Today we’re lucky enough to have Alberta-based Jana Volfova with us to talk to us about growing up in Prauge, hanging out her own shingle, who has helped her along the way, and what inspires her.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got your start as a designer.
I grew up in a small village near Prague, Czech Republic. After I graduated (hotel management) I was lucky to get the opportunity to go to Montreal, Canada as an exchange student for six months. This happened a few years after the “Velvet Revolution” (a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that saw the overthrow of the communist government). Because I had spent most of my life not being able to travel anywhere, this was a dream come true.
After the six months, I returned to Prague for a year then moved to Calgary, Canada. I had always wanted to do something creative. I got a job in an Italian restaurant and entered an intense, eight-month evening multi-media program across the street. This was quite a move for me. My English was very basic so I had a fear I wouldn’t understand the teacher and my experience with computers was also minimal. I found myself sitting, after class, until the closing hours trying to figure out Macromedia Freehand’s pen tool for our first school project – a CD cover. I created a cover inspired by the beautiful Astronomical clock in Prague. Luckily I received a good mark which gave me the confidence I needed to finish the program. Right after that, I was hired by the largest sporting goods retailer in Canada. I worked there, in the web and print studios, for nine years.
When did you realize you wanted to work on your own and how is it working out for you?
I think I always wanted to be my own boss (haha). After I became a mom and spent the first year at home with my daughter Kaylie, I found it hard to return to work. I’m sure lots of new moms can relate to that! Then, in 2008, I was able to work part-time at the office and, in my spare time, I launched a small, online business with a friend, designing birth announcement cards. We’ve managed to find lots of customers who have been returning to us since then (for invitation and holiday cards) and referring their family and friends as well. When I receive photos of a newborn baby for a birth announcement card it always puts a big smile on my face. Last year I left the office for good. Since then, I’ve also started my own online company specializing in wedding stationery which will launch in January 2011.
Even though I love working on my own it’s not always easy. At times, when I don’t leave my desk at all and work long hours, it can be overwhelming. Other times when it’s quiet, I’m wondering if I should be looking for a full-time job (luckily, this doesn’t happen often any more). But most importantly, I really love what I’m doing. The best part is receiving kind emails from people expressing their gratitude after they get their cards in the mail.
Do you still feel connected to your heritage, and does it influence your style in any way?
We try to visit the Czech Republic every couple of years, if possible. Prague is a very romantic and magical city with a wealth of art, design and architecture. Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Art Nouveau and Cubist styles sit side by side. Walking through the city, there are hundreds of antique shops, galleries and exhibitions. Art is an important part of life in Prague.
One of my favourite Czech artists is Alphonse Mucha. He produced many paintings, illustrations and advertisements. I love Mucha’s ornate, flowing designs and his incredible attention to detail. I think it has influenced some of my work. Every time we visit we bring back one of his beautiful prints or a calendar featuring his art.
How would you describe your style and where do you find inspiration?
I love to browse magazines and the Web (especially wedding blogs). I spend time outdoors in places like Banff and Canmore in the Rocky Mountains where the scenery is truly spectacular. Of course, a big part of my business is a steady stream of inspiration in the form of small, smiling faces: the newborn babies.
In terms of my style, I like simple designs with strong colours and uncluttered text. I’m still learning. I envy the designers who go big and bold and I hope to do the same with some of my designs but most of the time, I am more conservative.
Who have been your most influential mentors?
At work, it was the Art Director, Dinno Espiritu, who taught me to keep editing and really pay attention to detail. We had a great team of people and that is something I miss now working from home. Right now, I enjoy connecting with other Minted designers — I feel I’m part of a design community again (even if it’s virtual). My husband, Al, is a writer who also has a creative eye. He helps me improve my work and offers tons of encouragement.
Select two of your winning Minted designs and take us through the creation of each – how did you conceptualize and execute? How many versions? What was your thought process in designing these cards? What did you want to express in these designs?
I really liked the Wedding Mini-book challenge so I will pick the “Just Married” design. I get inspired by photos and the photo I selected had a vintage/retro feel so I wanted to reflect that in the design. I played with patterns and tried to incorporate it into the type and illustrations. If I sketch, and I rarely do, it’s usually because I have too many ideas in my head and I need to remember them all and sort them out. They’re usually just positioning sketches. The detail is developed in Illustrator.
…and the “Tweet Sixteen” design from the Coming of Age Challenge. When I thought about designing an invite for this age group, Facebook and Twitter immediately came to mind (even though I’m a newbie to Twitter). I wanted to make the text the focal point. I created the letters by arranging overlapping shapes and colours and used different transparency blending optons. I think I had about three different versions of letter shapes and five different versions of colours.
Did you design your Christmas card this year?
Yes, here it is. I used one of my favourite photos of my daughter, Kaylie, which was taken in September in Prague by my sister, who happens to be a professional photographer! I’d like to wish everyone in the Minted community all the best in 2011! ☺
What tips or advice do you have for designers who are just starting to enter challenges?
It’s so rewarding to be involved in Minted’s challenges. I’ve come a long way since entering my first challenge and part of it is thanks to the talented Minted designers who offer such great, constructive feedback (Amy, Stacey, Sydney, Meg and others come to mind immediately).
My two tips are:
1) Keep designing! Don’t get discouraged if your design doesn’t win.
2) Spend your time and energy on your best ideas. Don’t submit dozens of entries (unless they’re all excellent)!
Thanks so much Jana… doesn’t chatting with her make you want to jet off to Prauge or Banff for the weekend?
Find more of Natasha on her blog.10 COMMENTS