artist

Shyama Golden

Shyama Golden is a Brooklyn-based graphic designer, artist, and painter who has illustrated for The New York Times, Apple, Wired, Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic, and more. 

We are captivated by her meticulous and vibrant style and could easily get lost within the world she creates. Read on to learn how she honed her craft and find out exactly how she showcases her work to attract her ideal clients. 

Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance graphic designer, artist, and painter.

When I was a kid I wrote questionable HTML and javascript, made bad oil paintings, and did brilliant pixel by pixel drawings in MS paint of ponies and the Spice Girls. I majored in graphic design in college and my first two jobs relied on strict style guides so I would work late into the night on freelance side gigs looking for some creative outlet. After that I freelanced for 3 years, doing a stint as an app designer under a former Disney animator, designing identities and doing some illustration work.
The most life changing decision I made was when I realized I just needed to paint again, and I took a couple months off of client work to do that. Self doubt almost completely took me over, but by organizing a show that would get a ton of foot traffic during SXSW, I shamed myself into getting all the work done and most of it actually sold. The art I did for that show made its way around the internet, and eventually led to me getting a illustration job in San Francisco for a startup called Airtime where I worked for a few years before needing to do my own thing again.
That brings me to today. Over the past couple of years I’ve been working part time doing a little branding work, which allows me to spend the majority of my time doing personal work such as an illustrated book I’m working on (Catsquatch), patterns, portraits, paintings, and freelance illustration. A year ago I bought an iPad pro which has increased my creative output a lot because now I can replicate my oil painting style digitally using the Pencil and the app Procreate.
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

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

One of them I met through a family friend, and others have reached out after seeing my work on Twitter, Dribbble, and Instagram. Later many of them found me through other clients. I don’t think there’s any one way I’ve gotten gigs but what really matters is sharing your work online. A couple of my biggest clients have actually come from Google image search and more recently from Instagram tags, so if there’s something to learn there, I guess it’s that you should keep your website up to date and make sure your images are tagged and searchable. People will always ask you to do more of what you’ve already done, so I make sure my personal work is what I want to get hired for next, and that has been a solid strategy to keep my work interesting and varied.

You work in multiple media, which I imagine is a balancing act. Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I’m a terrible multi-tasker so I’ll just write everything down on paper and try to only look at a list of things to do today so I don’t get overwhelmed. I think it’s good to know your own biggest distraction and address it directly. For some people that’s TV and social media, for me it’s reading the news and getting lost in tangents learning probably-useless facts. I think all of this consumption does add something to your worldview and your shared experience with other people, so I’m not saying you should get rid of it, but I would recommend turning off the noise for a week just to see how it affects your work.
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

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

I think this relates to the last question, because for me it’s that balance between consumption and creating. 7 years ago I was all output and no consumption (really stuck in my own head) and now I’m more consumption and inspiration and far less output (too much learning and looking at stuff and not enough doing). I think where I want to be on that spectrum is closer to where I used to be, but hopefully now I’ll have more life experience to inform my work.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

My favorite thing is just getting to set my own schedule and work on the projects I want to. You have the power to say no to a project, or take time off for personal work. You can take a vacation any time of the year. Sometimes you even get a client who is more like a collaborator who pushes your work to a better place. The potential of what could be around the corner is always exciting, once you get to the point where you’re not worried about paying your bills.
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

Something I’ve been trying out for the past couple years is curating what I share on my online portfolio. Instead of saying “look at all the million things I’ve ever done! Are you impressed?” now it’s very focused and only shows illustration in one particular cohesive style, because that’s specifically the work I want to attract more of at the moment. It means that I will miss out on some clients who would have liked me to do a typeface, logo, or vector illustration, but it’s helping me build my portfolio in a more specialized direction (painterly illustrations and patterns) that will hopefully help me get more jobs I enjoy in the long run. It doesn’t mean that I have to always work in the same style and mediums, but I’ll slowly evolve it over time.

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

I would recommend hiring an accountant at tax time, having separate business and personal bank accounts and credit cards, and keeping track of your invoices. To keep track of my invoices, I number them indicating the year and the invoice number and keep them all in one folder together, rather than in separate folders with their corresponding project files. This stuff may seem obvious, but it took me a long time to get a system down so it might help someone else like me!
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I try to have a life. Most of the time I’m a super boring homebody, that’s my natural inclination… but I force myself to go out and talk to people and so far I haven't regretted it. Some of my best ideas have come from conversations with friends. I also go to a lot of galleries and museums, and I use Pinterest to find illustrators and artists I like.

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

I’ve always felt like being your own boss isn’t exactly true for freelancing. Maybe it’s more true for personal work. You still need to make the client happy as a freelancer unless you’re a really famous badass. There will still be times when you don’t agree with the client but you need to do the revisions anyway, or the client steers the project into a direction you don’t like. You’re right though, you are your own boss when it comes to deciding when to go to sleep and how much to work. I definitely give myself time to rest. Having at least one pajama day a week where I don’t have to face the world is something I’m grateful for. I used to miss sleep all the time and I just became more and more tired. The older you get, that just isn’t worth it anymore.
I do like to travel and I always see my parents in Houston for a few weeks a year—they are retired now and meditate a lot and they give me perspective when I’m worried about a stupid thing (which is all the time). My mom will always remind me that I should start exercising again… I’m still figuring it out really.
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom
Shyama Golden | Freelance Wisdom

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

So many! I have a few more halfway realized ideas for illustrated books, I want to get my patterns on some fabrics, and I have an idea for a zoetrope that will require me to learn 3d modeling. I would love to do more collaborations with people in different industries.

