Designer

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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Dingding Hu

Dingding Hu is a New York based illustrator and designer. She is a life observer, color lover, and storyteller who aims to make juice out of the everyday ordinary. She specializes in illustrating scenes, characters and objects, and is passionate about illustrated product.

Dingding has made stickers for Google Allo, illustrated a map of Chinatown for MOCA NYC, as well as designed characters for TED talk. In 2016 she started to create her own product line, Hu is Hungry, a stationery and gifts collection that celebrates everyday life through food themed illustration.

Dingding Hu | Illustrator | Freelance Wisdom

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

I originally studied advertising back in Shanghai for college. Upon graduation, I took a giant leap into illustration and came to America to attend graduate school at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. After I finished my MFA degree I moved to New York, aiming to become a freelance illustrator. I have taken on different temporary positions while improving my portfolio towards more professional and unique, as well as reaching out to a variety of clients. Gradually my work has gotten much better than from the beginning, and I was lucky enough to have worked with some really awesome clients along the way. This year I finally started to work from my home studio full time!

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

I got my first big client because the art director saw some of my work on Behance. I got another good client because a producer saw my work at MOCCA. In addition I have put in a lot of effort sending out promotions to my dream clients repeatedly over a long period of time! Other opportunities have come from people I’ve met at a gallery or craft fair; we simply chatted and clicked.

Dingding Hu | Hu is Hungry | Freelance Wisdom

What inspired you to create Hu is Hungry your stationery and gifts line?

I love food, which is obvious. So when I first started out, I took some advice from my peers and started a tumblr that was dedicated to practising drawing food, called Hu is Hungry. Then one day I got a big number of reblogs, and gained more fans in 24 hours than my other tumblr did in 2 years. After that I made a pin based on one of my food drawings and surprisingly sold a lot when I was tabling at MOCCA, more than most of my other creations. I started to think, “maybe this is something I should consider pursuing more seriously.” After finishing a big project back in 2016, I dedicated 2 months of my time fully to Hu is Hungry, and from there, everything started to build and grow. I also realized that all my temporary positions have taught me something about making a product as well as running a brand, which makes it feel right to combine all my experience in retail to run my own business.

Now that you've gone through the process of bringing this vision to life, do you have any advice for fellow illustrators/designers thinking of opening their own shop?

First of all I feel like I still have a long way to go to make it what I have envisioned. If I have to give any advice, I think most importantly you need to identify what is your key message. You can either be a very stylish illustrator and focus on selling your signature style or a very good storyteller and sell your narratives. You have to make a decision and then create a lot of work around it, then filter the better ones over the not as good ones. A big collection of consistent items is important for a shop that seeks growth.

Dingding Hu | Hotpot Party | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

The goal is to focus. Things that helps include good sleep, lots of coffee, energetic music. Sometimes surrounding myself with strangers really helps. However I cannot work with my friends or family unless it is a drawing for fun session.

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

Two things. Time management is among the most difficult ones for me, and maintaining confidence in what I do is also important but quite difficult. I struggle as well as practice consistently to be better at both, and I am happy with the improvement that I have made.

Dingding Hu | Room For Tea | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I try my best to deliver good work to my current clients, at the same time I put myself out there as much as I can. I have also upgraded my promotion packages over the years and keep sending them out. Last but not least, I try to surround myself with a positive and supportive creative community.

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

I highly recommend hiring an accountant, I admire people who can deal with taxes themselves, but I do not trust myself with that at all. Other than that, I am a super organized person. I have a lot of lists on my phone based on different aspects of life and level of priority. I also try to maintain a well categorized studio setup, I take full advantage of shelves, a storage unit, folders and labels. I once took a part time position at a showroom, and I think that taught me everything about organizing.

Dingding Hu | Foodie Girl | Freelance Wisdom

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

For me I think keep evolving Hu is Hungry is among my favorite things to do. I currently put all my time besides client work into it and I constantly feel I need more time.

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

I wish I was not so afraid and shy to connect with people who were successful in my field; it turned out they were usually really kind and gave good advice!

Dingding Hu | Hotpot Fish | Freelance Wisdom
DingDing Hu | Illustrator & Designer | Freelance Wisdom

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

My list keeps changing, currently I have been listening to the soundtrack of Crazy Rich Asians while working, and I recently finished the audio book “How to raise the perfect dog”. For podcasts I usually go to Design Matters and Freakonomics.

Anything else that you'd like to share?

We perform best when we are passionate about what we do, and when we are in charge of pursuing our own passion, whatever it is. Have a plan and take small steps!

Dingding Hu | Dumbest Job Ever | Freelance Wisdom
Dingding Hu | Designer & Illustrator | Freelance Wisdom

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

Confidence, Persistence, Efficiency

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