Freelance Friday Interview with Adria Olender

Another Freelance Friday is here! I enjoy writing these posts and I hope you are finding them helpful, inspirational and fun to read. 

Today’s interview is with my friend and fellow ex pat of Old Navy, Adria Olender. She is a brilliant graphic designer, working mom, and a real sweetie to boot. Adria switchedcareer directions not once, but twice! She has worked hard to design a life of balance that she loves so that she can continue to do her art and spend more time with her adorable family.  Check out that cute portrait photo! Amirite?  Read on to see what Adria has to say about getting clients to pay on time, overcoming anxiety and dealing with corporate angst a la Peter from Office Space. Oh, and, you might want to learn her secret superpower. It’s a goodie! 

DG: HI ADRIA! CAN YOU START BY TELLING US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW? 

AO: Sure. I think I’ll share a bit about my long and twisted journey, as perhaps some people will find it inspiring. I actually switched careers at age 30. Prior to that I was an HR Manager at a craft beer company (long story…) I went go back to school on nights and weekends and got my degree in Graphic Design. I was living in the heart of the “Silicon Valley” so my first design jobs were in the tech industry. A few years later with some design experience under my belt, feeling burnt out on the Silicon Valley, and looking for adventure, a friend and I decided to move to New York City. (Ah, to be young and brave and naive!) Within 2 weeks I landed a job at Cole Haan, my first job in the retail/fashion industry! At the time, Cole Haan had just been bought by Nike. The Creative Director was Gordon Thompson, who was essentially the mastermind behind NikeTown that turned the act of shopping into an entirely new retail and brand “experience.” Needless to say, working at Cole Haan with such amazing creative leadership was a great experience and helped to shape me as a designer. After 4 years, I decided to move back home, primarily with the desire to meet someone and start a family. And lo and behold, my plan worked, within 6 months I met my future husband and landed a job at Gap, Inc. After 3 years I moved over to Old Navy where I worked for over 5 years in in-store marketing. Working at Old Navy was fun and exciting, as the brand was completely different from Cole Haan or the Gap. It challenged me in so many ways and I am truly grateful for that experience. After a while though, the daily grind of working for such a large, public (read numbers-driven) brand started to wear on me. I found myself stuck in meetings most of the day, uninspired, stressed, and worst of all the job was wearing at my confidence. Not to mention that by now I was a mother and looking for more balance in my life. So, after a lot of thought (I think it took me about 2 years!) I finally took the leap and quit my job. At that time, I had no ideal what I would do next. All I knew was that I needed more time, balance and flexibility in my life, which for me that meant working less and having more control over my schedule. I think we are really lucky to be living in a time where working remotely and having a flexible schedule is a viable option for many people like us who are seeking a different path. 

DG: ADRIA, YOU HAVE MADE SOME BRAVE AND WONDERFUL LEAPS! BRAVA. AND I CAN TOTALLY RELATE TO YOUR CRAVING A MORE INSPIRING, FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE. WHICH BRINGS ME TO MY NEXT QUESTION: YOU ARE THE FIRST MOM THAT I HAVE INTERVIEWED FOR THIS SERIES! AND I LOVE YOU BECAUSE YOU’VE CHOSEN TO ADOPT A FLEXIBLE WORK SCHEDULE THAT KEEPS YOU ON THE CLOCK 25-30 HOURS AS OPPOSED TO THE DAILY 9-5 GRIND. HOW HAS FREELANCING CHANGED YOUR LIFE AT HOME?

AO: Absolutely! Working from home and having a flexible schedule is huge! Having a baby and working at a full-time job was very stressful. Even though I knew I still wanted to work, I did feel guilty that I wasn’t home with my son more. I was also very stressed with the job and the commute. My schedule was so tight, getting ready for work, getting my son ready for the day, commuting, making dinner, etc. I was just running myself ragged. I also worried about taking time off work, that I would fall behind, or that my boss or co-workers may not think I was pulling my weight at work. Bottom line is I was full of guilt, stressed and my life felt very out of balance. Now, as a freelancer, I feel so much calmer and in control. When I was working 9-5, I didn’t feel like I had control of my schedule, now I do. Being less stressed allows me to be a better, more patient mother. And now that my son is in Kindergarten, I can easily take a couple hours out of my day to volunteer in his classroom, go see a music performance, or take him to swim class. I also love that I now have more time to put nutritious meals on the table. And I also I have time for myself, be it to just relax, get a pedi, or work on a project. Everything in my life is just more relaxed and balanced. 

