Wesley Bird

Wesley Bird is an Art Director, Illustrator, and Designer currently living in Los Angeles, California. 

After majoring in painting and printmaking at San Diego State, Wesley got her start working in the art department at Hurley. Three years later she moved to Sydney, Australia to work with Hurley's International division. Wesley currently works as an Art Director at Society6, responsible for all marketing creatives and initiatives. As a freelancer she has illustrated designs for home goods sold exclusively at Urban Outfitters, created custom apparel graphics for Mate the Label and Daydreamer LA, and illustrated type projects for clients and personal promotion.  

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer, illustrator, and art director. 

It evolved pretty naturally actually. I studied painting and printmaking in college and interned at Hurley after my first year of school. It was there that I learned how to use the Adobe design programs and all about apparel design, production and printing techniques. After school I worked for another surf company doing apparel and graphic design. It was a very small company so I wore a lot of hats and just learned along the way. I worked on tech packs, marketing materials, apparel graphics, went to design tradeshows and grew a ton. I then went back to Hurley to work in the art department and design women’s apparel graphics and textile prints.
After a few years, I started to feel a little burnt out on apparel and made the shift to marketing design at Society6. When I started there, our marketing team was myself and one other person. I was given the freedom to build a lifestyle brand with very little direction and hand-holding, which meant I learned how to shoot lifestyle photography, build emails, create marketing campaigns, and learn how to read data so I knew what was working and what wasn’t. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, and again, I learned a ton. After almost two years at Society6 I was promoted to Art Director and that’s what I am currently doing while freelancing on the side.
I think it was important for me to get a degree in fine art. It helps me as an illustrator to not feel confined by my computer. If there is something I can’t solve with a cursor, I can pick up a pencil and paper and work it out that way. All of my time spent in marketing design helped me learn best practices and become a smarter and more effective creative. I know some people do just fine starting out as freelancers and I am incredibly impressed by these people, but I am definitely not one of them! I needed the structure of a full-time job, a corporate environment, difficult bosses and creative directors to thicken my skin and teach me better communication skills to be an effective freelancer. Everything I learned in my early days of design shaped who I am now and taught me skills I can offer my clients now as a freelancer! It also taught me accountability, organization, and patience. All of which are incredibly important when working for yourself!

"If there is something I can’t solve with a cursor, I can pick up a pencil and paper and work it out that way."

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

Honestly, it was from posting my work on Society6. At the time, back in 2010, they had a licensing program with Urban Outfitters and I was selected for inclusion in their print shop program. My art prints were sold on and in their stores and it got me a lot of good exposure. From there I just started to get freelancing requests from clients who had seen my art at UO and it just kind of went from there. At that time I was also working in the Art Department at Hurley, and as I posted the work I was doing there on my website and social I got a lot of interest that way too.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive? 

I make lists and love checking off items. I am also a huge advocate for taking breaks and going outside. Thankfully, I have a dog on a schedule so it forces me to get out of the house and walk a few times a day without a screen in front of my face. Also, I know I work best in the morning so I try to knock out as much work as possible while the juices are flowing and then I stress less in the afternoon. I have a lot of friends who are most productive in the afternoon so it’s just about knowing when you’re at your best and taking advantage of your energy and inspiration! 

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

I am not the most patient person and I expect a lot, sometimes too much, from myself. These are pretty terrible traits when it comes to freelancing haha. We’ve all had those clients that drive us up the wall, give terrible feedback, and very rarely, make us hate our jobs. It’s in those moments of terrible impatience and intense personal pressure that I have to remind myself how grateful I am to have these talents and be able to create for others.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

Every new project is so different! I love the variety. I also love the feeling of wrapping a project where the client leaves stoked. That “feel good” moment is probably the best part.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients? 

I think it’s important to stay active on social media, post on your blog if you have one, and keep your website fresh and up-to-date with your best work. In periods of less freelance work, create work for fun that represents your own design style. The ultimate goal as a freelancer is to attract clients that want you for you, not just someone who knows Photoshop and can follow orders. So constantly post personal and client work that you are proud of on your social channels. Social media can serve you in two ways, it can act as a mini work and life portfolio and it shows potential clients that you are busy and have other work. This makes you relatable and desirable. The ultimate win, win!

"In periods of less freelance work, create work for fun that represents your own design style."

