Art Director

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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Becky Simpson

Becky Simpson is the founder of Chipper Things, a paper and lifestyle brand that celebrates friendship and play. Becky is also an art director, illustrator, graphic designer, author, and speaker. Her work, in all these areas, fuses her passion for connection, process and play. She believes in celebrating our wonky traits and delighting in the ordinary.

We love this interview for SO many reasons but especially because Becky embraces the dance between freelance and full-time work and celebrates what each type of work has given her. Make sure to read all the way to the end for hidden gems of wisdom on this topic!


Photo by Alex Crawford 

Photo by Alex Crawford 

Tell us about your path to becoming the illustrator and designer you are today.

I’ve always been the art kid. I’m from a small town and was pretty coddled as THE artist. Some of my earliest memories have to do with being affirmed in my creativity. I’ve always known I was going to have some sort of artsy career. I studied graphic design to be “practical” but eventually inserted my doodles into projects whenever I could. It’s just what I enjoyed doing. After doing a lot of that and developing a style (which I never sought out to do, just happened by way of drawing a lot), I became equal parts graphic designer and illustrator. Then I wrote my first book (I’d Rather Be Short) while I was at my first job and that launched me into my freelance career.

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

When I first started freelancing I had one main retainer client (healthcare stuff). One of my mentors told me not to put all of my eggs in that basket but I didn’t listen. Things eventually petered off with that client and I was struggling. I had no consistent work and I was terrible at quoting projects—I had zero clue as to the value of my work or the time it would take to complete. In fact, I charged $200 for my first project—album art for a friend—and I apologized for it. Facepalm. It was a long road, but I started to attract good clients the old fashioned way: creating good work, posting the kind of work I wanted to keep making and telling people that I was looking for x-type of work. It’s important to note that I had the space to be such a dodo because I had a book advance that I received right before going freelance. I wish I didn’t blow it on not being a good business owner, but that’s what carried me through those terrible months (and honestly, it was a big struggle for at least a couple of years.) Another note: That book probably gave me zero freelance work, but it did give me clout and cool opportunities, which eventually (indirectly) led to projects.
Okay, one last thing (and maybe the most important): I’ve always been involved in the design community and I’ve attended a lot of conferences. Much of the work that comes to me is word of mouth or friend of friends of friends. A lot of it traces back to folks in the industry I’ve gotten to know over the years. I showed up to my first conference not knowing ANYONE and actually left with new friends. I’m telling you, this “who you know” stuff is real and the good news is that you can meet these people by putting yourself in front of them.
Photo by Sydney Whitten

Photo by Sydney Whitten

Becky Simpson | Put Yourself Out There | Freelance Wisdom

After 4 years of freelance you switched to a full time job. How did it feel to transition back to full-time work after 4 years of working on your own?

I started working full time again about a year ago (I have since moved back to freelance and as of when this is posted—it will be my first day at my new full time job). To be honest, the process of going from freelance to full time a year ago was quite tumultuous for me personally.  I had all of my identity wrapped up into freelancing/doing it myself (I was too proud—I had spoken at conferences! Published books! Talked about business stuff!) I thought that I was failing but the reality was that at that time, freelance wasn’t serving me anymore. I wanted a remote lifestyle, but I wanted consistency and more structure. Running two businesses (freelance + Chipper Things) made everything feel heavy. I wanted it to feel light again. And the craziest, most unintuitive thing actually happened: I felt so much more freedom with a full time job than I had felt as a full time freelancer. Much of that has to do with the company I worked for, but relinquishing control does have its powers.

You mentioned that your full-time work has made you a better freelancer, can you tell us more about that?

