Pool Party // Wallpaper Download

I have only one thing to say... BRING ON SUMMER!!!! 😎☀️💦

xx Natasha

Pool Party // (to download, hover over + save)

Pool Party // (to download, hover over + save)

Tell Me All! {series}- Ann "Danger" Shen, Illustrator-Extraordinaire

They say when you know, you know (a truth about love, that I find even truer with gorgeous art). When I look at work that makes my heart flip, I know in an instant that I want to see more (and hopefully be able to somehow own a piece for myself)! This was definitely true the first time I laid eyes on Ann's work a few years ago. I remember being so captivated by her use of color + whimsy and her eye for detail- her work is so fun!- but still has a layer of depth + quirk, which can be a tricky balance to strike. (Side note: I later discovered that we also shared a mutual real-life friend (Hi Alice!), which only confirmed how much I liked Ann.) While her career has exploded over the past few years, with book deals + Disney collaborations, she has remained one the sweetest, most down-to-earth creatives I've met, and agreed to chat a little bit about her background and crazy-cool-day-to-day life as a working artist...


1. WHO ARE YOU + WHAT DO YOU DO?
Hi! I’m Ann Shen, and I’m an illustrator, letterer, and author. I work for myself – which includes writing and illustrating books, working on freelance projects with a variety of clients, running my own online shop, and selling prints and other goods I make at shows. Clients I’ve worked with include The New York Times, Bust, HarperCollins, Workman Publishing, Evite, Papyrus, and Ban.do. I published my first book, Bad Girls Throughout History, with Chronicle Books last fall.

2. WHEN DID YOU FIRST START CREATING?
I’ve always been a creator – when I was a kid, I was drawing all the time, and as I got older and my parents discouraged me from going down the path of an artist, I became obsessed with writing. I would write novels that I’d print out and bind in binders to pass out to my friends, who eagerly awaited the next installment in the series. I also really loved film and photography – so when I went to college, I majored in writing and minored in photography.

After school, I worked for awhile as a writer for non-profits around L.A., but I was never truly happy with my work or life. So I decided to start taking extension art classes and realized I wanted to be an illustrator – so I applied to art school, and went back for my second act.

3. HOW DID YOU GET YOUR PROFESSIONAL CREATIVE START?
So as I mentioned before, I went back to art school in my mid-twenties. There, I got the intense and focused training to hone my creative skills so that I was ready to be a professional creative. I got my first freelance job through our school provost, who was the art director of the Playboy Jazz Festival at the time. 

4. YOU'RE KNOWN FOR YOUR BRIGHT, BOLD COLORS + WHIMSICAL DESIGNS- HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD A SIMILAR STYLE OR DID IT EVOLVE OVER TIME?
It’s definitely evolved over time. The funny thing is that the work I make now is the work I’ve always loved but had felt embarrassed about liking, thinking it wasn’t “serious” enough. When I went back to school, it was heavily influenced by what I learned in class, what my teachers did for their work, and who the popular artists were on the scene at the time. Now I’ve been around long enough to know that styles fade and tastes are personal – so as long as you follow your heart and make work that excites YOU, you’re on the right track. I also think that creative work will always evolve as you grow as a person.

5. CONGRATS ON THE SUCCESS OF YOUR FIRST BOOK, “BAD GIRLS THROUGHOUT HISTORY” AND THE UPCOMING BOOK (OR SO I HEAR)!! THAT MUST HAVE FELT LIKE SUCH A HUGE MILESTONE! HOW DID CREATING A BOOK COME ABOUT?
Thank you! I first created “Bad Girls Throughout History” as a zine for a project in school, and then started taking it to shows to get it seen. This was about six years ago now, so I was also sending it around to all the big design blogs to get a little press and attention on my illustration work in general, as I was about to graduate and wanted to start gaining traction for freelance work. It got a small but strong response, and it started getting picked up in local shops around L.A. I would eventually expand it into two volumes, a calendar, a postcard set, and a gallery show.

It got enough legs on its own that my literary agent found my project on a post on a blog that I didn’t even know about! She emailed me and asked if I would be interested in turning the zine into a book, and we met in person and really hit it off. It was important to me that she really understood the project, because it was not so well received early on – especially by my teachers in school. With my agent’s guidance and representation, I created a book proposal and we sent it off to dozens of publishers – we had great calls with several editors, and we landed an amazing deal with Chronicle Books – which was a dream come true.

When I decided to go back to art school, I had to write an admissions essay naming three artists or companies that had influenced me and made me want to be an artist – and Chronicle Books had been one of them. So it was a real full circle moment for me.

6. YOU'VE ALSO RECENTLY PARTNERED WITH DISNEY,  AS AN "ARTIST IN RESIDENCE"- (CONGRATS AGAIN! :) CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THAT?
Yes! I had the honor of being the April Artist in Residence at Disney’s Wonderground Gallery in Downtown Disney, which is such a highlight of my career so far. They commissioned me to do three Disney licensed pieces – and gave me free reign to propose whatever I wanted to do. So that’s how my “Dressed in Dreams”, “Centaurettes in Bloom”, and “The Girl With Fins” pieces came to be. They were just released during the month of my residency, and will be available as limited edition giclees, canvas prints, deluxe prints, postcards, and even a mirror compact! 

As far as the residency, it meant that I was at Wonderground Gallery every weekend night, painting demos of Disney art I created, answering questions, signing artwork, and meet-and-greeting lots of wonderful guests. It was so great to get out of my studio and actually see the joy that my work brings to people – there’s no better feeling.

6. WHAT IS THE BEST PART ABOUT MAKING A LIVING AS AN ARTIST?
The freedom to make the kind of life I want, to work with clients I like, and to create projects that inspire and make people happy. It’s become increasingly important to me that I make the work I want to see in the world – work that has a voice and represents a broad range of people and their experiences. I want people to feel seen and important, but also excited and joyous when they see my work. Meaningful work doesn’t have to be loud and specific; it can be subtle and permeate culture. It can shift perceptions slowly but permanently – that’s where the power of art is; it can help people develop empathy and understand others better. It can make you feel less alone. And the best part of making a living as an artist is that I can make that my life’s work.

7. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF WORKING FOR YOURSELF, AS AN ARTIST?
When you work for yourself, I find the hardest part to be facing challenges alone. Even though I have a great support system with my husband, a network of freelance friends I can reach out to for help and advice, and often work with great clients, the really hard stuff is still things I need to take on and figure out on my own. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that can really be a hard or expensive lesson to learn as you grow. There’s also no set path or right or wrong way to do things – it’s really all up to you to make that path for yourself, and some days that can feel really daunting.

8. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DOING IN 5-10 YEARS? ANY BIG GOALS?
Lots of things! I definitely would like to still be working as an illustrator and author, and I’d like to have published more books and see them perhaps take on a bigger life ;) I’d also love to work with some of my favorite brands and companies on bigger illustration projects like holiday campaigns. Other dream projects include designing the branding for a restaurant, designing a textile or clothing line, and art directing a film. I have a pretty good track record of making dreams into reality, so I hope I can achieve some of these big goals.

9. MAKING A LIVING AS AN ARTIST IS NO EASY FEAT! WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO BUILD A FREELANCE OR CREATIVE CAREER?
Make work every day. When I first left school, one of my favorite teachers told us that if you put in 6-8 hours of studio time a day, every day, there’s no way you won’t make it in whatever it is you’re working towards. Studio time means dedicated time to making your creative career happen – a lot of it is practice, and a little bit of it is learning everything else that needs to go with it – how to reach people you want to work with, how to set up your website or shop, where to show your work, etc. Make the work you want to make even if no one is paying you, and the better you get at it, the more likely people will start noticing and hiring you for it. 

Also, study what works for the people you admire who are in your field already – BUT be very cautious to not just copy what someone else has done. Take the principles and lessons of what about their work appeals to you (is it simple shape design? Is it strong color stories? etc.), and then apply it to your own work in your own unique way – that’s what’s going to make you stand out. The world doesn’t need another one of someone who already exists – it needs you to be who YOU are.

10. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF FEW PEOPLE KNOW! :)
A relatively unknown part of my work is that I’ve worked on several theme parks! Because theme parks are super top secret projects, there are a million NDA contracts involved and we work years out in advance so I can never show or talk about these projects. And by the time the theme park is open and the work is out, I’ve almost already forgotten about it. I’ve worked on the design and development of the Hello Kitty theme park in Shanghai, a retro children’s book style redesign of Shrek for a theme park in Dubai, and park signage for a theme park in Asia that hasn’t opened yet.


Try to tell me you're not in love too!! It was impossibly hard to choose which images of her to post. I also LOVE her advice to someone looking to launch their own creative career... "Make work everyday!" It's so simple but often is the one big thing standing between the next step... creating just to create, it's something I personally swear by and make a point to spend time on every week, no matter what's going on.

xx Natasha

A HUGE thank you to Ann for being so open and candid about all of her work + experiences! If you want to see more of her work (duh) and start your own Ann Shen-art-collection, you can do so here:

Tell Me All! {series}- Sarah, of Hello Holiday

Have you ever been scrolling aimlessly through Instagram, only to catch sight of something that makes you stop and squeal out loud? I did, the first time I saw Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik's pink-mermaid-and-fish patterned Heinui dress (see below). After falling down the rabbit hole of her amazing photos (spoiler alert: this girl has *style*), and realizing she co-owns Hello Holiday (a curated boutique for "the third coolest girl in the room", focusing on emerging designers + cool basics, with a vintage flair), I knew I had to pick her brain a little more. Read on to learn all about how Hello Holiday started, the challenges of running + growing a small business, and her best advice for someone looking to build their own...

