for creative success. I have my studio desk underneath a window and I can’t recommend it enough. There’s something so refreshing and joyful about having a bright work environment. I also like to start the workday feeling inspired and ready to create, so I’ll either update my online mood board or listen to a new podcast or try to rearrange my desk. If that doesn’t help, then a change of environment usually does the trick.

At the end of 2018 you said, “In order to grow as an artist I had to make a few changes, including how much time I spent on Instagram.” Can you tell us more about the changes you made and what you learned from them?

I think this is common for a lot of artists and designers, but by the end of each year I usually get creative burnout. The stress of multiple deadlines combined with there being less light in the winter really gets to me. When I get stressed or feel uninspired, I usually turn towards Instagram to help respark that hunger to create. It started to get to the point where I was on Instagram a lot more than usual, I wasn’t feeling inspired, and I fell down the comparison rabbit hole. My mental health was at an all-time low and my anxiety was at an all-time high. It got to the point where I was questioning my career path and I even thought about closing my shop. So, I took a break from Instagram to allow myself the time to heal at my own pace and focus on my mental health.

It’s so easy to go online, look at a perfectly styled photo, and automatically compare it to your unstyled life behind the scenes. But most of social media is just comprised of highlight reels. A teeny tiny edited window into someone else’s life for a brief moment. I’ve learned to allow myself to take creative breaks and to not be so attached to Instagram. Don’t get me wrong--I still love it! I just spend less time on it, especially on days when my anxiety is present. It’s all about balance and knowing your limits.

Katie Thierjung | Freelance Wisdom
Katie Thierjung | Instagram | Freelance Wisdom

What has been your greatest struggle as a creative business owner so far?

Taxes. They are the WORST.

If you could give one piece of advice to illustrators/graphic designers thinking of opening their own shop, what would it be?

Having great customer service is almost just as important as what you’re selling. A lot of products can sell themselves, but in order to have customers come back you need to make a great impression. Write thank you notes by hand. Show them that you really do care. Answer emails professionally and be ready to happily solve any problems that arise.

Katie Thierjung | Pins | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us anything about what's in store for your new website?

My website just launched recently! I started building it about a year ago, but stopped working on it because I kept changing my branding and the overall direction that I wanted the site to go in. I initially thought it was just going to be a standard site for my portfolio, but it’s going to be so much more than that. I made my site so that it can easily be adjusted if I wanted to change anything, and I love having something that can evolve with me over time as I create. I created a blog on it as well, and that’s going to be a special place where I share fun things like desktop wallpapers, new projects, and even current things that are inspiring me. I don’t want to be known as just a small shop, I like the idea of having a multi-faceted website that highlights the different creative abilities that I have to offer.

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

For years I did all my bookkeeping, taxes, etc and it was the worst. It is my absolute least favorite part about being a creative and owning a small business. If you have the ability to hire an accountant, do it.

Katie Thierjung | Good Times Gif | Freelance Wisdom

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Learn to say yes but don’t be afraid to say no. When I was first starting out, I said yes to every project/collaboration/freelance opportunity that came my way. A lot of the work I did was unpaid. I gained experience, but I didn’t know my worth yet. Don’t be afraid to do some work for free if you’re learning from it, but know when to draw the line when you’re being taken advantage of. It’s also very hard to make a living off of free products (like socks or lip balm), so it’s okay to say no to an opportunity if it won’t help you pay the bills. Asking for compensation was something I struggled with in the beginning, but learning how to properly ask for it really showed clients that I was serious about my work and that I was a professional. If someone is making money off of your hard work then you should be too, right?

Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?

I have ALWAYS wanted to paint a mural! It’s been on my creative bucket list forever. I’m actually partnering with an awesome company and we have plans for a mural but no location yet. I’m based in Southern California, so we’re looking to do a mural somewhere in Orange County, Los Angeles, or Palm Springs. So if you own a shop or a building, or know someone who does, send me an email or a message on Instagram!

Katie Thierjung | Freelance Wisdom

Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

I’m just starting to discover the world of podcasts! I’m a little late to the game. I’m currently listening to The Modern Creative podcast and I love it!

I’m in the middle of reading Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. I highly recommend it.

Ingrid Fetell Lee also has this Ted Talk about where joy finds and how to find it.

