Wanderlust Framed Painted Leaf

Etsy #DifferenceMakesUs Small Business Contest

I recently entered Etsy’s #DifferenceMakesUs small business contest for a shot at winning $10,000 to put towards advancing South Ranch Creative. It’s a long shot. A very, very long one, and yet one I need to make. I pushed off applying for weeks with the thought in my head that there was no chance, so why waste the time? That my shop wasn’t real enough, big enough, or successful enough to be deserving of a $10,000 prize. But I was wrong. This is the year I want to stop telling myself I’m not ready or not successful enough yet. So here it goes.

The contest required a simple answering of three questions, upon which I would receive a url to share and start gathering votes for my shop. The shops with the 1st and 2nd highest votes at the end of the contest (April 6th, 2017) will win $10,000 and $3,000, respectively to put towards their shop. I wanted to share with you all my extended answers to the questions after realizing that I was only allowed 1000 characters per question on the actual application… I had typed almost triple that for each…


Briefly tell us about your business and what makes it different. Details could include how you got started, what makes your business stand out, or how difference has helped your business and others.

I’ve always been a creator. As a toddler, I drew a yellow cat that was actually recognizable as such. It had ears, stick legs, even whiskers. In elementary school, I blew around ink through a straw to create trees. In middle school, I wrote poems and made trompe l’oeil drawings and drew funny dragons. In high school I learned film photography and how to paint in oil. In college I studied graphic design. I learned screen printing, made sculptures, built furniture, laser cut posters, and started growing all the plants I could fit in my temporary home.

I’m not an artist. I’m not a designer. I’m a creator. It’s in my blood to take pieces, to take materials, and to create something new out of it. And until college, my motivating factor beyond personal satisfaction was simply to create what the world deemed “beautiful”. To create awe and wonder. But two moments in college changed me. Though I am a creator, to create is not my purpose. It’s a means to my life purpose, something which I am still in the infancy of learning. And learning that purpose began freshman year when I discovered a nonprofit, Invisible Children, and took an environmental class on climate change. These two events were significant at the time to me no doubt, but I certainly did not realize just how much the course of my life would be changed by these events over the next five years. It perhaps was not seen to the naked eye, but my heart was changing. My mind, once solely focused on the narrow scope of my own existence, was now obsessed with humanity, past and present, and the preservation of future life in a sustainable and peaceful way. Everything was about more than just me. I became an activist. I volunteered. I started making lifestyle changes to be more sustainable and create less waste. I paid attention to the things I bought and what they supported.

At the end of college I knew working for a big agency wasn’t for me, but I realized that if I were to be so critical about the brands I was already purchasing from, I had to make sure that anything I sold didn’t negate my own views on environmentalism, sustainability, and human rights. I started South Ranch Creative in 2015 as a means to sell my creations. My creations varied: paintings, wood burned home goods and art, screen prints, natural wall art, and more. But what brought and continues to bring my work together now is my love of nature and my interest in empowering individuals and advocating for the causes I care about.

I create because I like it. I create because it incites awe in others. I create because I can send a message. But the reason I sell my creations, and hope to turn it into a full time occupation, is because I want to redefine what it means to sell things for a living. After listening, relistening, and listening again to Charlie Kaufman’s Screenwriters Lecture, I’ve found such a powerful truth in these words about what it means to sell things for a living:

“People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’ And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now.”

And it hurt me as a creator to listen to these words but at the same time I recognized just how true they were. And I don’t want to be part of it.


How would you use the Etsy Small Business Contest money to scale your business in a big way this year?

I would use the Etsy Small Business Contest money to scale up my ability to do more than just sell my work for a living. My dream for South Ranch Creative is eliminate the stream of waste in packaging, create products that use natural or reclaimed materials whenever possible, and develop a business model focused on creating quality products that last and will be cherished for years to come, thus reducing a consumer need/desire to constantly buy new things. While I am currently working towards some of these goals already such as using biodegradable packaging tape and materials or organic natural fiber clothing, with a limited amount of funds to invest in my business, I am not currently able to go as far as I would like.

