Graphic Design

Monica Obaga

Monica Obaga is a Kenyan graphic designer and illustrator, currently based in Los Angeles. Up until 2015, she was the founding Head of Digital Marketing at Buni.tv, Africa’s first online VOD channels, and the first to be acquired by a media giant in 2016. She has a special interest in projects that promote the diversity of artistic self-expression in the African community and is currently writing and illustrating her first book.

Monica Obaga | Freelance Wisdom

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

I thought I was going to be a fashion designer until I turned 12. I made my first gown about 2 inches high, for my teeny tiny doll when I was 6. For almost the entirety of primary school (or Grades 1 through 8) I was doodling in every workbook. Halfway through an extremely competitive high school, Art didn’t make the cut as part of my final seven subjects. I didn’t draw much after that until 4 years ago. I started my Instagram page as a quiet place to begin doodling again just for fun and after a year or so I began collaborating and then getting client requests. I still have a long way to go as an illustrator but I’m enjoying the journey.
Monica Obaga | Nairobi Air BnB | Freelance Wisdom

In the past few months you have shifted towards freelance design. What inspired this shift?

I’ve been teetering at the edge for so long since three years ago. I finally got curious about what would happen if I took it seriously.  

What are you loving about this transition? What is challenging you? 

Knowing that I earned every cent that comes in being 100% myself is such a boost. I am working with amazing people changing the world in their own special way. They inspire me to keep growing.
Some of the challenges are that I am running it on my own, so there’s only so much I can do at once, but I keep plugging at it anyway because it’s so worth it. The other challenge is just the irregular nature of creative work. Sometimes it comes right away and other times it takes longer when I can’t crack a problem but I have to be patient and show up every time.
Monica Obaga | Letters to Self | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

Know yourself: Try things and be mindful how they make you feel. I tried productivity planners physical and online and found that post its kept me more consistent in my daily to dos so I switched.
Automation: A trick I learned from a Tim Ferris podcast, whenever I fell off the exercise wagon, I trick myself by wearing my gear even if I’m resisting exercise. Literally the second day in I can’t resist any longer. 
Health: You know what’s good for you. Do more of that. Start small and build up at your own pace. It makes the rest of life so much easier.
Monica Obaga | Jonah Letter | Freelance Wisdom

What are your favorite ways to stay creatively inspired?

Walking in the woods (or forest bathing if you’re fancy) is such a powerful recharge as is being by any large body of water. Visually stunning or original films, stores and installations makes me feel like I’m bathing in art. I follow design publications, photographers, designers and illustrators for inspiration as well.

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

Of course! So many ideas I’m not quite certain where to start. I’d love to finish a few stories I’m writing. They are a little different from my illustration style so I’m not sure who will want to experience them, but they are the very type of story I love, so I hope to do them justice.

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

Persistence, professionalism, purpose (Don’t forget why you started!).
Monica Obaga | Monmon | Freelance Wisdom

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W E B S I T E  |  I N S T A G R A M

Hélène Baum

Hélène Baum is a Berlin based graphic designer and illustrator with a passion for color. After finishing her design studies in Lyon (2010), she went on to work for small and big design studios in Amsterdam, London and Berlin – making illustrations, animations and all matter of designs, from books to flyers. Just a year ago, Hélène decided to take the leap into freelance with a focus on illustration. We're loving her reflections on the transition from part-time to full-time freelance as well as her insightful perspective on color. 

Hélène Baum | Freelance Wisdom

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

Initially, I studied visual communication with graphic design as the focus. My first job was in Amsterdam, where I worked part-time as a graphic designer in a studio called Roosje Klap, rooted in the culture and art scene of the Netherlands. The rest of the week was spent doing little design projects for friends, drawing and making jewelry. It was a sort of exploratory time. I then moved to Berlin and while searching for a job there, was asked to freelance on a five months ident animation project for ITV3 in London. It was an amazing time! I remember being impressed how these 15-20 freelancers in the team were doing what they were best at and the energy emerging from this in the office. It was very inspiring. That’s when I started to really explore the illustration side of my activity by creating short, hand drawn animations with felt pens and watercolour. I couldn’t stop drawing. When I came back to Berlin though, I took on a full-time job as a graphic designer at online fashion retailer Zalando, as I needed to pay bills quite fast. It was also still unclear to me, how to process this new found passion for making illustration (static or moving). I stayed in that position for three and half years and used the evenings to learn and work on my art. A year ago I leaped again and decided to go freelance with illustration as the primary focus.

