People like belonging to something. People also like showing off, in a nice way*.
As a professional and self-employed goof-ball, I’ve learned a few things about life and business over the years; some things have surprised me, some things have not. But this is one that took me by surprise having learned it from first hand experience through organizing and hosting my own community-sourced project, 365 Days of Type (on Instagram)as well as the short community series I ran on this blog, ‘Behind The Blog’.
When people have some kind of stake in something, they will participate and support that thing dearly. That’s why people love and hold their certain hashtags dear (myself included.) To be collected and included in a pool with select others who’ve also discovered this corner of the internetz is comforting. Maybe it’s a symptom of our innate desire to be connected somehow and the comfort we all find in familiarity. Our hashtags and the blogs we follow and the books we read contribute to the oh-so-comforting 6 degrees of separation mentality. I once saw a complete stranger reading a book I had just finished and something clicked in my brain where I immediately respected and mentally checked her off as someone I like; crazy, right?!
In my experience, the same applies to blogging and business. People will make more of an investment if they feel like they’re included in a community; which includes your community of clients and colleagues. Make people feel like they’re a friend or colleague rather than an invoice number; at the end of the day, they’re just people too and you’ll find it refreshingly feel-good. Going out to events together or genuinely shooting the breeze is important to building trust and kinship and makes you both feel like you belong; they belong and are now included in your circles and vice-versa.
Having a blog already accomplishes this: when you share your own life online, those who read it feel like they know you better and have more of a connection to you and investment in your life and what you’re doing than someone who doesn’t read your blog. But if you’d like to push it further, ask your readers questions and encourage a comment conversation. Or on a larger scale, consider starting a hashtag collection or blog series in which your readers can participate and be an active voice in it all. I’ll admit, it’s easier said than done; I’m still myself figuring out exactly how I want to go about this, but it’s something to seriously consider. I’ve started my own hashtag, #HandsAndHustle where you can share what you’re working on, what you’re making, what you’re hustling and I post my favourites on my Instagram. I hope to somehow turn it into a more juicy blog feature where I’ll profile these so-called ‘Hustlers’ and casually interview them about their work and life.
In any case, here’s the key takeaways:
1. People like to belong and participate in their found communities
2. Giving people some stake in your business or blog will help build trust and engagement
3. Share the love, include them in your circles and show them off where appropriate
How are you making people feel like they belong? Do you guys have a hashtag or community feature? Are you a Hustler who’d like to be profiled? Share below and let me know your thoughts!
I find my music from many places, mostly music blogs, the Hype Machine, Soundcloud and Spotify.
In the past, I used Sound Cloud to create my music playlists, but many songs I find on blogs that I want to include aren’t on Sound Cloud. As much as I love Sound Cloud and their embed player more, I’ve had more luck with finding the jams on Spotify, so from hereon out, my playlists will be embedded using Spotify.
*Edited for reason: no one cares.
Okay, the actual good stuff is that this mix is one of my favourites thus far; with tracks from Caribou’s new album, another artist named Tove (not Tove Lo, who would have thunk it?), cuteness from Little May and the creeps from Made in Heights, one of my favorites.
I’ll admit it; I’d rather rock a beanie than do my hair most of the time.
As much as I love my mascara, I live in sweats and oversize shirts–just not together! I may not be an expert by any stretch, but my general rule is so long as you pair a baggy shirt with tight bottoms or sweats with a fitted tee, I say you’re good to go, my friends. SO I’ve rounded up my favorite tomboy-inspired looks that are in stores now.
What are you working on? What are you making? What are you hustling?!
I want to know! Share your project and hard work on Instagram by using the hashtag #HandsAndHustle and tagging @handsandhustle in the photo and I’ll share and profile a handful of your posts on my Instagram and on the blog! If you’re a business owner who wants to be profiled under a new feature “Hustlers”, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the past, I’ve done round-ups of internet links or things you should know that I found from the week, but after some thinking, I’ve refined that category to more of a Friday finds and favorites that I’m coining Duly Noted.