This money would help me research the best ways to create art without creating waste, and then implement those findings. Because much of what I sell is online and must be shipped, I am most interested in using a portion of these funds specifically to invest in entirely recyclable and/or biodegradable packaging for my products… both for shipping and any display packaging or labels. Secondly, I would like to invest in my screen printing equipment and supplies to ensure that I won’t be using excess water or energy, creating excess waste, or flushing chemicals down the drain during my process of creating. This includes a filtration system for when washing and cleaning my screens and a chemical recirculation system that would allow me to reuse the same chemicals again and again. It would also include research and application of the most sustainable and eco friendly inks and paints to work with. For screen printing, this means finding the best non-toxic, water-based inks to use on only natural fiber fabrics. For painting in oil, gouache, or acrylic, this means avoiding paints that use highly toxic pigments to create their color and finding safer alternatives.

Creating a business model that isn’t dependent on creating needless waste is by far the biggest and most important thing I can do this year for my business.


Describe a truly special moment you’ve had with a buyer. Did they request an extra special item? Inspire a successful new product? We can’t wait to hear!

My most special moment with a buyer was actually with several buyers. My hometown is in rural central Maryland and in late July 2016, a horrible flood ravaged the nearby main street of Historic Ellicott City. Old Ellicott City had always been a favorite place of mine to spend weekends shopping at the local small businesses, go hunting for antiques with my mom, and peruse the various art galleries with pride at knowing some of the great artists within them. Main Street was home and meant so much to me and I know countless others. The destruction of this flood was astonishing and numbing. Two lives were lost. So many shop owners lost everything. They are still rebuilding.

But the aftermath was also one of the most beautiful outpourings of support I have ever witnessed. The community rallied in every way to raise funds to rebuild, help with the cleanup effort, and donate supplies and services. I wanted to do my part and that meant creating. I illustrated what Old Ellicott City meant to me and sold posters and tshirts of my illustration of some of my favorite buildings and landmarks… including the man that blew giant bubbles outside the toy store every weekend since I can remember. I donated 80% of my profits to the Ellicott City Partnership to help rebuild and was able to raise over $2,600 for the cause. While this is a tiny fraction of what was needed to rebuild, I could see just how much this meant to those who were buying my work. I received so many words and messages of thanks and appreciation and nostalgia over some of the landmarks pictured in my illustration. It was so incredibly heartwarming to how I could use my art to truly make a difference not only monetarily for this cause but also emotionally. This event has since inspired me to begin another series of works focused on particular issues I care about that donate a portion of the proceeds towards related nonprofits.



Thank you so much for all the support over the last year and a half, and I hope you can support me and my dreams for bettering South Ranch Creative! In order to vote, all you need is an email address and you only have to vote once! It ends April 6th, so if you’d like to vote and/or share, it would mean so much to me and you can do so here: http://wshe.es/7YXq6zJs



Learn 7 tricks to taking beautiful product photos for Etsy, your blog, or your online store without spending extra time or money. | by South Ranch Creative

7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy or your Blog

Without Spending Extra Time or Money.


If you sell on Etsy or your own business website, you know that product photography is hugely important to the success of your shop. Most of your customers are used to shopping through professionally photographed websites and product shoots, and expect to see the same level of quality when they come across your shop online. Unfortunately most Etsy and small online sellers are not professional photographers and in running a shop singlehandedly, they don’t have the time or money to ensure that their shots are pixel perfect. I’ve created this short guide for small time sellers with tips and tricks on how to make the most of your photoshoots, using supplies you likely already have lying around! You’ll save time, money, and the headache of trying to plan out exactly what need ahead of time.


1. Bring in some life.

There’s nothing more boring than a stale, lifeless photograph of your product on a plain background with no props. Particularly if you sell any sort of goods for the home, you’d better think about adding in some visual interest that enhances and doesn’t detract from the awesomeness that is the product you’re selling. One of my favorite ways to add some life to my product photography is to actually… bring in… life. For clothing and accessory sellers, this could mean someone wearing or holding your product. For home good sellers, this could holding or interacting with your product, but also could mean plants! I find greenery and plant life serves as a great prop for tons of my listings, and it’s so versatile! It comes in all shapes and textures and colors. It can serve as a background or as a prop to highlight your product. Also, with natural, reclaimed, and organic products becoming more and more desired every day, putting natural, reclaimed, or organic props in your product shots might not be such a bad idea.


"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Bring in some life.

Boss Lady mug by Jennie Brown Creative

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Bring in some life.

“Cheers” Mountain Coasters by South Ranch Creative

Now, there are exceptions to every rule, and tons of shops on Etsy and elsewhere are wildly successful using tactics like a minimalist approach where nothing but the product is in the photograph. I’ve found this to be much harder to pull off for the average or novice photographer because things like lighting and color must be just perfect in order for this type of approach to work, but if this is the style you want, go for it! The best thing to do when photographing your work is to take way more pictures than you would ever think necessary and try everything. Try out using the props and then remove everything but your product from view and compare shots side by side later. Trying it all out once will help you make better and more informed decisions about your product photography in the future!


