Brooklyn

Shyama Golden

Shyama Golden is a Brooklyn-based graphic designer, artist, and painter who has illustrated for The New York Times, Apple, Wired, Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic, and more. 

We are captivated by her meticulous and vibrant style and could easily get lost within the world she creates. Read on to learn how she honed her craft and find out exactly how she showcases her work to attract her ideal clients. 

Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer, artist, and painter.

When I was a kid I wrote questionable HTML and javascript, made bad oil paintings, and did brilliant pixel by pixel drawings in MS paint of ponies and the Spice Girls. I majored in graphic design in college and my first two jobs relied on strict style guides so I would work late into the night on freelance side gigs looking for some creative outlet. After that I freelanced for 3 years, doing a stint as an app designer under a former Disney animator, designing identities and doing some illustration work.
The most life changing decision I made was when I realized I just needed to paint again, and I took a couple months off of client work to do that. Self doubt almost completely took me over, but by organizing a show that would get a ton of foot traffic during SXSW, I shamed myself into getting all the work done and most of it actually sold. The art I did for that show made its way around the internet, and eventually led to me getting a illustration job in San Francisco for a startup called Airtime where I worked for a few years before needing to do my own thing again.
That brings me to today. Over the past couple of years I’ve been working part time doing a little branding work, which allows me to spend the majority of my time doing personal work such as an illustrated book I’m working on (Catsquatch), patterns, portraits, paintings, and freelance illustration. A year ago I bought an iPad pro which has increased my creative output a lot because now I can replicate my oil painting style digitally using the Pencil and the app Procreate.
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

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

One of them I met through a family friend, and others have reached out after seeing my work on Twitter, Dribbble, and Instagram. Later many of them found me through other clients. I don’t think there’s any one way I’ve gotten gigs but what really matters is sharing your work online. A couple of my biggest clients have actually come from Google image search and more recently from Instagram tags, so if there’s something to learn there, I guess it’s that you should keep your website up to date and make sure your images are tagged and searchable. People will always ask you to do more of what you’ve already done, so I make sure my personal work is what I want to get hired for next, and that has been a solid strategy to keep my work interesting and varied.

You work in multiple media, which I imagine is a balancing act. Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I’m a terrible multi-tasker so I’ll just write everything down on paper and try to only look at a list of things to do today so I don’t get overwhelmed. I think it’s good to know your own biggest distraction and address it directly. For some people that’s TV and social media, for me it’s reading the news and getting lost in tangents learning probably-useless facts. I think all of this consumption does add something to your worldview and your shared experience with other people, so I’m not saying you should get rid of it, but I would recommend turning off the noise for a week just to see how it affects your work.
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

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

I think this relates to the last question, because for me it’s that balance between consumption and creating. 7 years ago I was all output and no consumption (really stuck in my own head) and now I’m more consumption and inspiration and far less output (too much learning and looking at stuff and not enough doing). I think where I want to be on that spectrum is closer to where I used to be, but hopefully now I’ll have more life experience to inform my work.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My favorite thing is just getting to set my own schedule and work on the projects I want to. You have the power to say no to a project, or take time off for personal work. You can take a vacation any time of the year. Sometimes you even get a client who is more like a collaborator who pushes your work to a better place. The potential of what could be around the corner is always exciting, once you get to the point where you’re not worried about paying your bills.
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

Something I’ve been trying out for the past couple years is curating what I share on my online portfolio. Instead of saying “look at all the million things I’ve ever done! Are you impressed?” now it’s very focused and only shows illustration in one particular cohesive style, because that’s specifically the work I want to attract more of at the moment. It means that I will miss out on some clients who would have liked me to do a typeface, logo, or vector illustration, but it’s helping me build my portfolio in a more specialized direction (painterly illustrations and patterns) that will hopefully help me get more jobs I enjoy in the long run. It doesn’t mean that I have to always work in the same style and mediums, but I’ll slowly evolve it over time.

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

I would recommend hiring an accountant at tax time, having separate business and personal bank accounts and credit cards, and keeping track of your invoices. To keep track of my invoices, I number them indicating the year and the invoice number and keep them all in one folder together, rather than in separate folders with their corresponding project files. This stuff may seem obvious, but it took me a long time to get a system down so it might help someone else like me!
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I try to have a life. Most of the time I’m a super boring homebody, that’s my natural inclination… but I force myself to go out and talk to people and so far I haven't regretted it. Some of my best ideas have come from conversations with friends. I also go to a lot of galleries and museums, and I use Pinterest to find illustrators and artists I like.