I’ll be sharing a handful of links every Friday of awesome things, photos, products, discoveries, DIYs or otherwise that I note throughout the week. Sound good?
Fall is most definitely here and I feel increasingly like a sack of potatoes–happy potatoes, albeit.
I’m a sucker when it comes to the cold, so anything under 10 is freezing to me, which means the slow end to our usual long evening walks. Anyhow, I’ve been happy to be a shut-in, plugging away at various projects in my home studio, which isn’t as cool as it sounds. The truth is, my office is about 10’x8′ and 10 steps from my bedroom, and I’m already outgrowing it. When I work on client work, all I need is a laptop and sketchbook for the most part, but as I’ve been experimenting with fabric printing and home goods and apparel, my studio isn’t quite cutting it anymore. I’ve been slowly taking over the living room and it’s a pattern I don’t want to turn into a habit so I’ve painted and refreshed my large basement workshop/laundry room in preparation for the impending reality that I may have to migrate down there for certain projects.
Alas, that ends my complaints as everything else is peachy. So what’s going on in my world?
1. I’ve been asked to take part in a show at Made Design later this year, curated by Julia Breckenreid. The brief? We have to create a 3D object/thing, priced at $200. The image above is a sneak peek of a print I created that will become a tiny aspect of what I plan to execute. I’ve ordered a test piece to see how it prints, but I’ll keep y’all guessing as to what I’m actually making until later.
2. I’m now officially contributing to Design*Sponge’s sneak peek feature and I’m enjoying it greatly. I find it a tad challenging describing other people’s style in my own words based on photos from their homes, but it’s something that comes easier each post I craft. I have 2 sneak peek posts in queue and they should be going live shortly (I’ll be sure to share the links!) I’m so excited to be working with the extremely talented and gracious staff, including Grace. I think I’m going to learn a lot from them all–duh.
3.Last week I shared an illustration print I created for Spun Studio Toronto’s Indiegogo campaign which has fulfilled their $8,000 goal by 8%. If you love handmade and want to support a good cause and get the print FOR FREE, please donate to help keep Spun’s weaving instructor on-site twice a week to help women in need make, make and make some more!
4. I’ve been pinning like a mad woman on my Pinterest. I’ve also decided to delete my Hands and Hustle twitter account and am instead directing you to follow my personal account instead @sabrinasmelko. Because, candidly, it’s easier and makes more sense anyhow! Follow me on Instagram and Bloglovin’ while you’re at it, if you please.
Mary: This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Sabrina Smelko, whose work varies from illustration to graphic design to art direction to blog writing. She’s worked with Mozilla, AARP, and a host of other companies. It seems her client list never ends, and as such her insight into the working life of an in-demand designer is enlightening to say the least.
Thanks so much for the interview. Let’s start at the beginning:
What got you into illustration?
Me: It’s my pleasure! Thanks for having me.
I worked at my local library for six years from the age of 14 until about 20, and I remember noticing how some books had “pictures” in them. Then I started noticing illustration everywhere: in the doctor’s office, in my school textbooks, on cereal boxes. I remember experiencing that light bulb moment when I realized “a grown adult human had the job of drawing that thing!” It dawned on me that it could be a career. And when I attended an info session at Sheridan where Joe Morse spoke about the illustration program and what illustration really was, it all came together. I should also credit my parents, who encouraged and fostered creativity in my sisters and me since we were young.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration?
While I was in art school, and for the first year or two after, most of my inspiration came from other illustrators and designers. While I still find many inspiring, I’ve recently become more enthused by smart and successful business men and women—preferably nice ones. People who believe in ideas enough that others can’t help but get behind them too. That, to me, is inspiring. Anything’s possible if you want it to be and that’s been driving me lately to think in new ways and explore what I really want out of this short life we have.
Did you study art or are you self taught?
