illustrator

Ilana Griffo

This week we’re chatting with Ilana Griffo, a designer, illustrator, teacher, mother, and now author! Mind Your Business, is Ilana’s answer for creatives who struggle with the business side of things —hands up anyone 🙋?? Her workbook is designed to inspire you, to help you get organized, and to put you in the driver’s seat, with actionable steps to help you achieve your dreams. Without further ado, the freelance wisdom from the woman behind the book that is tailor made for all us!

Ilana Griffo | Illustrator and Designer | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance designer and illustrator.

I always knew I wanted to be in a creative career. I came from a line of strong creative women, and that was a huge influence. When I took my first design class, I was hooked! While I was in school, I took on any side project I could to get experience, and eventually, those side projects became more demanding than my full time job!

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

In the beginning, I didn't! I said yes to everything, which helped me figure out where my strengths were. However, referrals/word of mouth continue to be the best way for me to attract good clients, if I can leave them feeling excited and treated well - that's the best!

Can you tell us about the process of getting an agent and how this partnership has affected your work flow?

I do have an agent for licensing! The process of getting an agent was a lot of portfolio development, and figuring out what type of relationship I was looking for. This has really helped me push my creative boundaries, and help me to experiment within my work!

Ilana Griffo | Love you more every year | Freelance Wisdom

What inspired you to move into the teaching space, first as an adjunct professor, and then as a workshop/online instructor?

When I was working as an Art Director, I was at a University and got to work with a team of the most talented juniors/seniors I'd ever met. When the opportunity came my way to teach on campus in the Design School, I had to give it a try! It was a great learning experience for sure, and I'm lucky to have a lot of incredible teachers in my life who were able to help me along the way. I really enjoy teaching workshop, and courses online where you can learn at your own pace. It's a great way for me to step back, review my process and figure out how to explain it.

You just released Mind Your Business, congratulations!! Tell us about the motivation behind this book.

Thank you! It's been such a fun experience! I grew up in a household of creatives and entrepreneurs. I didn't realize the full effect it had on me, but when I started my business, while I knew creative skills were my special talent, I quickly learned that the business side of things wasn't such a struggle! I know a lot of creatives find the business side to be daunting, and it holds them back - so once I put all the pieces together, I realized I could help a lot of other people along their journey!

Ilana Griffo | Mind your Business | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have a favorite section in the book or favorite spread that you'd like to tell us about?

Too hard to pick!! I'm really glad I included the resources section though! I also made a link to it on my website so that I can update it with resources I discover or get requests for along the way!

Would you like to go through the book publishing process again?

YES! I'm at that point where I'm trying really hard to come up with my "next idea"..... hopefully it comes to me soon!

You seriously do all the things...design, teach, write books, run a stationery shop, and spend time with your family. Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I do really love productivity - I've read books about it, and I think I was just born with the gene. Organizing is fun for me ;). However, I definitely don't do it all! My stationery shop has taken a backseat while I've pursued surface design, and I'm only teaching a few workshops here and there (once you teach it once, it's a lot easier to teach it again and again)! I think it's important to have things you can pick up in your business when times are slow or you're feeling burnt out - like hobbies within your business. I'm also a big "list maker" so I use my Rule The World Planner, notepads, and systems (evernote, google calendar, etc) to help me keep track of lists. I prioritize my lists into groups - usually around time. What do I need to get done today? That's one list, and tomorrow is separate. I try to be realistic about what I can actually accomplish, and break big tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks so I can cross them off and not feel so overwhelmed when looking at what's in front of me. Everyone has their own system!

Ilana Griffo | Mind Your Business | Freelance Wisdom

How has becoming a mom changed how you work and/or the types of projects you take on?

Being a mom changed everything without me even realizing it. I grew up as a highly sensitive person, and becoming a mom helped me harness a new-found strength inside that sensitivity. Always thinking of what could happen so that I'm prepared and ready to take action. It also helped me to get way more done, in way less time, but always knowing more clearly what to say no to. Would I rather do this, or spend the weekend with my son? It's a question I ask myself quite a bit!

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 passionate about it - you should! Stop overthinking the questions that don't really matter (like which platform to use, or which shade of grey 98 or 97?) and just start somewhere, and pivot as you learn and grow!

Ilana Griffo | be kind flowers | Freelance Wisdom
Ilana Griffo | Just start somewhere | Freelance Wisdom

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

Put systems in place from the beginning! Hiring an accountant or setting up an online bookkeeping software from day one is a low expense that'll save you from a lot of stress down the road!

