We are smitten with this week's interviewee, Danielle Kroll, an artist, illustrator, and textile designer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her whimsical style is captivating. It inspires curiosity and will certainly make your day just a little bit brighter.
In the past, Danielle has had the pleasure of working with such brands as Anthropologie, Kate Spade New York, Land of Nod and Papyrus. Additionally, she is a co-founder of Beech Hall, a multi-disciplinary artist collective that is currently in it's second release of theme based collections.
Thank you Danielle for sharing your whimsy and wisdom!
Tell me about your path to becoming an artist and freelance designer.
I had an early interest in art and started painting after I won a summer’s worth of acrylic lessons in the 5th grade. After that I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I was very shy in high school and hated the thought of rejection so much that I only applied to one college, Tyler School of Art. I got in and although I thought I wanted to be a painter, I chose practicality and majored in Graphic Design. After graduating I got a job at Anthropologie on their web design team. I wasn’t interested in interactive design but working for Anthro was totally a dream job, no matter what I was doing.
While working on the web team, occasionally I’d get to illustrate for an email or homepage and that would be the highlight of my week. After a year or so I moved to the Art Department where I worked on store invites, branding projects, and customer gifts. On the side I was keeping a blog of the illustrations I had painted for Anthro and for me. My coworker sent my blog out to a larger design blog, they posted about me and after that I started getting clients. I devoted my week nights to freelance projects for about a year after that. Although my focus was on design with my schooling and my job I felt much more passionate about the non-computer illustration work I was doing on the side. So after 3 years with Anthro I decided to quit and went out to California to do a long distance hike (211 miles!) through the John Muir Trail.
After coming back to the East Coast, I settled in Brooklyn and got to work on my (not very) bustling freelance schedule. I struggled for a while with finding work and, even more so, finding work that I actually wanted to be doing. When I didn’t have commissioned projects, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’d think up personal projects to work on. Eventually more and more client work that I cared about started coming in. My relationship with Anthropologie has always been pertinent to my career and bringing them on as a freelance client has been a really natural fit.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I feel fortunate because I really didn’t do much. I just posted what I was painting on my blog and then the internet did the rest. This was when Pinterest first started and a lot of my original clients had found me from that. I think my association with Anthropologie helped clients trust my credibility.
You are an independent artist as well as a founder of Beech Hall. That is a lot to manage. Do you have any tips for being your most productive/for balancing multiple ventures?
For me, being busy with 10 things at once is when I’m thriving. I’m definitely a procrastinator and if I have just one thing to do I’ll dread it and avoid it. So if I don’t have several projects going on, I try to make jobs for myself to fill the gaps. That might involve experimenting in a new medium, shopping for art supplies, going to a museum, organizing files, scanning in sketchbooks, cleaning my studio, making ceramic test tiles. Anything that feels productive to my work in some way.
What has been your greatest struggle as an artist, and as a designer so far?
I think the great struggle lies in my desire to feel completely fulfilled with my work. Although I am happier than ever with the work I’m making I am still always sightly dissatisfied. That feeling has led me to explore many different pathways and mediums. I like to challenge myself. Seeing how my work adapts to a new situation is really interesting but can also be quite frustrating. I will feel briefly fulfilled when I finish a painting, as that's my comfort zone. But then I’m immediately looking for my next challenge. It wares me down mentally to always be reinventing but I think that dissatisfaction is what motivates me so I’ve grown to embrace it as a positive trait. My path to a fulfilling career has been sinuous. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel completely fulfilled, but I’m pleased to report that I’m currently content.
What is your favorite thing about working for yourself?
Definitely the flexibility of my schedule. I hate early mornings more than Garfield. Being able to start my day at a time that feels right to me really helps with my productivity.
For Beech Hall you work as a member of a founding team. Do you have any advice for handling communication as a partnership?
It’s definitely tricky to navigate a business amidst a friendship. The three of us have been friends for so long and only started collaborating in the past few years with Beech Hall. What has always been clear is that talking about problems is the best way to fix them. Being open and upfront with each other is the most direct path to a solution that can make everyone feel happy.
"Talking about problems is the best way to fix them. Being open and upfront with each other is the most direct path to a solution that can make everyone feel happy."
What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
I take a lot of mini adventures. Whether it’s just in my neighborhood, right out of the city, or farther away. I get most of my creative ideas when I’m actively doing something, not even trying to brainstorm. I can always find inspiration at thrift stores, plant nurseries and on hikes. A waterfall of ideas will come to me and it’s actually hard to keep up with them. I actively keep about 8 sketchbooks, all for different things. One for painting sketches, one for pen sketches, one for poems, one for tasks, one for short stories, one for ceramic sketches, one for random ideas… I always have a sketchbook with me, no matter where I’m going. Although it seems that I’m bursting with ideas, I’ve definitely had a tough time this past year with feeling completely uninspired to make anything of my own (client work not included). It was kind of devastating because I’d never felt like that before. Forcing myself to be inspired feels awful so I just waited it out and trusted that I’d feel normal again one day. Luckily that worked though it took about 6 months to shake it off completely.
"I actively keep about 8 sketchbooks, all for different things. One for painting sketches, one for pen sketches, one for poems, one for tasks, one for short stories, one for ceramic sketches, one for random ideas… I always have a sketchbook with me, no matter where I’m going."
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Ugh my least favorite part of being self employed! I am very unorganized by nature so it’s a challenge to keep the business side of things in order. Naming your files appropriately and organizing projects with sub-folders would be a good place to start. I just started doing this after 4 years of working for myself and it’s made a huge difference! I would also highly suggest opening a business account and doing all your business related spending on that card. It really helps to have all your expenses in one place when you go to file your taxes.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
I don’t think I’m very good at it so I don’t know if you should listen to me. I just love what I do so much that I always want to be creating. The line between my work and my life is definitely blurry. I do try to accomplish my business work in the mornings: emailing, invoicing, mailing out orders, working on client projects. And by ‘morning’ I mean before 3pm. Then if I get all that done I can do what I want with the rest of my day. Whether that’s working on my own projects, spending time with friends, going to yoga, or cooking a nice meal.