I attended Sheridan’s BAA Illustration degree program from 2008 to 2012. It was at Sheridan that I learned how to think—or rather, how to think in new ways. I went in with the belief that I’d learn about art, but I came out with a much vaster view on the world and, to be honest, overwhelmed with the possibilities that there are if you foster good ideas and explore them endlessly. Since school, I’ve learned a ton on my own about business and the nuances of being self-employed, all the by-the-books stuff, and applying it to my creative career.
What is your creative process like?
Lately, I’ve done a lot of art directing, in which case my workflow begins with executing concepts and drawing out as many options as I can and then standing back, eliminating and refining. Whereas with illustration or design, my workflow is the complete opposite; I start by thinking, thinking, thinking. For an hour; for a day; before bed; in the morning. If you don’t have a good idea, or can’t conceive of something that looks good, you’ve got nothing. It either has to be aesthetically beautiful or smart, or both. And that has to start in your brain before it exists on paper for me.
What programs and tools do you use in creating your work? Anything you’re especially fond of that you’d like to recommend to readers?
Always a Moleskine sketchbook and a really good mechanical pencil. I never stick with a certain kind, but reflecting on it now, I’m sure I would benefit from investing in a quality lead. I just end up buying whichever .7mm pencil is cheapest. However, I must have my trusty Staedtler eraser and good-quality black ink pen. I’m also fond of smaller, lined notebooks to write and brainstorm in. I probably use my notebook more than my sketchbook to be honest.
No particular brand really; I have about seven—all of them different—and I use them interchangeably. They all fill up equally, and it’ll likely be years before one gets filled completely—if at all. That sounds awfully disorganized, but my taste changes and what I feel like writing in that day with it. And of course, my Bamboo Wacom tablet. I’ve had it for over six years and while it’s the size of three post-its, I still love it and it does the job for me. I’ve become so used to its nuances that it’s become like an extension of my arm.
Software-wise, I rely on Adobe Illustrator for design work, Photoshop for illustration, InDesign for editorial or layout work, After Effects for animating, and Lightroom for photos. I frequent Flickr to search for reference photos because I find they are the most candid where you’ll get interesting angles rather than “stock-photo-straight-ons”. And films, of course. They’re also great for color inspiration. Things like dramatic shadows. Kyle Webster’s Photoshop brushes, The BlkSmith Design Co’s texture packs, and my own collection of papers, textures and self-made PS brushes.
How many years have you worked as an illustrator/designer?
I’ve been working as a illustrator and designer for three years, but have recently been art directing and blogging at MorningDear.com. I also work part-time for Mozilla helping design their Firefox Operating System. I have my hand in many pots, but that’s the way I like it and how I stay motivated and inspired. All of my work informs each other. For now, I’m selfishly trying everything out to see what I like best (and what I’m best at). I haven’t yet decided what I want to be when I grow up.
What’s your typical workday like? How about your work space? Can you give us an insight into how and where you work?
I work in my home studio in the heart of Milton, the westward neighbor of Toronto. It’s a humble space, but it has everything I need including some things I didn’t even know I’d need or use, such as a garden and outdoor space to work in. I end up working in my backyard as much as I do in my office. And I get a ton of thinking and brain-churning done in the garden out back.
My actual office, though, is a square room with a tall and skinny beveled window. A few prints hang on the wall—by Nimit Malavia and Adam Garcia—as well as a porcelain bat created for the Garrison Creek Bat Co. by Erin McCutcheon and a plaque illustrating “The History of Dogs”. And a plethora of plants. On my desk at any given time is my laptop, my Dell monitor, my Bamboo tablet and snacks—or their wrappers, depending on when you look.
