Surface Designer

Brook Gossen

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!

Brook Gossen | Freelance Wisdom

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!

Brook Gossen | Face 5 Pattern | Freelance Wisdom

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.

Brook Gossen | more than ever | Zigdot set | Freelance Wisdom

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.

Brook Gossen | more than ever | spot on | Freelance Wisdom

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.

Brook Gossen | Illustrator | Oranges | Freelance Wisdom
Brook Gossen | Opening up your own shop | Freelance Wisdom

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.

Brook Gossen | Colour + Shape Study | Freelance Wisdom

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.

Brook Gossen | White Hair | Freelance Wisdom
Brook Gossen | Working from home | Freelance Wisdom

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.

Brook Gossen | Sweeter Cards | Freelance Wisdom
Brook Gossen | Illustration | Sweeter Cards | Freelance Wisdom

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!

Brook Gossen | Illustrator | Freelance Wisdom

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.

Brook Gossen | Bouquet for Bae Greetabl | Freelance Wisdom
Brook Gossen | Stop comparing and just keep sharing | Freelance Wisdom

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

Tenacity, patience, and faith in your abilities.

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Kate Pugsley

Kate Pugsley is an illustrator, painter, and surface designer based in Chicago. She earned a BFA in illustration from RISD and her clients include Penguin Random House, The New York Times, Tundra Books, Red Cap Cards, Lazzari and many more. 

We love her whimsical style and appreciate her honest insight particularly regarding agent representation and attracting ideal clients. Enjoy!

Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

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

I decided to go to art school because drawing and painting were always my favorite activities as a child and my focus in high school. My understanding of adult life and work was really limited, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else as a career. Although I studied illustration at RISD, my early work after school was closer to fine art; I mostly worked with oil paint and presented work in some gallery shows. I had a few different day jobs while painting nights and weekends. I finally decided a few years after college that illustration was what I really wanted to do, so I made it happen. I started working with materials that translated better to illustration, like gouache and watercolor on paper. Once I felt like I had some pieces I was happy with I put a portfolio together and started reaching out to art directors and sharing my work on social media. It’s not always an easy or secure job, but it can be very fun and rewarding.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

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

Most clients found my work online or through something I’ve published—I think clients often prefer to find you rather than to be contacted by illustrators looking for work. My first illustration jobs were editorial pieces for magazines, then I slowly started to get more clients over the years for publishing, surface design and advertising.

You balance working with many different clients and illustrate/paint for different mediums, do you have any tips for being your most productive?

My best tip for being productive is to be strict about setting time aside for deep focus on the actual creative work; time for emails, contracts, social media, etc. must be separate, as it can be very distracting. Making time to sketch and paint freely also opens me up and helps me stay more consistently focused throughout the week. I always keep a few sketchbooks of different sizes going. I record my thoughts and ideas through notes, lists, drawings and small paintings—otherwise, I'll forget them. When I neglect to do this, I tend to get bored and restless easily, and that slows down my productivity. Tidying up my workspace in the morning before getting started always helps a lot too.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us a bit about your process for getting a book & publishing agent and/or how you connected with Red Cap Cards? How have these partnerships improved your work flow?

I connected with Red Cap Cards over the course of a couple years. We emailed a few times and eventually, we made a collection together for 2016. It’s been one of my most rewarding client relationships. The most satisfying work comes when clients give me a lot of creative freedom and trust me to make good work, and Red Cap definitely does that. We’ve also become friends, which is a nice bonus!
The process of getting an agent for children’s books was rather long and, frankly, a little bit discouraging a lot of the time. I reached out to many agents and agencies, talked to a few, and was rejected every time. I couldn’t find a way to get jobs in children’s publishing without an agent. Then, in 2016, Anne at the Bright Agency contacted me about becoming one of her clients, and now I’m working on my first book (writing and illustration) with Tundra Books. I’m still not really sure how to get an agent, actually. I think putting out consistent work that connects with people is the most important step.

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

Working alone can be isolating. Negotiating the appropriate fee and timeline for a job can be challenging sometimes too. I love working freelance though, so I don’t have too many complaints.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

If you could share one piece of advice to your "just starting out" self, what would it be?

It took me a long time to build up some confidence. I used to be very shy and insecure, it held me back a lot. My advice to my younger self would be to work more on understanding my fears and weaknesses instead of just avoiding them.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I think it’s important to keep working on personal projects to show your own creative vision. Client-based work usually involves compromises, and my voice can sometimes get a little lost underneath a creative brief. I’m trying to find a balance between client work and working on pieces that are completely mine; with that in mind, I try to attract good clients who want to work with me based on my concepts.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

This language on your website is very wise: "I work with clients interested in forming an ongoing creative partnership." Have you found that this specification does indeed help generate ongoing partnerships?

To be honest, I’m not sure that it’s had much effect in terms of client relationships yet, but that is still my goal.

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

I have templates for invoices, and I keep track of expenses and income in simple spreadsheets. Keeping it as simple and organized as possible takes some of the stress out of end-of-year tax stuff. Organization doesn’t come naturally to me, but over the years I’ve learned that it saves me a lot of time if I put in the effort. Another thing I recommend to illustrators is to thoroughly read contracts and agreements, and to push back on terms that aren’t good for you!
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom
Kate Puglsey | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I can’t say I’ve achieved a great balance yet. I really love my work and always want to be creating, but running my own business basically means I never stop working. Since I make my own schedule, I try to not work much on the weekends, and I go for walks every day to get outside and let my mind wander. I also love just enjoying the perks of working freelance, like going to the beach, a museum, or a yoga class in the middle of the day if I have time and need some inspiration or a break.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

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

I recently started a company called Formal Dept. along with my husband, where we’re developing lifestyle goods and housewares that combine my illustration and his product design work. We’ve talked for a long time about working together, and it’s finally starting to come together. Our first product launch is a series of bags, and we’re expanding into tabletop items later this year. And we have a lot of other ideas that we can’t talk about yet! I’m also ruminating on some ideas for illustrated books, some for children and some for adults. I always have more ideas than time!

