Kat took a risk by leaving a steady income, large agency life to pursue design and practicing art.
Describe who you were as a kid. I was independent-minded, rambunctious, creative and colored outside the lines. I spent a lot of time with a friend who lived next door exploring the woods behind our houses, writing stories and illustrating them. I was also super into Trolls and Lisa Frank.
Why Des Moines? Des Moines is a perfect size city for me. It’s not too big or too small. All of my family lives here now, which is a huge plus. I have seven nieces and nephews and I like being in their lives and watching their unique personalities develop.
Walk us through your journey to starting your own thing. I spent 8 years bouncing around graphic design and art director jobs around Des Moines. Nothing really seemed like the perfect fit. I knew I wasn’t suited for a large agency type gig so towards the end of my run I started building a freelance client base outside of my 40-hour work week. I started teaching Illustrator at DMACC at night to expand my public speaking skills as well as earn some extra income to stash away.
Once I was feeling confident enough with my current clientele base I took the plunge and left my full-time job. I was super lucky to be able to transition out of my full-time job with a 7-week contract design position at a previous employer. I now have a new part-time contract gig that I balance out with my own clients and teaching. I also have made a point to work on my own art endeavors when I can. I also have a little side business called KatMeowCrafts.
"Nothing really seemed like the perfect fit."
What advice would you give others exploring freelancing? I can really only speak from a graphic design perspective, but I would suggest working some full-time design jobs before you try to go out on your own. There is something to be said for working alongside other creative people and learning from them. I wouldn't be a fraction of what I am now if it wasn't for the incredible people I got to work with and for.
Along the way, who and what helped you to keep pushing forward? My dear, close friend and design mentor Bridget Drendel has been a consistent support person in keeping me going. She was the first designer I worked with at Sayles Graphic Design in 2006. She helped me land my first real design job and has mentored me every step of the way. Also, my husband Eric has been a driving force in supporting me while I figure the world of self-employment.
"It never hurts to ask for some money up front."
Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them? Gather all the information you can up front. Do your research and have solid rational for every design decision you make. Sketch out ideas and concepts before you get on a computer. Also, it never hurts to ask for some money up front.
Talk to us about one of your good days this past week. Today was a good day! I started the day with a meeting to begin developing a business plan for the future. I stopped by the Anderson Gallery at Drake University to check out the recent exhibit. Ran out to a vendor to pick up some printed materials. Prepped a project for my ASAP class that starts this Friday. Mocked up a physical sample of a sketch I had on paper for an event invitation I am working on. Wrapped up the day by having dinner at India Star with a girlfriend who I am traveling to India with in May.
And one of your not so good days. About a month ago, I traveled about an hour to a client meeting to go over some logo design concepts. I fumbled on all of his questions and lacked confidence in my answers. I wasn’t prepared with my design rationale and it showed. It sucked but it was also a really good learning moment.
"I make a lot of lists as well as habit trackers."
What's keeping you busy? On top of design for clients, a collaborative art show in April, teaching and art I am busy making plans for the future. I have big goals for 2017 and there is a lot of logistics and planning that go along with that. There is a lot of figuring it out as I go right now which is exciting, but it also eats up so much time!
Definitely busy and big goals for 2017! When you’re in the zone what tools keep you on-track and organized? I LOVE LISTS. I make a lot of lists as well as habit trackers. I do bullet journaling where I keep track of goals and how I spend time each day. I also use Google Sheets and Google Docs a lot.
If you were given any spare time this coming weekend what would you want to do and why? I would love to grab brunch with a friend I haven’t seen recently and catch up. I am also trying to find 45 minutes to do this Skillshare class on weaving. So I would do that, too!
Someone just moved to the area. Where do they need to visit first? That’s super hard, but I would say go eat lunch at Krunkwich. Get the vegan burnt end tots. Yum.
"I thrive in a world where I am balancing more than I should take on."
What are you most proud of and why? I am proud of taking the risk of leaving a steady income, insurance benefits and a 401k to pursue design, teaching and art full-time. I have always said that I would rather be busy than bored and it is proving to be very true. I thrive in a world where I am balancing more than I should take on. And recently I have started collaborating with other designers, writers and illustrators on client work and that has been super fun!
That was a huge risk and something to be really proud of. How did you take the leap? I took the leap knowing that if things don't work out I am not too proud to work anywhere doing any job. I know I can find other ways to make money if art and design didn't pay the bills, and I have! I was an Assistant Manager at a Walgreens on the south side of Des Moines for two years between college graduation and my first full-time design job. I dealt with shop-lifters, harassing phone calls from creepy customers and even got to clean up after a woman whose water broke in the cosmetics aisle. It was pretty miserable but I did a good job of it and held my head high. I’ve also waited tables, on and off, as a second job for the last 11+ years. I just recently stopped but stayed on the payroll as a fill-in if they need the help.
If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be? I read an article awhile back in The Des Moines Register about an idea for a tiny-home village for homeless people. I’d love to wave a magic wand and make that happen.
In three months what do you hope to accomplish? I hope to have a solid business plan in place and be working towards the goals I have set for 2017. I am also working on a putting together a design + branding workshop with Bridget Drendel where we host folks who need some help to jump-start their business efforts.
And I am working on a collaborative art show with Anna Frederick, Tia Rodemeyer & Meanz Chan. That show goes up the first Friday in April at The Lift in Des Moines.
Photo credit: Christopher Maharry