(And yes, I bought the dress... I have literally never received so many compliments on an outfit as I did in that dress. I think it has magic powers! P.s., they have a limited run back in stock, grab it here!)

1) OK, FIRST THINGS FIRST! WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?

Hi! I’m Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik and I am one of the founders of Hello Holiday, an independent online retailer specializing in dreamy frocks for dreamy femmes in sizes XXS-4X since 2012. 

2) HOW DID HELLO HOLIDAY COME ABOUT?

In early 2012, I stopped by my friend Megan Hunt’s then-coworking space in downtown Omaha to borrow her professional steamer to prep a vintage dress for a music video I was styling, and everything just rolled from that chance meeting. Megan and I had known each other for years prior, working on styling projects for her bridal design line together and casually as friends. I was working full time in the social work field but I knew my heart wasn’t in it and was doing styling work for every photographer and designer I knew, writing a style column in a local paper, blogging, and going as far as costuming plays (I have no costuming background whatsoever) to try to do anything I could to figure out how to work in fashion in Nebraska. 

The aforementioned dress was so many layers of vintage tulle that it took me hours to finish steaming it. During that time at her office I mentioned that I was looking to pursue a major career change, and that I wanted to open an online store but the idea wasn’t flushed out much further than a very sad business plan at that point. Megan opened up and told me she was looking for a new challenge in business and expressed interest in working with me, and we hit the ground running from that evening. A few days later we had a new business plan on paper and filed for our LLC shortly after that. Hello Holiday officially launched online on October 1st, 2012. 

3) YOU HAVE AMAZING PERSONAL STYLE?  HAVE YOU ALWAYS LOVED FASHION OR DID THAT EVOLVE LATER?

This one is hard! I started out loving fashion but really started honing in on my personal style post-high school, when thrift stores were essentially flowing with milk and honey and I started putting together looks inspired both by the early fashion bloggers I wanted to emulate and mid century style icons like Audrey Hepburn. So cliche, I know! But this was around 2005! Things were different and I honestly didn’t know many people who knew who she was at that time. You can guess what my eyebrows looked like at this point. 

4) AS WITH MOST COOL JOBS, THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO IT THAN MEETS THE EYE! WHAT DOES YOUR DAY-TO-DAY WORK LIFE ENTAIL?

My main responsibilities with Hello Holiday involve photo styling, social media, buying, and customer service. That’s not all I do, but definitely how I spend most of my days. Five years in, we’re lucky to have a small team of ten employees, so I’m able to focus on the creative side of things much more than I used to, which is just a dream (I loathe packing orders). My days are mostly repetitive: email, post on social media, create content, email, placing orders, and so on. We have a photo shoot for our online site every few weeks, so my days leading up to that including scouting models, booking time with our beauty team and photographers, deciding on themes/inspo and running with it. 

5) HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO STOCK + CARRY FOR HELLO HOLIDAY?

A lot of what we carry honestly comes from designers who reach out to us, or designers we scout on Instagram. A lot of my late nights are spent down the Instagram rabbit hole (discovery page? is that what the kids are calling it these days?) looking for new stuff. We also go to a few buying markets a year and visit showrooms in LA pretty often between seasons. As the years go on our style has changed significantly, and we’re finally at a place where we stock independent designers as a majority, and a well-rounded collection of pieces we love and want to wear ourselves. The more true to self we try to be with buying, the more success we’ve found. 

6) THE FASHION/CLOTHING WORLD IS NOT AN EASY ONE! WHAT HAS HELPED YOU BUILD A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS IN SUCH A COMPETITIVE INDUSTRY?

Girl it’s definitely not an easy one! In the past year or two we’ve seen so many retailers fold, large and small, and we feel really lucky to have the support of our customers. We always say that we want to be the kind of company you would be best friends with. And many of our customers have become our friends IRL, it’s really amazing. 

7) WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?

The best parts of my job definitely include styling and buying (hello, who doesn’t love to shop endlessly?), but if I’m being honest, the very real best part is seeing customers find pieces that make them feel amazing. Fashion is both political and a privilege, and when you have access to and are able to find pieces you feel good in, there’s nothing like it. 

8) WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES?

Oh boy! Well, as a small company, a lot of the challenges revolve around finding new ways to grow on a small budget, finding time away from work, and continually adapting to a non-traditional schedule. After working in an office with a 9-5 schedule for years, it feels both positive and negative to “make my own schedule.”. I say that in quotes because making your own schedule generally means you work all the time, haha. But we definitely find time for our families and to have fun too. It’s easier now that it’s not just the two of us and we have a great team who both pick up the slack and inspire us to work harder. 

9) YOU'RE A MOM TO A TODDLER AS WELL! HOW DO YOU BALANCE (IF THERE IS SUCH THING) WORK + FAMILY?

I don’t believe in work-life balance as an objective, but I do believe in bringing your children and family along for the ride. It feels wonderful to know that my son will grow up with a crew of strong women and entrepreneurs around him, and my partner is also a small business owner (we own and operate a bar in Omaha called Krug Park) so it helps that he understands that there’s no real expected schedule for business operations. You work when you need to work, and hopefully you have fun doing it and find breaks during your slow times of the year. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to take my son to work with me daily for the first year or so of his life, but working with a baby strapped to your body is hard, so there’s positives and negatives to it for sure. 

10) WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR HELLO HOLIDAY IN THE NEXT 5-10 YEARS?

To grow and become very financially secure so we’re able to take calculated risks like manufacturing and taking on more designers we believe in. To create jobs in our field locally. To foster a thriving environment for the future entrepreneurs that work for us now. I can’t wait to see what our team builds and to support them like they support us today. I’m a big believer in trying to be who you needed when you were younger, but didn’t have. 

11) WHAT'S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO BUILD THEIR OWN BUSINESS?

Talk to me! But no really, talk to someone, anyone, and interview everyone you know that’s even close to the field you’re interested in. I interviewed anyone I could, shop owners, buyers, random business owners that had nothing to do with retail, anyone who would give me the time of day before we started because there’s no guideline out there for starting an online retailer (but maybe there will be soon *wink*). 

12) TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOU FEW PEOPLE KNOW! :)

Cloris Leachman crashed our wedding. I was runner up in a contest to win a walk-on role on AMC’s Mad Men. I feel so lucky to be featured on the Violet Tinder Studios blog today, thank you so much for asking me.


Thanks so much to Sarah for spilling it all! I love a girl who loves a good lip. Aaaand I can definitely relate to eyebrow regrets, haha.

xx Natasha

Make sure to follow along with all of her + Hello Holiday's adventures...

Let's Talk $$$ // Part Two

A couple weeks ago, we started this series with PART ONE, talking about calculating + setting your rate as a freelancer. I promised we'd be back with more... and here we are!

Ok, so you've figured out your rate, and it seems to be working. But if you're like me, you're curious- what do other people charge? How do they handle low offers? Are they comfortable negotiating? Basically all the questions you ask yourself to figure out your own rate- I rounded up a small group of my favorite freelance creatives and asked them these very questions (and more)!

I have to add- I am such a fan of all four of these ladies (and lucky to consider them friends)! They are all SO creative and talented and are creating their own dream careers with a lot of hard work, a little inner magic, and some really great lipstick (seriously tho). So thank you to Leslie, Lizzie, Jenna + Cort for all your insight + inspiration. :)

PART TWO, here we go...


We're chatting with:

1. HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JOB/WORK? (I.E. CONTENT CREATOR, BLOGGER, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, ETC)

LESLIE: I would say I'm more of a content creator. That's how I make my income. 

JENNA + CORT: We are bloggers/content creators/influencers.

LIZZIE: Content creator + Photographer

NATASHA: Photographer + Content Creator

2. IS THIS YOUR FULL-TIME JOB/ SOURCE OF INCOME?

LESLIE: Yes!

JENNA + CORT: It is not yet our full-time job...but we're getting there!

LIZZIE: Yep!

NATASHA: Yes

3. IF NOT, WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO?

JENNA + CORT: We are both Bridal Stylist at Anthro's bridal company, BHLDN, (also where we met!). We took our hours down from full-time to part-time as the blog grew!

4. WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED GETTING WORK, IN WHAT KIND OF $$$ RANGE WAS YOUR RATE?

LESLIE: Hmm, I would say when I first started (and when I still had a day job) I would ask for $150 per post. Or around that range. 

JENNA + CORT: We charged $100 for IG and $300 for a blog post. We had NO idea what to charge...this was just a shot in the dark!

LIZZIE: In the very beginning I charged $100 per photo, and gave a “bulk” discount of $50 a photo if the client wanted more than 3 (eek 🙈)

NATASHA: When I first started, it was low, around $100/ per image, but slowly realized the work that went into them was worth more...