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

Essentially by doing a lot of self-initiated work and putting it online (Portfolio website, Instagram, Facebook, Women who draw…)

Can you tell us a bit more about how this quote, from Édouard Manet, guides your life and work?: "There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another."

I love this quote because of the deeper meaning I read into it, although it might not have been Edouard Manet's intention. No lines, no separations, no borders, no walls, just different people and nature coexisting next to each other. Very peace and love!
Colour is the most crucial aspect of my work, and when I use lines, they are to be seen as colored surfaces. They are just thinner areas of colour as opposed to outlines and dividers.
Helene Baum | Freelance Wisdom
Helene Baum | Freelance Wisdom
Helene Baum | Freelance Wisdom

You studied in Lyon and have since lived in Amsterdam, London, and now Berlin. How have the moves from one place to another impacted your work? 

In each city, I learned something new about art and design but also about myself and how I envisioned my career going.
Lyon was about studying and exploring various forms of expression. It was fun but still all over the place while identity and style were forming.
Amsterdam is a creative heaven because dutch clients are generally open for bold and new design, which means the artist/designer is very free to explore and make daring art. It was a fantastic place to have a first job and get inspired by the colourful designs.
London is where I grew up as a child, so it feels like home, but I also did a few internships there while studying and became friends with Andersen M Studio. The Danish siblings do graphic design, photography and specialize in paper animation. They shaped me a lot, with their painstakingly beautiful craftsmanship and their collections of weird objects, music, and books. Later they asked me to join the ITV3 Idents project where, as mentioned earlier, the idea of illustrating started to take shape.
I’ve been in Berlin for five years now, and although this city is definitely a bit crazy and ever-changing, it has been a big stabilizer. Staying in one place for a while helps to figure out what the next step is. In my full-time job, I found out what doesn’t work for me and defined what does, all the while taking the time to build an illustration portfolio.  
Helene Baum | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

I think you have to find your own rhythm. When do you work at your best, are the most motivated and stimulated?
When I stopped my full-time job, I planned to still get up early in the morning, spend the day working and then keep the evenings flexible for social activities or more work if needed. It was always my assumption that I was at my most productive, late morning/afternoon. But I soon realized I was actually a night person. So now, unless there is a tight deadline, I start working early afternoons until late after midnight. 
Also taking real and regular breaks helps. Air out the brain.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

It’s liberating to be able to make decisions yourself about where, how and when you work. However, I think the best feeling has been the one of getting hired for what I love doing the most and being appreciated for it.
Helene Baum | Freelance Wisdom
Helene Baum | Freelance Wisdom

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

I’m doing my bookkeeping myself as I’m still relatively new to freelancing and everything is quite manageable, but I will definitely hire an accountant very soon. No crazy system or tips. I just keep receipts and bills in one place and ideally put these into an Excel spreadsheet once a month to avoid panic when doing taxes. For Invoices, I keep two folders: "paid“ and "unpaid,“ always making sure to write down when I sent the invoice exactly. Until now I’ve been quite lucky with payments coming in on time, but you never know. And keeping part of the income aside for taxes and unforeseeable expenditures.

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

I would say, once you’ve figured out how to work best, see when you can carve out moments for friends, family and yourself and try to stick to it. Depending on how busy work gets, of course, you may need to push things around. But in the long run, if you don’t rest and relax at some point, you, your work, your clients and the people you love will suffer which is counter-productive on all levels.
Helene Baum | Freelance Wisdom

How do you stay creatively inspired? 

When possible, traveling to a new place is the most inspiring for me. But I make regular trips to bookshops, where I pour into magazines and books about art, design, photography, travel, archeology, anything really that stimulates me at that moment. Going for walks in the park and city, seeing an exhibition, movie or concert are great too. Basically any activity that breaks my routine and gives my mind fresh food for thought, is a source of new creativity.

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

Responsiveness, Patience, Passion.
Helene Baum | Freelance Wisdom

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

Meg Summerfield

Meg Summerfield is a graphic designer and blogger hailing from the small state of Rhode Island. Armed with her MFA in graphic design from SCAD and loads of Squarespace knowledge, she runs her own studio Meg Summerfield Creative, as well as her food blog Summerfield Delight. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Squarespace Design Guild, a membership group for designers who use the Squarespace platform.

We're loving the reminders she sprinkles throughout this interview to set our own paths. Thanks for sharing your wisdom Meg!

Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

My path towards freelancing started back when I was a kid, designing brands for just about everything and anyone who had an idea. A sketchbook would come out of my backpack and naming and brand values would begin. I ended up going to Rice University for Architecture as an undergrad and knew pretty quickly I never wanted to cut foam core again in my life. As soon as I realized that I wanted to be a designer, I knew I would work better independently, but knew that I had to probably get my feet wet a bit. I went directly from undergrad into my MFA at SCAD to working remotely while designing full time for a high end photography studio.
Through the insane amount of work I was doing juggling custom work for the photo studio and my MFA I had a pretty big interest in taking my career to the "next level" when I graduated. I thought that it had to be "up" the food chain, so I started working in-house for a large handbag brand here in New England. The dream of working directly with high end magazines, vendors, getting my work seen at fashion week, in hundreds of thousands of homes was all flashy and fun, but I felt creatively like I was on an island far away from where I wanted to be. So in the evenings, I started my own food blog, it became my savior and that place where I learned to be a digital designer not just print, and got to know the online freelancing world much more. After leaving my in-house job, I worked for a few other blogs including Style Me Pretty before deciding to jump into full time last June 2016.  
Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom

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

By becoming involved in the community I wanted to be involved in! I originally attracted design clients for food blogs in Squarespace because I am a food blogger, and became involved with local food blogging community. I wasn't just a designer saying I could do x,y,z...I actually had a real life example that was tangible. It was better than any portfolio item I had at the time for showing clients my skills.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Don't be afraid to define your own rules. When it comes to being productive, you don't have to get up early, or work late nights if it goes against the lifestyle and productivity for your creativity. Scheduling admin/data times and sticking to those is key, but allowing yourself to work at weird hours when creativity strikes is key to letting yourself really become an artist and not make your freelance career feel stuck in the mud.
Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom
Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom

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

Learning that others paths and methods aren't going to work for everyone! When I first started I looked up processes, methods, ideas for streamlining clients, but in the end, they never felt perfect for me. It took me a while to feel confident in "doing it my own way" - the entire reason I started this in the first place.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My favorite thing about freelancing is the way that your career can mold and change over time. In the corporate world my answer for "where do you want to be in 5 years" was never one my interviewers loved, but it was the truth. I want to be creative in my every day life. Freelancing allows me the opportunity to keep that as a mainstay in my career path, and let the other parts be what moves around me. 
Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I keep my portfolio pretty limited and not show all of my projects - just the ones that fit my ideal client. This is the norm these days, but I also make sure every other piece of paper the prospective client sees is branded that way. Contracts, proposals, media kits, process documents, questionnaires are all branded so that they feel immersed in the brand experience. If a client shows their friend the proposal, I want them to see my "style" from JUST that pdf.

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

This is a common theme, but doing it YOUR way is so important! If you love your oldschool invoices than keep them, if you are terrible at email - hire someone! Don't feel like you have to use an automated invoicing software if you aren't behind it 100%. This is your business not someone else's!
Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom

Just over a year ago you launched Square Design Guild, a community resource and inspiration source for designers and artists using Squarespace. Can you tell us more about this project?

A few years ago I was trying to find others like myself, designing on Squarespace for their clients, and kept looking and looking and never finding the community of people to chat to, discuss options and learn tips and tricks from. One of my friends (Jamie from Spruce Rd) asked me to join her for one of her Lunch and Learn webinars and it was then I realized maybe it was ME who had to create the forum for us to come together. I am so glad I did because now we have an incredible community of over 70 designers who are incredible friends, designers and colleagues! 

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

Get away from all things creative! I find inspiration when I change what I'm doing 100%. Sitting on the beach, hiking, taking a long lunch (sans cell phones), and most of all cooking. I find the structure of a recipe, combined with my inability to not change a recipe allows for creativity and structure which bring me back to my "normal self". Disconnecting is the key to me being refreshed to find new inspiration.
Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom
Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom

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

Ask for help! Whether that's a VA, an accountant, a friend to vent, you don't need to hold the weight of your business on your shoulders by yourself. Delegating and finding emotional support will allow you to find your own path to what YOUR work-life balance looks like.

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

Oh that makes my brain go into overdrive just asking that! I would love to really get back into food blogging one day. I put it on the back shelf for the past year or so, and wish I could dive into it with full force.

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

Independent, Fiercely Driven, and Ready to Learn at All Times.
Meg Summerfield | Freelance Wisdom