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

Imagination, Passion, Adaptability, Courage

Katie Thierjung | Wide Rainbow Gif | Freelance Wisdom

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Ilana Griffo

This week we’re chatting with Ilana Griffo, a designer, illustrator, teacher, mother, and now author! Mind Your Business, is Ilana’s answer for creatives who struggle with the business side of things —hands up anyone 🙋?? Her workbook is designed to inspire you, to help you get organized, and to put you in the driver’s seat, with actionable steps to help you achieve your dreams. Without further ado, the freelance wisdom from the woman behind the book that is tailor made for all us!

Ilana Griffo | Illustrator and Designer | Freelance Wisdom

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

I always knew I wanted to be in a creative career. I came from a line of strong creative women, and that was a huge influence. When I took my first design class, I was hooked! While I was in school, I took on any side project I could to get experience, and eventually, those side projects became more demanding than my full time job!

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

In the beginning, I didn't! I said yes to everything, which helped me figure out where my strengths were. However, referrals/word of mouth continue to be the best way for me to attract good clients, if I can leave them feeling excited and treated well - that's the best!

Can you tell us about the process of getting an agent and how this partnership has affected your work flow?

I do have an agent for licensing! The process of getting an agent was a lot of portfolio development, and figuring out what type of relationship I was looking for. This has really helped me push my creative boundaries, and help me to experiment within my work!

Ilana Griffo | Love you more every year | Freelance Wisdom

What inspired you to move into the teaching space, first as an adjunct professor, and then as a workshop/online instructor?

When I was working as an Art Director, I was at a University and got to work with a team of the most talented juniors/seniors I'd ever met. When the opportunity came my way to teach on campus in the Design School, I had to give it a try! It was a great learning experience for sure, and I'm lucky to have a lot of incredible teachers in my life who were able to help me along the way. I really enjoy teaching workshop, and courses online where you can learn at your own pace. It's a great way for me to step back, review my process and figure out how to explain it.

You just released Mind Your Business, congratulations!! Tell us about the motivation behind this book.

Thank you! It's been such a fun experience! I grew up in a household of creatives and entrepreneurs. I didn't realize the full effect it had on me, but when I started my business, while I knew creative skills were my special talent, I quickly learned that the business side of things wasn't such a struggle! I know a lot of creatives find the business side to be daunting, and it holds them back - so once I put all the pieces together, I realized I could help a lot of other people along their journey!

Ilana Griffo | Mind your Business | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have a favorite section in the book or favorite spread that you'd like to tell us about?

Too hard to pick!! I'm really glad I included the resources section though! I also made a link to it on my website so that I can update it with resources I discover or get requests for along the way!

Would you like to go through the book publishing process again?

YES! I'm at that point where I'm trying really hard to come up with my "next idea"..... hopefully it comes to me soon!

You seriously do all the things...design, teach, write books, run a stationery shop, and spend time with your family. Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I do really love productivity - I've read books about it, and I think I was just born with the gene. Organizing is fun for me ;). However, I definitely don't do it all! My stationery shop has taken a backseat while I've pursued surface design, and I'm only teaching a few workshops here and there (once you teach it once, it's a lot easier to teach it again and again)! I think it's important to have things you can pick up in your business when times are slow or you're feeling burnt out - like hobbies within your business. I'm also a big "list maker" so I use my Rule The World Planner, notepads, and systems (evernote, google calendar, etc) to help me keep track of lists. I prioritize my lists into groups - usually around time. What do I need to get done today? That's one list, and tomorrow is separate. I try to be realistic about what I can actually accomplish, and break big tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks so I can cross them off and not feel so overwhelmed when looking at what's in front of me. Everyone has their own system!

Ilana Griffo | Mind Your Business | Freelance Wisdom

How has becoming a mom changed how you work and/or the types of projects you take on?

Being a mom changed everything without me even realizing it. I grew up as a highly sensitive person, and becoming a mom helped me harness a new-found strength inside that sensitivity. Always thinking of what could happen so that I'm prepared and ready to take action. It also helped me to get way more done, in way less time, but always knowing more clearly what to say no to. Would I rather do this, or spend the weekend with my son? It's a question I ask myself quite a bit!

If you could give one piece of advice to illustrators/graphic designers thinking of opening their own shop, what would it be?

If you're passionate about it - you should! Stop overthinking the questions that don't really matter (like which platform to use, or which shade of grey 98 or 97?) and just start somewhere, and pivot as you learn and grow!

Ilana Griffo | be kind flowers | Freelance Wisdom
Ilana Griffo | Just start somewhere | Freelance Wisdom

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

Put systems in place from the beginning! Hiring an accountant or setting up an online bookkeeping software from day one is a low expense that'll save you from a lot of stress down the road!

