hand lettering

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.

Get Social with Brook

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Lauren Hom

We are fan-girling hard over this week's interview with designer and lettering legend Lauren Hom.

Known for her bright color palettes and playful letterforms, Lauren has created work for clients like Starbucks, Google, AT&T, YouTube and TIME Magazine. Her work has been recognized by Communication Arts, the Art Directors Club, the Type Directors Club, the One Club, and the Webby Awards. Lauren is also the author of the popular blog (and now bookDaily Dishonesty.

We could not be more grateful for the wisdom she shares below, including a brilliant tip about how salsa can solve your productivity woes!

Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and letterer.

Me becoming a hand letterer was a happy accident! I actually went to art school for creative advertising and started my career at an ad agency. I always had an interest in lettering, but it was just a hobby...until it wasn't! Senior year of college, I started a blog called Daily Dishonesty as a fun project to practice lettering, and it ended up going viral, landing me a book deal, and circulating my work around the web. Within about a year, I had enough freelance work to comfortably leave my full-time agency job, and I've been paying the bills with lettering ever since.

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

I attracted 99% of my first bigger clients through the exposure I got from Daily Dishonesty. My first editorial job was from Los Angeles Magazine. The design director had seen my work on a popular type blog, and he hired me to do some hand lettering for a feature article. Shortly after the piece hit newsstands, I had other magazines lining up for editorial work! That one magazine spread started a chain reaction of luck: within the year, I’d lettered 10 covers and 7 interior spreads for magazines like Time Out New YorkWashingtonian Magazine, and TIME Magazine.
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

My productivity tips are pretty simple: make realistic to-do lists, focus 100% of your energy on one task at a time, and eat light, healthy meals (big meals tend to make me sleepy haha). When things get really dire and I can't seem to focus or get motivated, my weird secret weapon is to stop what I'm doing, go to the kitchen, and chop vegetables to make salsa. People usually laugh when they hear this, but it's my tried & true method for getting into a more productive mode! I think that productivity compounds, so if I complete a small task like making salsa, it makes me feel good and that feeling carries over into my work day. Oh and also, now I have a delicious bowl of salsa, which makes the day even better.
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The flexibility! I love being able to have autonomy over when and where I work. I'm definitely a night owl, so I love that I can make my own schedule. If I feel a creative spark at 11pm, I can follow it down the rabbit hole and not worry about having to wake up early the next day.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

The same way I attracted my first big clients: organic exposure through my passion projects! I'm a firm believer that you don't need to wait for a client project to come along in order to do the work. For example: a few years ago, I wanted to get hired to do chalkboard lettering but didn't have any of it in my portfolio, so I came up with this project called Will Letter for Lunch to build up a portfolio and get my name out there. I offered to do "daily special" chalkboards for local restaurants in exchange for the exact menu items I wrote out, and the project got a ton of press and booked me lots of paid chalk work over the next years. I've noticed that the more passion projects I create, the more paid projects I receive.
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

Haha I feel like I'm going to sound like a broken record, but the answer to this is ALSO my passion projects. The same way a little productivity inspires more productivity in me, a little creativity inspired even more in me. Working on passion projects lets me explore a bunch of different styles, ideas, and mediums, which keeps me creatively inspired. I'm a big believer that every experience in my life contributes to my creative work. I've been just as inspired by sharing a bottle of wine with a girlfriend as taking a trip around the world. 

You've written some great articles on your blog and on Medium regarding freelance work. What inspired you to share this wisdom?

When I was in design school, I used to love reading blog posts from designers like Gail Anderson and Jessica Hische, so I feel like it's my duty to share everything I've learned with the next generation of creatives. I used to feel like I was too young and inexperienced to have anything valuable to teach others, but one day I realized that you don't have to have 20 years of experience under your belt to teach; all you need to know is a little more than someone else. I try to share information that I would've loved to know 5 years ago! As designers (especially female designers), we're all on the same team. No one HAS to share their creative process or business tips, but so many people choose to. Why? Because smart creatives value community over competition. If you've ever benefitted from someone else sharing their wisdom freely, you should do your part and share yours. This quote from Kevin Spacey sums it up really beautifully: "If you're lucky enough to find success, it's your responsibility to send the elevator back down for someone else." 
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom

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

I've never been a fan of paperwork, so I actually got an agent to represent me as an illustrator right before I began my full-time freelance career. I noticed that all of my favorite designers had agents, so I thought there must be something to it. Before lettering was my full-time thing, I was managing my freelance work by myself and spending just as much time managing invoices and contracts as I was actually designing things. While I think it's good to have a basic understanding of how your business works, it can be draining to have to do everything yourself. I think it's smart to hire someone who specializes in the areas that you don't. I have an illustration agent, an accountant, and a marketing coach. Trusting them to do what they do best helps me focus on what I do (and love to do) best: make cool shit.
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom
Lauren Hom | Freelance Wisdom

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Molly Jacques

Molly Jacques is a lettering artist who has had the opportunity to work with some of the best brands around including Nike, TNT, Cole Haan, Entertainment Weekly, and Post-it. She got her start lettering for Sugar Paper while she was one of their shopkeepers, put her personal work up on Pinterest, and the rest is history. Get the inside scoop on her freelance journey below!