2. Light, light, light.

Light is a powerful tool in photography. It can make a good photograph look great, or it can make a great setup look terrible. I always strive to use natural light in my product shots, whether I am indoor or out. The times I’ve had to supplement with artificial lights, you can definitely tell that my photographs suffered, and here’s why.


Indoor lighting usually is not bright enough. Whether you use a quality smartphone to take your photographs or a DSLR camera, you probably have struggled with grainy pictures at some point in the past. That’s because compared to the massive amount of light that the sun provides during the day, indoor lights just can’t compete. Even on a partly cloudy or cloudy day, you’re probably better off shooting outside. Flash is an option for indoor photography, but if you’re like me and don’t want to take the effort to get it just perfect and not blow out everything in the frame, you usually stay away from it.


Indoor lights cast weird color hues on your photographs. I know, I know, white balance is a thing, and a lot of smart phones and cameras can do it automatically! Typically indoors, you are going to have a bunch more yellow light in your photographs than you would outside, unless of course you only use florescent lighting which can have problems of its own. Personally I find that the camera either overcompensates or undercompensates, and you end up with yellow, orange, or blue-cast pictures. Now with a good camera, this is something you may be able to go back and fix in Photoshop, but remember, we’re trying to save time here so you can get back to making and selling!


Check out these examples below to see how natural light can drastically improve your product photography and save you time editing later:


"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Unedited Indoor Light Product Photo

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Unedited indoor product photo with natural light.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Unedited outdoor product photo with natural light.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Edited Indoor Light Product Photo

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Edited indoor product photo with natural light.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Light, light, light.

Edited outdoor product photo with natural light.

Indoor lighting makes shadows your biggest enemy. Have you ever tried to photograph your work from above and gotten frustrated that your shadow or your camera’s shadow is blocking the picture? Have you then brought in other lights to try and offset this, and created these huge, awful shadows because the angle of the light was too low? Dealing with lighting in the home can make you want to pull your hair out. Sure, you can pay for an expensive studio shot setup, with all different types of light to offset this, or you can shoot outside! The great thing about shooting outdoors is that you have light coming from so many more directions, often eliminating the strange shadows you get from one-dimensional lighting in the home. You’ll still have to consider the time of day and how cloudy it is outside, but overall I find it to be much easier. Sunlight is free, anyway!

3. Color is key.

A big mistake a lot of Etsy and online sellers can tend to make is not considering color strongly enough when photographing their products. Not only can it help show your product in the best light possible, but it can create a mood and set the tone for your whole shop! A super easy and very effective method is to choose one or two highlight colors for your product shots, and use white as your main color. That might mean taking all your photographs on a white background and letting the color of your product bring life into the shop. It could mean using a few of the same props or props that are the same color across all your photos, so that the viewer senses a strong theme and brand.


Other ways sellers deal with color is by using the same filter on all of their photographs. Now, please be cautious if you want to do this. It has to make sense with your brand, and don’t put it at 100% and way overkill the effect. You can find some great and more subtle ones online that you can use in Photoshop, and it will help create this visual connection between your products. You could also use saturation as a tool. I don’t mean editing the saturation in a photo editing software, but I mean creating product shots that feature bright, high color products, backgrounds, or props. This is the method I currently use, however I intend to switch over to a more minimal look soon, as I believe it fits better with my brand.


"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Color is key.

Pidge Pidge uses only the color of its products to create a commanding and consistent visual language across its shop.


4. Remember what your subject is.

Props and backgrounds can be a great way to show your product in its best light. But always be cautious about overwhelming the viewer with too much information. You want him or her to immediately know what you’re selling, and not to be distracted by a really interesting prop you’re using. I’ve often fallen into the trap of taking a great photograph at an interesting angle, and gone back to realize that I was no longer photographing the work. The subject of the photograph had shifted to a mug I was using as a prop because the picture looked nice, but my work wasn’t the main subject of the picture anymore. Typically you want your product to be the biggest element in the photograph, and for it to be near or in the center. I would not recommend ever photographing your work in a way that crops it outside the picture plane. The picture may look great, but buyers want to see what you’re selling and that’s hard to do when they can’t see the whole product!