Now that the book is out in the world, what's next?

I'm asking myself that same question! I'm doing a lot of surface design collections that I'm excited about, and having fun exploring styles! My wheels are always turning so I can't wait to see what the next year brings!

Ilana Griffo | Postable New Year | Freelance Wisdom

One thing that you are currently obsessed with?

Audible! With a lot of travel lately, it's been fun to listen to some cheerful books that leave me feeling inspired!

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

Passion, productivity, determination.

Ilana Griffo | Mind Your Business | Freelance Wisdom

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Nat Carroll

We’re excited to be returning to Australia this week to chat with Creative Lady Directory member Nat Carroll. Nat is an independent art director, graphic designer, and illustrator who creates warm, playful and expressive communication for creative, entrepreneurial, purpose-driven types, including herself! Dive on in for an empowering and inspiring read and look out for Nat’s advice regarding business investment and saying no to projects sooner.

Nat Carroll | Freelance Wisdom

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

I accidentally fell into freelancing. It was 2008, I was into my second design role, working for a music and event company and had started dating the man of my life. We'd been together for six months when he suddenly got a call to move to The Netherlands for his career. I decided to take a big leap of faith, packed up my life in Sydney and joined him for the adventure. I didn't speak dutch and so I somewhat naively thought it'd be easier to start a remote studio than find a job. I'd grown up in an entrepreneurial household and had moonlighted in my early twenties helping friends with albums, posters and logos, so I think having that exposure early on gave me the confidence to give it a go. It's ended up being the greatest, most rewarding risk of my life so far.

Like a lot of creatives I’d gladly spend hours in my room as a kid, drawing and painting in my own little world and I knew I wanted to be an artist when I grew up – there was a very short period when I wanted to be a receptionist, but my mum pushed me to 'dream bigger, honey!'... When the time came, I floated the idea of studying fine art, but my parents, worried I’d end up a starving artist, guided me towards design. I'm so grateful they did. I studied visual communication in Sydney at the Billy Blue School of Graphic Arts, which also exposed me to commercial illustration and working with my hands, and so as opportunities arose over the years, I found myself gravitating towards projects and clients where I could explore and combine my multi-disciplinary curiosities.

Nat Carroll | Summer Sounds Festival Poster | Freelance Wisdom

You do a wonderful job sharing about yourself on your website. Have you found your transparency and open personality to be helpful with regards to attracting the right clients?

This is a fairly recent thing I've been trying to put into practice, but yes, so far, so good! I think to stand out in business you have to be willing to look inwards instead of presenting a version of yourself that you think you *should* be to clients and customers. Instead, I feel it's more powerful to look at your values, voice, personality, and style and unearth what's different, even if you think it's a bit strange or vulnerable. Be willing to spend time digging into what makes you unique and work on your brand, beyond a logo and basic guidelines.

I'm glad you picked up on this! I was intentionally wanting to craft a brand with my personality and style infused in there. Personally, I'm more likely to buy from a business that I feel really connected to, so I think it's helpful to draw inspiration from those brands you feel that instant alignment to online – they're the ones that do a great job in expressing their personality. I think as creatives, we tend to forget to do this for ourselves. We need to break down the digital barriers, especially those of us who work remotely, let go of trying to appeal to everyone, and instead get used to expressing ourselves in that medium to find people on our wavelength. It was a very drawn out process, playing the client, but I am finding it's starting to pay off in terms of attracting projects and people I want to work with.

Nat Carroll | triple j magazine | Chet Faker Spread | Freelance Wisdom
Nat Carroll | breaking digital barriers | Freelance Wisdom

We also noticed this statement on your website:

"I acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and the traditional custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work."

Can you tell us about your motivation to include this statement?

It's about respect. In Australia, there's a long way to go in our journey towards reconciliation and recognising our colonial past. It's a way in which non-indigenous people can offer a small gesture of awareness and respect to Aboriginal culture and the ongoing relationship the traditional custodians have with the land. I draw inspiration from nature and particularly of where I live, which is a very spiritual place for the local Yuin people, so it also comes from a place of gratitude and shared love for this place I get to call home.

Nat Carroll | Diver | Freelance Wisdom

What is one thing you can’t live without while working on a project?

My hands! My aesthetic is really illustrative so I'm always happy when there's an opportunity to use them in a project. Another big one for me is feeling aligned to my personal values. When I'm working with clients who are collaborative, trusting in the creative process and value my thinking and aesthetics, I feel engaged and energised. Without these I feel de-valued, a bit like a mac-monkey-bot, and not at all my best self.