Since I don’t need it I’m way more picky. I’m selective with my time and I charge more than I used to. I did this with a big project and quoted $12k—twice as much as I felt like I “should have charged for my time.”  And guess what? I landed it! The client said that I was clearly a pro and they were willing to pay more than they expected as long as they could have someone reliable. That happened again recently (much smaller project). The funny thing is, after both were said and done, the “high amounts” I quoted were totally appropriate prices due to all of the (underestimated) work that went into it. I wouldn't’ have found this out if I had a scarcity mindset.
Becky Simpson | Pants Notebook | Chipper Things | Freelance Wisdom

From 2015-2016 you were an inaugural Adobe Creative Resident and you launched Chipper Things during that time (congrats!). What was your biggest ah-ha moment from that experience?

I found out that chipping away at something slowly but surely (and consistently) is more powerful than big leaps. A small illustration every day for 100 days gave me a library of content that I still use. This has served me more than working hard all weekend of staying up until 2 AM grinding out work. I leaned other stuff too, but this one first came to mind.

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

Start small. I wish I didn’t launch Chipper Things with so many products (over 80!). I didn’t even love some of them all upon launching but had it in my head (because I heard that’s how Rifle launched) that success means blowing people out of the water with quantity. What a waste of resources and energy! If you want to sell products start as small as possible, using a platform like Etsy or even printing on demand with someone like Printful. Send free stuff to people you admire (with no strings attached) and proudly, unapologetically tell the world about what you are selling. Remember, sincere enthusiasm is not bragging. Enthusiasm is contagious and gives others permission to do the same.
Becky Simpson | Good Vibes | Freelance Wisdom
Becky Simpson | Sincere Enthusiasm | Freelance Wisdom

You do all the things, freelance, run Chipper Things, manage your course on Brit &Co, work you have any tips for being your most productive?

First of all, nothing is ever done at the same time. Each big thing happens in its own season—never all at once. It’s easy to be intimidated by other peoples’ resumes, but we have to remember the most successful people focus on one thing at a time, execute it, then do the next thing. My main day-to-day productivity hack is the pomodoro technique in the Productivity Planner (I was a Bullet Journal purist until this one, though they can be used in tandem).

With all those ventures in mind, what has been your greatest struggle as a creative business owner so far?

Right now it’s getting out of the spiral of 24/7 work. Work begets work. I’m doing too much right now (but thankfully as of this week I’ll be back to a working-more-normal-hours rhythm thanks to some cool big life changes). When you’re so saturated with work/career stuff, the default mode becomes a lazy productivity: accomplishing something—anything—is easier than stepping back and evaluating the bigger picture or creating systems to eliminate much of the work in the first place. Current struggle: I want to hire help for Chipper Things in the near future but feel held back by the whole “But it’s easier if I just do it,” and “It’s not big enough to need THAT much help but it’s too big for me to keep managing it all on my own” dance.
Photo by Constance Higley

Photo by Constance Higley

Tell us about these big life changes! And how will it help your work-life balance?

In a couple of weeks my husband  and I are going to embark on a year of traveling and living in an Airstream!  And as of the publication of this interview, I’ll be working full time (remote, obviously) for Tubby Todd. These big changes forced me to 1) Get a fulfillment center for Chipper Things 2) Turn down freelance projects and 3) Greg is going to have a bigger role in Chipper Things, which means he’ll be taking over the stuff that gives me the biggest headache and takes a lot of my time. This trip is a reset that is forcing me to implement the kind of systems I’ve preached about in the past.

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

I wish I hired a bookkeeper day one. I thought it was so expensive but I sucked at it, which of course cost me more time and money. If you’re a small business, the bookkeeper will probably not cost very much. It’s worth looking into, so you at least know where to turn when you do feel “ready” (though you are ready right now). I love Quickbooks. It took me too long to hop on that train too. The ultimate hack though? Ask for what you want. I believe Oprah said it best: “You get in  life what you have the courage to ask for”. Oh! And I love how Kathleen and Emily (of Being Boss) say to never leave money on the table. AKA, never delay sending an invoice or cashing a check. Sounds simple and obvious enough, right?
Becky Simpson | The Roomate Book | Freelance Wisdom
Becky Simpson | Roommate Gift Ideas | Freelance Wisdom

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

I’m due for a reread of Essentialism by Greg McKeown.  It’s all about weaning off the non-essentials in life (geared more toward business. Appropriate for both freelancers and full timers). It’s inspiring and quite freeing. Shoot, I'm going to listen to it after I’m done with this interview. I usually audiobook business books.

