Illustration

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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Alex Labriola

Looking to move abroad one day? Then this interview is for you!

Just a year ago Alex Labriola, the founder and creative director of Al Stampa, a design and illustration studio, moved her one-stop-shop for all branding needs and letterpress printing from Brooklyn to Amsterdam.

We are so inspired by this leap and impressed by her willingness to grow with this move. Thank you for sharing your journey Alex! 

Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

Ever since I was little, I pictured myself having my own design studio in some capacity.  It was important for me, and critical in my opinion, to work for others for a large chunk of time and soak in as much as possible from those experiences. I have always enjoyed working for other people, and learning in a work environment.  I got to see how design and illustration can live in large corporate environments, as well as in-house within smaller companies.
I was designing, illustrating and hand letterpress-printing custom wedding invitations as a side business since 2010, and there came a time when I realized that this too was a way of branding, only for an event and not a company. I realized my passion was rooted in telling the story of a company, individual, or couple, and the brand of Al Stampa felt whole.
When my husband and I decided to take a leap and move to Amsterdam a year ago, I felt it was the best time for me to go out on my own completely and give it a go.  If not now, when?

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

I had made so many great relationships throughout my 10 year career working as a designer, art director, and creative director in the interiors, and hotel industries. I was able and courageous enough to send a mass email out to everyone to tell friends and old colleagues I was available for work.  I luckily have an amazing community of people who wanted me to succeed and refer me whenever possible.  I think one of the most important parts to consider before you take the leap into full-time freelance is not to burn any bridges, and always act like what you’re doing is important to you, even if you hate your job at the current moment.  Work ethic is work ethic at the end of the day, and it’s better to leave everyone with a great impression of you and how you work because you never know when you’ll work with them again, and in what capacity.  
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Get dressed in the morning and make lists! I re-write my lists of to-do’s throughout the day, to clear my head and focus myself.  I also try to devote some of the day to other things like drawing around the house, soaking up some Pinterest time, or even taking a walk. It’s important to take time to build what you want, take time to be with your family and cook/eat a good dinner at night.  Always look to inspire yourself so you’re not pumping out uninformed work… How you take care of yourself comes through in how you live your life and the type of work you produce! It’s all connected.

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

We all have off days.  The most important thing to do when this happens is to recognize that you need the bad days in life to revel in the good. Take a break and get inspired in a different way.  On days like these I’ll pick another form of creativity like cooking a beautiful dinner, or looking at a different medium of design, for instance old blues vinyl albums.  Break out of your process a little, to give your mind a break.
Another hard part I’ve found is making time for self promotion.  Luckily, most of my clients have come to me through referrals, or Instagram, but beyond that, it hasn’t been something I can focus on, and I would love to be able to this year!  
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

I used to hate mornings, and think “oh I’m just not a morning person” until I started working for myself, and now my favorite time of the entire day is a quiet early morning with coffee, my music, and my work space.  While it’s amazing to have my own schedule, and be able to bring my work with me anywhere, I work way more than I ever have because it’s just me, myself and I. Since it’s all for me, and my growth, I never dislike my work days, but the pressure is on!
I also love that I get to see my progress as a designer, illustrator and letterpress printer more clearly because I get to work every day at what I love, and invest all my time in being better each and every day.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients? 

Someone I admire greatly told me – create the work you want to be hired for.  This was the best advice and has been my inspiration every day.  I started to think less about how to get work, and just reveled in the days I was able to draw/design what I truly wanted to.  I started a little gif series on Instagram over the holidays that led to some really interesting work, and now I’ve started the #100dayalstampapatterns challenge where I work on an illustrated pattern a day for 100 days.  My dream is to create an illustrated wallpaper collection, and this challenge is meant to get me thinking about pattern on a daily basis, get the “not so good” work out of my system to clear space for the collection I hope to make in 2018.  It also allows others to see daily drawings that may inspire future work.
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

You have taken your creative studio abroad to Amsterdam. Can you tell us more about that journey, the motivation behind it, and how you are finding it to be for your creative studio?

My husband and I had lived in Park Slope for 8 years and were both in a position where we were feeling a bit like time was getting away from us, and we were unsure of what our next move would be.  I was unhappy in my current work place, and had longed to go out on my own finally instead of keeping it a side-job, and we decided we needed a year to invest in ourselves.  My husband has Dutch citizenship, so we have always dreamed of living in Amsterdam. He applied for a Masters degree, and we crossed our fingers.  When he got in we were so happy, but terrified and unsure if it was the right move.  We packed up our life, and the three of us (Kitty Lou included), flew over to our new home.  Almost a year later, I couldn't imagine what our life would have been like without this move.  My business is blossoming every day, and we live exactly how we’ve always dreamed of living.  I pinch myself sometimes!
Being here is so inspiring for my business.  There is a huge letterpress culture, there are designers everywhere, and it’s the city of self-employment!  I found a letterpress studio to work in, and get to bike over, and  print amongst the canals whenever I can!  My studio is in our apartment, so I have a little nook next to French windows that open up to our quiet street in De Pijp.
All of my clients are still US based, which is great for me time-difference wise. I get to work all morning quietly, without email interruption, and then by 2 pm my time, I start to get feedback and client inquiries, which I work on for the remainder of the day.  
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

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

I love the program Harvest, where I do all of my invoicing, timesheets, expenses, and client organization.  It lets me actually see how many hours it takes me to do certain things, so I am charging a fair rate.  It also allows me to see all out-standing payments, and all that’s been collected thus far so that I can better plan my finances, as well as sends automatic invoices to clients with whom I am on retainer. I also keep a separate excel of every project, all costs, vendors, quoted price and profits.  It helps for tax season deductions, and also helps me look back to compare vendor pricing, or quickly give a client a ball-park cost to initiate next steps.  I always send a highly detailed quote with all information and process for a signature, to have on file just in case (with friends too!) and then I follow up with the invoice.  I find this protects the client and myself throughout the process.  I feel the more organized you are, the more likely you won’t run into big problems.

