Artist

Olimpia Zagnoli

Olimpia Zagnoli is a freelance illustrator and artist from Milan known for her super fresh shapes, voluptuous forms, and clean palette of brights and darks. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Apartamento Magazine, and she's also collaborated with the likes of Fendi and the Guggenheim Museum. If you're based in Los Angeles, head over to HVW8 to catch her solo show, “Cuore di Panna,” up until July 16th.

Olimpia Zagnoli | Freelance Wisdom

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

My path is probably very similar to that of many illustrators. You love to draw, you graduate from some sort of art school, you’re out and terrified, you’re desperate to find your own language, you sorta find it, you begin to work, your first works are terrible, you get better, you work more, one day you’re like “this is not too bad” and you feel kind of happy for what you’ve done, then you’re lost again, two days later you’re happy again, you struggle to get paid, you finally get paid and you buy a nice pair of shoes. 

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

One of the hardest parts was looking for a visual language. I wasn’t looking for anything COOL back then but I was looking for something “me”. A set of subjects, shapes and colors that reflected who I was on the inside and made me feel comfortable. It wasn’t automatic but as soon as that started to take shape, more clients started to connect with my world and understand it. 
Olimpia Zagnoli | CINZANO | Freelance Wisdom

As a freelance illustrator, artist, collaborator, designer, and shop owner you are balancing a lot of roles and projects, do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I am terribly lazy. I only like to do things I like, that’s the one thing that makes me go go go. I don’t follow routines, I don’t have particular discipline, I just approach whatever feels good at the moment very seriously but with an open spirit. 

Clodomiro is a shop that you opened with your father. What do you love about this collaboration and what have you found to be challenging? 

My dad came up with the idea of opening an online shop which theme had to be “erotism” but approached in a light way. When we opened we only sold a set of china plates with my illustrations and then we slowly made t-shirts, panties, scarves and pillows. It takes us so long because we work on this side project in our spare time which is very limited and we also want to make sure the quality of everything is really good. Sometimes we work on a product for years before it sees the light. The most interesting part of the job is the relationship with the artisans that we involve in the project, especially the face they make when they realize they have to prints 50 plates with a pink penis at the center. The job is literally just me and my dad. We are the only ones who reply to emails, ship packages, drive to visit factories, update our Instagram page and take care of business in front of a plate of spaghetti. 
Olimpia Zagnoli | Spaghetti 4 | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any advice for fellow designers looking to enter into a familial collaboration whether it be with a family member, a spouse, or a close friend? 

I think it’s a great idea, but it can lead to some stress. Defining roles like in any other relationship could be of help. I do all the drawing, communication and social stuff, my dad keeps the storage, ships items and make invoices. 

We love your surface pattern designs for fashion brand Marella and shoe company Arrels. Are there other physical products you hope to illustrate for one day?

I’ve never worked on an umbrella and I think it could be fun, but my dream at the moment is to work on some public art, like illustrating the bottom of a public pool, designing a fountain in front of a hospital, make a monument dedicated to moms or soup. 
Olimpia Zagnoli | NYSTAMPA | Freelance Wisdom

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

As mentioned before, I struggle with organizing my time. I work pretty well on a tight deadline and it seems like the more time I have the worse it is. I like to improvise and enjoy the freshness of the moment. 

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I try to make a good selection among the proposals I get based on how I feel instinctively about them. I try to not associate my name with brands or causes I don’t support or don’t love. I’m still learning how to say “no” more often, but the more I do it, the more I think it shapes the opportunities I get for good. 
Olimpia Zagnoli | FANTA | Freelance Wisdom

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

I couldn’t survive in this business without an accountant and a lawyer. Filing taxes and reading a 20 page contract by myself would kill my soul and send my creativity to Mars. Unless you enjoy that kind of thing, I’d say hire someone good to do it. 
I quite recently started working with an assistant and as much as it’s difficult to delegate, I’m enjoying it very much. She takes care of emails, shipping and she's of great help when I work on workshops and exhibitions. 

If you could give your just starting out self a piece of advice what would it be?