I know this dinosaur planter is super cute and fun, but I made the mistake of having it be the focus of my photo and not my actual product! You’ll see that my product is even blurred here while the dinosaur is in focus. Makes for a fun photograph but not a product photo. The image on the right is much cleaner and clearly displays my product as the main focus.


"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Remember what your subject is.

Prop-focused photography.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Remember what your subject is.

Product-focused photography.


5. Think about angles.

Consideration of the angle your photograph is taken is an often underappreciated element to your work. When I go into an online shop, I love to see all of the products photographed from the same angle, and usually that means looking straight down on or across from the subject. This means either a 0 or 90 degree angle from the ground. I think these are good angles to shoot as because it captures your product from the most objective point of view. Adding in angles and different levels of focus and blur can create really great and dramatic pictures, but it’s not typically appropriate for this situation. These angles are also great for encompassing your entire subject in the shot, which we talked about in Step 4.


Now what are angled shots great for? Detail detail detail. I highly recommend taking angled and zoomed in shots of your products to show in some of the secondary pictures you show of your product. These can give the customer a sense of the level of detail in a product, it’s texture, or simply show it at the angle you might most commonly see it once actually in use. For example, if you are looking to buy a chandelier or hanging light fixture, you want to see it photographed from the side when you are shopping because that angle gives you the highest level of detail in one picture, letting you see what it really looks like. Once you click on the item, however, I would want to maybe see the chandelier from the bottom or from an angle taken from below because that is the angle you will most commonly view the product, and you want to make sure it looks good.


"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Think about angles.

Great primary product shot taken directly above the piece.

"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Think about angles.

Beautiful close up shot taken at an angle shows detail and texture.



6. Show it in use.

Depending on your product, you may or may not want to show it in use as your primary image. For clothing, I always recommend showing it in use in your primary photograph unless you are going with an extremely minimalist approach. Nobody wants to see you knit hat on a foam mannequin head. It doesn’t tell us anything about what it would look like on a real person, and you get a lifeless photograph as a result.


"7 Steps to Taking Great Product Photos for Etsy Without Spending Extra Time or Money" by South Ranch Creative | Show it in use.

Handwoven pendant necklace by Pidge Pidge


For home products, you might consider a more minimal approach to displaying your work before showing it in use in one of your secondary photographs. This goes back to not distracting your viewer, but it depends entirely on what your product is. Think carefully about what your target customer would want to see initially when browsing through a list of products? What would make him or her click on your shop and not the listing above or beside you? Having at least one photograph that shows your product in use or in an environment that it might appear once purchased is a great way to sell your work. As a buyer myself, it really helps me get a sense of how I would use the product and how it would fit in my home or wardrobe.


7. Be consistent.

Be consistent is Step 7 because it is the most important aspect of your product photography to create a strong and consistent visual language across your brand. You can take stellar photos and still look like a novice seller if you have a mish mash of styles in your photography. If you take your photos from a specific angle, take all of your primary product photos from that angle. If you use a white background, use it in all of your shots. This applies to every previous step I’ve mentioned, because customers love a consistent brand where they know what they can expect.


Taking these steps into consideration when photographing your products can easily and dramatically increase the quality of your photographs while not busting your budget or taking up too much of your precious time. Often simple and small changes can go a long way, so try out a few different things, see what you like and what’s working, and practice! It’s fine if you don’t think you have perfect photographs yet, I certainly don’t! But if you practice implementing the same strategies and techniques for every product, you will not only get a consistent look but you will get better and better at doing so every time! What is your favorite tool for getting high-quality product photography? I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!


Keep creating,




Have you ever lost hope in and felt like quitting your business, individual, or volunteer endeavors? I have too. Here's what to do about it.

What to Do When You’ve Lost Hope

As a business, individual, or volunteer

One of my favorite things about forward-thinking, millennial age nonprofits is that they have this unyielding energy and positivity about their cause. Disappearing are the days of showing a sad dog to sad music on television to guilt viewers into donating. Disappearing are the endless charades of phone calls and letters and “free” calendars. We have learned that people react to positivity and passion over scare-tactics and guilt trips.


“People are tired of being asked to do the least they can do. They are hungry to do the most they can do.” -Dan Pallotta at Fourth Estate Leadership Summit 2013


I am so excited to be living on Earth during this time when people are excited to do good, get involved in global issues, and make change. Startups, crowdfunding campaigns, and small nonprofits are popping up across my news feed every day, and at first they made me feel like I could do anything I set my heart to. I saw the wild success of Invisible Children’s viral video, Kony 2012, and believed with all my heart that I could do that too. With my own passion, I could start a fire.