Nat Carroll | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

My most productive days are when I'm feeling grounded. This mostly means looking after myself physically and emotionally. Most days I try to meditate, take the dog for a walk, take a shower if I get stuck on an idea, eat real, unprocessed food, and go to bed at a reasonable hour – kinda easy to do when you live in a small coastal town! I swear everyone's in bed by 9:30pm.

I've also become a big planner over the years. I don't just set goals anymore and watch them fade into oblivion. I've found that breaking goals down into monthly, weekly and daily tasks helps me stay on track. Planning is key to me feeling like I'm in control of my business, not it in control of me. Of course, things tend to derail when I get busy, but I always have a plan to get back to, instead of just reacting to everything that comes along.

Nat Carroll | triple j magazine cover | Freelance Wisdom

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

In the last couple of years I've been paying the price for not placing my health and wellbeing above all else. I've had some amazing opportunities, but with these came a lot of long days in the studio, heightened stress levels and it felt like everyone and everything else in my life was on hold. I'm in my mid-thirties now and gravely underestimated what my body needs to feel at ease. I naively thought I could handle 14-16 hour days at my desk, 6 days a week for an extended period of time and I'd come out unscathed. Everyone else works like this, right?! It's what we need to do to succeed or be seen as a success? I ended up experiencing a whole range of repercussions, from a massive strain on my relationship, to burnout, adrenal fatigue and allergy/gut issues. Now I've found a better balance in my life, thank goodness! It forced me to slow down a bit and re-define what 'success' means to me, be more aware of my basic needs, and it's helped to establish boundaries and set better expectations in my business. Ultimately I've found I've become more productive because of this whole curveball. Ah, the hindsight!

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

Don't be afraid to invest in your business – it's taken me a long time to get over the DIY approach I started out with, but I've realised along the way that there's just some things that I'm hopeless at, some mistakes that ended up costing me more than what hiring a professional would have, and some that take me more time and energy than they should. If there's something you dread doing, save up and hire someone. Stop looking at it as an impossible expense, and instead, as an investment in levelling up and focusing on what you're good at.

Nat Carroll | Gulaga Mountain | Freelance Wisdom
Nat Carroll | Investing in your business | Freelance Wisdom

Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?

Lots! There's many more commercial projects I’d love to explore – more books, festivals and I dream of doing an illustrative identity for a museum or botanical garden. I'd also like to carve out some time to follow my curiosities – writing and publishing an illustrated book, offering clients retreats of some kind, creating painted ceramics, building a product-based brand from scratch. I also daydream of opening up a little retail shop attached to my studio in Bermagui. That should keep me busy for the next 100 years, right?!

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?

I wish I'd known that it was ok to say no, sooner. I know it's super scary to say no to projects, especially if you don't have regular income coming in, but I feel ultimately, having a scarcity mindset, of feeling afraid that there's nothing else out there, really cost me opportunities to grow further, sooner. You have to ask yourself, if I say yes, what will this mean? Is this short-term project aligned with my long-term plans? What am I closing the door on here? Is saying no, really saying yes to something else, something better? After doing this for a while I've come to believe that things will always just work out, somehow. The universe has always got our backs — even in the moment when it doesn't necessarily feel like it.

Nat Carroll | Propelled Pictures logo | Freelance Wisdom

How do you stay creatively inspired?

I love how artist/illustrator Lisa Congdon frames this – do whatever it takes to stay engaged. It's made me consciously think about what I can do each day to keep showing up. For me, that's working on personal projects, swimming, staring at the sea, walking my dog, exploring new hobbies, devouring podcasts, books and music and also making sure I get myself out of my introverted habits, making time for friends and family. I'm also hugely inspired when I travel to new surroundings, soaking up all the food, culture and just creating the space for observation and reflection.

Any music, podcast, book recommendations, or something you're currently obsessed with that you'd like to share?

Hmmm of late, it's the Creative Pep Talk podcast – Andy's episodes always leave me feeling inspired and equipped with some new insights. I'm a fan of Steven Pressfield's books on creativity, and can't stop watching his recent interview with the amazing Marie Forleo. And pretty much any true crime podcast I can get my hands on.

Nat Carroll | Make A Scene Sydney flyers | Freelance Wisdom

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

I'd say be an intentional listener, bring loads of courage, and show up and do the work, every day!

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