One of the biggest struggles for freelancers, as designer Elizabeth Halpern and her freelance photographer husband know well, is the financial uncertainty of being independent artists. As she says, it can be “incredibly stressful at times.” But she’s been working at it for more than 18 years, and she’s still going strong.
Elizabeth’s work is a mix of translucent layers in muted rich hues, influenced by drawings, collage, papercuts and more. She uses several methods to work around a central theme, before moving into Photoshop or Illustrator to create the collection, “and inevitably I get ideas that don’t really fit that group or collection and I will save them or start another group of prints at the same time. Then things get complicated as finishing and finalizing multiple prints at a time can get tedious. I get restless and impatient for everything to be done so I can move on!” All within her workspace, which she describes as “controlled chaos rather than super organized.”
Elizabeth originally studied architecture in college, thinking at the time that design school would be a good mix for her creative and technical interests and abilities. “I loved it and it was a great design education, but I realized towards the end of my program that architecture specifically wasn’t really my passion. After graduation, I switched gears and pursued work in fashion, knowing somehow that I could find my way towards a creative career in design that was right for me.”
It was her first job out of college that she counts as the gamechanger for her.
It was while working in NYC at J.Crew as a design assistant, that her boss encouraged her to move into textile design. “This was right at the beginning of when digital design technology was being implemented in fashion companies. Up to that point textile designs were painted by hand, either in-house or using studios, and I found the whole process fascinating. I made the move into textile design, learning traditional and digital techniques and also went back to school, taking courses specific to textiles and fashion.”
A few more jobs, and a move to freelancing around her area gave her a ton of experience over the next few years with styles, techniques, and how to deal with clients. However, it was when she and her husband decided to move out of NYC and start a family that things started to get tougher. “Most existing clients weren’t interested in working with me remotely. I needed to find new clients and a new way to work, but I definitely didn’t have a plan on how to do it.” Modern Print Craft started around 2010, with a new-found focus on marketing her creative output.
Getting your online presentation right is a vital part of marketing. And living with a photographer, Elizabeth knows this one too well – she says “it’s harder than it looks to get great images.” She uses lots of images on her own blog, so when it comes to photography, she advises two things – don’t be afraid to seek help, and don’t forget to self-edit. “Multiple images of essentially the same thing are a waste. Each photo should serve a purpose and add to the story.” Clarity is something she aims for always. “When styling and creating my website, I always aim to keep it simple, clean and uncluttered with clear and easy to use navigation.”
Another important thing for Elizabeth was to ensure the business was a separate identity. “I have created designs for so many other brands and their products that using a distinct business name has been helpful for me and makes it easy when I am creating new prints to think in terms of the Modern Print Craft “brand”.”
Time management is always a struggle. One of the hardest things is “simply knowing how to juggle the different aspects of running my business; freelance work, original art and design, marketing, technical support and the financial management are all done “in house” by me. If I have a deadline or work for a specific client or a specific project, I’m fine. When I don’t have that, prioritizing which aspect of my business to focus on at any one time is a challenge – there is no playbook to go by and no way to know I’m working my business in the best way.
Being able to share skills with others has been a useful strategy. “Since my husband is also self-employed as a photographer, we do have each other as sounding boards and can share resources. He donates his photography skills to my business, as well as teaching me some techniques so I can use my own camera and not need him for every single photograph! I designed and built his website and have begun to help him out with social media and some marketing strategies as well.”
“I’ve been lucky to learn a lot from others throughout my life, my education and career, but there isn’t one piece of advice that jumps out at me as being the best ever. It’s a little quirky, but I like to collect quotes that I find humorous, wise or simply inspiring, and I have a Pinterest board for new finds. A recent favorite, especially for when things get a little overwhelming, is from the poet, T.S. Eliot.
“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” – T.S.Eliot