Design Tips from a Self-Taught Designer

Okay so let's be real - we all have insecurities right? One of the insecurities that I have had to work to overcome since starting out on this journey is the fact that I did not go to school for design. During my time in undergraduate school I studied Art History & Marketing. Granted, I was immersed in the art world even back then as I volunteered in the Slocumb Galleries on campus and helped with installations and exhibits. However, my degree was a B.S, not a B.A. or B.F.A. (So many acronyms!). 

My fondness for art didn't really begin until college. Growing up, I excelled academically in the areas of Science, English, and Writing so the natural assumption was that I was an academic. Book smart if you will. I competed in Science fairs at the state level and went to a Science & Math camp a couple of summers in elementary school. I made straight A's for most of my time in elementary and middle school. However, in high school we were required to take Art classes to graduate. I took Pottery, Drawing, and Fiber Arts. It was Drawing that really stood out to me. I even had one of my ink drawings published in our school publication. However, high school was not my favorite season of life (is it me or did we all feel awkward then?)  -- so these classes were merely something I just had to do.

A drawing of my goldendoodle, Kasanova from 2012. 

A drawing of my goldendoodle, Kasanova from 2012. 

Fast forward to my first year of college sitting in my first ever Humanities class, learning about ancient cultures and the art, architecture, and artifacts they left behind. I was enthralled. To me, Humanities made art make sense. I wanted more. From there I began my study of Art History, taking as many classes as I could and these were, quite honestly, some of the hardest, most in-depth, and writing intensive courses I have ever taken. Art History is Art, History, Philosophy, Sociology, Humanities, Anthropology, and Math all blended into one. It was also during this time that I began exploring art on my own. I would sit in my living room floor with some Italian music in the background and just paint. It was very cathartic (although some of those first pieces are questionable at best). I enjoyed it but I doubted myself, and that doubt held me back - both in the development of my skills and the artistic risks I would take. I went on like this for quite some time. 

It wasn't until my first job at Chmura Economics & Analytics that my design abilities really started to grow. The owners knew I was interested in art and events, so after many years of working for them as an intern, they made me their Event Planning & Design Consultant. In this role I not only planned their events but they also started delegating graphic design responsibility to me as well. My skill level in Adobe consisted of editing photos in Photoshop but this was the type of job where little direction was given so I simply had to "figure it out". I was challenged to push myself and my limitations. By the time it was all said and done, I had designed all of the marketing material for their conferences, Christmas cards, a logo, my wedding programs, and more: I gained experience in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Little did I know at the time that those skills would help me to eventually design a website for my very own business one day. 

Chmura planted the seed but planning my wedding watered that seed. My mom and I did nearly all of the design work for the wedding ourselves. I could feel this seed of creativity that had been planted inside of me start to take root. I would find that few things brought me as much joy as playing with colors, fabrics, textures, and creating something with my bare hands. After our wedding, and during an especially hard season of life, creativity brought me joy, purpose, calm, and meaning. When I opened my Etsy account last year I had no idea what I was doing but I just started creating. Anything and everything. I found inspiration everywhere. I spent the next year immersing myself in all things design. The more I tried (and failed) the more I learned and the sharper my skills became. The ironic thing was that a byproduct of all this trial-and-error was an increase in my confidence level overall (both personally and artistically). Over this journey of starting my own business I have been challenged more creatively than in my entire life combined. I have played around with interior design, event design, crafts, photography, graphic design, web design, calligraphy, floral design and gardening as of very recently. I am admittedly better at some things than others but I like to push my creativity in all fields so I never stagnate. I am allowing the seed to be continually watered. All the while I can look back and see how far I have come. 

An evolution of my work. 

So if you are just starting out on this creative journey, read below for some tips I have learned along the way. 

  1. Expertise is a process. Give it time and learn as much as you can along the way.
  2. Creativity was not meant purely for our enjoyment. It was meant to bless others. Find a way to love and bless others through your gifts and talents.
  3. While staying true to your style, take risks. My personal style leans more toward classic than trendy, but I want my clients to know that I can accommodate a variety of tastes and styles, so I push myself constantly. I never want to stop challenging myself and stagnate as a result.
  4. Tutorials are your best friend.
  5. Don't compare your skill level. There are people more advanced than me and if I spent my time focused on what they are doing I would live in a constant state of discouragement. Instead, I use it as inspiration to push myself towards becoming better and sharpening my skills. After all, they had to start somewhere and my guess is they have had "fails" along they way as well. (Remember we only see their successes).
  6. Don't let rejection hinder your growth. Whether you draw, paint, act, sing, play an instrument or take photos, these types of careers come under scrutiny and criticism by their very nature. Art and creativity are very subjective. You may hear "no" many times before you hear "yes". That's okay. Keep going. 
  7. Don't be afraid of failure; it's inevitable. I set a high level of expectation for myself and believe in doing my very best in whatever I set out to do. However, I am human. Where would we be if Benjamin Franklin gave up after failing to find electricity? Don't live your life in the dark.
Table setting evolutions. 

So there you have it. I hope this blesses. Keep going dear beloved. You were created with a beautiful, beautiful purpose in mind.

Thanks for stopping by!


~Maggie ♥