DG: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER WORKING MOMS IN THE FREELANCE WORLD?

AO: I think the biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to define your terms and to take care of your needs. I find that I am so much calmer, in control and productive as a contractor. I’m not bogged down with meetings and interruptions, and am able to produce at a full-time level. For me working 25-30 hours a week helps me stay in balance and have time for my family and for myself. I do have to be very organized and set a schedule for myself to get it all in though. And, although I do occasionally work late or over the weekend…that’s part of having a flexible schedule…for the most part I try to stay on schedule and put my work aside at the end of the day so I can focus on my family. 

DG: SINCE YOU ARE SO BUSY MULTI-TASKING DURING THE DAY, DO YOU HAVE AN ALLOTTED SPACE FOR “WORKING” AT HOME THAT ALLOWS YOU TO AVOID DISTRACTIONS?:

AO: I do. And let me tell you, I really bunker down in my office. I close the doors, turn the little heater under my desk, put on some tunes and off I go. I have a few quotes that inspire me and my “Create” stone, and lots of photos of my husband and son that make me happy. I do think having a separate work area is important, as it helps me focus while at home. 

Adria's workspace

DG: WITH FREELANCING, WE ARE OFTEN ASKED TO BE GLOBAL IN SEVERAL DISCIPLINES. HAVE YOU FOUND THAT FREELANCING HAS REQUIRED YOU TO BECOME INTERESTED IN AREAS YOU WOULDN’T HAVE CARED ABOUT BEFORE? MY PERSONAL MOTTO IS TO JUST SAY “YES” AND FIGURE IT OUT LATER BECAUSE I KNOW I CAN DO ANYTHING IF I PUT MY MIND TO IT! 

AO: Oh yes, in particular I feel like my clients do not understand the importance of a copywriter! So sometimes I find myself writing the copy or using the copy they provide and feeling frustrated because I know it could be so much better! To help counter that, I am gathering my own resources for copy, so now I can provide that resource to the client. 

DG: I KNOW! I LIKE TO WRITE, SO I OFTEN WRITE IN MY OWN FPO COPY AS WELL AND SOMETIMES IS MAKES THE FINAL CUT! HOW ELSE DO YOU ADDRESS FILLING IN THOSE CROSS FUNCTIONAL GAPS?

AO: As a contractor I often find I need to “manage up” and really operate as a project manager. I find myself defining the priorities, setting and managing schedules, defining the process, gathering resources, etc. And like you, I have adopted the motto to just say “yes,” especially to those project that feel a bit scary for me. I think of it as on-the-job training! One of my inspirational quotes is “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I love this quote because it makes me think about the times when I would get overwhelmed or worry that I couldn’t do something. Then, I would figure it out, and that always reminds me that I can do almost anything I set my mind too! I’d say that is one of the best things about being a freelancer is having those opportunities to learn and grow, and each time I successfully do something that I’ve never done before, I get more and more confident.

Indeed!

DG: ATTA GIRL! HOW WOULD YOU FARM SOMETHING OUT FOR AN ASSIGNMENT WITH SKILL REQUIREMENTS YOU DON’T POSSESS? 

AO: I’m just starting to cross that bridge now. I am realizing that sometimes clients do not understand the process or their needs and that it’s my job to help and educate them. And if I can make their lives easier by finding someone to fill the job myself that’s even better. 

DG: ADRIA, WE TALKED ABOUT THIS BRIEFLY LAST WEEK. HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH CLIENTS THAT ARE SLOW IN PAYING? I MEAN, WE’RE THE LITTLE GUYS. WHAT DO YOU DO IF A PAYMENT IS REALLY PAST DUE?

AO: I am still figuring this one out and so far my clients have been good at paying me, but sometimes it does come a little late. Some things that I do to help are always have a contract, always submit my invoices on time and ask for payment upon receipt. I do have a 21 day period, and I’m not afraid to bug the client when the due date is approaching. I send polite reminders or inquiries to my client. I’ll also reach out to the accounts payable department to check on the status. So basically, my “strategy” is to hound them (nicely) until they pay. ;* )

DG: GETTING PAID IS SOMETHING EVERY FREELANCER HAS TO DEAL WITH, SO WE APPRECIATE YOUR ADVICE ON THAT TOPIC.  ON THAT NOTE, DO YOU MANAGE YOUR OWN ACCOUNTING? IF SO, HOW CHALLENGING IS THAT?

