Leah Bisch certainly is a talented graphic designer – especially for someone who majored in physical geography and originally intended to be a meteorologist. As she tells the story, Leah was always dropping in and out of art classes in elementary and high school, “but it never occurred to me that I could make a career out of it.”
Here, the Los Angeles Minted artist talks more about life as a part-time happy-go-lucky designer and part-time crazed-toddler-mommy.
Where did you go to school?
While I loved art and illustration, I ended up earning my BA from UC Santa Barbara in physical geography. I know—what? My studies focused on the planet and its processes, like weather and natural disasters. I’ve always had a strange fascination with weather—I’m actually irrationally terrified of thunderstorms, so I guess it’s a good thing I live in sunny Southern California. When I was a child, my dad owned a roofing company and he was always watching the weather channel to keep an eye out for rain in the forecast. I remember being interested in watching how weather patterns form and it seemed like a cool career.
So how did you go from geography student to artist?
After college, I eventually found myself working in marketing for a winery in Malibu. We didn’t have the budget to hire designers to create promotional items, so it was on my shoulders to create email blasts, event invitations, and flyers for the company. I found that I got swept up in that kind of work—in a good way. However, I soon felt limited in my design capabilities and wanted to get a formal education to enhance my skills. I enrolled in evening design classes at Otis College of Art and Design. The more classes I took, the more I wanted to learn, and I eventually left my job and enrolled in classes full time at Santa Monica College (SMC). The program at SMC gave me a solid foundation in the fundamentals of design like typography, layout and color theory. I also committed myself to reading every design book I could get my hands on.
“Modern Wreath” by Leah Bisch
What was your first design-related job?
Toward the end of my studies at SMC, I landed an amazing internship, which was actually very serendipitous. I’d sent off my portfolio and resume to quite a few design studios around L.A. It can be tricky to land a first gig here—there’s a large pool of talent and a limited number of entry level design positions. Big pond, meet small fish. I got a call back from a local design agency that was looking to start up a division specializing in wine label design, and luckily there aren’t a ton of designers who have worked in the wine industry around L.A. I had the unique blend of experience and passion for the product they were looking for and I got the job. The same company specialized in branding for startups, so before I knew it, I was working on branding strategy, company naming, logos and website design. I worked there until 2013, when I had my daughter, Harper.
What can you tell us about your family?
My husband and I met 14 years ago in college. We’ve been married for seven years, and Harper will be 3 in December. My husband is incredibly supportive of my aspirations. From the day I told him my idea to leave the wine industry, go back to school, and begin a new career in design, he was with me all the way. He definitely could have laughed and called me crazy, but he didn’t and we lived on a tight budget together while I got through school. Now, he works long days at the office and jumps right into “Dad mode” to play with Harper when he gets home so I can make dinner or get caught up on work if it’s an especially busy time for me.
“Blushing” Save the Date by Leah Bisch
How has having your daughter impacted your work?
In every way imaginable. Having Harper gave me the motivation that I needed to find a way to do what I love from home. It’s also taught me to be more patient with my work. With a toddler running around, I can usually only get things done in small spurts of time and I’ve learned that I actually work better that way. It’s helpful for me to brainstorm ideas and then take a break to play with my daughter and allow those ideas to simmer. When I’m able to return to my work, I come back feeling refreshed and inspired. She’s also been the direct source of inspiration for some of my designs. One of my favorite Minted designs I’ve created, “Wintery Fun,” came from an invitation I designed specifically with her December birthday in mind.
How do you balance personal life with work? Or is “balance” not the right word?
“Balance” is a tricky thing and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say I’ve achieved it. Inevitably, if I’m succeeding in one part of my life, it feels like the other parts are quickly falling behind. One way I try to maintain some sanity is to be more selective about any freelance work I take on. More design work means less time convincing my toddler that dessert isn’t a food group and crayons go on paper, not the walls. But seriously, Minted has been a blessing because it allows me to make my own schedule so that I can spend valuable time with my daughter while continuing to pursue a career that I love.
Can you share the schedule of a typical day in the life?
We have a general schedule around here, but I try not to get too settled in because it always seems to change just as I get used to it. My daughter attends preschool for a few hours a day three days a week, so I spend those mornings getting lost in my work in my home studio over a few cups of coffee and my indie rock Pandora station. On the days she doesn’t go to school we belong to a mommy-and-me exercise group that meets at a park on the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica. Once nap time hits in the afternoon, I get right to work for a few hours. Any mom/entrepreneur will tell you that nap time is like Black Friday for retail employees—you have a lot to get done in a very small amount of time.