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

Curiosity, enthusiasm, and a unique perspective on your particular creative field.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

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Juliet Meeks

This week we have the pleasure of chatting with another Creative Lady Directory member, Juliet Meeks, a designer based in New Orleans, LA specializing in surface design, patterns, branding, and product design.

Juliet's journey to surface and pattern design has been full of inspiring shifts, from starting as an English major in college, to transitioning to a graphic design track in her senior year, to finding a calling with surface and pattern design through the 100 Day Project. This interview is a great reminder to give into the process and see where it takes you.

Thank you Juliet for sharing! 

Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

I started out in college as an art major, but by the second semester switched to English. I don't think I was ready to take art seriously as a career choice, but I don't regret my time as an English major at all. By senior year, a new digital media concentration within the English department got me taking graphic design classes. Design felt like the perfect way to marriage words and art - we even did a fun project typographically illustrating a poem by Pablo Neruda!

By graduation I was completely into graphic design as my career. It was tough finding a full-time job in a relatively small city (New Orleans) with not much experience, so I first did an unpaid summer internship at a local branding and web agency. I loved the branding, but web design was not my favorite. I then moved onto a second (paid!) internship with an independent designer. I was inspired by her freelance business but did not feel ready to do the same thing yet, and about one year after graduation I landed a full-time design gig at a local weekly newspaper. I stayed with them for two years, but one year in I started to realize I needed to do my own thing. I took a business plan class, saved money for almost a year, soaked in lots of blogs and podcasts, and took the leap!

Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom

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

I was working on freelance design projects even while I had my full-time job, though they weren't consistent. I got a great client because of my job, but then right when I quit they unfortunately hired an in-house designer. That would have been really helpful as the first 6 months were tough; luckily my previous job hired me during busy weeks as a contractor. Most of my clients in the beginning were referrals from friends, family, even my design professor. Then I started to get clients from people finding my website/blog, through local efforts like networking events, and finally more through Instagram.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Have healthy work habits; Make time to do whatever it is you need to do to feel like you are taking care of yourself. For me that is always enough sleep, appreciating the extra time I now have with my boyfriend and dog, yoga, and checking myself when it comes to work-related pressure. 

Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom
Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom

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

It is hard to have time to do everything you want to do, and unfortunately time is often tied to income as a freelancer. In order for me to have space to work on more personal creative projects, I'm setting up "passive" income avenues like online classes and royalty-based projects. These all take time, too, though! I also really enjoy designing and creating my own products, but these take money to produce as well so I'm very selective and working on creating even better designs with each new product.

What is your favorite thing about working for yourself?

It's having the flexibility in my schedule to spend more time with loved ones, take an afternoon off to recharge, or just run an errand when I need to! 

Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom

It seems like the 100DayProject and 30DayProjects have played an important part in your career. Can you tell us more about those creative journeys and their impact?

When I started out as a full-time freelancer, my client projects were all brand design based. I still work on those types of projects, but the business plan class I took was all about designing my own line of pillows! I haven't made pillows yet, but I realize now that the crux of that intention was designing my own patterns and textiles. I wasn't even designing many patterns at the time, but I have always gravitated towards them. I knew I needed to create A LOT of work to figure out my design style, so on a whim I took an online watercolor class and immediately was excited to start #100DaysofPaintedPatterns on Instagram. The commitment was intense, but it was what I needed at the time. Looking back those patterns are simpler than my current work, but necessary for it to evolve. Since then I have finished a few 30 day challenges on Instagram, with another starting soon. I like the structure and 30 days feels like the perfect amount of time (but I suggest anyone to try 100 days, even if it's not every day!).

The impact of these challenges has been instrumental to my career. I feel encouraged to create lots of new work, which helps me get seen by potential clients on Instagram. I still remember the moment when Design*Sponge regrammed one of my early patterns; I know we should have validation from ourselves for our work but it helped me feel so inspired to keep going! Most of my surface design clients have come from Instagram, or snowballed because of previous clients or online press. I feel so lucky to create the work I have always wanted to make.

Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom

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

I actually love these details! Here is what I'm currently using: For bookkeeping I use Freshbooks, Google Sheets, and TurboTax. I label all of my yearly expenses within my email since most of my receipts are emailed. HelloSign for contracts, CraftyBase for product costs and inventory, and Todoist is what I use every day for organizing my tasks and even working with branding clients on group tasks. I try to save 30% of all income to pay estimated taxes quarterly and as a cushion for when annual taxes come around.

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

This exists on a minimal level for me. My boyfriend is also creative, and we work in the same space, so we are both always ready to get to work on our projects. We have to make sure that we take time together to do fun things like just go to the museum or Aquarium. We do, however, take our dog on lots of walks and adventures! So I would say, you probably know what the balance should look like for you, so just take little steps that you can to get there.

Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom

How do you stay creatively inspired?

A vacation at least every few months, even just a drive to visit family, seems to do wonders when I get back. Once a month would be ideal!

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

Self-direction, and a balance of confidence and modesty.

Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom
Juliet Meeks | Freelance Wisdom

Portrait Photography by Darian Kayce

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