AO: For now I do. This will be my first year where I’m officially a sole proprietor, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m thinking that I may need an accountant or at the very least a business expense tracking software. Let me know if you have a good recommendation for that!

DG: ANXIETY!! WE ALL HAVE IT. I KNOW THAT WORKING FULL TIME FOR A FORTUNE 500 RETAIL CO. HAD SOME STRESSORS FOR SURE. IN YOUR NEW LIFE, DO YOU EVER FEEL ANXIOUS ABOUT WORK? 

AO: Oh yes. I’m especially anxious when I first start a new contract and work on that first project. I want to make a good impression and fulfill my clients needs/expectations. Did I hit the mark? Do they like me? Do they like my work? I worry about all of that. Over time as the relationship builds this anxiety goes away. But then a new anxiety appears, the anxiety of being let go unexpectedly. I’d hope to have advance notice, but realize that I may not get that. To help manage this anxiety, I do try to tuck away a chunk of money for a rainy day. So, I make the choice…instead of buying that new pair of shoes, I put some money away. Which actually brings me to a tangent topic about how much time and money I save not having to commute, buy lunches, or buy new clothes for the office. But, I’d say that at the end of the day, the stress I feel as a contractor is much more manageable than the stress I felt as a full-time employee. I guess because I know I’m in control, whatever happens.

Adria is killin' it with her awesome logo and in-store designs for Bevmo!

DG: THANKS FOR BEING SO HONEST. I DONT THINK THERE IS A FREELANCER OUT THERE WHO DOESN'T FEEL THE SAME WAY. 

DG: SO, HOW DO YOU RELAX? AND CAN YOU FIND TIME TO BALANCE YOUR HOBBIES WITH YOUR BUSINESS?  

AO: I find that my days are pretty full with work, taking care of my son, and managing the household. When I’m not doing those things I’m usually trying to get some exercise in or visit with friends. For exercise I like to walk and hike. To calm my mind I like yoga and Zentangles. Zentangles is basically doodling for relaxation and inspiration. I am also getting into cooking and eating healthy. We have an organic vegetable box delivered every week, so I am having fun discovering new vegetables and figuring out creative and delicious ways to cook them. My favorite these days is roasted curry romanesco cauliflower, yum!

Adria's Doodles

DG: YAY! I LOVE YOUR DOODLES. SELF CARE IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO "WORK FOR THEMSELVES."

DG: DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE REINVENTING THEIR CAREER MID STREAM?

AO: As the saying goes…feel the fear and do it anyway! It took me about 2 years to leave my corporate job because I was worried that I wouldn’t find a better job, or that no one would ever hire me. (It’s crazy what those demons in your head will make you think!) Now that I’ve made the leap and look back on it I wonder what took me so long. And not just me, I know so many people who have made the leap to follow their dreams and they are all happy and successful. You, Dawn, are a perfect example. It’s been so great to see you grow and really “bloom” as you pursue your passions. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You can define the terms of how you work and what you do…within reason of course. Have you seen “Office Space?” It’s like that scene where the lead character tells the business consultants off, and their reaction is admiration for being so frank and he gets a promotion! 

DG: HA HA. LOVE IT. HERE'S THE FAMOUS SCENE FOR THOSE OF US WHO NEED A REMINDER:

 

DG: AND, LASTLY: WHAT IS YOUR SECRET SUPERPOWER?

AO: Hummm, I think my secret super power is faking it until I make it. When I am asked to do something that I’ve never done, I put a confident smile and say of course I can do that! And then, my “make it work” superpower kicks in and I do it! 

Those, my friends, are words to live by.

 

Check out Adria's amazing work here:

http://adria-olender-bvut.squarespace.com

and learn more about her here and here:

https://www.pinterest.com/adriao/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/adria-olender-1bb17b2

8 Solid gold nuggets of advice I have received as an artist

I’ve been actively pursuing an illustration career for two years after a 15 year stint in corporate America. How am I doing? I’ve never been so busy or felt so creative in my entire life! In fact, I'm managing so many different creative projects at the moment, that I forgot to eat lunch yesterday.  What? That’s huge. I have never forgotten to eat in my life. As I reflect on the past two years, it occurs to me that there are some shiny golden nuggets of advice that have consistently helped me in my new career. I practice them all the time, and they have all led to great things for me. Maybe they will help you too?