5. WITH YOUR CURRENT RATE, WHAT KIND OF FACTORS DO YOU CONSIDER WHEN SETTING IT? OR IS IT LESS SCIENTIFIC THAN THAT? (I.E. FLEXIBLE DEPENDING ON WHAT THE JOB IS)

LESLIE: Definitely flexible depending on the job and depending how LARGE the deliverables are. I first factor if the job works with my lifestyle and can be incorporated into my brand/aesthetic. I've said no to large offers simply because it isn't genuine to myself and my following. After I decide if it's something I want to pursue i base my rate on the deliverables they're asking for. (Example: how many images, posts, videos, boomerangs, etc). 

JENNA + CORT: Several factors are considered: 1). Are they a huge company who you know has a big budget? 2). Are they small, but you believe in their company/product? 3). Are they nice? 4). Does this fit naturally with your feed/brand? 5). Will you have to work harder/buy more supplies to make it more organic? These are just a few. Honestly, we go with our gut. We say no to a lot of people if we don't vibe.

LIZZIE: I have a standard base rate that I give out and add to that sometimes based on unique circumstances, i.e. they need a super quick turnaround, more expensive props are required, or lots of editing will be involved.

NATASHA: I have a standard rate, that varies based on quantity of images, and the size/scope of the project. I try to schedule a meeting or phone call with prospective new clients, to get a little more detail on what they're looking for, so I can make sure to price fairly.

6. IS YOUR RATE FIXED OR VARIED DEPENDING ON THE JOB?

LESLIE: Definitely varied on the job (how many deliverables they're asking for as I said previously).

JENNA + CORT: Definitely varied. We have a starting rate, but if we love the product or would actually use it in our daily lives, we are definitely flexible if they're willing to work with us.

LIZZIE: Varied.

NATASHA: Varied.

7. DO YOU NEGOTIATE WITH CLIENTS FOR HIGHER RATES? IF SO, WHEN?

LESLIE: In my experience I rarely will have a potential client start off with an offer. They will usually always ask what my rate is for the requested job first. Then we negotiate from there.

JENNA + CORT: It's very important to know your worth. A lot of time and energy goes into these posts, and that's valuable. If someone low-balls you, it can be insulting...especially if you know they have the budget to pay you your rate. We will ask for a middle ground to meet at, but will turn it down if we can't compromise. 

LIZZIE: I’ll negotiate if their offer is really low but I still really want to work with them.

NATASHA: I do! If it's a brand that starts with a low offer, and I feel can offer more, I will try to negotiate. At times, I will also lower my rate if it's a project I'd love to work on and I know their budget is limited. 

8. DO YOU EVER TALK $$$ WITH YOUR FRIENDS/FELLOW CREATIVES?

LESLIE: Yes!! It is actually so helpful! Money can be such an awkward thing to discuss, but I am lucky to have a great supportive group of IG'ers where we are comfortable bouncing rates and feedback off each other. (Hallelujah)! 

JENNA + CORT: YES!! I think this is very important. The friends we've made on IG and met irl are awesome and very open about what they charge. This is how we formed our rates. As a group, I think creatives should be charging more. These companies are saving so much money by marketing this way instead of on billboards/commercials/etc. And the engagement is infinitely better. 

LIZZIE: I do! It’s always eye opening and helpful :)

NATASHA: Yes! I think a couple years ago, it was much harder to talk about this kind of thing because everyone was still sort of trying to figure it out. Now, it feels like there's more transparency and people want to help each other.

9. ANY TIPS FOR HELPING OTHERS SET + NEGOTIATE THEIR RATE?

LESLIE: First, figure out if you really want to do the job. Do not compensate for an inquiry that isn't genuine to your brand. Your followers will see right through that and will lose trust. Second, ask yourself what amount is this project worth to you? That will really help set a bar for when you're ready to state a rate and negotiate! Don't be afraid to go back and forth a bit with the brand/agency. Be confident and know what you do is VALUABLE!! Then go kill it! :) :) 

JENNA + CORT: It took us awhile to learn about photography, composition, and flow with our feed. For this reason, our rate grew very slow along with our confidence in our posts. Not that they were bad at all, we were just learning! So, for people starting out...set a lower rate, but be firm about it. Sometimes it's hard to pass up free product in exchange for a post. But you should always tell them your rate as well. Usually they do have the budget for it, but a lot of people will accept free product, so they don't always say it upfront. And once your confidence, skill, and following grows, up that rate!

LIZZIE: In your first few gigs, try to track all your hours you spend on the project with a time tracking app or just a spreadsheet. Make sure to include hours spent brainstorming, sketching, communicating with the client, prop shopping/prepping, all the way through styling and then editing the content. 
It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time you’ll spend on a job, and once you see it all added up it will be easier to gauge how much to charge for future projects. Multiply the total hours by the amount you’d like to make hourly (I think the industry standard ranges from $50-$200/hour for photography depending on skill level/location) and be sure to add in cost of props to get a total rate to present to the client. (I like to give a project rate upfront instead of presenting the client an hourly rate because it makes things a lot simpler and easier to digest for both parties!)

NATASHA: Be honest with yourself about the amount of work a project entails! Try to cover that in your rate. Also, don't take a job you don't truly vibe with just for the money. Money is nice, but the most fulfilling projects are the ones you feel excited about AND are being paid fairly for. Don't be afraid to aim high (realistically high :) but be open to negotiation if the client asks you to come down a little. It's so motivating to do work you love and know that it's being valued!


I'd love to know your feedback- did you find this helpful? Is there anything you love to see covered in future posts? Send me a note or leave a comment below!

xx Natasha

AND a HUGE THANK YOU to these awesome ladies!! Make sure to go show them some love. :)

Leslie @splendid_rags

Jenna + Cortney @awhimsywonderland

Lizzie Darden  @lizzie_darden

Cherry Lemonade // Wallpaper Download

Who's thirsty? I was planning to share Part Two of Let's Talk $$$ today, but am still finishing compiling the responses from the amazing creatives I chatted with SO, in the meantime... pour yourself a nice, cold glass of Cherry Lemonade. (And stay tuned v. soon for Part Two! :)

XO Natasha

Cherry Lemonade. // (to download, hover over + save)

Cherry Lemonade. // (to download, hover over + save)

Let's Talk $$$ // Part One

Money. It's great, it's terrible, it makes life better, it's the root of all evil... but no one likes to talk about it, right?! So I thought I'd start. Freelancing has endless questions but one of the most baffling is money. How much should I charge? Is it too high? What do other people charge? Did I leave money on the table? And also, how do I get more of it? Haha. 

I've been wanting to delve into this topic for a while, both because I still have lots of my own questions and also because it a question I get frequently, in one form or another. Basically, "how do I know how much to charge?." I will say from the start- there is no one right answer. There's just not! Because sometimes there's work that one person is happy to do at one rate and another wouldn't do for three times that amount. And a lot of figuring out what to charge is strategy- when you're still establishing yourself, charging too high of a rate can turn potential clients off. But then other times, charging a high rate helps you find a certain kind of client.

Am I rambling too much? Let's jump to it...

1) HOW DO I FIGURE OUT MY BASE RATE?

I like to think of a base rate as the basic, starting rate you charge. It's what you would usually use to respond to inquiries on rate, and it's an average that takes into account all that you do to make your finished product (whether that's a photo, blog post, recipe, etc). It is NOT the end-all-be-all rate, because different projects require different amounts of work. Sharing your base rate + asking for details on what they are looking for is (IMHO) the best way to weed out less serious clients, and get the ball rolling with the right ones.

For me, my primary from of work is photography. I choose to charge per photo, because it's a simpler way for me to put all of the calculated work into a per-photo price. Usually, when I'm first chatting with a client, they will have an idea of the number of photos they want. Giving them a price based on that, makes the price clear.

For example: 30 min prop selection + 1 hr styling/prepping props + 30 min shooting + 1 hr editing = 3hrs total per photo. What do you want to make an hour? Multiply that by 3 and you have your per-photo rate for this project.

I know plenty of people who charge per hour (vs. per project or per photo), and that's totally fine too. I have found though, that trying to explain every step of your process ("So I shopped for props for a total of 3 hours over two different days, prepared the shots for a combined total of 4.2 hours, shot for a total of 3 hours, and edited for a total of 10 hours.") can be overwhelming for the client. Instead, considering an average for your work and applying that across the board can simplify it.

I think this works for lots of creative processes, not just photography! If I'm buying a custom painting, I don't really need to know how long it took the artist to shop for a canvas and clean her brushes and mix paint colors, I just want to know the price for the finished painting.

I will note- sometimes, a client WILL want to know a breakdown for everything, and that's fine too. By explaining your rate early on, you can figure out what works best for both of you.

2) HOW DO I CHARGE DIFFERENTLY FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF PROJECTS?

I approach this by sharing my base rate with a potential client, and then explaining that it varies slightly depending on the size + detail of the project. For example, someone who wants 8 detailed website banners should be charged differently than someone who wants 8 product shot against a white background. Try to get a sense of what they are looking for and then offering a more specific rate. I try to always schedule a call with a new client (if I can't meet them in person) to go over what they have in mind + learn more about their brand/business. 