Early on I developed a few contacts whom I’ve worked with regularly ever since. If you know even a small handful of people and they get to know that you’re nice, you deliver on time, you work hard (truly) and deliver a good product, good things will likely happen. The creative community, though large, is also very small: Art Directors are friends with Art Directors. Those few contacts I met in the beginning were just people I met with in person, shook hands with, introduced myself to and chatted with. Sometimes showing up and not being a weirdo is enough. It’s also important to stay friends with your peers and pals in your given field. Don’t be advantageous, but go to events, say hey, be genuine and get involved.
What freelance projects have you worked on in the past?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a wide range of clients from The New York Times to TD Bank to Ogilvy & Mather. On-site, freelance, contract, short-deadline, long-deadline, no deadline. Illustration, branding, animation, editorial design, web development and design. It’s been a wide range and I love it that way. I’ve been pretty blessed.
What’s your work preference: graphic design or illustration? Any particular rewards in either? Any particular challenges in either?
Both, and yes and yes. I find illustrating to be very personal; how my piece turns out is something I measure myself by. I’m harder on myself when it comes to illustration. Perhaps it’s because I find it more challenging and more subjective than a lot of design. In any case, design comes easier to me; more naturally. It makes more logical sense to me. While there’s good and bad design even if you follow the basic rules, design loosely follows a mathematical equation. I know what I can do to make a design better, which isn’t always the case for me when illustrating.
Illustration is more heart and design is more head, in my experience. Because of this, I find illustration more rewarding when it turns out very well, but more challenging when it doesn’t go the way I envision. But I enjoy both, and when I can, I do both. I enjoy design more when I’m also working on an illustration, and I enjoy illustrating more when I’m working on a design project as well.
You also started a blog under HandsandHustle.com. How did you get involved in blogging? What’s your typical focus with blog posts?
I started blogging this summer as an outlet for some of my passions, new and old. I was craving a new start and I felt the need to branch out, figure out what I wanted, and express myself. I originally started Hands and Hustle under a different name that was very separate from my profession and the creative world, but I quickly realized the mistake I was making in ignoring a big aspect of my life. I had stripped myself out of the equation and blogged about things I thought I should rather than what I wanted to. So I threw up my hands, cut the crap, streamlined the blog and merged it into this new beast, Hands and Hustle. (handsandhustle.com)
Hands and Hustle is an illustration and design studio where I’ll be selling prints as well as home and lifestyle goods. It’s also a blog where I’ll be sharing weekly playlists, my opinions on home decor and products, sharing resources, ideas and tips as well as musings from my daily life. It’s a sort of celebration of home, garden, culture, design and the everyday. My plan is to eventually produce my own line of apparel, goods and wares, or collaborate with existing home and lifestyle brands. While I don’t have it all figured out just yet, I’m enjoying myself and doing what feels right at this stage in my career.
With your experience in art direction, creating work for large clients, what have been the rewards and challenges in working for a variety of clientele?
What’s great about working on a wide range of projects is they inevitably spill into each other and help inform each other. I take the best of something I learned on this project and apply it to that one, and vice versa. There are more targets to hit with the dart, so to speak. If I have an idea for x while working on y, I can go back and forth. They’re like siblings; they help raise and form each other so I don’t always have to, and they play together nicely. The challenge in that is if I haven’t done a branding project in a while because I’ve been illustrating, it takes a bit of time to ease back into that mindset and think objectively. I have to rewind a bit and rewire my brain to get into that zone.
It’s also challenging managing your expectations and time. With more pools to swim in, they sometimes splash you all at once and saying no is never fun. You also have to be able to manage and shift your expectations regarding things such as budgets between different clients. If you’ve been working with large agencies on huge projects and are used to spending this much time for this much money, you should spend less time on a project for a smaller job for a daily newspaper, for instance. Don’t expect to be treated the same or expect to spend the same amount of time and get the same amount of money. You have to gear up and down like a car and manage your time and expectations accordingly to keep from burning out and to keep delivering what’s expected of you.
Do you prefer working freelance or in-house?