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

This year in particular has been all about investment of time, money, and confidence into Al Stampa.  My work creeps into every moment of my day, but I’m still in the honeymoon phase of building this to the level I want it to be at, so I don’t mind. Luckily my husband has been finishing up his Masters this year, so he’s been in the same ‘nose to the grindstone’ mode.  We definitely love to walk around our neighborhood, get a great glass of wine, and we cook amazing dinners to favorite playlists by Michael Antonia (our wedding dj) 5-6 nights a week.  That is part of the life we have built and we would never be as happy as we are right now if we didn’t give that time each day to each other. I also really believe that not taking time to do things you love, or see people you enjoy, will impact your work in a negative way. Conversations, outings to the movies or to a new neighborhood, give me inspiration for my work, so it’s important for me to keep that in mind when I want to stay in one night and work work work.  
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom
Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired? 

I’d say I’ve always been inspired by old movies, hand-lettering styles from the 40s-50s, and my endless collection of illustration and design books.  My sister, who is also an artist, has always given me amazing books every year for my birthday, because we are soul sisters; Charley Harper, Illustratus, David Weidman, Oliver Jeffers and the list goes on.  I take a lot of inspiration from old illustrators/designers/painters like Alvin Lustig, Saul Steinberg, Toulouse Lautrec’s sketches, vintage movie poster design, letterpress printers and hand painted signage. Travel is huge for me, and signage especially. I take lots of photos of signage from all over the world to inspire design, even though my designs are much more contemporary and clean.
Being in a new city this year has given me so much inspiration, from the signage, to the packaging, to the markets, and even the way people live.  I print all my letterpress work at a studio about 10 minutes away from my apartment, owned by a good friend now.  Having someone who has been printing for over 30 years, is a huge inspiration to me as well.  I learn so much from just talking to him about letterpress and other printers, seeing how he works, and meeting people through him.  It’s critical to get out of the house, away from the computer, and to soak in everything around you.

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

Ambition, Organization, Passion

 

Alex Labriola | Freelance Wisdom

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Brunna Mancuso

This week we are traveling to São Paulo, Brazil to speak with Brunna Mancuso, an illustrator & editorial designer. Her work is loose, feminine, and emotive and has been commissioned by Nivea, Bebe.com, and Cosmopolitan Brazil.

Need a little support and reassurance? This interview will certainly put a spring in your step. 

Brunna Mancuso | Freelance Wisdom

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

I've been a designer for 12 years now and I swear it doesn't feel that long. When I was working in a publishing and design studio, in 2012, my bosses asked me to do some illustrations for a publication, even though I had never done such work before. They totally trusted me, and it was awesome. Some months after that, I went to college to study Visual Arts and my interest in painting / illustration grew even more... I was learning and working at the same time, it was a really special time for me, a whole new world.

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

Actually, I've only started to get big clients for a year, now... As I worked in the field already — and still work — I kind of have contacts (and friends) in several publishers and studios, so they remember me when they have a job that suits me. Also, I participate in some art fairs and meet really nice people at those events. I love it. Some of them become clients.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I love to draw and to paint and I'm always thinking about what can I do next... I have so many ideas! But if I'm stuck I usually run through my old sketchbooks. Often there are some good ideas lost in there. Also I really feel the lack of creativeness when I'm really tired.. so I try my best to respect my body (which is really hard when you do what you love). I'm a workaholic, you know...
Brunna Mancuso | Freelance Wisdom
Brunna Mancuso | Freelance Wisdom

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

As I said before, respecting my body, resting and not thinking about work is the most difficult for me. When I'm not creating I feel I'm losing time, and it's horrible! So, getting my mind away from work is, for sure, the most difficult for me.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

I love the freedom. It can be really tricky and you can work for several days with no rest, or the opposite, you can work only 4 hours a day and think it's ok (and if it really is you are a lucky person, congrats! haha). But work for myself, running my business (even the boring part or it), feels like I'm doing these things for myself... it's a good feeling.
Brunna Mancuso | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

Sharing my work on social media, for sure. It's the best thing an illustrator can do for him/herself. Especially my personal work, because this is the work that comes from my soul. I do the paintings because I love to, not because someone paid me to do it. Of course I love the commission too, and I share those as well, but I think it's really important to keep the personal work always.

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

OMG It's always a nightmare! haha When I struggle with paperwork I hire an accountant to help me. But usually I don't have to spend much time on it. I just try to be careful and keep the income/outcome under control, and breathe. haha
Brunna Mancuso | Freelance Wisdom

How do you stay creatively inspired?

The usual... music, good art/books/movies, travel, my cats... Even though I don't have a really calm life right now, I enjoy peaceful moments like discovering a new coffee shop or meeting my friends... A simple, yet meaningful life.

What advice would you give to a fellow illustrator who is thinking about going out on her own?

Save some money for a while, before jumping in, and keep meeting new people (and make friends...life is not only about contacts). Socialize! Being an illustrator can be lonely.

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

Oh, no, I haven't. haha I can only say that there will be moments that you won't have any commission, so I suggest that you focus on your personal work. I try to develop some new skills too.
Brunna Mancuso | Freelance Wisdom

If you could design for anyone who would it be?

Penguin Books and Google! :)

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

Flexible, open minded, confident.
Brunna Mancuso | Freelance Wisdom

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