Now that the book is out in the world, what's next?

I'm asking myself that same question! I'm doing a lot of surface design collections that I'm excited about, and having fun exploring styles! My wheels are always turning so I can't wait to see what the next year brings!

Ilana Griffo | Postable New Year | Freelance Wisdom

One thing that you are currently obsessed with?

Audible! With a lot of travel lately, it's been fun to listen to some cheerful books that leave me feeling inspired!

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

Passion, productivity, determination.

Ilana Griffo | Mind Your Business | Freelance Wisdom

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Nat Carroll

We’re excited to be returning to Australia this week to chat with Creative Lady Directory member Nat Carroll. Nat is an independent art director, graphic designer, and illustrator who creates warm, playful and expressive communication for creative, entrepreneurial, purpose-driven types, including herself! Dive on in for an empowering and inspiring read and look out for Nat’s advice regarding business investment and saying no to projects sooner.

Nat Carroll | Freelance Wisdom

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

I accidentally fell into freelancing. It was 2008, I was into my second design role, working for a music and event company and had started dating the man of my life. We'd been together for six months when he suddenly got a call to move to The Netherlands for his career. I decided to take a big leap of faith, packed up my life in Sydney and joined him for the adventure. I didn't speak dutch and so I somewhat naively thought it'd be easier to start a remote studio than find a job. I'd grown up in an entrepreneurial household and had moonlighted in my early twenties helping friends with albums, posters and logos, so I think having that exposure early on gave me the confidence to give it a go. It's ended up being the greatest, most rewarding risk of my life so far.

Like a lot of creatives I’d gladly spend hours in my room as a kid, drawing and painting in my own little world and I knew I wanted to be an artist when I grew up – there was a very short period when I wanted to be a receptionist, but my mum pushed me to 'dream bigger, honey!'... When the time came, I floated the idea of studying fine art, but my parents, worried I’d end up a starving artist, guided me towards design. I'm so grateful they did. I studied visual communication in Sydney at the Billy Blue School of Graphic Arts, which also exposed me to commercial illustration and working with my hands, and so as opportunities arose over the years, I found myself gravitating towards projects and clients where I could explore and combine my multi-disciplinary curiosities.

Nat Carroll | Summer Sounds Festival Poster | Freelance Wisdom

You do a wonderful job sharing about yourself on your website. Have you found your transparency and open personality to be helpful with regards to attracting the right clients?

This is a fairly recent thing I've been trying to put into practice, but yes, so far, so good! I think to stand out in business you have to be willing to look inwards instead of presenting a version of yourself that you think you *should* be to clients and customers. Instead, I feel it's more powerful to look at your values, voice, personality, and style and unearth what's different, even if you think it's a bit strange or vulnerable. Be willing to spend time digging into what makes you unique and work on your brand, beyond a logo and basic guidelines.

I'm glad you picked up on this! I was intentionally wanting to craft a brand with my personality and style infused in there. Personally, I'm more likely to buy from a business that I feel really connected to, so I think it's helpful to draw inspiration from those brands you feel that instant alignment to online – they're the ones that do a great job in expressing their personality. I think as creatives, we tend to forget to do this for ourselves. We need to break down the digital barriers, especially those of us who work remotely, let go of trying to appeal to everyone, and instead get used to expressing ourselves in that medium to find people on our wavelength. It was a very drawn out process, playing the client, but I am finding it's starting to pay off in terms of attracting projects and people I want to work with.

Nat Carroll | triple j magazine | Chet Faker Spread | Freelance Wisdom
Nat Carroll | breaking digital barriers | Freelance Wisdom

We also noticed this statement on your website:

"I acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and the traditional custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work."

Can you tell us about your motivation to include this statement?

It's about respect. In Australia, there's a long way to go in our journey towards reconciliation and recognising our colonial past. It's a way in which non-indigenous people can offer a small gesture of awareness and respect to Aboriginal culture and the ongoing relationship the traditional custodians have with the land. I draw inspiration from nature and particularly of where I live, which is a very spiritual place for the local Yuin people, so it also comes from a place of gratitude and shared love for this place I get to call home.

Nat Carroll | Diver | Freelance Wisdom

What is one thing you can’t live without while working on a project?

My hands! My aesthetic is really illustrative so I'm always happy when there's an opportunity to use them in a project. Another big one for me is feeling aligned to my personal values. When I'm working with clients who are collaborative, trusting in the creative process and value my thinking and aesthetics, I feel engaged and energised. Without these I feel de-valued, a bit like a mac-monkey-bot, and not at all my best self.