Molly Jacques | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance designer and letterer.

In a way, I fell into freelancing out of necessity. When I graduated with a BFA in 2010, we were knee deep into the recession and jobs were really scarce. I started freelancing in addition to working odd jobs cleaning houses and nannying because it helped make ends meet. In 2012 though, things shifted for me - my lettering and calligraphy started becoming very sought after as not many artists were practicing this particular skill and it gave me some great leverage. I was able to start freelancing full time in 2012 after that shift and I decided I really liked working for a variety of clients. Things kept rolling and before you know it, six or seven years flew by and I'm still freelancing, ha!

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

In the very beginning, I worked part time at Sugar Paper in LA (in the shop) and after proving myself to have a distinctive eye paired with solid skills, they started hiring me on a freelance basis to create custom lettering for them. So, to answer the question, I'd have to say I attracted my first client by taking a super entry level job and proving my worth.
Once I left Sugar Paper and moved back to Michigan, where I'm originally from, I landed my first big, exciting freelance job with an ad agency (the job was chalkboard lettering for a Macaroni Grill TV commercial) after they saw my work on Pinterest. This was back when Pinterest was first blowing up on the scene and (again) I was one of few people who were practicing this craft and doing well. I think it really helped attract that first good client.
Molly Jacques | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us a bit about your teaching? What inspired you to offer in person workshops?

I started teaching around the same time I started full time freelancing (2012). It all started when many of my friends and colleagues kept asking me how to do calligraphy. I taught my first calligraphy workshop as a guest of a floral planner and they filled the class easily.
I was curious if I could plan a workshop on my own, so I found a venue close to home, set a date, and posted registration on my website, hoping someone would sign up. Sure enough - people FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY signed up. I kid you not. I was so blown away. That is pretty much where teaching started for me. Over the years, I've gained some serious experience through freelancing and teaching and I now offer online classes in addition to in person workshops.
Although recently I've taken a bit of a step back from teaching because of my freelance work load and juggling family life, I still teach as much as I can in person (as well as online).

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

My productivity ebbs and flows. I have a hard time concentrating and often get sucked into work that I want to do instead of work that I need to do - it's hard sometimes, working from home and staying on track. I would have to say that my tip for other artists who work from home and have problems keeping attention is to structure your day into a section where you get done everything you NEED to get done that day, and then save an hour or two for productive self-driven projects that will potentially bring in income.
Also, having a studio space that is conducive to productivity is key. Keeping all of your most-used art supplies in an easy to reach spot is helpful.
If you work better around people - head to a coffee shop to work. If you work better alone - stay at your home studio. It's different for every artist.
Molly Jacques | Freelance Wisdom
Molly Jacques | Freelance Wisdom

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

Hands down, organization. I have to force myself to stay on track with lists and I've had help with setting up organizational systems within my business. I'm really grateful for my art rep who helps with client management and my Mother in Law who helps with bookkeeping. Having help with the things I struggle with has really shaped my success as a freelancer.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The ability to work with a variety of clients on vastly different projects.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I'm very active on social media and promoting my own work, which helps. Likewise, I make sure to share my best work and try to get it in front of the right eyes. I also have an art rep - she is great at continuously updating potential clients with my recent work.
On a similar note - many artists think that having an art rep guarantees them full time work. This isn't true. I work very hard to attract clients, and I consider my rep and me a team.
Molly Jacques | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

To stay inspired, I make sure to get involved with my life outside of my work. My husband and I love the outdoors and rock climbing, so we find time to take our daughter with us on hikes and climbing trips. Having the ability to hit the refresh button really helps me get inspired.

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

For sure. If you are good at bookkeeping and your freelance business is a pretty straight forward income stream, it's totally doable to make it work without hiring someone to do it. I recommend Quickbooks for bookkeeping and invoicing.
That said, my business is pretty unusual. I have income coming in from not only lots of different clients, but also sources of residual income from royalties, my own website, my foundry, etc. It makes things very confusing (not to mention I'm already bad at organization), so I have my Mother in Law help with the bookkeeping and I hire an accountant to file my taxes. Doing so allows me to spend my time on things that I can actually get paid for and it gives me a peace of mind to know my books are squared away.
Correct bookkeeping is very important as a freelancer. Did you know that if you are a freelance artist, work from home, and make over a certain amount of money a year you are at higher risk to be audited? Freelancers are a red flag to the IRS. This means, it's important to always pay the taxes you owe and keep a solid record of all of your write-offs.
Molly Jacques | Freelance Wisdom

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

Set studio hours and only break those hours if it is absolutely necessary to meet a deadline.

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

Obsession, dedication, vision.
Molly Jacques | Freelance Wisdom

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