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

Passion, determination, and focus (the one I’m still working on).

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Maayan Alper-Swan

Maayan Alper-Swan is an artist, illustrator and textile designer living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Her clients and collaborators include Macy’s, Fashion Snoops, Urban Outfitters, Incoco, Calvin Klein, Kellwood, Victoria’s Secret and Temple Flower. She is also a member of our Creative Lady Directory.

Read on to find out how she gets it all done and still makes time to travel often for work and inspiration.

Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance artist, illustrator, and textile designer.

I’ve always made art as far as I can remember. I come from a family of architects and grew up in a creative and aesthetically conscious environment. Art was always a part of my life and I was that kid always drawing on any surface I could find and putting together colorful outfits.
I decided to study fashion design thinking it would be a practical career in the arts as I have always loved fashion and style as a medium of self expression.
I started freelancing right out of school. I fell hard for textile design when I began creating artwork and patterns at the request of several clients. This led me to create a portfolio focused on illustration and surface design and things took off from there. My work in textile design and illustration allows me to be a multi-disciplinary artist that creates in a variety of media and techniques and I love the process in which the artwork transitions from something I’ve dreamed up to becoming a finished product, often on apparel or home decor.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

This is a bit counterintuitive but before I stop work for the day, I like to start on new work or my next project and just leave it. That way the next morning I can jump right into my work and pick up where I left off rather than confronting a blank slate.
Also, I make lots of lists and my calendar is color-coded by client/projects so I can stay on top of my work and deadlines.
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

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

Balancing the day to day of client work in tandem with personal work and longer term projects remains a struggle for me. It does, however, become easier with time and experience as you learn to set a clear agenda.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The freedom to work from anywhere and the ability to choose the people I will collaborate with. Freelance affords me the opportunity to pursue a great variety of projects, all of which challenge me and never leave me feeling bored.
I’m a night owl as well and thus I appreciate not having to try and perform feats of creativity within the prescribed hours of 9 to 5.
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

Instagram has turned out to be a great tool for attracting clients and collaborators.
I think putting out work that you are proud of and what represents your aesthetic is a great way to find those ideal clients that want to work with you for what is unique about your work and style. If you chase what you perceive as commercial, you would potentially alienate the most fruitful and rewarding client relationships.
I have gotten clients through word of mouth as well. It’s very gratifying when a client enjoys your work and the experience of collaborating and feels inspired to pass your name along to others.

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

Try to stay organized with tracking invoices and expenses throughout the year so that tax time isn’t quite as painful. Hire an accountant that specializes in working with freelancers or artists to do your taxes - they will be helpful in figuring out all your deductions.
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I travel often, always with sketchbook in tow. Being immersed in a different culture and a new landscape is constantly inspiring. It has become an integral part of my creative process.
I like to get involved in projects with artists working in media outside my own, such as film and photography. I find it creatively invigorating and I can then bring that energy back to my own work.
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

"I like to get involved in projects with artists working in media outside my own, such as film and photography. I find it creatively invigorating and I can then bring that energy back to my own work."


Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

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

My advice is to take a longer view on work-life balance and not think of it as a daily goal. Not every day, or even week, will be balanced but if working extra hours for a few weeks allows me to take a month off to travel, that’s my idea of balance.
I love what I do and it is so much a part of who I am. I subscribe to the notion that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.

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

Self motivation, curiosity, adaptability.
Maayan Alper-Swan
Maayan Alper-Swan | Freelance Wisdom

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Danielle Kroll

We are smitten with this week's interviewee, Danielle Kroll, an artist, illustrator, and textile designer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her whimsical style is captivating. It inspires curiosity and will certainly make your day just a little bit brighter.  

In the past, Danielle has had the pleasure of working with such brands as Anthropologie, Kate Spade New York, Land of Nod and Papyrus. Additionally, she is a co-founder of Beech Hall, a multi-disciplinary artist collective that is currently in it's second release of theme based collections.

Thank you Danielle for sharing your whimsy and wisdom!

Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming an artist and freelance designer.