Nat Carroll | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

My most productive days are when I'm feeling grounded. This mostly means looking after myself physically and emotionally. Most days I try to meditate, take the dog for a walk, take a shower if I get stuck on an idea, eat real, unprocessed food, and go to bed at a reasonable hour – kinda easy to do when you live in a small coastal town! I swear everyone's in bed by 9:30pm.

I've also become a big planner over the years. I don't just set goals anymore and watch them fade into oblivion. I've found that breaking goals down into monthly, weekly and daily tasks helps me stay on track. Planning is key to me feeling like I'm in control of my business, not it in control of me. Of course, things tend to derail when I get busy, but I always have a plan to get back to, instead of just reacting to everything that comes along.

Nat Carroll | triple j magazine cover | Freelance Wisdom

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

In the last couple of years I've been paying the price for not placing my health and wellbeing above all else. I've had some amazing opportunities, but with these came a lot of long days in the studio, heightened stress levels and it felt like everyone and everything else in my life was on hold. I'm in my mid-thirties now and gravely underestimated what my body needs to feel at ease. I naively thought I could handle 14-16 hour days at my desk, 6 days a week for an extended period of time and I'd come out unscathed. Everyone else works like this, right?! It's what we need to do to succeed or be seen as a success? I ended up experiencing a whole range of repercussions, from a massive strain on my relationship, to burnout, adrenal fatigue and allergy/gut issues. Now I've found a better balance in my life, thank goodness! It forced me to slow down a bit and re-define what 'success' means to me, be more aware of my basic needs, and it's helped to establish boundaries and set better expectations in my business. Ultimately I've found I've become more productive because of this whole curveball. Ah, the hindsight!

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

Don't be afraid to invest in your business – it's taken me a long time to get over the DIY approach I started out with, but I've realised along the way that there's just some things that I'm hopeless at, some mistakes that ended up costing me more than what hiring a professional would have, and some that take me more time and energy than they should. If there's something you dread doing, save up and hire someone. Stop looking at it as an impossible expense, and instead, as an investment in levelling up and focusing on what you're good at.

Nat Carroll | Gulaga Mountain | Freelance Wisdom
Nat Carroll | Investing in your business | Freelance Wisdom

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

Lots! There's many more commercial projects I’d love to explore – more books, festivals and I dream of doing an illustrative identity for a museum or botanical garden. I'd also like to carve out some time to follow my curiosities – writing and publishing an illustrated book, offering clients retreats of some kind, creating painted ceramics, building a product-based brand from scratch. I also daydream of opening up a little retail shop attached to my studio in Bermagui. That should keep me busy for the next 100 years, right?!

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?

I wish I'd known that it was ok to say no, sooner. I know it's super scary to say no to projects, especially if you don't have regular income coming in, but I feel ultimately, having a scarcity mindset, of feeling afraid that there's nothing else out there, really cost me opportunities to grow further, sooner. You have to ask yourself, if I say yes, what will this mean? Is this short-term project aligned with my long-term plans? What am I closing the door on here? Is saying no, really saying yes to something else, something better? After doing this for a while I've come to believe that things will always just work out, somehow. The universe has always got our backs — even in the moment when it doesn't necessarily feel like it.

Nat Carroll | Propelled Pictures logo | Freelance Wisdom

How do you stay creatively inspired?

I love how artist/illustrator Lisa Congdon frames this – do whatever it takes to stay engaged. It's made me consciously think about what I can do each day to keep showing up. For me, that's working on personal projects, swimming, staring at the sea, walking my dog, exploring new hobbies, devouring podcasts, books and music and also making sure I get myself out of my introverted habits, making time for friends and family. I'm also hugely inspired when I travel to new surroundings, soaking up all the food, culture and just creating the space for observation and reflection.

Any music, podcast, book recommendations, or something you're currently obsessed with that you'd like to share?

Hmmm of late, it's the Creative Pep Talk podcast – Andy's episodes always leave me feeling inspired and equipped with some new insights. I'm a fan of Steven Pressfield's books on creativity, and can't stop watching his recent interview with the amazing Marie Forleo. And pretty much any true crime podcast I can get my hands on.

Nat Carroll | Make A Scene Sydney flyers | Freelance Wisdom

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

I'd say be an intentional listener, bring loads of courage, and show up and do the work, every day!

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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

Website | Instagram | Pinterest