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

I’ve always felt like being your own boss isn’t exactly true for freelancing. Maybe it’s more true for personal work. You still need to make the client happy as a freelancer unless you’re a really famous badass. There will still be times when you don’t agree with the client but you need to do the revisions anyway, or the client steers the project into a direction you don’t like. You’re right though, you are your own boss when it comes to deciding when to go to sleep and how much to work. I definitely give myself time to rest. Having at least one pajama day a week where I don’t have to face the world is something I’m grateful for. I used to miss sleep all the time and I just became more and more tired. The older you get, that just isn’t worth it anymore.
I do like to travel and I always see my parents in Houston for a few weeks a year—they are retired now and meditate a lot and they give me perspective when I’m worried about a stupid thing (which is all the time). My mom will always remind me that I should start exercising again… I’m still figuring it out really.
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

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

So many! I have a few more halfway realized ideas for illustrated books, I want to get my patterns on some fabrics, and I have an idea for a zoetrope that will require me to learn 3d modeling. I would love to do more collaborations with people in different industries.

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

Passion, determination, and focus (the one I’m still working on).

Get Social with Shyama

W E B S I T E  |  I N S T A G R A M  |  F A C E B O O K  |  T W I T T E R

Lorraine Nam

We are so glad to have found our next interviewee through the Creative Lady Directory...without further adieu...introducing Lorraine Nam, a Paper Illustrator, Designer and Prop Artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work is whimsical and intricate and will certainly brighten your day. Lorraine is also the co-founder of Illustrated Impact, a platform dedicated to spreading awareness on charities through illustration.

Thank you so much for sharing, Lorraine!

Lorraine Nam | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance paper craft illustrator and prop artist.

I have always been interested in paper and while I was in school, I first started playing around with paper as my medium. I interned at a bookbinding studio, made lots of art books by hand, started paper cut illustrations and dabbled with pop-up books. When I started paper cuts, I really fell in love with the immediacy of the technique and devoted myself to it for several years. Then about 3 or 4 years ago, I felt restless with the medium and started working with paper 3-dimensionally in paper craft. I was working out of my apartment and eventually rented a studio space while I was working as a full time textile designer. The separate studio space really changed my approach to work and after 5 years as a textile designer, I finally took the opportunity to work as a freelancer doing what I love!
Lorraine Nam | Freelance Wisdom

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

I wasn't very good about promoting myself for work in the beginning. I was however posting my self-initiated projects on Instagram and that's how my first clients approached me. In the beginning, most clients found me through social media and some reached out to me after visiting me during Bushwick open studios.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I have found that as hard as I try to be a 9-5er, I work best in the evenings and sometimes really late into the night. It is when I'm my most creative, energetic, and enthusiastic about new ideas. I also feel ready to work when I talk with other creatives or go to see art at museums or openings. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I feel the most un-productive when I look through social media so I try to limit how often I check my feed.
Lorraine Nam | Freelance Wisdom

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

Balancing my time between the fun things like creating and the business side of being a freelancer. As a freelancer, you are selling your time and I'm learning how to manage my time in the best way. Another struggle is to always feel motivated. There are some days where doubt creeps in and it is harder to get started. Since I am typically working by myself, talking with peers to get out of my rut is not always an option. I've learned to push through the doubt and the feeling of being productive will eventually encourage me.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

Being able to work on awesome projects with cool clients. Every day is a different day and that excites me!
Lorraine Nam | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us more about your side venture Illustrated Impact?

Illustrated Impact started off as a conversation between my friends, Susanne Lamb and Laura Korzon on how we could use our talents to help out with charities. We quickly found out that other illustrators felt the same need and from there, it was born! Every month we feature a different theme. May was Family Month and we chose to share stories and interviews from different people on their perspective on families such as balancing being a mother and a business woman, how to overcome loss in a family, or talking about miscarriage.

For Illustrated Impact you work as a member of a founding team. Do you have any advice for handling communication as a partnership?

