Back in July I cheerfully told you that every month I’d be here telling you about what I’d been up to. It’s December now so clearly that didn’t happen ha! I’m officially terrible at sticking to things like that. Instagram challenges, lettering challenges, the lot. If something requires me to create work/write/whatever at regular intervals I just…fail. It’s not in my blood. I’m not like that with actual work though (I excel at deadlines <smugface>) and I think that’s what really counts!
So here I am on the last day of my working year! I’ve not taken a proper holiday all year so I’m signing off for two whole weeks for the festive period and I’m SUPER excited about it. Luckily in my line of work no one tends to need me at this time so I get to sit in my pajamas guilt-free. But before I dive head-first into the tub of Roses I thought I’d reflect back at my second full year of freelancing. It feels like things really started to happen this year so I’m looking forward to going back through the calendar with you!
January & February
Things started off quietly (as they always do) so I mostly concentrated on designing my own cards ranges to licence out. I currently only have my card ranges on Moonpig.com but I’m going to look into additional retailers in 2019 as it would be amazing to be on the high street as well! Licensing is actually quite a large part of my business but I don’t tend to talk about it a lot as it’s just me beavering away in the background mostly! You’ll find me working on ranges pretty much every month as there are deadlines for all the different occasions dotted throughout the year. I’m also working on general design freelancing for Moonpig most months as well. This work doesn’t go into my portfolio as I’m usually working on licensed brands (Disney, Warner Bros, etc) which doesn’t jive with the lettering so well ha! But if you look through their catalogue of Disney Princess cards you’ll probably notice some familiar calligraphy ;)
I also had a bit of wedding work in the form of envelopes, place cards, etc as well as teaching calligraphy at Quill London to change things up a little which is always good!
March started with an event for Glamour Magazine. I was sat customising make up bags for the guests which was fun and busy! It’s a bit strange to see videos and pictures of yourself all over people’s instagram stories but good for the follower count! I think my being left handed thwarted a lots of “in progress” videos (shown in the picture) which is frustrating. The event was when London was hit by loads of snow suddenly so I had been worried that a) I wouldn’t make it and b) no one would show up, but everything ended up being fine and it was super busy. God knows how many make up bags I wrote on in the end!
The month also brought me some exciting lettering projects for both Penguin Random House and Little, Brown (a few excited squeals may have been heard) which kept me busy! I actually went to visit the design team at Little, Brown which was super fun. I love getting out and about, especially when it means geeking out over lettering with other creatives! The team were so friendly and welcoming which was lovely. It’s easy to give in to impostor syndrome in moments like these but the joy of spreading pages and pages of lettering out in front of them soon takes over! I won’t lie, having meetings in my calendar also makes me feel all important :D
I had a quick little project for the agency Mr President this month too. I wrote about it here. March was also the start of my prep for the Northern Craft fair I was selling at in May. Lots of prep was needed.
April was mostly full of background work such as freelancing for Moonpig, working on my card ranges and teaching calligraphy. The most exciting thing that happened this month was the photoshoot I had with the fabulous Nikki van der Molen! For a while I’d needed to get some professional head shots done to snazz up my website, etc and fortune found me when Nikki and I met at a meet-up for wedding suppliers. On the day I was absolutely knackered from teaching until late the night before (yay eyebags!) and it was unbelievably hot in Shoreditch but I had the most fun! I felt a little bit silly posing against walls and stuff at first - clearly I’m no model and have a resting bitch face to boot - but Nikki had me so at ease within no time! Also, it was Shoreditch and there’s ALWAYS someone posing for something for instagram or doing something a bit mad so we blended right in.
I finished up the month doing some calligraphy for Revolution Beauty, a company I was thrilled to work with since I love make up and beauty.
I’ll be honest; May wasn’t a great month for me. It began with lots (and lots) of rushing about trying to get everything together for my stand at Northern Craft. Booking hotels, printing cards and banners and buying card racks and storage… money was flying! Then a couple of days before the arrangements with my helper fell through and suddenly I was having to buy a super expensive train ticket to Leeds (instead of driving) and figuring out how to lug 2 massive (and extremely heavy) suitcases by myself. That was quite a feat and I’m really glad I left weights at the gym! Nonetheless I was EXCITED. Everyone at the fair was so lovely and I got to meet a few people I’ve known for a while through social media. Great stuff! Except….. hardly anyone bought anything from me.
I’ve questioned whether to actually put this out there because, frankly, I’m embarrassed, but I really think we all need to be talking about our failures when they happen because life isn’t insta-perfect. If you follow me on instagram you may have noticed that before the fair I was talking on my stories, all excited and then afterwards…nothing. My ego took a serious bashing that day. It wasn’t the fair’s fault! Everyone around me was doing a booming trade! Which really poured salt in the wound. It was clearly me. On reflection I don’t think my products give off the “crafty” air that other sellers’ did. The average person would probably just assume the calligraphy on the greetings cards is just a nice font. Sigh. All in all I don’t think I fit the craft scene. At least I know now! It was worth a punt.