Anything we missed that you'd like to share?

I think a lot of times people say they want to be freelance, but maybe what they really want or need is just to work remote. The freelance lifestyle has a ton of perks (WORTH IT), but working remote and full time (for a company you love) has many of the same benefits as a freelance lifestyle. Of course, the actual company does make a big difference in the equation. And it’s likely you’ll still need and want the freedom to do personal projects. I’m a big, big fan of the freelance lifestyle (that’s what brought me so many cool opportunities). I just want to push back on the notion that freelancing is the only way to be free. There are a lot of other freedoms that come with a job: Financial security, structure/stability, energy, etc.
Becky Simpson | Everybody has a story | Freelance Wisdom

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

Passionate, curious and accountable (I don’t think the last one is necessarily an attribute, but there needs to be some sort of accountability for there to be challenge and growth.)

Get Social with Becky

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Thea Kennedy

Thea Kennedy is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary art director, and designer with a primary focus on art direction, design and content creation for the digital space. She has broad online and offline experience in luxury goods, home, fashion, beauty industries, and is now breaking into the tech industry. Thea is also a member of our Creative Lady Directory!

We are absolutely loving her insights regarding the differences in work flow between full and part-time freelance work, and really appreciating the wisdom she shares around things that are important to have in place before you make a big cross country move. 

Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance art director and designer.

I got my first break with a job in the Global Marketing Department at Ralph Lauren. I designed printed materials for product, presentation and training internally. These included mainly books, posters, and brochures. 
During this time people started to reach out to me with freelance projects. I would take anything on that I had time for. Annual reports, logo’s, wedding invitations, magazines, packaging and so on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but balancing freelance work with full-time corporate design work was a great education in project management. When I began to move on to more senior roles in my corporate life, it felt like a natural transition. I already knew how to manage my time, set expectations, work within tight timeframes, and manage up. I also could clearly communicate with non-creatives, thanks to all my freelance clients. 
After being solely a print designer for about five years, I decided I wanted to transition into the digital space. Mainly for practical reasons, but I also was enamored with the idea of the impermanence of digital design
A friend from grad school had just gotten an Art Director job at a start-up called One Kings Lane, and he asked me if I wanted to work for him. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to dip my toes into the waters of the online design world. And it was great to work with a friend, who would be patient with me as I learned how to design in the digital space. 
We were the first two hires in the creative department, so we built everything from the ground up. Templates, templates and more templates, along with evolving the branding look and feel. Ironically, because it was a start-up in the tech space, I was one of the only people who knew how to design for print, so I ended up doing all the print stuff too.
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom
I then went on to consult as BaubleBar’s first art director. My focus was tightening up and strengthening their existing branding, as well as working on the UX for key areas of sale on their site.
From there I went to Bumble and bumble, my first job exclusively focused on digital design. As my work experience expanded to heavily digital design, I noticed that the social space was often neglected, and it seemed like such a huge miss. Creatively, it was a place that could be taken less seriously and you could have more fun with! (A Creative’s dream!) This was in 2012, when most people in corporate leadership positions didn’t quite realize the power of social media. I made a point to always create a social component to each campaign we launched while I was there.
Around this same time, my own social presence had blown up, and I started getting paid to do partnerships and collaborations with brands I admired. I also started my blog around this time.
A few years after that, I went on to philosophy skincare, as their Digital Art Director. Things by then had really shifted, and I remember during the interview, everyone seemed more interested in asking me about social media. I realized then, that it might be perhaps possible, to be an art director just for social media….
Throughout all these jobs, I was still freelancing non-stop on the side. I was also getting pretty burned out. I decided to take a risk, quit my job at philosophy, and see if it would be possible to freelance full-time instead. The day I quit my job I got an offer to work with the Creative Director at a new fashion start-up called Spring. And I could work remotely… It seemed like the stars had aligned. My only request was that I work 4 days a week, so I could dedicate one solid day to my own work.
I did full-time freelance work for about a year and a half- working for Spring, West Elm, and Chloe + Isabel, along with a handful of entrepreneurs and small business who needed help with branding.
Then an opportunity came along that lured me back into corporate world… an offer to be Design Director at Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, focusing specifically on Social Media. It seemed like too perfect of a fit to turn down…I had to take a chance and go back into the corporate world.
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom

