Have you ever been told that you can’t do something? Or maybe this is a common theme you tell yourself when a new opportunity pops up. “I can’t learn art because,” or “I can’t do designing because…”
But these lies that we allow others to tell us (and that some of us are guilty of telling ourselves) are not true! Designing isn’t just for a select group of people who inherently born with this amazing gift to create. We all have the capacity to create beauty around us. You just need to know the secret of how you can create it.
I recently spoke with designer extraordinaire, Katie Zupan, who debunks the myth of how you can learn new things. We talk about her number one secret for creating and designing around herself, and this is something you definitely don’t want to miss.
Name: Katie Zupan
Location: Denver, CO
Occupation: Right-hand Designer and Branding Stylist
My name is Katie and I’m a designer and branding stylist. My passion is working with exuberant creatives that want to develop their branding or busy designers that need an extra hand to knock out their to-do’s.
I had a really long road on how I got where I am, but overall, it’s a combination of me moving a lot and never getting the same job twice. I picked up various skill sets at each job and realized some of the talents or education I had could apply to more than a typical designer role.
I’m also someone who likes to be in the background and build things for others so it came naturally to me to try and assist other designers who want to move into a marketer or art director type role.
I’ve been a freelance designer since 2014 (when I graduated college) but this is my first year doing it full-time. A little nerve-wracking, but it’s been a really beautiful experience so far!
Right now I have two general targets, but my main one is a 6-figure designer that is ready to hire-on and widen their studio beyond just them. She wants to create more, and put out more content for their own brand as well as their clients. My favorite two clients mashed together would be my dream girl: motivated, encouraging, ready to get stuff done, and excited to bring new talent onto their team. She wants more time to do the things she loves besides working, and typically that means lots of hugs from her kiddos and adventures!
Success would be keeping up with my bills, being able to give back in major ways (my dream is to donate anonymously to artists on Patreon so they can have the funds to keep doing their passion, even if it’s one that isn’t typically seen as a money-making type job) and to get a small house for my little family and have a backyard studio for my other passion: clay. I’m really excited to help others grow in all sorts of ways, be it my clients, other artists, or by education to my audience.
Education is the key. I constantly sign up for courses to learn new skills and I would say that to do my weird niche of the world, that’s my key to success. I have been able to offer my clients a multitude of skills that they would typically need to hire a handful of creatives to be able to accomplish typically. It also allows me to put my name in for smaller freelance gigs from time to time. Never say you know something 100% because I guarantee there is some type of course out there that will show you a new avenue, be it a tool, a program, or even an element of your design process. Never stop learning, never stop growing.
My gut reaction is to tell you: you don’t. For a long time I tried to only get jobs that pertained to my illustration degree. I got so sooo frustrated because I thought to myself ‘you can’t do this, you must be bad at it’ over the course of some years I got more and more design jobs because I had the knowledge from school and a lot of experimentation behind me but it was never my degree. I hesitated for a really long time and I still to this day have a bit of imposter syndrome but I just keep looking at my clients and seeing my design pop up here and there and I feel like all my paths have led me to this career over time.
Like I mentioned before, never stop learning. There isn’t a job you can’t do but it might take a little more education, a mentor, or a lot of hard work on your part, but nothing is impossible. Skillset wise I would call you a designer if you have good taste. This is totally subjective, but I love the idea that you can pick up the lessons and technical knowledge but you have to know what looks good and what looks bad to be a decent designer. Also, learn Illustrator. Please get off Canva.
My main source of income is currently from working on retainer with larger designers or marketers. They have the budget to pay me my rate and it’s typically lower than their own rate so it’s a bit like ethical outsourcing. I do various tasks for them that they tag me on via various Trello Boards we have set up of through messages via text/messenger. I’m always refining my process but I would talk to people in your circle that influences you and your style and see if they need any assistance, maybe do it discounted at first as a trial run and if you work together you could of been the answer they didn’t know they needed!
Define your values. This is a project I do with all my clients that bring me on for their branding and it’s a question I fish out of my design clients during our first our talks. I need to know where you put your energy and what is sacred to you. It could be something so simple as tea over coffee, or something as grand as no money is worth a quiet afternoon with my family. Defining who you are will push away the clients you ultimately will have a hard time working with, niche you down, and gravitate to the people who need you most.
Lift others up. I have never wanted to be a huge face (I’m learning now that I DO need to have more of a presence online, oops!) or a huge name that you see all the time like Jenna Kutcher or Being Boss. I’ve always been a supporting role, and I am perfectly content with that. If you want to be a big face or name, go for it!
I try and pick up at least one project a month that helps someone out: pro-bono. That’s a scary concept because it’s literally time going away without any compensation but there are so many amazing people that need something to help them grow and it has always come back around in a positive way for me. Share your gifts.
Life is about balance. You know when you’ve had a whole pint of ice cream or gone a little ~too~ far on an all-you-can-eat sushi train? Too much of a good thing can become terrible and I try and take that with all elements of life. Too much work on your plate can make you just go back into “job mode” rather than a business owner, too much time on computer screens can take away the talents you’ve built up over years on a drawing pad.
Life is about creating balance and thriving at your own pace. You may need to go a little slower than others but you also need to enjoy the other aspects of your life be it your dog, your kids, or that little hobby that makes you all starry-eyed.
Creativity is expressing yourself through a medium.
I think many designers discount themselves by saying they can’t do ____ a lot. I hear art put into that blank spot or drawing is in there often too. There’s a ton of traditional mediums out there in the world, and a lot of non-traditional routes as well. My friend builds motorcycles and I consider that a medium and an art form. I would be a terrible make-up artist because I barely ever practice that medium, but it’s out there.
Pick up something different and it will build onto your other avenues. The idea there is that it just takes some practice and patience. Try learning something that you previously said “can’t” to this year. I already have learned some tips on applying mascara this week 😉
For myself, I do pottery outside of my design and it gives me a break from all things tech and get’s me back to creating with my hands. I think doing something tactile is really important to keep your creativity flowing (I mean, fidget spinners took off for a reason) but broaden your horizon a bit. Take up a painting class or sign up for a gardening course at your local nursery.
You can learn little lessons that might help you finally figure out that missing puzzle piece in a client project or learn a new route to get to a creative idea. Work with your hands from time to time and step away from the mouse.
Thanks, Katie for all of the practical and useful information on how to jumpstart a career as a designer and illustrator.
If you feel like you’re ready to jump into the designer business, why wait? Start today and get those creative juices flowing! You never know what difference you’ll make in today’s world as you bring your values into your design practice.
So, do you think you can #takethebreezyroute by getting into the designing and illustrating business?
Katie Zupan is a designer + artisan that is fueled by your passion, bright eyes, and the determination to create a brand and business that aligns with your beliefs, not trending hashtags. She’s worked with brands such as Whole Foods Mart, the Higgins Creative, the Kolada group, and a lot of solo-preneurs. You can keep up with Katie on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Dribbble. Also check out her passion project with pottery, Ritual Ceramics.
I’m Franzine and I’m a designer! I’m here to guide you through your brand and your business.
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