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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Keiko Brodeur

Keiko Brodeur is a painter and illustrator and the creative behind Small Adventure, a line of camping and traveling themed paper goods. Her goods and illustration works have been sold and licensed by a variety of high end retail stores as well as smaller boutiques and have been published in magazines such as Lucky and Bust

We so appreciate the honesty she shares in this interview about the struggles that come with the freedom of being a creative. Her wise words are just the motivation we need to keep going when the going gets tough. 

Keiko Brodeur | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator.

Technically I'm more of a business owner that designs and illustrates paper goods as well as manufactures them. Sometimes I take on freelance illustration work but not very often.
I was unsatisfied with the creative freedom I had in previous jobs and really just wanted to draw and make whatever I wanted. The best way to do that, I eventually found, is navigating the challenging route of forming your own business!

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good illustration clients and/or customers for Small Adventure Shop?

Etsy played an integral role in me opening an online shop with basically no budget and allowed me to try out products to see what kind of response they got at the low price of what was then $.10 a product listing. I fulfilled my first wholesale orders from shops that way and was able to see what sold and what didn't and what customers wanted to see more of. After a year or two I tried the Renegade Craft Fair which helped immensely in getting retail buyers interested in my products as well as expanding my customer base. In the past 7 or 8 years I've been pretty fortunate that most customers/clients have found me online or through craft fairs and I haven't had to put much marketing effort into finding new customers or wholesale accounts on my own.

You balance commission work with all the work that needs to be done for Small Adventure. Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

For me it's mostly balancing the business-y type work with the creative work that needs to get done for Small Adventure. There's a lot of both on a daily basis usually. One of my faults is that when I get stuck on something that I don't know how to do (business-y stuff) or not sure how to make look better (creative stuff) I tend to just stare at it or freeze up. Taking breaks is key and switching from one kind of task to another can also help break up the monotony. Everyone has their own tricks so trying different things until you find yours is essential. I've gotten better at being more productive over the years. Practice makes perfect, right?
Keiko Brodeur | Freelance Wisdom
Keiko Brodeur | Small Adventure

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

The business side of running Small Adventure has by far been the biggest challenge. I'm pretty okay at completing small tasks and taking care of the day-to-day, but looking at the big picture and being more strategic with how I operate a small business is not my strong suit. This year I'm going to be receiving business coaching from my fantastic bookkeeper which will hopefully guide me through some of this business fog.

What is your favorite thing about working for yourself?

I get to make my own schedule and work on whatever I want, pretty much whenever I want! I've found that I'm more excited about work and more productive when I can set my own deadlines as well.
Keiko Brodeur | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients/customers?

Right now I'm trying to make work that I would want to buy instead of boxing myself into my original style or concept. I think having a strong and consistent visual aesthetic is important for a brand. Mine is shifting a little which is scary, but overall I think it's vital for me to be making what I'm most inspired by and so far I think my clients/customers are reacting very positively so I'm hopeful it'll work out in the long run. I've also been attempting to be better on social media and sending out newsletters to current clients and customers to keep them up to date and in the know. I'm not great at it but will hopefully improve!

Last year you released the Small Adventure Journal with Chronicle Books, congrats! Can you tell us more about that project? What you loved? What was hard? What you've learned for next time?

Thanks! Chronicle Books approached me with the initial idea and they were pretty hands off about the whole process, instead just guiding me and giving suggestions when I needed it. The whole project was so eye opening for me since I had never made something that extensive before or worked with a publisher. The writing was certainly the most challenging as I don't consider myself to be a very good writer. The entirety of the project took over a year to make and it was difficult to neglect making a lot of new products for my business because of the time the book was taking up. Totally worth it though! There were a lot of illustrations that I wish I would've made a lot better looking back now, but I would certainly take on another similar project if the opportunity presented itself because of how smoothly everything went and because of the fantastic team at Chronicle.
Keiko Brodeur | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any other exciting collaborations or commissions in the works?

I have one collaboration that I just finished up final artwork for, but I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to mention it yet. I'll post about it when it's out. Other than that I'm mostly excited to keep making new cards and possibly some experimental products for Small Adventure this year.

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

If you can hire a bookkeeper or accountant as soon as you can. I just did last year and it's made a world of difference for me to have someone who stays on top of all my expenses and make sure all the books are prepared correctly for taxes. I'm positive I was doing most things wrong before. Get help wherever you can as soon as you can and you'll find you have more time to do the things that you're actually good at. I'm sure you've heard this a million times before but it's totally true and worth the money.
Keiko Brodeur | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

I was actually struggling with this one very recently and felt down in the dumps about my past and current work. These feelings come up at least a couple times a year where I start feeling very depressed about myself and what I'm making. I'm sure this happens to most everyone from time to time, no matter how successful they seem. Sometimes it just takes a day of me focusing up on my painting to snap out of the negative feelings, but this most recent time it's been waves of sadness that have come and gone for most of 2017. Because of this I decided to start making paintings/illustrations that reflect what I'm most interested in instead of focusing on making them specifically for greeting cards or for products that I know will best sell for my brand. It's a very new decision that I made in the past few days so I don't know how it's going quite yet but I do feel better already. I'm hoping to keep making work that I like and would potentially purchase and am crossing my fingers that new ideas for cards and other products will emerge from this experimentation.