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

Almost all my freelance clients have been from referrals, or from people who follow me online, and are familiar with my aesthetic.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

My tips for being your most productive are two-fold:
1. If you’re a freelancer who has a full-time job, I recommend really planning your time and creating a schedule for yourself that works best for your lifestyle, and acknowledging any roadblocks that could potentially happen along the way.
For example: I find it really challenging working every night after work on freelance projects, so I try to create a schedule from the start that is mindful of that. I like to work in large chunks of time, over the weekends. So, when I send a project schedule to a client, I usually note that I will have work for them to review Tuesday (giving myself a day buffer to look at the work I’ve done over the weekend with fresh eyes). Tuesdays are great, because it usually takes clients 1-3 days to respond, so then I’ll collect all feedback by the end of the week, and then can proceed with revisions over the weekend. 
For this reason, I also seldom take on rush jobs, because I can’t work on a compressed timeline for a freelance job, and work full-time during the day. I know I won’t produce good work. 
2.If you’re a full-time freelancer:
When I’m working full-time as a freelancer, I’ve found it hugely beneficial to create a very strict schedule and routine for myself. I wake up early- usually between 5:45 AM-6:30, and I hit the gym. Then I like to do Morning Pages, drink my coffee, make myself breakfast, and do a ten-minute meditation before I start my day. Usually, my workday starts around 10 AM. 
All my projects have detailed timelines broken out by day, so I know every morning what I need to focus on. I prefer to take on a few large projects at a time, instead of lots of little ones, so this helps immensely too with my day to day schedule. I only do small one-off projects for clients I’ve worked with in the past and have good relationships with.
I try to stick to an 8-hour work day, although of course that’s not always possible. When I’m working from home, I like to light candles and dim the lights about half an hour before my workday is over. If I’m not already listening to music, I’ll put on a favorite album too. This helps calm my brain a bit, and get ready to unwind. I think it’s important to leave the mental stress of work behind, especially if you’re working from home, and don’t have a physical space to leave behind. 
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom

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

I often find myself too busy with projects to take a step back and think of big-picture goals for my business, and for myself as a designer. I need to start doing that more. 

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My years of freelancing and balancing a full-time job have taught me so many lessons, some expected and some unexpected, and I’m really grateful for that.
Working full-time as a freelancer, I love the freedom, especially creating my own schedule and my own ways of doing things. 

After 13 years in Brooklyn you made the move back to CA. How are you feeling about that transition? Do you have any recommendations for ladies who may be feeling a similar pull?

The transition has been a lot more challenging than I could have imagined. Besides the fact that the industry in California vs. New York is like night and day, culturally, California and New York might as well be different countries. Everything is different here. The pace is different. The way people interview out here is different. The work itself is extremely different. The skill set expectations are slightly different. The hierarchy is different. In New York, creative leads. In California, tech leads. 
My general recommendation for any creative ladies who might want to make the move out west - try and line something up before you get here. The industry is much slower out here than it is in New York. I wasn’t expecting that, and I was pretty thrown off. However, if you’d like to pick up and move out here on a whim, like I did, just be prepared. Save a lot of money, and be patient. Things always have a way of working out in the end. 
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom

With the recent move in mind, how do you continue to attract your ideal clients? 