I say this, expecting there might be other opinions on this- but I don't think a one-size-fits-all rate is the best way to go! If you've told them your base rate for a sponsored post on your food blog, and then they ask for a video with flying elephants making cookies, it's ok to ask for more. I try to always bring it back to the estimated time it will take to produce something, rather than phrasing it as a pain-in-the-ass demand.

For example: "My base rate of $1300 for a sponsored post covers the basic recipe development and 5 images. The price for a video format and the flying elephants will add an additional $500 to the rate, based on the extra editing time and coordinating necessary. Please let me know if you have any questions!" 

If they accept, perfect. If not, you can decide if you're comfortable negotiating or want to just move on. The goal being, that you feel comfortable with your rate for the project. When I was first starting out, I was so eager to make sure I secured certain jobs, that I would throw a rate out without any questions and just get to work. The problem is, many jobs are not as straight-forward as they first seem- timelines get pushed, extra props are needed, editing takes longer than expected, etc. Make sure you're as clear as you can be about what the project entails, before giving a final rate.

3) HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M CHARGING TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE?

Ok, here's the truth. You don't. What is a lot to one person, is nothing to another. I remember one of the first paying photo jobs I had, the client came right out of the gate saying they "didn't have a big budget but could offer $200/ per photo." I almost screamed! $200 per photo was more than I had ever charged anyone!! I said yes immediately. My rates have changed over time and I realize now, that for a large brand (which they were), that was not a large amount. I probably could've negotiated more. 

But I think there are a couple things to keep in mind. Mainly- how badly do you want this job? And what feels fair to YOU? The more eager you are for work, the more you might want to consider giving a competitive rate. If you feel swamped with your current work and it isn't a project you're super passionate about, giving a higher rate might be reasonable. And most importantly- do you feel good about the rate? There will always be someone out there who can/does/brags about charging more. But if you feel like you're being paid fairly for your work, and you're getting regular work at your current rate, stick with it! A super-high rate isn't always a sign of a busy person. I would rather have 5 current jobs that each paid $2500, than one current job that paid $4000. 

Besides, you can always raise your rate over time...

4) HOW DO I RAISE MY RATE WITH LONG-TIME CLIENTS?

This can be tricky and a little uncomfortable. But, the bottom line is, if your work has steadily improved and you've gotten busier, your rate should reflect that. Someone that values your work, and that you've maintained a good working relationship with, will understand that.

If you are going to raise your rates, make sure you give the client plenty of notice and do it BEFORE you've started a new round of work. You can't spring it on them, in the middle of the month, that your end-of-month invoice will be going up! Not only is that unfair, you also run the risk of them saying no, and then you're stuck with work you can't be paid for. Try to give them enough notice that everyone has time to evaluate and decide whether or not to move forward.

When you let them know, don't feel like you need to give a long, detailed explanation- just keep it clear + concise. Let them know you value them as a client, and that starting on XYZ date, your rates will be going up X amount. Tell them if they have any questions, you'd be happy to discuss.

In my experience, most will understand and agree. And for the ones who don't, that's ok too. Sometimes it's the best way to accept that it's time to part ways.


Was that helpful? Do you want more?!  In PART TWO, we're going to chat with a few different freelance creatives about how they set their rate + figure out what to charge, and talk about charging for social media shares (which is a whole other beast!). 

If you have any other questions you'd love to hear covered, leave them in the comments below or shoot me an email! 

Stay tuned...!

xx Natasha

Tell Me All! {series}- Cashmere Nicole, of Beauty Bakerie

The only thing better than cosmetics in cute packaging, is when there's also an awesome story behind them. Beauty Bakerie fits that bill. I first met Cashmere, the founder and CEO of Beauty Bakerie, last Fall when I started working with her to create content for the brand. Inspired by a love of sweets (Eyes-Cream! Gelato! Lip Whips!) and an emphasis on finding the sweet in life (it's what's inside that counts), Beauty Bakerie was launched with a passion that only a determined, cancer-surviving, teenage mother could bring to the table (you can read more about her story here).

As I've gotten to know Cashmere more over the past few months, I'm always impressed with the confidence of her vision. She's managed to create an exploding business in a category that is notoriously one of the hardest to break into (beauty) and 2017 is showing no signs of slowing down for her. With a new product launch this month, and their very FIRST retail store opening in San Diego in April, I managed to steal a few moments with Cashmere to ask her just how, she manages to do it all. At least we know how she manages to look good doing it. ;)


1) WHO ARE YOU + WHAT DO YOU DO?

Many things! I am first a child of The Lord so helping others is paramount to me.
 
 I am a mother. I love on her. I guide her. I lead her and I actually follow her as my daughter has become a thought-leader in a sense. She’s blossoming into this absolutely beautiful person and I couldn’t be more proud.
 
I am the CEO of Beauty Bakerie Cosmetics Brand. In this role, I lead. I don’t want our message or mission to ever be lost in translation. I listen, I learn and I make sure I am growing. I have to be better than I was the day before in order to guide a team and I have to make sure that we hire people who understand metamorphosis and all that a caterpillar endures in becoming a butterfly.


2) HOW DID BEAUTY BAKERIE COME ABOUT? WAS IT SOMETHING YOU SET OUT TO CREATE OR DID IT EVOLOVE ON IT'S OWN?
 
I would say both. I was always creating. I see my life since beating cancer as this 'after life' if you will. Loss, heartache, setbacks cannot move me. Instead, I move through those things humbly aware that they're experiences that I can find a lesson or peace in. 

When I began this company I saw so many grand things for it that I once believed I was being a bit silly or too ambitious. I worked so hard that even my friends felt I was always in my computer. It was true. I remember telling myself early on that I was required to do one thing each day towards my dream. I believe it was my willingness to persevere through everything, to never quit that caused it to further evolve and grow.

3) WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY-IN-THE-LIFE LIKE?

Because I am so tenacious, I’ve been focusing on finding balance. It isn’t easy.  I’m so in love with my work but it is a must. I begin my day the night before. I look over my calendar so that I am prepared for the next day. I’m usually up around 5am. I get my daughter off to school around 730.  I like to check on our Warehouse team as well as the administrative team before diving into work which usually consists of tons of emails or meetings. I'm always down for a midday break which usually involves going on a quest for sunlight and basking in it.

4) YOU'RE KNOWN FOR YOU FUN PACKAGING, CHEEKY PRODUCT NAMES, AND AWESOME PRODUCT FORMULAS! WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND? DO YOU HAVE A CERTAIN CREATIVE PROCESS FOR DESIGNING/CREATING PRODUCTS?

Thank you! That’s awesome. That aligns with what I want the customers to know and love about my brand. The process of creating and designing products begins with the formula. I am usually going back and forth with our chemists, trying things out. I may ask my daughter or mom to try things out. I know my customers so well and feel as though I know what they’re looking for. I listen to what they’re asking for and have no problem saying, “Hey, we can’t put this out until its right.” That surely sends waves throughout my company but quality is something I just don’t want to ever compromise on. Quality and aesthetic go hand-in-hand to me. Even if we get the right formula, I am willing to delay a launch if the packaging isn’t exceptional. It’s really hard for others to understand sometimes but I like to focus solely on the customer. Once the formula is a go, it’s the fun part of trying to make sure the packaging is exceptional, on-brand and isn't corny.

5) BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS- ESPECIALLY A PRODUCT-BASED ONE, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE COSMETICS INDUSTRY IS FILLED WITH CHALLENGES + IS NO EASY FEAT! WHAT HAS BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN GETTING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

Prayer and pushing through those challenges. Identifying what is making me the most uncomfortable about any process and then going directly to that source of discomfort and similar to how I approach my fears, I face it. I am 1000% sure that fear is where my growth lies so I take it head on. I’ve been afraid of how to tell a designer I didn’t like her work but I grew through that. I realized that we aren’t paying to stroke egos, we are paying to create something my customers will love. It’s a hard truth for some but I have to be real. That is the only way to grow. You can surround yourself with a team of “yes men” but they can’t get you to nor go with you to the next level. Or you can be and surround yourself with people who can be truthful. I want to be real and get the truth no matter how much it hurts. If I find myself saying something was my best effort, it very well better be my best or I’m going back to the drawing board and I expect the same from my team. I’m just not interested in being complacent. I want to be better than Cashmere from last year and last month.

6) SOCIAL MEDIA HAS BEEN A HUGE PART OF GROWING YOUR BRAND- WHAT HAS HELPED YOU? WHAT DID YOU FIGURE OUT EARLY ON, THAT ALLOWED YOU TO BUILD SUCH A DEVOTED FOLLOWING?

I learn who my customers are by studying them + studying their actions. I listen to them and I give them what they want.

7) WHAT INSPIRES YOU? HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH CREATIVE BLOCK?

I am inspired by life and living. There is so much beauty in just being here, being able to inspire and connect.
 
To deal with creative block, I have to rest, stretch in the sun or try to stop everything, silence my phone and "get back to me" which is doing something I once had time for like tv or reading a book.
 

8) WHAT IS/HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLE IN BUILDING BEAUTY BAKERIE?

