New York

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

Get Social with Dingding

website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Emily Isabella

Emily Isabella is an Illustrator and Painter who lives and works from her studio in the Hudson Valley, just north of NYC.

As a child, Emily wandered her family’s Wisconsin prairie, pressing Queen Anne’s Lace flowers against her cheeks, pretending they were powder brushes; her work reflects this idealism.

Aside from her product ranges, she takes on project-based collaborations with like minded companies. Her projects vary from book illustration to packaging design to textile design all the while maintaining her unique illustrative style that serves as a reminder to delight in the everyday. 

Emily Isabella | Illustrator and Painter | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance painter and illustrator.

I’ve always known I wanted to run my own business. My entrepreneurial spirit has always been around; I've never been very good at working for other people. I come from a family of artists and going to art school was a natural choice. I studied Fibers, which was a broad major that encompassed textile design and all things related to fabric. All the textile work I was doing was very illustrative and by the time I realized I would love to also be an illustrator, it was too late in my college career to study it. I graduated in 2008 during the recession when there were no jobs to be had. This further sealed my dream of working for myself and I started my search for clients immediately after graduation. I had to figure out the illustration part on my own but my grandfather was an illustrator and my dad is an illustrator so I think it came pretty naturally to me. I used gouache in my textile design classes and that's what I had in my toolbox when I started painting. I don't think too much about things, instead I follow my curiosity and used my strengths to help guide me. 

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

My first client was a wallpaper company called Hygge & West. I emailed them my website which at the time was a bunch of experimental college work. I owe them a lot because they saw something in me and took a chance. They had just launched their brand and I was targeting up-and-coming companies as I thought it could be wise to learn and grow together. We’ve been working together for 10 years now! The process of gaining clients was slow and steady, one project always led to another. 
Emily Isabella | Painting Studio | Freelance Wisdom
Emily Isabella | Freelance Wisdom

Your Instagram bio says "I paint all day." We'd love to hear more about that. What does a day in the painting life of Emily Isabella look like?

It’s true. Lately, If I’m not painting at my desk I’m painting on site at the studio my husband and I are building. We’ve been very hands on with the process. My main task is to paint everything. I think the biggest thing I will ever paint was the exterior of our studio. It took the two of us about a month, we painted each board one at a time, a few coats, front and back. Aside from that, I travel with my paints and actually feel most inspired away from my studio so even on trips away, I’ll be painting observations in my sketchbook. In the last 5 years I could probably count on one or two hands the amount of days I didn’t paint something.

How do you set the mood, how long do you work for, what do you do when you get stuck?

Coffee, dancey music, I like to be alone with my work. It depends on how much I have going on but on an average day I work from 8-7. Walking outside helps to clear my head. I also find that closing my eyes for 20 minutes is very effective when I need to unscramble my thoughts. 
Emily Isabella | Frenchie | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Getting away from my desk and experiencing life is necessary to keep the ideas flowing.

It is amazing how many different types of people, companies, and museums you've collaborated with. Are there other dream clients or dream products for which you'd like to paint?

I’d love to design a ballet. It would be so fun to have my hand in it all from the big picture concept down to the ribbons on the costumes.  I’d also love to work alongside a fashion designer and design prints specially for the garments,  á la Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark. 
Emily Isabella | The Closet | Freelance Wisdom

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

Taxes, the worst. 

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

I think it’s important to understand how to do it yourself before you hire out.

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

My dad is a freelance graphic designer and I was fortunate to have him as a sounding board when I first started. However, I was too stubborn to use a tax program (turbo tax, etc.) because I couldn't fathom the idea of spending money to pay my taxes. I ended up spending three tearful days trying to make sense of the tax system. It was awful. 
Emily Isabella | Desk Corner | Freelance Wisdom

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

When it comes to pricing your work, a great book to reference is the Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. Of course, you'll have to make your own decisions about how you choose to value your work but this is a great starting place. 

How do you stay creatively inspired?

Trips to new places, museums, flea markets and time with friends never fail to inspire me.

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

I have lots of ideas for children’s books but I haven’t had time to make them a priority. Someday!
Emily Isabella | Sleepy Paul | Freelance Wisdom

Get Social with Emily

Website | Instagram 

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

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