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

This is my ultimate least favorite part of freelance work (doesn’t every designer say this?!). I am pretty bad at responding quickly to emails, but it’s one of the things I promised myself I would work on for 2016. I literally have to schedule an hour a few nights a week in my iCal for answering emails. If I don’t schedule it, it doesn’t happen and emails (aka projects and MONEY) just get lost in the void.
Invoicing is my favorite admin thing to do because I actually fully designed out my invoices so they look rad - and I kid you not, just doing that made the whole process way more fun for me. If that’s what it will take for you to get stoked about invoicing, do it! I tricked my mind into thinking it’s fun haha.
Lastly, definitely hire an accountant. I married one so I totally lucked out (he gets weirdly excited about doing our taxes). But don’t let the stresses of trying to figure out how much you owe the government get in the way of your happiness. You will be more organized and productive and your quality of life will just be better if you hire a professional.

Since you still work for Society6 and freelance on the side, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-­life balance?

Honestly, it’s hard! But having a full-time job has actually given me the freedom to be pickier about the freelance I take on. I am pretty good about knowing my limits so if I know I simply can’t handle one more thing, I will say no. I think it’s okay to do this. Not only would you be sacrificing your quality of life, but you’d be giving your clients less than 100%. I have had clients wait a decent amount of time until my calendar cleared up just to work with me. People respect honesty.
I’m not going to lie though, there are times where my husband has gently told me to shut down work for the night. Know your limits - and if you have a partner, know their limits too :)

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

Great communication skills, Organized, Efficient

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Amber Asay

Amber Asay is a Los Angeles-based graphic designer. After graduating from Brigham Young University with a degree in Graphic Design, she has gone on to design in a number of positions for a wide range of companies and organizations including The Walt Disney Company, UCLA, UNO Pizzeria & Grill, Mozi Magazine, and more. She also owns and operates Variety Show Studio, an online shop and graphic design studio, with her husband, Mike.

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer.

Technically I've always been a freelancer on the side of my day jobs. I'm one of those designers that likes to keep one foot in freelance and one foot in studio/agency work. I hope there are more out there like me, because it always feels like you're either one or the other. But I'm always both of everything! Introvert & Extrovert, Idealistic & Pragmatic, I just can't choose! I love being able to collaborate at my day job because I feel like some of my best work comes from that, but I also love being able to do my own thing. I don't know if there's a name for our kind, if anyone comes up with one, let me know!

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

Honestly, they found me. I had submitted a bunch of my student work to popular blogs and once they posted it, I got a lot more inquiries. Sometimes you have to make yourself accessible to clients looking for talented designers. Since I work full-time, I don't have much time to seek out work, so I let it find me and then pick and choose.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I'm not a morning person at all, but I recently read an article that said our most productive hours are 9am-12pm, and it's proven to be very true for me. I also tend to get a second wave after dinner, from 8pm-11pm. It's important to know when your most productive hours are and to really utilize them. When I use those hours to email and get into project management mode, I notice that it's harder for me to work on my off hours.

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

Honestly, finding good clients. That is still a struggle of mine. If I had the coolest clients with big budgets to create amazing work (everyone's dream, right?), I probably wouldn't need a day job.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

One thing I've always liked about freelance is that I get to work closer with the client than I do at my jobs. There was always at least 2 degrees of separation between me and the client. It didn't feel efficient, like I wasn't able to really solve their design problems — it felt more like working at a factory and being told what to do. It's all about creative control for me. I'm in a small studio now where I feel more connected with the client and am able to sell them ideas and design that in the past I wasn't able to do.

Do you have any advice for promoting an online shop?

Social Media! I can't say enough about it. The more you join the community and collaborate with others, the more your name will get out there and the ball will start rolling. The second you stop, no one will know you're there. 

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

A printer I worked with introduced me to Harvest and it has changed my life for the better. It's helped me track my hours and invoice easily. I highly recommend it.

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

For some crazy reason, I have a hard time finding balance. I can be a bit of a workaholic, must be the capricorn in me. My husband is the one who helps me with that. He's like a little kid knocking at my door and saying "Wanna go out and play?" They say opposites attract—I work hard and he teaches me to play hard.

Fill in the blank: The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Discernment, communication, and cultural awareness.

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Jane Reaction

Jane Riley of Jane Reaction is a Dallas-based designer, art director, blogger, and mother of two young boys. She operates her own full service graphic design studio, specializing in brand development, website + blog design, print design and art direction. Jane has worked with several publications including Kinfolk magazine and the popular women's lifestyle publication Verily magazine. Her clients include small business and creative professionals, and she has collaborated with hundreds of creative professionals around the world styling photo shoots, designing for print and launching websites. 

What made you decide to pursue a freelance career?

I decided to go freelance right out of school because my husband and I lived on the North Shore of Oahu and there just weren't a lot of job opportunities out there (like none). I knew I wanted to do graphic design and I didn't want to settle for a job that didn't have anything to do with that path. Freelance was really my only option those first few years after graduating so I just jumped in with both feet and never looked back. 

