We are so excited to share the work and wisdom of Creative Lady Directory member Brook Gossen. Brook is an Australian surface designer, illustrator, and hand-letterer who found her way back to creative expression with the help of Skillshare and the 100 Day Project on Instagram. We love her hand-drawn style and the way she embraces color, and we’re obsessed with the mix and match bed linens she makes for more than ever, the company she started with her twin sister.
In this interview Brook sheds light on taking the leap to open a shop, collaborating with a relative, how a conversation about her personal portfolio resulted in securing representation with a pattern licensing agency, and so much more. Enjoy!
Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance surface designer, illustrator, and hand-letterer.
My need to get creative again after having 3 kids in three years led me back to study and on a journey of finding where I sit as a creative. I studied fine arts at university in my early 20’s but didn’t complete it as an opportunity arose to move to the Philippines for work. I’m so glad I took that opportunity, as although I didn’t really enjoy the work, I met my husband there!
We lived there for a number of years and then moved back to Australia to start a family. I wasn’t creative at all during that time, and I missed it. So once time allowed it, I started creating again, however it felt like I needed to relearn everything, and I had lost all confidence in my work. Around this time, I discovered Skillshare and took a few classes to brush up my skills. It was a lot of fun and I practiced a lot.
A few years ago, I took part in the 100 day project on Instagram. I decided on 100 days of pattern and while I definitely didn’t finish it in 100 days, I did make 100 patterns. That project brought back my creative mojo, pushed me to share more work, and helped me define my style. It also led to so many opportunities, along with being published in uppercase magazine which was a dream come true!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Firstly, it was friends, family, and word of mouth. Then Instagram. One of my earliest and favourite surface design projects was for cat collars and bowls after my client saw an animated cat pattern during my 100 days of patterns project. I still get clients via Instagram, and a couple through the Creative Ladies Collective Facebook group too!
You are half of the duo behind more than ever a mix and match bedding company! Tell us about the inspiration to start this shop.
More than ever is inspired by the love & chaos of family life. Life is busy, and it sure isn't perfect. Sometimes things get mixed up (hello odd socks!) and sometimes things just happen to match... We decided to embrace that idea and make a range of mix and match bedding that all goes together, so if you don’t get to finish all of your washing, who cares? Mix it up! It can go with what you have already in your linen closet or you can purchase sheets and pillowcases over time and mix and match as you can afford it. For that reason, we decided to sell everything as separates, as well as sets, so everyone has the option to create their own look, or just purchase one sheet at a time. We wanted to make buying bedlinen fun and easy.
The other half of more than ever is your twin sister Mandie. What do you love about collaborating with her and what have you found to be challenging?
It’s the best. We had wanted to do something together for the longest time, and when I decided I wanted to follow this crazy dream of mine into bedlinen, I asked her if she wanted to join me. We’re full partners and complement each other really well. Quite honestly the only challenge is that we live about 40 minutes away from each other so don’t see each other as often as we should. We talk all the time though!
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?
Just be really honest with each other, and always communicate if something is bothering you or doesn’t feel right. Treat the collaboration as a joint partnership, and use each other to bounce ideas off. You’ll get the best outcomes and always know where you stand.
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 thinking about opening your own shop, do it! It’s so much better to have tried and given it your best, rather than years down the track thinking why didn’t I? No regrets.
You are now represented by Nerida Hansen. How did that partnership come about?
Nerida helped me print some cushion covers for my bedding company, and one day I called her to have a chat about my personal portfolio. She gave me some fantastic advice on where it could be improved, and what I could add to make it stronger. I was going to work on it for a few months and get back to her when I was ready, however she contacted me 2 weeks later to offer me a spot amongst a group of designers she was representing at Surtex last May. Needless to say, I jumped right in, and designed 7 or 8 collections in 3 weeks. It was a lot of stress, and lot of weekend work, but the experience was amazing and so worth it. From then on, I’ve been part of Nerida’s core group of designers, and now have a range of fabric in Australia’s biggest fabric store.
How has this representation improved your work flow?
I am more organised. I submit designs every month, and if Nerida has something come up that she’d like us to work on, she lets us know and we either use existing designs or create new patterns, depending on the brief, and usually in a pretty limited time frame. I try and plan out my month so that I’m not working all hours at the end of each month to get my design collections ready.
Do you have recommendations for fellow designers looking for representation?
Nerida is a surface pattern agent, rather than illustration agent, and it’s great to have someone showing your work to both existing clients and to a different audience that you wouldn’t normally be able to reach. Being a freelance artist or designer though, you really do need to have multiple streams of income, along with having an agent. I’m already underway on that, however I plan to look into more options for my personal work and am still trying to work out which will suit me best – set up my own print store, sell on Etsy, or else a platform like Society6 or Spoonflower. There’s just so many options to choose from. I would love to get an illustration agent this year too, and try to get some editorial work.
As a surface designer, illustrator, hand-letterer, and shop owner you are balancing a lot of roles and projects, do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Ha! I need tips! I am a serial list maker, and try my best to allocate time to different projects I have on the go each day, and prioritise what needs to happen first. Every now and then I feel completely overwhelmed though, and some days feel like I’m achieving nothing. I’ve learnt one of the most important things you can do when you work from home is to get up every now and then and go for a walk, do some exercise or take a proper break to recharge. You can’t work all day without a break, and its good to come back with fresh eyes.
What is one thing you can’t live without while working on a project?
In winter I start the day with a cup of black tea and go over what needs to be done for the day. In summer it’s an iced tea mid afternoon. It just makes me happy and is part of my routine. Simple things. Plus of course my art supplies & iPad Pro (which by the way was the best investment ever). That’s where all of my projects begin.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer / creative business owner so far?
Selling me. I really struggle with selling myself and my work. Putting myself out there. It’s something I need to get better at.
What is the biggest creative risk you’ve taken in your career? Would you do it again?
Launching more than ever. We decided to manufacture offshore, and with that comes big quantities along with financial outlay and risk. Both monetary and creative. I’ve learnt so much in the process, it has been amazing. So if I was to do it again, I’d do it differently, and take on all of my learnings. But I’d still do it.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Admin is the part of the business I struggle with most (like most creatives). Having an accountant has definitely taken a lot of the pressure off us, it’s reassuring to know that side of the business is handled correctly.
Additionally, is there anything you've learned that you'd be willing to share about working with international clients?
Setting up Paypal for international clients has made things easier. International bank transfers aren’t as easy as you’d expect and can be quite time consuming and often involve a trip to the bank. I offer all options, however most pay using Paypal now.
Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?
A long time ago I wanted to make a kids book, and made some really rough sketches for it. Maybe one day I’ll find the time to work on it again.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?
That admin is a killer. I had no idea there’d be so much! So the sooner you start getting help with that the easier it will be!
Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?
I usually have Spotify going in the background while I’m working. Lately have been listening to San Cisco and Jungle Giants (who are both Australian and awesome), Rex Orange County, Estelle, Skeggs. It’s pretty varied.
Anything else that you'd like to share?
I’m constantly inspired but the amazing artists, designers, illustrators, pattern makers and general creative types I come across through Freelance Wisdom and my Instagram feed. Sometimes I get hit with imposter syndrome, or just see so many beautiful posts that I start comparing and my self worth crumbles… Every now and then, I need to remind myself to stop comparing and just keep sharing! The world is a big enough place for all of us.