Communication is super important and luckily I work with my closest friends. We were friends since our days in college! I can't say that our communication is perfect and we are constantly looking for ways to improve. We have bi-weekly and sometimes weekly conference calls where we start off catching up on each others lives and then talk about who is tackling what for Illustrated Impact. Since this is a non-profit project, we trade off on who is the "leader" for the month so no one person is left with the bulk of the work all the time. We also share a google document that lays out the plan for the month and like other friend groups, we have an ongoing group chat where topics vary from work related stuff to cats :)
Lorraine Nam | Freelance Wisdom
Lorraine Nam | Freelance Wisdom

Since you are your own boss and juggling more than one venture, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I'm not so sure that a work-life balance exists or at least in the sense that it's been traditionally defined. For me, I can't picture a life where my creative work is separate. My boyfriend is a painter where we share a studio so work is always a topic in our conversations. I try to do the basic things like listen to my body when it's tired or hungry and make sure in between projects, I take a day off for myself to walk around and enjoy New York.

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

Passion, business sense, persistence. A good peer group who supports you doesn't hurt either!
Lorraine Nam | Freelance Wisdom
Lorraine Nam | Freelance Wisdom

Get Social with Lorraine

W E B S I T E  |  I N S T A G R A M  |  T W I T T E R

Maayan Alper-Swan

Maayan Alper-Swan is an artist, illustrator and textile designer living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Her clients and collaborators include Macy’s, Fashion Snoops, Urban Outfitters, Incoco, Calvin Klein, Kellwood, Victoria’s Secret and Temple Flower. She is also a member of our Creative Lady Directory.

Read on to find out how she gets it all done and still makes time to travel often for work and inspiration.

Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance artist, illustrator, and textile designer.

I’ve always made art as far as I can remember. I come from a family of architects and grew up in a creative and aesthetically conscious environment. Art was always a part of my life and I was that kid always drawing on any surface I could find and putting together colorful outfits.
I decided to study fashion design thinking it would be a practical career in the arts as I have always loved fashion and style as a medium of self expression.
I started freelancing right out of school. I fell hard for textile design when I began creating artwork and patterns at the request of several clients. This led me to create a portfolio focused on illustration and surface design and things took off from there. My work in textile design and illustration allows me to be a multi-disciplinary artist that creates in a variety of media and techniques and I love the process in which the artwork transitions from something I’ve dreamed up to becoming a finished product, often on apparel or home decor.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

This is a bit counterintuitive but before I stop work for the day, I like to start on new work or my next project and just leave it. That way the next morning I can jump right into my work and pick up where I left off rather than confronting a blank slate.
Also, I make lots of lists and my calendar is color-coded by client/projects so I can stay on top of my work and deadlines.
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

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

Balancing the day to day of client work in tandem with personal work and longer term projects remains a struggle for me. It does, however, become easier with time and experience as you learn to set a clear agenda.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The freedom to work from anywhere and the ability to choose the people I will collaborate with. Freelance affords me the opportunity to pursue a great variety of projects, all of which challenge me and never leave me feeling bored.
I’m a night owl as well and thus I appreciate not having to try and perform feats of creativity within the prescribed hours of 9 to 5.
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

Instagram has turned out to be a great tool for attracting clients and collaborators.
I think putting out work that you are proud of and what represents your aesthetic is a great way to find those ideal clients that want to work with you for what is unique about your work and style. If you chase what you perceive as commercial, you would potentially alienate the most fruitful and rewarding client relationships.
I have gotten clients through word of mouth as well. It’s very gratifying when a client enjoys your work and the experience of collaborating and feels inspired to pass your name along to others.

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

Try to stay organized with tracking invoices and expenses throughout the year so that tax time isn’t quite as painful. Hire an accountant that specializes in working with freelancers or artists to do your taxes - they will be helpful in figuring out all your deductions.
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I travel often, always with sketchbook in tow. Being immersed in a different culture and a new landscape is constantly inspiring. It has become an integral part of my creative process.
I like to get involved in projects with artists working in media outside my own, such as film and photography. I find it creatively invigorating and I can then bring that energy back to my own work.
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

"I like to get involved in projects with artists working in media outside my own, such as film and photography. I find it creatively invigorating and I can then bring that energy back to my own work."


Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

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

My advice is to take a longer view on work-life balance and not think of it as a daily goal. Not every day, or even week, will be balanced but if working extra hours for a few weeks allows me to take a month off to travel, that’s my idea of balance.
I love what I do and it is so much a part of who I am. I subscribe to the notion that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.

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

Self motivation, curiosity, adaptability.
Maayan Alper-Swan
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

Get Social with Maayan

W E B S I T E  |  I N S T A G R A M