Here are my 8 solid gold nuggets of advice I have received as an artist:

1. Create/Sell Your Joy: I have loved drawing all my life. One of my first memories of how art saved me happened when I was 5 years old. I won 100 dollars in a drawing contest sponsored by Zales Jewelers, my Dad's employer in the 70's. I’ll never forget it. We were so poor at the time, my parents started crying with joy when they read the award letter that I received in the mail. Wow. We really needed that money. I guess Zales didn't pay all that well. Ha-Ha. Here is the award winning masterpiece. The judges must not have been very discriminating as I drew my dad with only three fingers on his left hand. But, check out those groovy duds.

In high school, my advanced art history and studio classes created an escape for me in the midst of a tumultuous home life.  In college, I got my BFA in illustration and then, naturally, promptly took a job in retail upon graduation.  To my credit, I did spontaneously move to San Fransico, the most creative town I’d ever been. And eventually, through "on the job" training, I carved out a career for myself in the visual merchandising/marketing world. 

Old Navy Chevy

Old Navy Showroom

While I had a creative role at Old Navy for a very long time, as often happens, I faced major burn out in my final year there. Retail moves at the speed of light, and if you "can't hurry up and be creatively brilliant," it's going to be a struggle! Before leaving my design gig at GAP, Inc. in 2013, one of my last ditch efforts to recapture the excitement that brought me to marketing in the first place was to start sketching every day. Instead of working on the computer, I drew by hand.  At home, I sketched my greatest joy, my precious English Bulldog Cookie.

To my surprise,  I ignited a spark that I knew I needed to hold on to and fuel. I attribute this nugget, "Create your joy" to one of my favorite ladies on the illustration/educators circuit, renown artist and agent Lilla Rogers. One of the questions Lilla addresses in her book, I Just like to Make Things, is: "Why should you create your joy?" The answer is "Because people WILL BUY IT." I believe that. Last year I started a side business drawing and embroidering custom pet portraits that has been quite popular and just the most fun, rewarding and meditative art practice in my repertoire. Because DOGS = JOY. At least for me they do.

2. Create Art Everyday: Creating my joy is how I began the practice of creating art everyday. Drawing just makes me so damn happy. Sometimes at night, color combinations swirl in my head and keep me up thinking about all the great stuff I want to draw. Sometimes I can hardly wait for the morning so I can put that pen to paper. I haven't had a passion like that in a long time. And, maybe it's because I always have art on the brain, but I noticed a funny thing happening: I began to hear this mantra everywhere from successful artists and coaches alike. Sometimes in the form of "Put your art first" or, "Make time for your art",or "Create a daily studio practice that you love."  It's so powerful to make that studio time work for you. It will also make you a more well rounded and skilled artist. Clearly my studio practice involves wine.

3. Use Cheap Paper: This simple piece of advice that I use every day, again, comes from Lilla Rogers. She encourages us to just be crazy and free and uninhibited and messy. Use up that paper. Because ideas will flow and things will happen. It’s true. If you are a perfectionist like me, you want to get everything perfect with no mistakes. That first page in your new sketch book is precious and will set the precedent for all musings to come. BAH!! I say tear it out and scribble on it!

Here is a snapshot of my first ever sketches from my Lilla Rogers 2014 MATS BOOTCAMP class. I used bond paper and nice markers. I cut out the mistakes and glued the "good" sketches to a board. 

I'm surprised I didn't frame this for display! Here are the sketches I did outside yesterday with some old brushes, some scrap paper, and cheap watercolors.

They are now in a pile on my studio table. I will scan them and use them in my new series of abstract patterns. I like both sets of doodles the same, but I definitely had more fun with the loose brush technique. I recently created my best work from loose sketches like these.

Here is the very first pattern I created from those super stylized precious drawings from 2014.

I know more now.

4. Talk, Talk, Talk: Well, this one is a doozy. It’s very hard for artists to talk about our own work. For me, I don't want to inundate people with my world or seem boastful. But, I think there is a right way to "spread the word," and this is tied to the concept of creating/selling your joy. Simply share your excitement! Lisa Congdon talks about this in many of her classes and her essential guidebook for artists, Art, Inc. It's good advice that I think about almost everyday. And it works. When I started creating art again after two decades, I was so jazzed about what I was doing that I began sharing photos of my work with friends and family on social media. I wasn't trying  “sell” anything or direct people to my portfolio because I didn't have one yet!  I just posted things like, ‘HEY GUYS, LOOK WHAT I DID TODAY! I’M SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS (diorama, collage, painting, bulldog shaped cupcake).” 