What is your specialty as a designer?
Some of my favorite things to design are for kids, like birth announcements and birthday invitations—I love recreating some of that whimsy of childhood through my design. Also, at the beginning of 2016, I committed to learn more about hand-lettering and exercise my drawing muscles again. I’ve been excited about where my work has taken me this year and I’m looking forward to seeing it grow. However, the idea of having a specialty is tricky for me—I’m always experimenting and trying new things. I don’t like to get too comfortable. I find that the second I stop trying to improve or expand my skill set, I end up in a creative rut and I never want to get to the point of complacency with my work.
LEAH’S MINTED EXPERIENCE
What was your experience like in the 2016 Holiday Challenge?
I honestly thought submitting to Minted challenges would get easier over time. But I’ve actually found that it gets increasingly challenging with each passing year! The pressure is greater each season to improve on the work I’ve done in the past. But I work best under pressure and the competitive aspect drives me to keep improving and growing.
“Lemonade” by Leah Bisch
Which Minted design are you most proud of and why?
It would have to be my first award—“Lemonade.” It’s funny, because I consider myself more of a graphic designer, and this was an art print. But when I got that editor’s pick, I remember having this incredible sense of accomplishment. It was that feeling of “I can do this” and it was really the start of my business as an independent designer.
You joined Minted in 2014 and have 109 wins to your name! What’s your advice to new Minted Artists about the challenge process?
Take risks! Sometimes, I find myself unsure about submitting pieces that aren’t “my style”. But often, the designs where I tried something new are the ones that end up with a win or editor’s pick. Allow yourself to get messy and branch out. Also, while asking for specific feedback during the challenges is important, I strongly believe that giving feedback can be equally as powerful to help you grow as a designer. Dissecting someone else’s design to decide what works and what needs improvement can help you to look at your own work with a more critical, objective eye.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Minted community?
Freelancing can feel lonely at times. My 3-year-old doesn’t really want to talk about typography and hand-lettering on a day-to-day basis. Having the community to chat with at my fingertips helps me feel like I have co-workers and confidants. Everyone is friendly and encouraging, and it’s been great to make new friends through Minted meetups.
“Nice Work” by Heather Francisco
What’s your favorite Minted design or art that someone else created and why?
“Nice Work” by Heather Francisco. I have it on an art ledge in my office. I love the quirky style of the lettering and the sentiment is a good reminder.
What’s your most memorable Minted community experience?
The first Minted meetup I attended was in 2014 at a restaurant in Venice, California. I’d submitted to a couple of challenges but I didn’t have any wins at that point. Everyone I spoke with at the event was so encouraging. It was filled with people who had been in my shoes, struggled with their art, and eventually designed their way through difficulties. Instead of pushing me into the comparison game, it motivated me to keep trying, and shortly after that I got my first editor’s pick.
Any “don’t”s for up-and-comers?
I love the quote “don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20.” When you first start creating, what you make may not be anywhere near as good as it will be eventually. When scrolling through competition entries, it’s so easy to beat yourself up and compare yourself to people who have been designing for years. But if you work hard, keep trying, and keep learning, you’re bound to improve. It’s inevitable! So don’t get caught in the comparison trap. Instead, spend your time bettering your art.
“Wintery Fun” by Leah Bisch
Who inspires me: Julia Cameron, who wrote “The Artist’s Way.” I honestly don’t think I’d be in this profession if I hadn’t read her book.
Creative turnoffs: Poorly kerned letters and stretched images.
Favorite recent discovery: I love the iPadPro and the Apple Pencil. It’s completely changed how I work.
Favorite place in the world: Ireland! It was where I went on my honeymoon and the landscape there feels like a scene out of a fairytale. The colors are so inspiring, too—the rolling green hills and the gray skies are just incredible.
Favorite movie: I love off-beat comedies like Juno and The Royal Tenenbaums.
Favorite music: I love indie rock. Oh, and I would listen to Christmas music year round if it wasn’t frowned upon.
Number of stamps on my passport: I just got a new one, so zero.
Go-to design resource: Skillshare.
Favorite blog or website: I excel in procrastination via Facebook and Instagram.
Favorite font: Lately, I’ve been hooked on Goudy.
Favorite color: Usually gray, but sometimes green. See why I love Ireland?
Favorite something else that’s not on this list: Half-caf coffee. I can drink more cups of coffee while working without suffering from caffeine jitters. Hooray for small victories!
Published October 26, 20161 COMMENT