In the time since then, I’ve started, become a leader of, or become a part of many ventures. I became co-president of my college Invisible Children club. I started a campaign selling my arts and crafts to raise money for charities. I planned a cross-country road trip with my high school best friend. I joined a friend to help her start a nonprofit for kids in foster homes. I planned with another group an organization that would teach young people how to become active global citizens. I became head graphic designer as a volunteer for a digital magazine devoted to telling worthwhile and relevant stories while giving back to charities. I started an Etsy shop and blog about the creative lifestyle.

As a self-proclaimed introvert and a generally anxious human being, I was so proud of myself for these things that I did. They took courage. They took stepping outside my comfort zone. But let me tell you what happened. The Invisible Children club slowly lost interest during my term and ceased to exist by only one semester after I stepped down as co-president. I stopped selling my crafts because I didn’t know how to continue and grow it into a real, legal business. We had to cancel our cross country road trip for money and scheduling problems. My friend decided the nonprofit was something that we would have to hold off on. The educational organization started seeming “too far-fetched” and “not the right time” and “maybe not a good idea,” and slowly disappeared into the dust.

The magazine and my Etsy shop–my newest endeavors–are still active, but I can’t help but lose hope sometimes during the times we are struggling. And with a new business or venture of any kind, you probably know that struggles aren’t hard to come by. I think to myself, is it worth it? Am I cut out to do this? Doubt creeps into my mind. Am I doing this right? Can I make it out of the rut? I want to run back to a 9-5 job and some stability. Why is this not working? Why won’t anyone help me?


You may know these feelings. Whether for a business, individual endeavor, or volunteer/activist cause, you may be feeling your own creeping sense of doubt. Sometimes it’s hard to look back at your past failures and say, “This has helped me grow.This has taught me these lessons.” instead of “I can’t do this now because I have failed so many times before.” To me, saying this is so hard because although my past failures have helped me learn and grow, a big part of me still knows that my natural state is not that of a leader. It’s not 10 miles out of my comfort zone or knowledge range. I don’t feel comfortable there. The odds are against me in these new endeavors and positive thinking alone isn’t going to make me succeed.


So what then, do you do when you’ve lost hope? Ask yourself what you’re losing. If it’s a business venture, are you losing money? Are you losing valuable time? Are you losing yourself? Look deeply at these losses and weigh them against your initial reasons for starting your endeavor. Many times I find that my losses aren’t actually so bad after all. I was upset because I was not succeeding. If you are simply not succeeding yet, then there is no reason to give up. Without any or substantial loss, your endeavor still has great value to you. After all, you started at zero, right?


Recognizing that I am just not doing as well as I had envisioned is an incredibly powerful tool to bring back my energy, focus, and dedication to a cause. It is my habit (and I’m sure a lot of yours as well) to have way higher expectations and goals for myself than I would have for someone else. So cut yourself a break. Look back at your expectations and think, I may not have met my goals yet, but here is what I have done and here is what I’ve learned. Because if I continue to learn more about my cause, continue to produce quality content, and continue to push my boundaries, I know that I will be able to grow and succeed and get better. It may happen slowly. I may later evaluate that my losses have become too high. But they are not that way today, and that is why I can keep going.

Keep dreaming,

For me it means a lot of doing everything I love: working for nonprofits, selling my arts and crafts and design, and working with a lot of good friends. Unfortunately it also means a lot of selling myself short of what I deserve.

What it’s really like graduating from college with a degree in “Art.”


As a recent graduate from Virginia Tech with a degree in Art, concentration Visual Communication Design, I feel compelled to let the world know what it’s actually like graduating from college with an art degree in the year 2015.


Starving Artist.


If you’re a creative like me, or are close with one, I’m sure you’ve heard it all. You may have even caught yourself saying it. Does the phrase, “starving artist” sound familiar? Have you been asked what you actually do or what you’re going to do when you graduate? Oh wait, they already know that. You just make things pretty. Have you cringed at overhearing a marketing student declare they plan to learn Illustrator and web design in ONE day? Have you been asked to design a logo for…. $20?


One day, standing on the stage as an outstanding senior at your own graduation, the next, jobless and living back at home, wondering, "what did I do wrong?"


As College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ 2015 Outstanding Senior, I was asked to sit on the stage at my own graduation.