To make matters even worse, the day of the fair I started feeling really quite ill. Everyone was complaining of being hot whilst I was shivering in my cardigan and my throat was killing me by the afternoon. Back in the hotel after a little cry I had a look and discovered that I had tonsillitis for the first ever time in my life! What an amazing time. Imagine having to drag two supremely heavy and awkward suitcases from Leeds to London with tonsillitis. Not something I want to repeat. But I made it home and I was pretty much out of commission for the rest of the month. It was the first time I’d been properly ill whilst freelance. Missing out on money was a difficult pill to swallow! Especially with shitty tonsils…
June & July
You’ll be glad to know that things got waaaay better after all that. After a bit of a quiet start to June, by the end of the month it was the start of being busy pretty much all the time :D I think the universe owed me.
I completed a MASSIVE lettering project for the lovely folks at Gingerray which hasn’t been released into the world yet, but next year I should be able to show you the project in all it’s glory.
To give you an idea of my messed up timelines I also starting development for Valentine’s Day around this time. Occasions have no meaning to me after a decade in the greetings card industry - they can happen at ANY time. Christmas in March? Fine. Father’s Day in December? Cool beans.
The end of June and much of July brought the most exciting project of the year: Buzzfeed! The squeal I let out when that email landed could be heard throughout the country! I go into detail about the project in this blog post. When a big company like Buzzfeed takes an interest in your work it does wonders for the confidence! I felt so excited and lucky to call this my job. I mean…I pay my mortgage by drawing pretty words. That’s crazy when you think about it.
I also had a couple of quick projects for Penguin Random House again. I believe the lettering was for book concepts but who knows what will be on the shelves come 2019!
August to December
I’m going to blend the rest of the year together as it was full of smaller projects I was dipping in and out of over larger spans of time and you’ll probably get bored of me saying that I was working on freelance design stuff for Moonpig or on my own card ranges. To be honest I didn’t come up for air so time has no meaning. Just werk werk werk.
During this time I had a couple more little projects with Penguin and then I was contacted by Walker Books for two book jackets. This year was definitely the start of my career in publishing! I went from no books to four books and maybe a few others with Penguin along the line. Unfortunately books take forever to come to market so I’ll only be able to show them to the world at some point in 2019. We’ll be waiting a while folks!
I was contacted by Project Calm magazine to create some special edition prints for their November issue. It was a super quick turnaround project but I rather like a bit of pressure! Seeing my work in print never gets old. I was looking at the issue on the shelf in Waitrose and wanted to stop everyone walking past and show them :D I’m sure they would’ve cared…
In the latter part of the year I also had an exciting meeting (how many times have I said “exciting” in this post? Clearly it’s been an overwhelming year!). Sadly, I can’t actually talk about - ever - but hopefully it’ll lead to a lot of work next year and beyond. I won’t be able to talk about the work either (sorry!) but honestly, anyone who knows my style will easily be able to spot the work when out and about if they happen to go into a certain store. I think it’s important to have projects in the background that make steady money. Don’t worry too much if you can’t talk about something - there will be plenty of stuff you can shout about and, frankly, keeping the lights on is more important.
So what’s in store for 2019?
Over the year I’ve done a lot of thinking and refining of my business and what I want it to be. Trying things and finding they just don’t sit right has been quite the theme this year. I’ve been learning to listen to my gut instinct and set things aside to allow me to concentrate on the stuff I actually want to do and what I want Letters by Julia to be. It’s also been a year of growth so I’ve found that I simply don’t have time for certain things anymore as they get in the way of other projects which I’m either more passionate about or, frankly, earn me more money.
I’m sure no one actually noticed but a couple of months back I took down the wedding section of my website and replaced it with Events. Honestly, the wedding section was the area of highest traffic on my website, but it just didn’t translate into anything for me. The vast majority of enquiries (probably 99%) disappeared once a quote was given and it just brought me no joy. Don’t get me wrong, when someone commissions me to create their place cards or on the day signage, I really enjoy it! A few hours of quiet calligraphy is quite lovely. But the process of breaking stationery down and quoting and organising was filling me with dread. Someone would ask about a stationery suite and all the gubbins, I’d spend over an hour figuring everything out and pricing it up and trying to sort how it would fit into my calendar and then…nothing. Quite rude if you ask me and I just don’t have time for it. I wanted to be focussing on my commercial projects as that’s what truly excited me! So I took the plunge and took it down. I’m totally on board if you would like me to create beautiful things for your wedding, but you’ll just need to come straight to me for a bespoke project.
The HUGE change for 2019 is that I’ve decided to stop teaching. At least for now (who knows what the future will bring!) Leaving behind my calligraphy family at Quill makes me so very sad, but teaching regularly just doesn’t fit into my business right now. When I started 3 years ago I always said I’d stop once I could manage without it or it interfered with the rest of my work and now that time has come. Also, not going to lie, working evening and weekends isn’t the most fun. There’s never time to compensate by taking a weekday off so it’s just on top of a normal working week!
I’m hoping to start doing talks and university visits/portfolio reviews next year. I really want to get out there and meet people! University wasn’t a great time for me and I think I really would’ve appreciated someone who wasn’t an untouchable “design superstar” coming to talk to me about the realities of life in design and learning about how a wonky path can lead to amazing things. I already have a talk scheduled for March and I’m in discussion with a couple of lecturers so hopefully I’m on my way! If you teach or are part of a design team and you’d like me to come and witter about pens please get in touch.
Phew! I think that’s everything I wanted to say. Thank you so much if you’ve been following along with my journey on Instagram, etc. I appreciate your support. I promise to still keeping ranting on my stories in 2019 :D I’ve heard that it’s the third year of a business when things really start kicking off so here’s hoping!