If the beginning of 2018 is delivering a little dose of overwhelm (it certainly is for us) than this is the interview for you!
Introducing Tania Guerra, a New York City based graphic designer and illustrator whose work has been featured in digital and print at Glamour, Glam Belleza Latina, Buzzfeed, Beauty Atlas, Allure Korea and Joe Fresh. Tania's perspective is deep, her style loose, and her insights grounding.
We hope you'll enjoy her wisdom as much as we do.
Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer and illustrator.
I started working as a graphic designer with in-house teams shortly after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Three years into working as a designer for Glamour magazine, I parted ways in order to begin doing something absolutely cliché: I quit my corporate job to travel indefinitely. I did this along with my long-time partner who probably heard the same whispers calling for Latin America. We wanted to disrupt the nine to five routine which, along with the one hour commute each way, left us with very little time in the week to be something other than who we work for. In order to afford what would end up being a year-long, sort of sabbatical, we worked hard at saving but also intended on picking up some freelance gigs while on the road. I had recently taken to illustrating which was something I wanted to build on during this time.
You mentioned that you were recently in a place of transition and big decision-making. Can you tell us more about that and where 2018 finds you so far?
Embarking on this trip, I inadvertently decided I'd transition into being a freelancer indefinitely. Because our travels ended summer of last year (2017), the final months of 2017 became a time for adjusting to being back in the states and loosely planning the next year. There was a sense of endless possibilities, but the endless part was—well—endlessly daunting. We allowed ourselves the space to figure out the next steps but I felt more confused than ever, and anxiety took its toll. When we least expected it, my partner found a great opportunity in South America and I found some great in-house freelance design opportunities to work with until I make the move to reunite with him.
I learned a really important lesson during this time that I hope to carry with me going forward: Putting my creativity to use gives me a chance to become part of the world around me and not just a spectator, but an active participant. There really is value in life when contributing to something greater than yourself.
In the beginning of your freelance career, how did you attract your first good clients?
Showing your personal projects brings fun things your way. Three years ago I started posting daily five-minute sketches on Instagram, which is how the people I worked with took notice of my interest in illustration, and it quickly became a fun addition to my job. They sent me assignments after I left the country, essentially kickstarting my freelance illustration pursuits. I have other peers who have rooted for me and kept me in mind for fantastic assignments. They also offer great advice on what they look for when hiring illustrators.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
Having a designated spot in your home where you do your work is generally good advice. It's your "where the magic happens" MTV Cribs style spot, but the magic being work—not baby-making. Without my own place to call home, being on the road so much meant a constant change of environment for getting work done. It keeps things fresh and takes the monotony out of the equation, which I'm all for every now and then. There is, however, nothing like having your own place to scatter your thoughts, materials, and make something of them.
For productivity tools, at the moment I'm using the Wunderlist app to keep track of projects. It lets you to set deadline reminders and add subtasks to each item on your list which helps to detail every step of a project instead of one vague task. Approaching an editorial project for example might require these steps (or subtasks): reply to client's request establishing deadline and budget, submit 2-3 sketches, illustrate and submit chosen sketch for approval, submit final illustration based on any feedback, email invoice, invoice processed.
I also started adding ideas to a personal projects list so that when I have a break from assignments I have a list to refer to and no excuses not to get to work. I recommend trying one tool, making it work for you and if you find yourself wishing it had other features look for the tool that has that. Your process evolves, so it's only natural that your tools evolve with it. Start simple.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
Not knowing when to say "no" and time-management. It's embarrassingly hard for me to visualize time. Chronology has no place in my brain. Honing in on tools and a process that help me visualize my schedule will be the most important move of 2018.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
Seeing more of my family since I can spend days at a time visiting them while I get some work done. Also, sleeping in! I’m a night owl and am only slightly curious about what people do in the morning. There's nothing like the liberty of creating your own schedule and working with the hours of the day that are most productive for you. I'm actually a big homebody so it all works out. Now all I need is a place to call home...
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
No tips here as of yet. I'm looking for advice myself and I've already found so many good tips on Freelance Wisdom that I'll be looking into for the business side of things.
How do you whet your creative appetite?
I love seeing what other people are doing in all fields, while remembering to compare myself to them as little as possible. I'd say, be inspired by others but remember your success will manifest differently from theirs. You may have noticed I also like to travel which is the best way to see what's out there in terms of art, design, culture, politics, etc,. I also find the range of emotions you feel on the subway in NYC to be full of possibilities.
Do you have any tips for closing out 2017 and setting yourself up for success in 2018?
Placing an emphasis on working well with people and doing your best work pays off. Being valuable or reliable to the people you work with, or people you respect, will be one of your greatest investments.
2017 was one of the toughest years for a lot of people—I had a small ulcer to prove it—but in 2018 we should take that frustration and turn it into magic. In terms of setting yourself up for success, it's easy to put yourself down about not finding that "thing." I think a lot of us aren't really meant to do one thing and it's a hell of a journey discovering all the little things that make you amazing. Accept that the roads deviate and get a little muddy when it rains. It's only natural.
Any special projects you are looking forward to in 2018?
Working on fun editorial projects including an awesome international title. Once I move, I look forward to finally diving deeper into personal projects I've had on the back burner while I've been hustling here in NYC. I'll be making moves to expand on my La Greñua character who began as a character on my Instagram stories. I’d love for her to be the beginning of my online store before the year ends.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Knowing your worth, enjoying your worth, and recognizing where there's a lesson in every project.