I had an early interest in art and started painting after I won a summer’s worth of acrylic lessons in the 5th grade. After that I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I was very shy in high school and hated the thought of rejection so much that I only applied to one college, Tyler School of Art. I got in and although I thought I wanted to be a painter, I chose practicality and majored in Graphic Design. After graduating I got a job at Anthropologie on their web design team. I wasn’t interested in interactive design but working for Anthro was totally a dream job, no matter what I was doing.
While working on the web team, occasionally I’d get to illustrate for an email or homepage and that would be the highlight of my week. After a year or so I moved to the Art Department where I worked on store invites, branding projects, and customer gifts. On the side I was keeping a blog of the illustrations I had painted for Anthro and for me. My coworker sent my blog out to a larger design blog, they posted about me and after that I started getting clients. I devoted my week nights to freelance projects for about a year after that. Although my focus was on design with my schooling and my job I felt much more passionate about the non-computer illustration work I was doing on the side. So after 3 years with Anthro I decided to quit and went out to California to do a long distance hike (211 miles!) through the John Muir Trail.
After coming back to the East Coast, I settled in Brooklyn and got to work on my (not very) bustling freelance schedule. I struggled for a while with finding work and, even more so, finding work that I actually wanted to be doing. When I didn’t have commissioned projects, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’d think up personal projects to work on. Eventually more and more client work that I cared about started coming in. My relationship with Anthropologie has always been pertinent to my career and bringing them on as a freelance client has been a really natural fit.
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

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

I feel fortunate because I really didn’t do much. I just posted what I was painting on my blog and then the internet did the rest. This was when Pinterest first started and a lot of my original clients had found me from that. I think my association with Anthropologie helped clients trust my credibility.

You are an independent artist as well as a founder of Beech Hall. That is a lot to manage. Do you have any tips for being your most productive/for balancing multiple ventures?

For me, being busy with 10 things at once is when I’m thriving. I’m definitely a procrastinator and if I have just one thing to do I’ll dread it and avoid it. So if I don’t have several projects going on, I try to make jobs for myself to fill the gaps. That might involve experimenting in a new medium, shopping for art supplies, going to a museum, organizing files, scanning in sketchbooks, cleaning my studio, making ceramic test tiles. Anything that feels productive to my work in some way.
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

What has been your greatest struggle as an artist, and as a designer so far?

I think the great struggle lies in my desire to feel completely fulfilled with my work. Although I am happier than ever with the work I’m making I am still always sightly dissatisfied. That feeling has led me to explore many different pathways and mediums. I like to challenge myself. Seeing how my work adapts to a new situation is really interesting but can also be quite frustrating. I will feel briefly fulfilled when I finish a painting, as that's my comfort zone. But then I’m immediately looking for my next challenge. It wares me down mentally to always be reinventing but I think that dissatisfaction is what motivates me so I’ve grown to embrace it as a positive trait.  My path to a fulfilling career has been sinuous. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel completely fulfilled, but I’m pleased to report that I’m currently content.

What is your favorite thing about working for yourself?

Definitely the flexibility of my schedule. I hate early mornings more than Garfield. Being able to start my day at a time that feels right to me really helps with my productivity.

For Beech Hall you work as a member of a founding team. Do you have any advice for handling communication as a partnership?

It’s definitely tricky to navigate a business amidst a friendship. The three of us have been friends for so long and only started collaborating in the past few years with Beech Hall. What has always been clear is that talking about problems is the best way to fix them. Being open and upfront with each other is the most direct path to a solution that can make everyone feel happy.
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

"Talking about problems is the best way to fix them. Being open and upfront with each other is the most direct path to a solution that can make everyone feel happy."


Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I take a lot of mini adventures. Whether it’s just in my neighborhood, right out of the city, or farther away. I get most of my creative ideas when I’m actively doing something, not even trying to brainstorm. I can always find inspiration at thrift stores, plant nurseries and on hikes. A waterfall of ideas will come to me and it’s actually hard to keep up with them. I actively keep about 8 sketchbooks, all for different things. One for painting sketches, one for pen sketches, one for poems, one for tasks, one for short stories, one for ceramic sketches, one for random ideas… I always have a sketchbook with me, no matter where I’m going. Although it seems that I’m bursting with ideas, I’ve definitely had a tough time this past year with feeling completely uninspired to make anything of my own (client work not included). It was kind of devastating because I’d never felt like that before. Forcing myself to be inspired feels awful so I just waited it out and trusted that I’d feel normal again one day. Luckily that worked though it took about 6 months to shake it off completely.  
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

"I actively keep about 8 sketchbooks, all for different things. One for painting sketches, one for pen sketches, one for poems, one for tasks, one for short stories, one for ceramic sketches, one for random ideas… I always have a sketchbook with me, no matter where I’m going."


Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

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

Ugh my least favorite part of being self employed! I am very unorganized by nature so it’s a challenge to keep the business side of things in order. Naming your files appropriately and organizing projects with sub-folders would be a good place to start. I just started doing this after 4 years of working for myself and it’s made a huge difference! I would also highly suggest opening a business account and doing all your business related spending on that card. It really helps to have all your expenses in one place when you go to file your taxes.

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

I don’t think I’m very good at it so I don’t know if you should listen to me. I just love what I do so much that I always want to be creating. The line between my work and my life is definitely blurry. I do try to accomplish my business work in the mornings: emailing, invoicing, mailing out orders, working on client projects. And by ‘morning’ I mean before 3pm. Then if I get all that done I can do what I want with the rest of my day. Whether that’s working on my own projects, spending time with friends, going to yoga, or cooking a nice meal.
Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

"I just love what I do so much that I always want to be creating." 


Danielle Kroll | Freelance Wisdom

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