Lena Barakat balances Minted, freelance design + family with grace

When we asked Lena Barakat how to strike work-life balance (if there is such a thing) for this blog post in February 2016, she said “Learn to say no.” Forty weeks pregnant with her third child at the time, Lena was (and still is) a longtime Minted community member and super mom who also works as a freelance graphic designer. Life is as balanced as it can be now, but when Lena first began freelancing, things were different. During a down economy, she felt the need to take on every opportunity to help grow her business, build experience and her portfolio. As she describes it, her hours were all over the place, from late evenings to weekends. “Over the years, I’ve learned many lessons, one of which is setting boundaries,” the Indiana designer says. “I do my best to not overwhelm myself by taking on more than I can handle, as well as shutting down all aspects of work when I am with my family.”

With experience and success under her belt, Lena says she’s still disciplined when it comes to work, but her children will always come first. In this “Meet a Minted Artist” interview, Lena talks about how she makes quality time for the things that matter most to her, including creative development, finding inspiration, and trusting her gut.

Minted: Would you give the same advice now as you did more than a year ago?
Lena Barakat: My sentiments are definitely the same. In a sense, having children changes your identity, so finding a balance, without losing yourself, is key. My children are still very young, and I think it’s imperative to focus on nurturing my family, while fulfilling and preserving my creative pursuit.

What kind of freelance work do you do?
Logo work, annual reports, branding, advertising. As a freelance designer, you wear multiple hats and need to be able to quickly jump from one project to the next. Every week my schedule changes, but on average I’d say roughly five hours a day on design work and a few hours a day maintaining and managing life at home—errands, doctor appointments, laundry, tons of laundry, groceries, did I mention laundry? All three of my boys love to dig in the dirt. I strive to have everything taken care of, so when my husband, a physician, comes home from a really long day, we can relax and enjoy our time with the kids.

Do you have formal education in design or art?
I attended Birmingham-Southern College my freshman and sophomore year with Biology as my major. I enjoyed the subject, but after counting fruit flies in lab for hours, I knew I needed a change. Ever since I could remember, I’ve always had a love for the arts, but had uncertainty about how to move forward in the field. My siblings are all Science majors, and the notion of making a career from art raised a few brows at first. My sister and brother-in-law encouraged me to look into graphic design. I ended up transferring to Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and received a Bachelors of Science in Graphic Design. The design curriculum, and my professors were exceptional.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about design?
Never stop. Continue to push yourself to learn, edit, and grow. Take a class, watch a tutorial, ask for help—it’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your work.

“Wedding Waltz” wedding invitation by Lena Barakat

How do you describe your design style? Do you feel that you specialize in a particular aspect of design or illustration?
I’m not sure I have a distinctive style. However, I do find great satisfaction when designs are refined and clean.   

Have you overcome any significant challenges in your career? If so, what challenge is most memorable, and what did you learn from the experience?
When I first got married, the economy was not in great shape. I had just moved to Connecticut and couldn’t find a job anywhere. It was a very difficult time for me. Given the circumstances, I am grateful as it pushed me to try freelancing. I built a website, emailed friends and family, and never looked back.

Being a freelancer is a rollercoaster of emotions with many highs and lows. I hate to disappoint anyone, which translates to my work. Trying to appease clients at all times can be exhausting. Being involved with Minted has helped me overcome some struggles and has definitely helped build my confidence. When my wrapping paper design was featured in Vanity Fair, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt like a weight had been lifted—that I am capable of this.

Lena Barakat’s “Poinsetta” customizable wrapping paper was featured in the holiday 2015/2016 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. “It was very unexpected and incredibly exciting to be recognized and published,” Lena says, adding that Minted artist Carol Fazio spotted the feature and posted about it on the Minted Community Facebook Group.

If you need a shot of inspiration, what do you tend to do?
Break away from the computer! I find inspiration everywhere, even in unexpected places. Getting fresh air helps, browsing through fashion publications—I’m a visual person and am quickly inspired by unique color combinations, patterns, and interesting typography.

How has being a parent changed you?
My twin boys will be three in May, and our youngest turned one in February. Hands-down it’s the most difficult yet rewarding job. My children are my life. They have tested my abilities, taught me patience, and expanded my capacity of love like no other. Watching them experience and discover life through their eyes has transformed me.

“Chevron Flake” holiday card by Lena Barakat

Are you from Indiana originally?
No, I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I got married in 2008 and moved to Connecticut for my husband’s residency. We spent five years in Hartford and then moved to St. Louis, Missouri, for his fellowship for over a year and then resided in Indiana for his job. My husband is originally from Illinois, and our location puts us close to Chicago and his work, so it’s a happy medium.


How has your experience as a Minted artist evolved since you joined the community in 2010?
My relationships have evolved with other designers, setting realistic expectations and understanding myself through the process. From disappointment to overwhelming joy, stepping away, editing, and listening to my gut instinct.

“Organic Leaves” birth announcement by Lena Barakat

What do you enjoy about being part of the Minted community?
The community is incredible. There is so much treasure and talent to learn from. As an independent designer working from home, it’s not often you find such a beautiful gift within reach. The premise of the challenges is competition, but we are always willing to help one another other grow and succeed. The more you put yourself out there, the bigger the reward—and not just by wins. The support, heartfelt kindness, and encouragement have truly been impeccable.

“Speckled Wreath” holiday card by Lena Barakat

What have you learned from being part of the Minted community?
Go with your instinct, be authentic to yourself, and never give up.

I met you at a Minted event in Chicago. Have you attended other Minted meetups, or have you met in person with Minted artists over the years? What’s it like to meet Minted artists in person after talking with them over the Internet?
Yes! I attended the National Stationery Show many, many years ago, and it was the first time I met other Minted artists and Mariam Naficy in person. It was an overwhelming experience, filled with anxiety and excitement. I highly encourage everyone to experience NSS at least once, if possible.

A few years ago, my husband and I were on vacation in Hawaii and we met up with Kaydi Bishop and her husband. We had a fantastic evening and have stayed in close contact over the years. We reconnected again in Indiana last year, and it was amazing watching our little ones play together. Angela Marzuki and I hosted an event in Chicago in 2016, and it was a wonderful experience. Several Minted artists flew in from all over to be a part of the event. It was a magical night filled with so much laughter, inspiring stories, and the beginning of new connections. We hope to plan something again soon.

What’s your favorite Minted design or art (that someone else created) and why?
This is such a difficult question, as I have many favorites! I love Olivia Kanaley’s art piece, “Grecian Floral.” Every time I see it, I smile. The color palette is stunning and I adore her style. It’s really charming!


Go-to design resources: Blogs, Pinterest, fashion publications

Design heroes: Rene Gruau, Saul Bass, Paul Rand

Favorite book: The Alchemist

Favorite music: My playlist is composed of random music (from Prince, Coldplay, Civil Wars to Beyoncé)  

Favorite film: Pride and Prejudice, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Vicky Christina Barcelona

Favorite TV series: Game of Thrones, The Office

Favorite form of eye candy: Shoes!

Favorite place in the world: Paris, always Paris

Your idea of an ideal vacation: Visiting a charming and quaint city with a story to discover   

Favorite something else: Cooking and baking—I find so much joy in creating a delicious meal and sharing it with friends and family.

Lena’s Minted Artist Store
Lena Barakat’s Website
Lena Barakat on Instagram @zeina_lena_design
Lena Barakat on Facebook

About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture back in the day, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.

Published April 12, 2017

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