Through my own personal experiences, I still find that art and design is still a hugely undervalued profession. Because I have been asked to design a logo for $20. And if it’s not undervalued, then the time it takes to complete the desired project is severely underestimated. The thing about good design is that when it’s really, truly successful, it’s almost silent.


“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


The Macchiato Effect.


And when it’s silent, people don’t realize that their emotions, their immediate reaction to the content that is being served to them, is a result of the design of the content, not just the content itself. So they will pay an extra $2 for that magnificent looking spiced caramel macchiato, but gawk at the freelance designer that wants to charge them $1000 for a new logo for their small business. But consider this: if they pay more up front for that new logo, but end up getting double the business as a result of the good design, that $1000 now seems well worth the investment.


Update: Just for clarity I want to say that $1000 was just a blind example for the sake of my argument. Logo cost depends entirely on the size of the client, experience of the designer, complexity of the project, and much more. 


I never really considered working for a big design agency post-graduation. A lot of my colleagues did, and the good news is, they are by and large doing great. But for someone like me, looking for a small quirky design studio, a nonprofit, or full time freelance work, the opportunities to make a living wage no longer look quite as optimistic. And it’s not because I’m a worse designer, less motivated, or would have a more leisurely work-life. I would actually be far more motivated to work for an organization I am passionate about, and would work harder as a result. So what is it, then?


I think it depends on where you look. Unfortunately for a small design studio, the possibility of them just not having enough money to pay you more is actually realistic. Not one, but two of the small studios I interviewed at during and post-graduation ended up having to tell me that while they loved my work and would love to have me, they “just didn’t have the money right now” to hire me. In the eyes of someone new to this world, it seemed tragic that these wonderful, passionate designers couldn’t expand their businesses, even in their success, because it is just too expensive for them to do so.


But let’s get back to that caramel macchiato. Nonprofits and individuals looking to hire freelancers fall into this trap more often than not, at least in my small realm of experience. And I think others see this too. It is the traditional format of a nonprofit to spend very little on this dirty word, “overhead.” Overhead is any spending that is not going directly to the cause, such as administrative or fundraising costs. This concept doesn’t seem so bad, right? Less money spent on administration and fundraising means more money going towards the cause, right? But then think about that overhead as that $1000 spent on a logo. If spending a little bit more on overhead to fundraise, to promote, and to have good powerful design allows that nonprofit to double the money they raise that year, then they are still raising as much if not more money for the cause, even with a higher percentage of their spending going to overhead. I encourage you to watch this Ted Talk by activist, entrepreneur, and founder of Charity Defense Council, Dan Pallotta, on overhead and the way we think about charity spending.


The macchiato effect is perhaps most strong in individuals. That $20 I was asked to do a logo for? I was asked by an individual. A student. While I know firsthand the struggles of being a poor college student, I also think this goes deeper than that. Let’s go all the way back to the thought that oh, designers just make things pretty. It may be well and true that we make your shop logo look prettier, but it is so much more than that. It’s about sending a powerful message. And developing a powerful, meaningful message takes time, skill, and a lot of hard work. Think about how many people are going to see that logo, that business card. It is profoundly important to how you or your business is seen by others, and you don’t even know it. Not all design is good design. So just because you can get a logo for $50 elsewhere, doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the same positive effect from the design. By 2015, we’ve become accustomed to looking for the cheapest, the fastest, and the easiest. Heck, there are massively popular websites out there in which clients can host a “contest” for designers to make their logo. It’s quick, they get tons of logos to choose from, and it’s relatively cheap. But is it really fair to ask for all this great work from designers at the mere chance for them to win? Would you work for free? I’m going to propose that you might not really be getting the highest quality of product here. You might get lucky. You might not. But you are seriously undermining the talent and hard work of a lot of designers.


Virginia Tech's School of Visual Art's Visual Communication Design class of 2015. And yes, we made pantone caps.


You Sure You Want to Know What it’s Like?


So what is it like graduating from college with an art degree? It’s hard. For me it means a lot of doing everything I love: working for nonprofits, selling my arts and crafts and design, and working with a lot of good friends. Unfortunately it also means a lot of selling myself short of what I deserve. Am I not charging enough because I know they can’t afford it or because I know they they think they can’t afford it or that it’s not worth that price? I’d lean towards the latter. And I don’t blame them, and I know I will continue to do this because it’s what I love to do. But if the world as a whole can learn a greater respect for what we do as artists, perhaps change will be on the horizon.


Keep dreaming.