Excitement and joy is contagious. I’m interested in what makes artists tick, or inspired! Why wouldn't people feel the same way about me? PS. Thank you to all my friends and family who have supported me and my work over the past two years. I’m glad you all love dogs as much as I do.

5. Network /help others: I've heard this advice from so many artists, and coaches. It's hard to credit it to any one person. I used to hate networking. But it's not that awful or hard! You don't even have to leave your couch now with the internet. I began joining virtual art groups everywhere! Linked in, Facebook, and Instagram. What I learned is that there is a lot of crossover in the community.  Not only did I learn about new opportunities like classes, and competitions, but I made new like-minded friends. My brave move of "joining the party" opened up several doors of opportunity for me. Here is an example: Because I had been a fan of the blog at PatternObserver.com (of which I learned from a fellow designer in the Make it In Design summer school class user group on Facebook), I subscribed to their newsletters. When there was a call for entries on new designers, I contacted them. And then, when I was featured in Pattern Observer, an old college friend of mine who also subscribes to their blog recognized my name and we began talking again over email.

social

Guess what? He’s contracted me to design a series of typographic t-shirt designs for the very cool company he works for. Super thankful to the universe for that one, and also proud of myself for putting myself out there.

Conversely, I recently received an email through my website from a very nice young woman who wanted advice on how to get into editorial illustration. I really thought about her question a lot, and I hope my email response helped her. Kindness is not hard. And it always comes back around. 

6.  Never stop learning. Continue to evolve your talents: I credit this nugget to Lisa Congdon, a fabulous artist, educator, speaker and fellow dog lover. She’s a real nice lady too.  In her classes she talks about how there is always more to learn, and how we are always developing as artist. Even the most experienced artists continue to take classes to evolve their talents! Lisa has inspired me to take classes whenever I can. In all sorts of mediums. Two of the most memorable classes I took this year had nothing to do with drawing: a pom-pom making class that my friend and I attended as a fun afternoon social gathering, and a FREE watercolor class taught by the famous John Muir Laws…..I don't think I have made pom-poms since I was in 3rd grade, and I surely haven't watercolored for decades!  Both were a lot of fun and I enjoyed my self so much, that…guess, what? Through the beauty of "spreading the word" on Facebook, a  design teacher friend from the Gap days suggested that I try my hand at teaching at the Richmond Art Center. Huh. Never thought of that. This October I will be teaching a pom-pom making workshop at Richmond Art Center for our community's annual Day of the Dead celebration: Skeletonfest. B00-yah!

My name is spelled wrong, but still! I'm so excited for this event. This winter, I will be teaching some studio classes at the Center as well! Who knew!?!

7. Buy this book: The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines

This one is so easy. I credit this piece to multiple people as well, but it's my sister who convinced me to bite the bullet and purchase this book as an investment in myself. You must own this if you are a working artist. Because artists must diversify their skills in order to make an income, this is the bible for us. Since 2013, I have earned a (small) income doing everything from story boards, to logo design, to licensing, apparel design and production work. I now know how to write comprehensive contracts, and price my work for what it is worth. The handbook recently saved me from setting a really bad precedent in a tempting offer from a well known media entity. PURE GOLD I tell you!!!!

8. You are ready now: Why wait until you are skinnier, richer, more experienced, (insert adjective here).  Eff that. Do it now . If nothing else, you will get practice and, as I alluded to before, practice makes perfect. This summer, following this tidbit of advice from many people (including life coaches, artists and the POTUS),  I decided to reach out to agents. I was nervous — I wasn't quite sure I had my style down, and I had no published work. But, what I did have was a decent portfolio and a white knuckle fear of remaining in the research phase forever. In the end, after receiving numerous rejection letters, I met the right agent at the right time and now have representation and a big boost to my confidence.

I will persevere!  SIDE NOTE: rejection never gets easier.

So there you have it. Take it if you need it. None of these nuggets have brought me a fat wallet or fame. Only hard labor will do that and I am still very much working overtime. But, I feel richer for having remembered these bits and I wanted to share the wealth with you. Have a great weekend, you guys!