My biggest challenge was probably juggling this near grandiose dream alongside a growing daughter. She’s extraordinary and has quite the schedule (very studious and athletically inclined) so the struggle began there. Here I am wanting to live my dream. She has to live hers as well. I can’t take her experiences from her to accommodate my own. People insisted that there was no way I could be a great mother AND pursue my dream AND have these high standards for providing her with a quality life. I couldn't accept their truths as my own. I know my truth and purpose and I walk confidently in it knowing that what is for me will never miss me and what isn't will never be mine and I have so much peace in that.

9) WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR?

So many moments stand out! Having so many orders that they took over my home and my friend had to fly in and help me pack to walking into my first HQ and warehouse to Beyonce and her mother wearing my products to Huff Post features…this has been a dream come true. The biggest highlight has yet to come, however ;)
 

10) WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE PROFESSIONALLY IN 5-10 YEARS?

In 5-10 years I hope to be able to guide and advise teenage mothers on how to completely disrupt the trajectory that society swears will be theirs, I hope to see Beauty Bakerie in the Sephora’s and Self Ridges of the world. I hope to have an entire department focused solely on our mission of being sweet and sweetening the lives of others.
 

11) WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE TO SOMEONE BEGINNING THEIR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY?

Don’t look back and never, ever, ever, quit for any reason. Be willing to let go of what was and welcome what is arriving.
 

12) TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOU FEW PEOPLE KNOW! :)

That I will roll up my sleeves, kick off my heels, slide into my house slippers and pack orders if my team needs me. They know this. That is where this brand began and there’s no place like home.


Thank you so much, Cashmere, for taking time to share a little more about your journey. Here's to beauty-world domination in 2017!

Find more of Beauty Bakerie (seriously, their lip whips are out-of-this-world) and follow along with their empire here:

Finding Work {When Offers Aren't Falling In Your Lap...} // PART TWO

In PART ONE of "Finding Work {When Offers Aren't Falling In Your Lap...}", we talked about the first three tips to building your freelance creative career.

So we've talked about "faking it till you make it" (so important!), signing up for apps + services that let you know of paid projects, and being open to jobs in the beginning that may not be "dream" jobs. But now we're gonna get to the good stuff!! My personal favorite tips for finding work are all about being proactive. Ready for this? 

PITCH YOURSELF (AND PITCH OFTEN)

I think most of us have others we look up to professionally, or people whose careers we aspire to emulate in some way. When you're starting out (or in a lull with work), it's easy to imagine that other people have endless offers left and right, for amazing work. But I've found that getting to a place where offers come to you, means working to get to a place where you have shown what you can do. Which means you need work!! Which leads me to pitching. Pitching yourself to brands and clients you want to work with is hard- but it's also empowering. In the first year of my committed freelance-hood (is that a word? ha.), I challenged myself to pitch to 3-5 new brands every week. I would dedicate 15 min a day to find new brands I wanted to pitch to (I kept a list in google docs of brands I wanted to work with and would check them off as I reached out), and then 2 hours per week to actually sit down and write emails pitching myself.

You might be asking one of two things: 1) how did I find the emails of the people to pitch to? and 2) How do you pitch yourself in a compelling way? 

So let me answer that.

1) Finding the correct email address of the person you want to speak with (i.e. social media manager or coordinator, marketing manager, etc) takes a little work. Rarely is it just posted- I would start by taking a look at the website (on the off chance it WAS listed). Sometimes another, more generic email address is listed, and I have had success reaching out to that email address to ASK for the correct address of the ____ (fill in the blank: social media manager, person in charge of influencer outreach). It's important that you don't pitch yourself at this step- keep it short and simple and clear- you just want to connect with the right person. Another good option of finding the email address of the person you need to speak with, is to direct message the brand on social media, and ask for the contact. Again, DO NOT pitch in the message itself and definitely don't pitch in the comments of a photo! You don't want to seem desperate and you DO want to seem focused and professional.

2) Which leads me to the next question... How do you pitch yourself in a compelling way? Once you've found the correct contact to email, you'll want to send a CLEAR + CONCISE message. It should include a brief introduction and description of what you do, a brief explanation of why you think you'd be a good fit to work together/what you like about them, a brief description of SPECIFIC ideas you have to work together, and end it with the best way to reach you. All in, it should me no more than 5-8 sentences and two short paragraphs. 

You might be thinking "but I have so many ideas" or "I want them to know my whole backstory and all about the amazing work I've done." The thing is, most brands (big and small) get dozens (if not hundreds) of emails a day. The last thing they want to do is read a novel, especially before they've decided whether or not they're interested. Keeping yourself brief and friendly and professional is the best way to go. Here's an example:


"Dear Josie-

My name is Natasha and I am _____ (blogger, photographer, internet personality, makeup artist... whatever you do!) and the owner/author/etc of YOUR BLOG/WEBSITE HERE. I love to create fun + easy make-up tutorials for my followers, and aim to only use vegan, cruelty-free products. I'm reaching out because I have been a big fan of XYZ Cosmetics for years. I love your fun packaging and commitment to ethical beauty. (You can see some of my tutorials using your products here, here and here.)

I would love to work with you to create a series of fun + easy spring looks for the upcoming months, using your products. A couple ideas I have are...(be specific but brief. Enough to let them know you have real ideas, but don't write a novel.)

I'd like to chat with you further to share more detail and see how we can best partner together. My email is _______ and I'd be happy to set up a call next week any day before noon.

Please let me know if you have any questions and thanks for your time."


TA-DA! You shared enough to give them a sense of who you are and what you do and now it's up to them to decide if they'd like to hear more. (Side note: don't expect to hear back from everyone. You won't, no matter how amazing your emails are. BUT, you will hear back from some and that will make it all worth it.)

This is also another great reason to make sure you website, blog, portfolio, and social media accounts are up to date and representative of you. Most people will look at those before reaching out and you want them to help seal the deal!

CREATE THE WORK YOU WANT TO DO

Someday your portfolio will be filled with lots of amazing, gorgeous, PAID work you can proudly show others. But if now is not that time, it's time to fill it with amazing, gorgeous work! Want to be a paid illustrator? Create illustrations you are proud to show others and put them in your portfolio. Want to be a paid food blogger? Create amazing recipes, filled with with gorgeous pictures and share them! Want to be a stylist? Take amazing photos of what you style and share them! The point is... people don't know what you do until you do it. Don't be scared you're not good enough because honestly... no one is when they start! The only way you get better is to do lots and lots of work, on a regular basis. Eventually, you will be good enough that people will want to pay you to do what you do. Creating the work you want to do allows you to hone your skills, display your creativity, and build your credibility.

ALWAYS BE DOING ALL OF THESE THINGS

This one sounds silly, but I mean it... the habit of doing all of these things, week in and week out (projecting the business image you want others to see, signing up for apps + services to let you know of work, being open to jobs, pitching yourself often, and constantly creating new work) creates a rhythm that helps you build your business. If you start to get busy with paid work + new offers (hooray!), don't stop doing these things. The nature of freelance is that things ebb and flow and while it can feel like extra work when times are good, having a system to work when times are lean is comforting and keeps you busy.


So... was this helpful? I'd love your feedback! Navigating a freelance creative career is not for the faint of heart and I know I love to hear about others and what works for them. I'd like to cover more topics like this on the blog, so if you have specific questions you'd like answered, please let me know!

ONE MORE THING! If you'd like the worksheet I passed out in my group talk at Alt Summit, here you go! It's a handy little cheatsheet you can use to map out your own plan. ;)

*FINDING WORK {WHEN OFFERS AREN'T FALLING IN YOUR LAP...} WORKSHEET*

xx Natasha

Finding Work {When Offers Aren't Falling In Your Lap...} // PART ONE

If you follow along with my adventures on social media, you might have seen me mention my trip to Palm Springs last week, to attend Alt Summit (a conference for creative entrepreneurs) and meet up with some of my very favorite creative friends. As part of the conference, I was also able to lead a roundtable on a topic I'm really passionate about- how to find work as a newly launched creative professional. Pursuing your passions full-time can be scary, especially if you also need it to provide a living (which, hello, is most of us.)

I personally believe there are a million reasons (most of which we're taught our whole lives) to live safely and sanely and follow a clear-cut path in life- and there are WAYY fewer, but ultimately more important reasons to follow your gut + pursue the life you want to live. We get one life! Who wants to look back and think coulda/woulda/shoulda? Who wants to spend their time doing unfulfilling work? Or worse, pursuing nothing? Not me. I believe we're all put here for a reason + for a purpose- and I want to give my all to pursuing that.

I love to create, I love to be busy, I love to be independent. When it finally clicked for me HOW I wanted to meld all of those things (taking really fun photos for a living!), I knew I had to clear the noise and the doubt telling me I could fail, and Just. Figure. It. Out.