My preference is 80/20, freelance to in-house, and I’m lucky that that’s typical to how it naturally works out. It’s always good to meet with clients if you can, even for a cup of coffee to get to know them before you begin a project. But it really depends on the task at hand. Most illustration jobs are freelance, while most of my design projects follow the 80/20 model.
Overall, I prefer to work from home, mostly because I live in Milton and many on‑site jobs I do are in Toronto where the commute takes a big bite out of the day. I also work fairly quickly and sporadically, so being chained to a desk from 9am to 5pm is simply not conducive to generating work, or good work for that matter. I work from when I get up to when I go to bed, but it’s broken up by dozens of small breaks throughout the day—to eat, garden, grocery-shop, see my family—and I find after a break, I’m motivated to get back to it and dive in hard. Have companies not yet caught on that many people would be far more productive if they were given this freedom as well? C’mon!
What’s your ideal design project? Have you had it yet?
Gosh, that’s a tough question. I’ve worked on a few projects now that I had once previously dreamed of getting, and yet one dream replaces another. At this point, I’d love to collaborate with an apparel or home design company to design, illustrate and conceive a line of clothes, home decor or product(s) in general.
What words of advice do you have for emerging illustrators who wish to engage in design as you have?
Be honest with yourself. What do you really want to do? Not forever, but in the foreseeable future. Know the answer to that question and write it down. DO things that seem like they’ll help you get there, and ignore or address anyone or anything that will get in the way. Even if it’s not how she did it, or how he did it. If you genuinely listen to what you want to do, where you want to be and who you want to work with, you’ll get there a heck of a lot easier than if you hadn’t.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Period. Discomfort leads to refinement.
Ask lots of questions. Keep getting uncomfortable and do what you want to do, not what I did or she did or he did.
Many thanks to Sabrina for taking the time out of her schedule to do the interview. If you’d like to see more of Sabrina’s work, check out the links below to follow her around the web:
I was working at a well-known magazine recently when I witnessed an Art Director turn down a super-talented illustrator. Confused, I asked the AD why they were being passed on like a bad meatloaf and the answer I got caught me off guard a bit.
What this illustrator had failed to do was list the details most Art Directors look for on artist’s websites: things like the client, the date, the context etc. The Art Director was left guessing if they had any professional experience; he was left guessing whether they could execute on a tight deadline, where they were based out of (they take time differences into account) and when each piece was done. Worse yet, this illustrator used only a gmail account—that included a number. Eek!
Having worked professionally in the creative field for a few years, the simple premise of what information your copy conveys wasn’t something I ever seriously considered–but it’s something I’ve since heard other clients mention as a reason they hire or don’t hire someone. Art Directors want to know you can be counted on; they need you to RSVP and show up in time for the party, no matter how well you dress.
As a fellow creative, while I may swoon over a well-designed website complete with clever copy and top-tier work, it doesn’t mean Mr. CEO will. Many creatives cater their online presence and website to other creatives rather than to the people who pay them. With money. Sure, a gorgeous site that pleases your comrades is important, but so is pleasing your clients—both current and prospective.
I’m not suggesting you strip your site of all personality and make the copy full-width, 25pt Times New Roman, I’m merely urging you to ensure that you offer everything that someone trying to hire you needs. What are the must-haves? Include the name of the client/agency the work was for, the date it was published and the category (editorial, advertising etc.) if you can. This helps give clients an idea of your working style/speed without you having to say how long it took you. And for goodness sake, list exactly what you did. It sounds like a given, but if you show a magazine spread complete with a hand-lettered title, illustration and editorial design, outline the aspects that you executed or if you did it all, credit yourself—and don’t forget to list the Art Director. Including a few interesting details about the project never hurt anyone either—there’s a way to make a sale without being greasy.
Overall, your clients have better things to do than make guesses about you, so be specific and honest, ensure that your site is easy to navigate and (bonus) is mobile optimized. Don’t use a gmail if you’re serious about being a professional and do spell-check. And remember; what’s published online remains forever, so think twice before tweeting.