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

In the past 4-5 or so years my life has been mostly work as well as for my husband who is also a creative freelancer. This year we started setting aside one day a week to do whatever we want, no working at all on that day. Sometimes we have to fudge a little when there are big deadlines coming up, but so far it's working out really well. Hopefully some day we won't have to work as much because I think weekends are really necessary but for right now we're just doing what we can to make our lives healthier.
Keiko Brodeur | Freelance Wisdom

"This year we started setting aside one day a week to do whatever we want, no working at all on that day."

Keiko Brodeur | Freelance Wisdom

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

Willingness to work alone a lot of the time, patience with how long it might take you to achieve the success you want, passion for the work you're doing!

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Satsuki Shibuya

Satsuki Shibuya is an energy painter and spiritual thinker, living and working in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Her work is based upon intuition, energy, and spirit, exploring the realms of the unknown to bridge the gaps between the traditionally tangible and the unseen. With each watercolor she takes us on a personal journey into our own souls leading us towards greater appreciation for the world in which we live. We especially love her focus and emphasis on simplicity. 

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

After receiving a college degree from another University prior to graduating from art school and years of working in different fields, I knew starting my own company was the only direction I could foresee in my future. The company started as a graphic design studio, but quickly switched to product design. We created three seasons of home goods, then paired down production to one of a kind goods because creating with my hands was and still is of deep importance. We coupled all of this with creative consulting and social media engagements. Least to say, it was quite a roller coaster ride.

A sudden illness took me out for year and through this hiatus, all changed. It was never my intention to work with watercolors, nor painting, for that matter. After receiving a message to paint and months of procrastination, I decided to try different mediums to see what might come through. Several attempts later, I happened upon watercolor and never looked back. It was love at first sight and although the connection may be stronger on some days than others, it continues to lead me down my current path.

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients (or buyers)?

If I concentrate on just the painting aspect of my work, the focus has always been to present myself, authentically, through everything that is shared, whether it be artworks, words, thoughts, and beyond. Although I am never sure how people, companies, clients find me, I believe they find me with the right intentions and consciousness. Although sometimes not immediate, opportunities come when timing aligns.

Be humble, but bold in sharing what you believe in and what rings true to your heart, for we are all built with a soul, which vibrates with love.

"Be humble, but bold in sharing what you believe in and what rings true to your heart, for we are built with a soul, which vibrates with love."

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I have learned that we are all truly built uniquely, a one-fits-all approach does not seem to work, but for myself, it has been conscious presence in the now, not spreading myself out too thinly and saying no more often than yes. We can only be focused on one thing at a time and by leaning deeper into each moment, what comes into fruition is saturated with our visions, expressions, and spirit in the way it was intended.

What has been your greatest struggle running your own business so far?

The greatest struggle has been continuing down a path that one believes in regardless of what others may say or think. It is a constant struggle honing in on what matters and making sure that the direction taken adheres to one’s vision.

A method I constantly use for direction mapping is imagining whether I would be doing what I do if all other factors were subtracted — money, social media, people, praise, love, attention, and any other incentives that may drive myself to continue down a particular path. Would I still want to continue? If the answer is yes, I know I’m still hitting the bull’s eye.

"If all other factors were subtracted - money, social media, people, praise, love, attention - would I still want to continue? " 

What is your favorite thing about working as an artist?

Having the freedom to bring to life anything imagined. Freedom of expression, of being, is a very important ingredient for happiness.

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

Implement a system early, utilize great online tools and delegate whenever possible. By doing so, it frees up time to concentrate on the core of what your business is built upon, your talents.

Some online tools that have really helped are Xero for accounting and bookkeeping, Gusto for payroll, Slack for inner-office communication, and Asana for project management and scheduling. What a world of difference!

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

As my energy is limited, simplifying allows me to focus on the important and appreciate the everyday. From purchasing clothing that is designed with a minimal aesthetic and made to last, it not only saves time when picking out an outfit, as each item has been tightly curated prior to entering the closet, but also assists in using less of our earth’s resources. When cooking a meal, simple dishes not only enhance the flavors of each ingredient used, but also the appreciation of the life force of each ingredient becomes easier; not to mention, also aids in digestion, freeing one from a long bout of food coma.

Not all will agree with these methods, but for me, it has helped me to focus in on the meaning of life and through this, an abundance of gratitude, for work and life.

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

Authenticity, Humbleness, Focus

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