But here's the thing- the downside to having no rules is... there are no rules! There's no clear path to achieving your goals (financial freedom, peer recognition, or just the ability to treat yoself at Starbucks whenever you damn well please). Over time, I developed a rhythm of working habits, that looking back on, clearly helped me to not just grow my business, but also create a foundation. I still have rough days (and ok, sometimes weeks) where I think "what if this is as far as I can go?" or "what if the work dries up in three months?" but having a system that helped me along in the beginning, is still comforting now, further down the road. I hope by sharing them, I can help you too. :)

FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT

Represent the brand image you want people to see. Keep your website + social media fresh and current and feeling cohesive. If you use a distinct color palette on one, use it on the other. Is your "about me" and bio clear + concise? If someone knew nothing about you or your services/business/blog, would they be able to easily understand what you do after reading your "about me" or services or bio? (They should.) Remember- the first place brands + prospective clients look to learn more about you is your website + social media (usually they go from one to the other)! Make it appealing + professional + clear.

SIGN UP FOR APPS + SERVICES 

While there are a million and one out there (and many are pretty... worthless), there ARE a few hidden gems. When you're first starting out and looking for paid work (instead of "free stuff" or "exchanges"), this is a great way to get paying jobs. Be selective but take the time to check some of them out (some list the available jobs for you to peruse, others send you emails with jobs that match what your description). Also, I can say that some of the BEST brand relationships I've had, have started after meeting through content creation/advertising/influencer services. It's like datings apps, but in the working world- no one wants to admit they met their partner "on an app", but if that many people use them, they've gotta be working for someone! Don't worry, as you grow, you will get more unique + specific-to-you opportunities. But using apps + services in the beginning, is a great way to get going. (A few that I have used and enjoyed are: PopPays (an app), Collectively, and Obviously Studio (the latter two are both sent by email.)

BE OPEN TO JOBS, EVEN IF THEY AREN'T "DREAM OFFERS" 

I believe strongly in having a brand vision + being clear on the direction you want to go. If you aren't clear, it can be easy to spread yourself in too many directions, diluting your efforts. BUT. Buuuuuut if you hold too firmly to only doing the kind of work, for the kind of pay, in the kind of way that you envision, you can miss out on some really great opportunities. People want to hire you when they see what you have done. Sometimes, the only way to get that experience is to be open to doing work, and lots of it. I myself did "full-time work" long before it was "full-time pay." Even if you can't devote FULL-time hours to your path right now (maybe you have a "day" job or other responsibilities), it's important to get as much work and experience as you can. Doing the work helps you hone your skills, meet potential clients, and just get BETTER, which is ultimately what you want to be.

If you are approached to do work that you feel is outside of your ideal pay or niche, ask yourself: Would this allow me to improve a skill set? Could I create work I would be proud to share on my portfolio/blog? If the answer is yes, it may be worth taking it on. Bonus: Again, some of the best client relationships I've ever had, have come from being flexible on my pay or work in the beginning. Once we established a good partnership, I was able to raise my rates and/or do more work in line with what I envisioned. Be selective but keep an open-mind! The more your skills improve, the more offers you will have, and the closer you will be to your "dream work."


  Don't worry, there's more! In PART TWO, I'll share my personal *favorite* tip for finding work when you're first embarking on your creative professional path, how to pitch yourself, and the rest of this list! I'll also link to the worksheet I shared at Alt, so you can download and print a copy for yourself if you'd like. :) In the meantime.... here's a free photo download for you!! Good things come to those who... read really long blog posts. Haha.

xx Natasha 

TAKE A BITE // (to download, just hover over + save)

TAKE A BITE // (to download, just hover over + save)

Tell Me All! {series}- Kristen Ley, of Thimblepress

When I first discovered the endless well of creative talent on Instagram a few years ago, one of the very first accounts I fell in love with was Thimblepress. The endless color and joy in all of their cards, calendars, and artwork was such a breath of fresh air. When I learned it was all designed by the owner, Kristen Ley, I was even more blown away. Talk about a Renaissance woman! Anyone who can juggle endlessly creating along with running a large, successful business has my attention.

Over the past few years, I've been lucky enough to work with Kristen + the Thimblepress team to create photos for the launch of a few different products (jewelry! throw pillows! champagne!), and the thoughtful design and ability to keep such a wide range of products still feeling "on-brand" only confirmed the respect I had for them. When I decided to relaunch the "Tell Me All" interview series, one of the first people to pop in my mind was Kristen. I hope you enjoy our chat below as much as I did!

xx Natasha

Just a little taste of Kristen's magic...

Just a little taste of Kristen's magic...


1) WHO ARE YOU + WHAT DO YOU DO?

Hello! My name is Kristen Ley and I am the founder, owner and creative director at Thimblepress®. Thimblepress® started out of my garage and bedroom closet back in 2012 as a creative outlet for me to make things with my hands. It has quickly evolved into a bright and happy lifestyle brand focusing on party goods, home goods & desktop items. I am the sole designer of all of our products, which is something I love and hope to always say. Our team has grown from 1 person to a full-time and part-time team of 16-20 depending on the season in just 4.75 short years. I give God all the credit for working something in me that is bigger than myself, and I cannot wait to see what 2017 has in store for Thimblepress®. 

 

2) HOW DID THIMBLEPRESS COME ABOUT? WAS IT SOMETHING YOU SET OUT TO CREATE OR DID IT EVOLVE ON IT'S OWN?

Thimblepress® started in a garage and bedroom closet (it was a fairly large bedroom closet), that quickly took over my room and bathroom. At one point I think I had ULINE boxes tucked in every corner of my bedroom. In 2011 I purchased a letterpress and was able to move it into that garage I started out of in Jackson, MS. I honestly purchased the letterpress as a hobby-type thing for me to expend creative energy and do something different than what I was doing. It was my creative outlet. When I moved into the house on Winchester Drive in Jackson, I truly hit the jackpot for roommates. My roommate at the time was Kate Thomas Whitley. She needed a roommate and I was looking to move out of my loft apartment due to the new puppy (Willow, now 6) that had recently joined my life. Kate, who now lives in Nashville, is the founder of Little Things Studio. She really encouraged me to start an Etsy with some collegiate drawings I had created back in college. She showed me the ropes of uline and pointed me in many directions. I will forever be grateful to her for helping me back then. It was truly destined that we were to be roommates. 

Truly, Thimblepress® started as a hobby that I never would have imagined back in 2012 would grow into what it has grown into today. I truly love what I do everyday, and feel honored that I get to create products that people use in their daily life, in life celebrations, and in thoughtful letters of written word. Thimblepress® will continue to evolve, change, create and innovate because as an artist, I feel inspired all the time by new things. The one thing I hold to that Thimblepress® will never change is wanting to make people smile through our colorful products. Our core values are near and dear to us and we display them with pride in our retail shop, on our shop bags, and in our brand stationery. These are values that will never change with Thimblepress®. They are have fun, innovate, encourage, be honest, inspire, experience &  be kind.

 

3) WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY-IN-THE-LIFE LIKE?

I will say, when you own a small business, your schedule is rarely the same day to day. Every day is different for me. I live above our studio, so my commute is pretty awesome. No traffic. ;). I always make a cup of coffee, then proceed to set it down, half-way full, and continue about my day and later forgetting where I originally set my coffee. That seems to be a running theme in my life. Some days I have meetings, but I always try to get to my email first in the day, even sometimes sitting in my bed early in the morning before I start to get up and get dressed or showered. My favorite days are the ones that we do product photography or styled shoots. I also love just getting to paint and draw. During the work day one will rarely find me painting or drawing due to all the things that need to be taken care of during business hours. I find my best painting and drawing time for me comes at night when there are no distractions. I like to put on podcasts, TV or an audible book and just paint the night away. I am an eternal night owl, so night is my creative hour. I am trying to become more of a morning person, but I am starting to think that will never happen! :)

 

4) YOU'RE KNOWN FOR YOUR BRIGHT, COLORFUL, ABSTRACT, BEAUTIFUL ART! WHAT WAS YOUR BACKGROUND PATH TO YOUR CREATIVE CAREER?

I have always created art, and very colorful art. Since I was younger than 5 years old I was creating. I love doing something with my hands. In the world we live in today, and projects that can sometimes take years to come to fruition, it is nice to be able to make something with your hands in just thirty minutes or an hour. My eyes have always been attracted to lights, color & sparkly-magic. When I was a child and the fair would come to town, my parents would have to detour around the fair just so they wouldn't have to take me every evening. If I even got a small view of the wonderful lights, I would pitch a fit and stomp my feet wanting to go to the fair. The same goes for when my parents took me to Disney World as a child. My favorite things to do were to ride "It's A Small Small World" and to watch the colorful parades. Color is so emotional and inviting. It can be tricky, but I have always loved and gravitated to art that mixes color in a way that it does truly make you feel something. When I was in junior high, I would sell my paintings at a local clothing store for spending money. I knew I wanted to major in art with an emphasis in graphic design, truly before I really understood what graphic design was. I have always been very driven, and when I put my head to something I am like a bull charging through a paper backdrop. :) Even in graphic design, I always implemented my hand drawn and painted elements into my portfolio. I also kept painting. I feel like painting is like riding a bike; Your muscle memory and brain will not let you forget, but the more you do it the better you get and you begin to find your stride. As any artist will tell you, there are periods of self-discovery and change in direction. Artist are curious people. They (we) interpret the world in a curious manner with our visual voice. Through my career, I have explored many mediums, styles, color ways, etc. I just think that is the life of a curious artist. 