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

I blogged a lot. Way more than I do now. I blogged almost every single day for a year! That really helped people see what I was doing, what I was capable of and let people get to know me as a person. I blogged about my personal life, I blogged about things I was interested in, and I blogged about any design project that I was working on at the time. Another thing that I recently realized was huge in helping me get clients - I was really supportive and passionate about my friend's creative endeavors. By supporting and cheering others on I got more work. Once they got too much work they would refer people to me, or once they started getting more business people would ask them who designed their logo. Invest in your creative friends and clients and they will invest in you.


"Invest in your creative friends and clients and they will invest in you."


Verily Magazine | Art Direction by Jane Riley

Verily Magazine | Art Direction by Jane Riley

Verily Magazine | Art Direction by Jane Riley

Verily Magazine | Art Direction by Jane Riley

If you work from home, do you have any tips for being your most productive?

1. Create a space that is inspiring and comfortable to work in. Keep in mind functionality! Make a space that really works for you.
2. Get ready for work everyday. Don't go to work in your pajamas. 
3. Set regular work hours and stick to them. 
4. Eat breakfast before you start work in the morning. This is huge! I am way more productive if I'm not thinking of food the whole time I am working.

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

2 things - 
1. Perfecting the creative process... having a creative process that works for me and every single client I ever work with has been a challenge. I still make adaptations to the process every once in a while but figuring out a process that you can guide every single client through was difficult at first. When I first started, my process was never the same. I was all over the place and often felt like I was leading my client down an endless rabbit hole of design ideas. Now, taking a client through the process is a lot more smooth. We can both see a clear direction that the project is taking.
2. Owning that I am my own boss. I get really tripped up trying to make myself seem bigger and smaller than I am all at the same time. It's hard to find a balance between super confident and kind/authentic/humble. Especially for women! The world wants women to be both at the same time and sometimes it is very exhausting. 
Woodnote Photography | Design by Jane Riley

Woodnote Photography | Design by Jane Riley

Bleubird Blog Design | Design by Jane Riley

Bleubird Blog Design | Design by Jane Riley

What is your favorite thing about being a freelancer?

I love that I can work when I need to, and take a week or two off when I need to slow down and focus on my children (or myself). Honestly, I really thought all I ever wanted in life was to be a mom (and don't get me wrong, it is still my best work to date!) but it's not always the most fulfilling or fun thing to do. So, being able to have a career while being a mom has been the best thing for my confidence, happiness, mental health etc. I am SO thankful that I can work with fun, creative, interesting people everyday and still be a mom. It's seriously one of the best things!

Any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

Something that has saved me tons of time and stress is a media kit. I never wanted to have a media kit in the past because I wanted to be able to give every perspective client a custom package and quote based on their needs. As the inquiries started flooding in last fall I knew that I couldn't keep doing that. It was too overwhelming to respond to everyone's email with a custom quote and then answer all of the inevitable questions that would follow. So I put together a media kit. Any time I get an inquiry I send them my media kit and let them know what my next availble date is. The kit is a 6 page PDF with information about me, what I do, how I work, how much I charge for basic services and has a FAQ page. It has been a huge time saver! 
Mother Magazine | Website design by Jane Riley

Mother Magazine | Website design by Jane Riley

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

I am a mom to 2 really young boys (2 and almost 1) Honestly, there isn't a whole lot of balance going on over here, just a lot of surviving! haha! Any advice I do have is really more for the freelance mom:
1. Get a nanny or daycare or some sort of reliable child care ASAP! Do no rely on nap time or bed time to get your work done! I learned that the hard way. Several times. Sometimes a nap just isn't in the cards for your day and you have a ton of stuff to get done, so you either don't get it done or you stay up all night working. You deserve to go to bed at the same time as everyone else in your family, chances are you need sleep the most. 
2. Don't rely on your significant other to watch the kids while you get work done. I used to have my husband watch the kids while I finished up work that I wasn't able to get done while the nanny was taking care of our kids. The result was that we never spent any time together as a family. One of us was always working or getting something else done. I now only take on work that I can get done during my set work hours. 
3. Make time for dates and don't work at all during the date! Don't even check your email once! My husband and I used to be notorious for being on our phones constantly! We have really come a long way! We now go on a date once a week - we put our phones away and just focus on each other. It's made a huge difference in our relationship. I would say this goes for mommy time too - I don't even try to work while I am with my kids. I might check my email, but most of the time I just turn everything work related off and focus on being a mom.  

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

Excellent communication skills, confident, and organized.

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