I’m so happy to have Kelly Ann from Spirit & Haven on the blog today! I’ve been following Kelly for so long and love that she also freelances full-time. When I first started freelancing I emailed Kelly Ann and she offered some of the best advice and tips for me as I was just starting on my journey. She really just wants to help and you can see that in everything that she does. It’s been amazing to watch her and her business grow and if you don’t follow her already, do it, she’s a constant source of inspiration and girl power. Read more about her below:
Tell us a little about yourself:
I’m Kelly Ann, a designer and creative director from Southern California. I run a design studio and blog, Spirit & Haven, and I get to work with rad and enthusiastic women, building their brands, businesses, empires, etc. I like coffee, New York City, my dog Stella, and inappropriate jokes. I’m a very short and very sassy redhead. Nice to meet you.
Describe your path to becoming a designer:
I actually have my degree in film production and wanted to be a film director and actor, but it was during some really dark experiences in Hollywood, that I turned to design and made it a career. I’ve been interested in design since I was in middle school, back in the day when I learned to edit the themes of my Xanga and LiveJournal sites (those were the days), and made cool graphics for my friends using Microsoft Paint. Over the years, I read every tutorial and design book I could get my hands on, I traded in Paint for Photoshop and Illustrator, and practiced my newfound skills into the wee hours of the night. In college, I was a Publicity Director for the associated student body (I created promo materials for campus events, elections, and activities), and did small design jobs on the side for extra cash.
While I didn’t have a degree in graphic design, when I started getting really serious about it during my lost-and-confused days after graduation, I had been self-teaching for almost a decade. During a time when a lot of things didn’t make sense in my little world, design was the one thing that did. Four years later, I run my own design studio! It was a path with lots of twists and turns, and while being a part of the film world is still a dream (I don’t think that ever goes away), this is where I’m meant to be right now. Design has opened up a creative side of myself that is really exciting, and I want to see where it takes me.
What’s a typical workday like for you?
It depends – I’m pretty spontaneous and usually have to switch things up often, or I get restless. However! Something I am doing every day is giving myself time in the morning to ease into work. Mornings are hard for some people (me), and I find that if I check my email first thing or immediately jump into my to-do list, it really throws me off and I end up hitting a wall very fast. I used to think in order to be a good freelancer, I had to be up with the sun at full speed. But the truth is, we’re all different, and not everyone has to get up at 5am in order to be successful. I’m really learning to listen to myself and do what feels best for me, and I think taking care of myself helps me take care of my clients better. So I take things slower in the early morning – coffee, dog walks, inspiration time, listening to vinyl records, eating breakfast away from the computer, and then I dive into work full force – my days are actually much more productive this way, and brain fog doesn’t seem to happen as frequently. I usually use the Pomodoro technique – work for a small chunk of time with no distractions, take a break, work, take a break – and that has been really good for me. (I use this timer app) Evenings are spent with friends, family, and food. I like to get outside as much as possible because I’m stuck behind a computer so often – I spend a lot of time at the beach. I don’t always have set working hours, because life happens and you have to go with the flow – but I try to get away in the evenings and weekends to do things for myself.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I think being a part of someone’s story is incredibly cool. There’s a sense of trust there, between a client and a designer, and the fact that people trust me enough to place the visual side of their dream/business/brand in my hands is both terrifying and super empowering. That connection with a client is really beautiful. I get how important this journey is for them, and how hard it is to trust people to help you achieve something, and I think there’s this bond that happens in the process. I love not only getting to watch someone’s dream unfold, but actually being a part of it and playing a role! When a project is launched and you get that final email from a client saying, “We did it – this is actually happening!” – tears of joy, for sure.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge of being a creative?
I think creativity as a whole can be tough sometimes. While I LOVE what I do, and being a creative person in general, there are lots of times when it’s not fun at all. It’s like pulling teeth to get the creative flow going. The end results, or having those “a-ha!” moments where things come together, make it so worth it, but getting to that point can be a really draining process. And there are moments where you’re like, “This totally blows. I can’t do this” and you drown your sorrows in a pizza and contemplate running away. You can love your job, but you don’t always have to LIKE it! I’m learning that it’s actually quite normal to feel this way, and accepting that is really freeing.
Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re doing the best you can.
What’s your favorite design ritual? Something you do during your process that’s the most fun or exciting?
More and more, getting away from the computer during the inspiration process has become a favorite ritual for me. I like to go on mini adventures while brainstorming for a project, jotting down ideas that come to mind and snapping photos of things that inspire me along the way. A cool pattern on the wall of a coffeeshop, the surf board designs I see on the beach, or rad textiles at a flea market – I like to look at things through the eyes of the project I’m working on. I save all my notes and photos to Evernote, and I can’t tell you how much this little process has helped me in my work – it makes things much more fun!
When it comes time to actually design, something I randomly started doing is lighting my favorite candle (this one)! It’s such a simple thing, but I’ve done it so many times now, that it’s like my brain immediately goes into design mode when that candle is lit. Super weird? Probably. Effective? Totally.
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to be a designer?
I could say the usual “create a nice portfolio, be present on social media, etc” but instead, I’ll say this: Give yourself permission to ask questions and to doubt and to be scared. It’s okay to change your mind. You are worth it. Your talent is valuable. You don’t know everything, and neither do I. And that’s okay. Keep talking and asking and moving forward. Move forward even if it’s just one small step. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but hold your head high. You’re probably going to cry a lot, but I promise you aren’t alone. Creativity can be agony, but it’s also rewarding and beautiful and will take your breath away. Own the term designer. Own it. Ask for help. Tutorials are your friends. Take time to do things that aren’t design-related: like taking photos or napping or riding your bike. Dance parties at midnight – have them. Sleep is important. Keep a notebook (or a notes app on your phone) with you at all times, you’ll need it. Self care is important. Be proud and kind and gentle with yourself. You’ve got this. You’re going to be great.
And don’t forget to create for FUN. Sometimes we need to create with absolutely no plan or expectations. I think that can be really inspiring and a refreshing change of pace. Be wild.
Also laugh. A lot. Every single day.
Who is inspiring you at the moment?
Amy Poehler – I’ve looked up to her for years. I’m reading her book right now (aren’t we all?), and I just love her even more. What a woman. She reminds me that it’s okay to be funny and silly, it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to take up space, and it’s okay to ask for what I want and be who I want. Yes please. (Also, her friendship with my other hero, Tina Fey? The best. All women deserve friendships where they are championed and supported like that)