 

5) BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS- ESPECIALLY A PRODUCT-BASED ONE- IS FILLED WITH CHALLENGES + IS NO EASY FEAT! WHAT HAS BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN GETTING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

God. No joke. It really is hard, but it can be done. I have done a lot of Google searching, research, praying and having a great network of people that want to help me get things done. My local community, my network of other industry friends & the prayers of my family have been the biggest factor. Also, I can't do anything without my amazing team. They are the legs and arms of Thimblepress. 

 

6) YOU'VE PARTNERED WITH SO MANY OTHER BRANDS ON SOME REALLY COOL PRODUCTS- WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO CREATING A SUCCESSFUL COLLABORATION?

Honestly, we always look to partner with people who make really great products that we admire, and companies that we find parallel values and styles in. At the end of the day, working with a company that is super nice is the biggest goal. You never want to work with people that don't hold your same values or are mean spirited! ha!

 

Just your average Tuesday morning.

Just your average Tuesday morning.

7) WHAT INSPIRES YOU? HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH CREATIVE BLOCK?

I am constantly inspired by fashion, textiles, travels I take. When it comes to a creative block, the best thing I can do is get out of my routine, do some fine art painting, get away from my computer and think about the things I really love in life. I also keep a product idea journal where I will jot down random and even very silly ideas. Sometimes those super silly ideas can lead to something quite amazing later on in life. I use my Day Dreamer a ton to jot down my day to day and then I review it months later. It is really great! 

 

8) WHAT IS/HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLE IN BUILDING THIMBLEPRESS?

Honestly, as a person that has a ton of ideas for product, it is hard not to want to do it all at once. I have to make sure the product ideas are viable in a marketplace and not just for myself. ha ha! It is also hard as a small business to sometimes fund those crazy dreams, that is why you want to make sure to have a good focus group of people that can give you sound advice throughout the process to make sure you don't go produce something that costs thousands of dollars to manufacturer and no one buys it. At the end of the day the way we make products and develop products is all derivative of a story in my life, a memory, an experience. We want to create products that inspire happiness and fun in people's lives; that add that little extra sparkly to someone's day. We want to create fun and functional products that help you elevate and celebrate your life and space! We really try to honor that when we are creating.

 

9) WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CREATIVE CAREER?

As cheesy as it sounds, there have been so many amazing highlights big and small that I cannot even count. I think meeting Mario Lopez in the set of Extra in Los Angeles when the Thimblepress products were featured last summer was pretty amazing. As an avid "Saved By The Bell" watcher, that was a childhood dream realized at 31 years old! ha! 

 

10) WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE (PROFESSIONALLY) IN 5 YEARS?

 This is an interesting question because we are only five years old, so to see what has happened in five years for Thimblepress has been truly amazing. I know what I want to do is to continue making products and celebrating all the things in life big and small. I want to keep painting and drawing. Running a business is not for the weak of heart, so eventually I would like to get to a point where I am doing less administrative work and emailing. I want to get more time for creative flow. 

 

11) WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE TO SOMEONE BEGINNING THEIR CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY?

Always ask because the worst someone can say is "no!," but what if they say "yes?!" Always chase your dreams and passions that you believe in. Don't let the world or an industry define who you have to be, be yourself and go after the unknown. The unknown is what will help you stand out and help forge your voice! Rely on faith - lift your burdens up knowing that there are some things you just cannot control in this world, and that is ok. Celebrate the little wins and celebrate the no's. The no's only lead you closer to more YESSS!

 

12) TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOU FEW PEOPLE KNOW! :)

HUMMM… let me see. I love doing makeup. Seriously, love it. I don't wear it all the time, but It is like another art form to me. I think it is so fun! I also think I am pretty good at it, but let's get real… I don't get out on the town much, so that may just be in my head! 

 

Thanks so much to Kristen!!

You can find more of Kristen, her gorgeous art, and Thimblepress, here:

Something Sweet, Something Sparkly // Wallpaper Download

I'm just gonna own it. Once January hits, I'm dreaming of Valentine's Day. I know, you're supposed to be too cool for Hallmark Holidays, but anything that centers around hearts + candy + pink... is made for me! So I couldn't help but start the V-Day dreaming a little early, with some sweet + sparkly photo downloads. Who knows, I might even get wild and do another round for February...! ;) Enjoy!

xx Natasha

Hott Stuff.

Hott Stuff.

Eyes On The Prize.

Eyes On The Prize.

How To Be A Spray-Paint Connoisseur

Spray Paint. It has so much promise, but who amongst us hasn't started with that smooth, shiny can in their hands, and ended with it dripping and clumping all over their hands and the nozzle? Forget about the item you even set out to paint!! 

I started experimenting with spray paint a year or so ago, as a way to quickly change the color of an object for a project or photo. After many (MANY) failed attempts, I picked up a couple tips and tricks and I'm excited to share them with you!

Violet Tinder Studios

Besides the paint can, here are a few other useful things to have:

  • Drop cloth or tarp (paperbags/newspaper will work, but a drop cloth is leak-proof and reusable. You can get them inexpensively at Home Depot or Amazon)
  • Painter's tape (useful if you're painting an object multiple colors)
  • Clear MATTE spray paint (to finish off your color)

1. Start by laying your item on the drop cloth. Ideally, place so that the most amount of sprayable space on the item is face-up. (In this case, the bottle below is upright, rather than on it's side.) To give it the smoothest finish possible, wipe it down for dust, grime, or moisture. You want it as smooth and dry as you can! If you'll be painting the item multiple colors, tape it off for the section you want painted, making sure to press the tape securely so there's no color leakage.

My Technicolor Dropcloth

My Technicolor Dropcloth

Violet Tinder Studios

2. This is important! (And something I still struggle to remember every time, ha.) SHAKE THE CAN VIGOROUSLY 2-3 TIMES, until you hear the ball clicking inside. This mixes the color up so it all comes out evenly and helps keep the texture consistent.

3. Then, STEP BACK AT LEAST 5-6 INCHES FROM THE ITEM- any closer, and the color will go on too thickly, creating drips. Move your hand quickly in and up-and down, left-to-right (or vice versa) motion, so that the item gets a light, smooth coat. Don't worry about it covering everything. Ideally, it should be light enough to visibly need another coat. If it's any thicker, it will likely drip + smudge. (You can see in the photos below that after one coat, it still needs more paint- this is the point you want to set it aside to dry for at least 10 minutes.)

Violet Tinder Studios
Violet Tinder Studios

4. After letting the initial coat dry for 10-20 minutes, repeat step three with another coat. I usually find two steady even coats is enough for most items, but some might need a third. In that case, set the item aside to let the second coat dry before adding the third.

5. When you've finished with the color, let the whole thing dry for at least 30 minutes. Ideally, it would be left alone for an hour or more, but if you need it faster, you can test it's dryness by lightly touching the edge.

6. Most colors, even when mostly dry, will still be prone to smudges when you pick them up. This is where the clear matte coat comes in! Think of it like a quick-dry top coat for your nails. Spray it on the same quick, even, top-to-bottom fashion, making sure to stay back at least 6 inches. There's nothing worse than spraying on perfect color, only to mess it up with the clear coat. (Ok maybe a few things... but, still.)

7. Once you're done with all of the painting, let the item sit in a well-ventilated area for another 30 min-2 hours. Patience is key!!! When it's fully dry, you'll be able to manhandle it, but grab it too soon and it will smudge. 

8. Once it's dry... admire your handiwork and then go spray paint ALL OF THE THINGS!!! 

Violet Tinder Studios

Was this helpful? I'd love to see what you create!! Tag me in your photos on social media- @violettinder, and leave your comments below!

xx Natasha

Take Me Away // Wallpaper Download

Ahhh, December. The air is chillier. The lights are brighter. The cookies are more plentiful. And also AGHHH December! So much to do before the year is over!! (And don't get me started on working through that Christmas Gift List...!) So naturally, it's also the time of year I most fantasize about vacation. Hawaii sounds nice, don't you think? ;)

Here's a couple new phone wallpapers to help keep you zen this month. Cheers to the best season of the year!

xx Natasha

Blue Hawaiian

Blue Hawaiian

Hey Girl.

Hey Girl.

My Top Styling Essentials

Every job has it's "tools of the trade", and photo-styling is no different! As my business and skill set has grown over the past couple of years, I find I'm constantly learning + refining little tricks to make life just a little easier. Some of these are pretty common, and others are just my little quirks- but either way, I hope you find them helpful. I'd love to hear what you find useful- leave me your thoughts in the comments below! :)

1. Wide Plastic Tote- Because I'm constantly toting around piles of random objects to shoot (outside to chase the sun, back inside under the lights, out in the garage to put things in storage), making trips with only what I can carry in my hands is a giant waste of time. Likewise, while a backpack would work, I want something with super easy access. Basically, an open box with handles. Once I discovered these plastic totes by SunJellies (bonus: they're really cute and double as a beach bag), I haven't looked back.

2. Painter's Tape- I used to be a huge fan of Zots (little adhesive dots) to anchor items in place when I was shooting, but after finding they WEREN'T removable one too many times (I still have props with permanent gobs of dirty, sticky gunk on them), I decided to try a little rolled up piece of painter's tape instead- and found that 99% of the time, it works just as well AND is always removable.