Work on the quality of what you do, less on the quantity. 
Olimpia Zagnoli | MTA STAMPA ITALIA | Freelance Wisdom
Olimpia Zagnoli | Quality over Quantity | Freelance Wisdom

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

Be critical, be radical, be you. 
Olimpia Zagnoli | Spaghetti 2 | Freelance Wisdom

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Fear is Your Greatest Teacher: 3 Methods to Understanding the Fear That Stops You From Starting

We are excited to bring Meera Lee Patel back to share more of her freelance wisdom, this time with regards to fear. Meera is a self-taught writer and artist who creates work that inspires others to connect with themselves, each other, and the world around them. In this piece she shares 3 methods to understanding the fear that stops you from starting.


I spent my entire twenties standing still. I stayed in the same job that was slowly leading to a career I didn’t want, the same home that I’d always lived in, and surrounded myself with people I’ve always known—because I was afraid.

Fear is your Greatest Teacher | Freelance Wisdom

What was my fear? That if things changed, they would somehow become worse. But was I happy with where I was? No. Didn’t I want things to change? Yes. This conflict alone made it clear to me that my fear was irrational, but I couldn’t help how I felt. I didn’t want anything to be different, because the idea that they would become better seemed impossible. I approached fear the way I would a bear in the woods, which is only to say that I didn’t approach it at all. Instead, I lay very still on the ground and hoped it would go away.

Fear is Your Greatest Teacher | Meera Lee Patel | Freelance Wisdom

The sparkle of unknown paths, new relationships, and challenging opportunities is lost when we associate them with the promise of failure rather than the chance to experience, learn, and grow. Our fear prevents us from giving new experiences a chance, and often it succeeds in stopping us from creating wonderful, unexpected things in our lives—before we’ve even begun.

If you’ve ever ignored a feeling or thought, you know that this method doesn’t work—the feeling or thought in question will simply continue to visit you, again and again, until you listen to it. As people, it’s hard for us to consciously acknowledge our deep need to feel understood. When we ignore our fears in lieu of examining them, we are essentially ignoring ourselves—we’re pitting our minds against our bodies and preventing ourselves from existing as unified, functioning beings. But what happens if we approach our fear from a place of curiosity and wonder?

Fear is Your Greatest Teacher | Meera Lee Patel | Freelance Wisdom
1.     Acknowledge that your fear exists. Let your fear know that you see it and value the protection it’s offering you. Take a deep breath, and recognize your fear: I am afraid. There is something inside me that feels scared of this unknown opportunity.  Tell your fear that you need it to walk beside you instead of in front of you, and it will no longer block your path. 
Fear is Your Greatest Teacher | Freelance Wisdom | Meera Lee Patel
2.     Try to understand your fear. Where in your mind did it originate? When did you first begin to associate new challenges with fear? When did the idea of failure or rejection morph from a possibility to a plausibility? Dig deeper and let the questions ruminate within you. It’s okay if the answers don’t appear right away—like buried seeds that intrinsically turn to face towards the sun, they will eventually rise.
Fear is Your Greatest Teacher | Meera Lee Patel | Freelance Wisdom
3.     Talk to your fear. Our biggest challenge in approaching our fear is recognizing that it is trying to teach us something about ourselves, and often, our biggest dreams. Ask yourself: what is my fear trying to tell me? Is it trying to protect me from being discouraged or disappointed? Is my fear shining a light towards the path I want to walk on most? If I don’t take this chance, am I shutting out a part of myself that longs to exist?
Fear is Your Greatest Teacher | Meera Lee Patel | Freelance Wisdom

What you can control lies within yourself: your thoughts and attitudes, your wishes and desires, and the perspective you choose to live by. We often blame our fear for keeping us from moving forward, but it’s our perspective of fear that truly holds power—it can imbibe us with strength and courage, or it can slowly destroy us. If you believe that everything that happens to you holds a lesson, you’ll be better equipped to find the lesson and learn from it. If you believe that there is purpose and meaning in difficult, you’ll find beauty in the obstacles you face. Are you afraid of taking a chance because you are worried it won’t work out? Being afraid of rejection and failure is natural, but it isn’t a guarantee.

Ask yourself one more time: Am I afraid? What if my biggest dream and deepest desire doesn’t come true? And then, ask yourself again: What if it does?


All images are taken from My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown, Penguin Random House, 2018. The book is available through Penguin Random House, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, or at bookstores nationwide.

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Jessica Bruggink

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!

Jess Bruggink | Freelance 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.
Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom

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.
Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom
Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom
Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom

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.
Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom

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.
Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom

"I'm really thankful that she'll grow up seeing me working in a career that I enjoy so much."


Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom

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

passion, discipline, and patience
Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom
Jessica Bruggink | Freelance Wisdom

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