When I moved from the East Coast, I also had a career pivot in mind. Less fashion and beauty work, more work focused on branding, innovation, and technology. Situating myself in the heart of Silicon Valley, I hoped the work would just come to me… and it did!
The first thing I did when I moved to California was sign up for a desk at a local WeWork. I did this mainly to keep up a routine, because at the time I was living out of a suitcase, and I hadn’t even decided what city I was going to officially relocate too! This ended up being hugely beneficial to my freelance career, which I wasn’t expecting! My first client I met at WeWork. He and his wife had just started a company together, and I did their branding. They were a dream to work with, and they will always have a special place in my heart, as my first California clients.
I also reached out to all my creative friends out here. It just so happened, that my friend’s husband, also an Art Director, had recently gone from corporate life to freelance as well, and he needed help on a large-scale branding project he was working on. He asked if I would like to help out, and I jumped at the chance. Over the years, he and I have spent countless hours’ nerd-ing out over typography and our design hero’s, and it felt so good to partner with someone who was just as passionate as I was. 
But, after I few months, I realized that I actually didn’t want to work on my own. I wanted to build up a new network, a California network. And because I was not just relocating, but also wanting to change industries, it made the most sense to me to seek out work within a large company. I felt like I needed to understand the system and the culture of the tech world. 
So, currently I’m doing contract work at Apple, as well as maintaining my own clients on the side. 
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us a bit about your decision to start Design Quixotic? Additionally, how has this outlet and community informed your design work? 

I am somewhat of a reluctant blogger, I usually would rather be designing. But, after I amassed nearly 2 million followers on Pinterest through sharing my daily design inspirations, I decided to expand that into the blog format. The blog for me is very personal, and really, it’s a way to stay connected and always search out inspiring or interesting things. 
Having a large online following is an amazing way to get a pulse on what people respond to visually. While it hasn’t dictated my work, I feel confident going in specific visual directions, and it’s a great way to convince clients of definitive visual directions I’d like to explore. I can say, I’ve seen a lot of responses to X style, this is what’s on-trend currently- let’s explore it! Or, the opposite. I’ve seen this style online for a few years, it’s sort of at the end of its cycle, but X trend I’m starting to see people really respond to. I think this year it’s going to blow up. Having that kind of immediate access to what people like is incredible. 

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

Despite the scariness of things like accounting, invoicing and contracts, these are the MOST important things! Take them seriously, and don’t avoid them. If you feel overwhelmed, get help. Hire an accountant, hire a lawyer to help write up a few different variations of contracts that you foresee needing. Make sure that you are legally protected before you start any project. 
Also, don’t forget that your own branding and aesthetic should carry over to these less-glamorous facets of your business as well! Your contract, invoice, and project timeline will be the first things that your clients will see from you, so make a good first impression. Take some time with the design, and refresh it every few years, as you would with your website, media kit, and so on. 

How do you whet your creative appetite?

I go to museums, galleries, lectures, concerts, plays and miscellaneous design events as much as possible. It’s important to stay connected with your passion. I also have a weakness for art and design books.
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

Right now, my work-life balance is pretty out of whack. Hopefully I can change that soon. I have dreams of having hobbies and free time again. I hate being a workaholic. 

Do you have any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

For the past couple of years, I fell into a deep creative funk. I felt like I lost my inspiration and drive. It was really scary actually. The only way I knew how to cope with this, was through reading about creativity, (I find books really comforting). I have a short list for you!
The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron
This book was given as a gift to me in college, I re-read it whenever I’m going through a tough time, and it always helps! I still do the Morning Pages ritual, and it really helps ground me - even if it’s just stream of consciousness ramblings. In fact - even better if it is!
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, by Twyla Tharp
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey 

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

Courage, Faith, Determination.
Thea Kennedy | Freelance Wisdom

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