3. Popsicle Sticks- Ok, bear with me here... You know when you want to shoot a flatlay of something cylindrical, like a mug or a wine bottle, and it just keeps rolling away from center? Tape only works so well because usually, if the item has any weight, it will just rip right off. And yeah, maybe duct tape would work but usually I'm trying to preserve the life of my backdrops, so duct tape isn't the best choice. Enter: popsicle sticks! Wedge one right underneath the item on the side it wants to roll towards (or one on each side to make it really secure) and problem solved. They don't show up in the photo (unless it's a totally clear object), are reusable, and really cheap. Random, I know, but I've used them SO many times, I felt I had to share!

4. Ziplocs- In every. single. size. Seriously! People frequently ask how I keep certain things organized and really, most of my props are stored in clear ziplocs, labeled, and then stored in larger clear bins. It makes it super easy to find what I'm looking for, keeps it airtight (ideal for candy or food items), and helps minimize the space it occupies. Win/Win/Win.

5. A Journal/Notebook/Notes App- so I can write down my feelings. JK! No really, I am constantly scribbling down notes for photo concepts, prop ideas, color combos... everything! I think a common question for a lot of creative people is "Where do you get your ideas?" For myself, they seem to come in waves- sometimes there are so many, I could burst, and other times it feels like every good idea I could ever have is done and used up and gone. Work demands however, can't sit around and wait until you feel inspired again! It may seem like an obvious suggestion, but ever since I started making it a point to write down every single idea (even a little half-idea) I had, I've felt less stress with the creative flow. I think of it like cash-flow: taking a little time to plan ahead, write down ideas when there are surplus ones, helps give me something to reach towards when I'm feeling tight with them later.

Tell me! What are some of your creative ESSENTIALS? I'd love to hear!!

xx Natasha

How To Get Creative With {Still Life} Photography

I'm of the belief that creativity is what happens in the process- you start with a spark, and then take the first step to just start doing, and the really unique, interesting, creative stuff starts to flow from there. So I'm always endlessly fascinated by other creatives and their processes. How do they come up with their ideas? What kinds of things tend to spark their creativity? What do they consider essential to their process?

One of my favorite still-life photographers and creative friends, is Connie Hoole (@MissConnieHoole). She has such an eye for bold, bright colors and absolutely no fear of unusual props. I first met Connie over a year ago and while she was just starting to share her work on social media, I was immediately drawn to her aesthetic. Since then, she's expanded her portfolio with work for clients like Sugarfina, Feel Beauty, and Living Royal.

I tapped her to share some of her tips for exploring and discovering your own still-life style, how she got her start, and what she considers still-life photography essentials! Read on for the scoop...

xx Natasha


Banana Gradient // p/c Connie Hoole

Banana Gradient // p/c Connie Hoole

Almost everything that I’ve learned about still life photography I can credit to my curious nature to the sun, my subjects, and a very large collection of cheap coloured poster paper.

And almost every photograph that I’ve edited I can credit to my basic ability to shoot manual with an old hand-me-down Canon DSLR, my home access to professional lighting equipment, (thanks mum and dad!) and an intermediate knowledge of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

However, all of this will always come second to the simple joy of using my creative mind in a way that allows me to play with my subjects sometimes (okay, almost always) beyond their intended use. After all, that’s exactly how my obsession for still life photography started. 

Here are my tips for starting out and tackling the creative and colourful world of still life:

DISCOVER YOUR STILL LIFE PHOTO STYLE

  • Figuring out who you are as a creative (photographer) is a journey and process of trial and error, but most importantly, a progress.
  • See what’s out there: I use Pinterest to get inspired and generate photography and styling ideas within my skill set. 
  • Know what you like: experiment by trying to recreate aspects of a photograph you admire (with your own twist) until you are comfortable and confident to challenge yourself further.
  • Use the items around you and or within easy and relatively inexpensive reach as your subjects. The grocery store, dollar store, and craft store are all great places to start for creating a mini set and prop collection. 
  • Using food (especially processed food) as a prop is by far one of the most versatile mediums to explore your creative side because it is both extremely malleable and photogenic. Not to mention nostalgic!
  • Add sunlight (also known as hard light) and shoot. This will allow you to understand how shadows change based on the object’s shape, height, and length.
  • Having access to tools like Adobe Lr and Ps are real game changers for taking your work to the next level because you can play beyond the initial capture and easily flood your background with pure digital colour to make your subject really pop. (If you don’t have access to Adobe programs, enlisting the help of an iPhone app {like Snapseed, Afterlight, acolorstory or VSCO} can help enhance your work beyond camera. In moderation of course! A word of advice: leave the filters to Snapchat.)
1989 // p/c Connie Hoole

1989 // p/c Connie Hoole

COLLECT, STUDY (AND FOLLOW) YOUR SECRET CREATIVE CRUSHES

  • Starting out, one of the most important things you can do is your homework. This means broadening your creative horizons to see whom the movers and shakers in the industry are. (Prepare to be fascinated and over-inspired by my personal favorites below.)
  • Build a list of photographers, designers, artists and creatives that inspire you.
  • Explore the work of those whom you admire beyond their IG feed. Read an article or two, scope their online portfolio or website and get to know how they work. (I know it sounds a little crazy but study their craft and photography like an I Spy book!) 
  • Dissect your favorite image: find their light source, look for clues that will allow you to hypothesize on how they might have taken, styled, or contributed to the shot. (Rarely is one person solely responsible for a finished photograph when it comes to the images we see in glossy magazines. They had help from an entire team.)
  • Ask yourself questions: Have you ever entertained the idea that a final image is the result of multiples pieced together? Or that a pattern is the result of one subject arranged in a repetitive order? Concentrate on the highlights and shadows, texture, shape and angles. (I especially like to look at the highlights in reflective objects (like a Christmas ornament) because many times you will see a light box or a face hiding behind a huge camera, and it makes me chuckle. It’s like a secret glimpse into their creative workspace. When a highlight is perfect, you know the photographer is a master at his/her craft.)
  • Some of my favorite creators that helped me discover (and hone) my style are Stephanie Gonot, Adi Goodrich, Justin Fantl, Molly Cranna, Travis Rathbone, Axel Oswith, Adam Voorhes and Robin Finlay. I could go on forever!
Sausage Fest // p/c Connie Hoole

Sausage Fest // p/c Connie Hoole

STARTING OUT / IN THE STUDIO --- DEVELOPING YOUR ARSENAL

Gather your resources. They should be a combination of things you own versus utensils you are willing to make small (and sometimes large) investments in to help you along the way. If you’re me and have little to no self-control, you will want to be making investments all the time. The key is to differentiate between your WANTS and NEEDS. Impulse buys are deadly, people!

CORE NEEDS (What I use routinely when creating new work):

  • A camera + computer to edit (preferably DSLR, but in a pinch, an iPhone will do) 
  • 1-2 sheets white foam core (a stable platform for your backgrounds)
  • A variety of large coloured poster paper
  • Solid coloured wrapping paper rolls, matte
  • Weights (for your paper because: wind)- I reused old balloon weights
  • Blue school tack (when subjects won’t stay)
  • Good old fashioned sunshine, diffused light (hello, clouds!) or electric (stay away from tungsten lamps if experimenting indoors)
  • A variety of interesting subjects/ props 

And what I use when it’s time to go studio-bound because: Raincouver

  • Mini travel tripod
  • Collapsible reflector / silk (a round semi-fabric contraption that is one part tinfoil shiny, one part semi-opaque white lycra)
  • Extra large white poster board to bounce light (in low light situations- also the oldest trick in the book!)
  • An 18% gray card for white balance (only useful for fixing white balance in editing using Lightroom- I hardly ever do this but can drastically help neutralize a ‘warm’ image)
  • Cellophane roll (if you decide to get messy for an easy clean up)
  • Storage containers (for your goodies)
  • Spray paint + painters tape
  • Dollar store knickknacks  (that’s a fun word) 
Recor Meal // p/c Connie Hoole

Recor Meal // p/c Connie Hoole

SERIOUS INVESTMENT PIECES (The major components to my mini home studio):

  • Monolight kit (also known as flash, or strobes, $$$$). I personally invested in professional equipment because of previous work experience / training and found it next to impossible to photograph using natural light in a climate that is primarily rainy and grey Fall – Spring.
  • Light modifiers: soft boxes (for diffused shadows and soft light)
  • Reflector + honeycomb grid (for hard, directional shadows)
  • Adobe CC photography package: Lightroom + Photoshop
  • Boom + anchor weight (allows for light to be securely placed above the subject(s)

FUTURE INVESTMENT PIECES (What I’m planning ahead for in the future for my freelance career path):

  • Full-frame Canon DSLR + lenses (I’d love to own a macro lens!)
  • Backdrop kit + photographic coloured paper rolls, for portrait potential
  • Still life shooting table
  • Photography gels, to change light colour
  • Snoot (A plastic funnel that attaches to a monolight to produce a concentrated hard shadow otherwise known as a spotlight)

Thank you Connie, for this impressive and detailed list!

To see more of Connie's work, you can find her here: