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.

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Nikkol Christiansen simplifies the complicated in design + life

Nikkol Christiansen eagerly awaits the completion of the home she designed in Utah.

Nikkol Christiansen’s minimalist design aesthetic works hand in hand with her approach to life, which centers around the beauty of simplicity. Which isn’t to imply that her life is simple. Nikkol has accomplished a lot during her short time on earth: She’s developed a career as an editorial designer and stylist, while moving around the country several times with her musician husband and raising four children. In addition to her Minted work, she creates backdrops for editorial and brand photo shoots, and designed the home she’s soon to move into. I think the most important thing to remember is that there are many seasons in life and that you can do lots of things, but you can’t do them all at once,” says the Minted artist who lives in Logan, Utah, about 20 minutes south of the Idaho border.

“Metallic Branches” wedding invitation by Nikkol Christiansen

Nikkol describes her artistic style as rooted in the masculine with graceful and feminine details. Both Nikkol’s and her husbands’ ancestors are from Denmark, and she’s always loved the minimal, textural aesthetic of Scandinavian design. She craves clean lines and natural textures, and white space is a must. “Someone once asked me why I leave all the white space in my designs, because it made them feel like something was missing. To me, it’s the exact opposite. I need it,” Nikkol says. “I told them to just breathe it in because it feels amazing.”

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Meet a Minted Artist: Shirley Lin Schneider

Although Minted artist Shirley Lin Schneider was always drawn to the world of art and design, she took a bit of an exploratory detour to study one of her other interests—marine biology—as an undergraduate at UCLA. After graduating in 1999, she took a year off to apply for graduate school. During that year, she took evening classes in graphic design, and the rest is creative history. After getting her degree in design, one thing led to the next, and Shirley built a career designing things you’ve likely seen on TV.

From 2004–2010, Shirley worked in the entertainment industry as an art director and designer for various broadcast networks and design studios, creating style frames for networks ranging from Sundance to AMC. Fast-forwarding to now, Shirley’s current path combines her experience in science with motion graphics and parenting: She’s a self-employed designer for Minted and beyond. Here, the Manhattan Beach, California, artist talks about how she made it happen.

Minted: Why did you originally major in marine biology?
Shirley Lin Schneider: I’ve always loved the biological sciences, especially marine biology, since I was young. It made sense for me to major in a scientific field, and I had amazing opportunities studying in Hawaii and Tahiti (where I met my husband), scuba diving, camping, research boat trips, etc. I believe these experiences have definitely shaped me as a designer. While I enjoyed studying biology and had planned to go to graduate school for marine biology, there was always a part of me drawn to the arts and design. Venturing out beyond the sciences and into the arts was daunting, because I had never been encouraged to pursue design.

After getting your undergrad degree in biology, where did you learn about graphic design?
I studied graphic design at Art Center College of Design. Prior to Art Center, my initial graphic design courses were through UCSB’s Extension Program. I worked as a production designer in the Education Abroad Program at University of California Santa Barbara, designing travel brochures for college students wanting to study abroad. I decided I wanted to pursue design formally and included an application to an art school. I ended up being accepted to Art Center and majored in graphic design with an emphasis on motion graphics design. I chose to focus on motion graphics because I had always loved sequential design—books, magazines, etc. The art of film titles really spoke to me because of the integration of various mediums—film, typography, illustration, animation, photography and sound—all into one piece.

You were drawn to design from an early age; how have your interests changed?
In high school and college, I was really into punk/ska music and the DIY scene. I loved album covers and self-published zines. The whole DIY mentality was very inspiring and motivating. Once I started taking evening design classes as a hobby, I saw the realm of what was possible in design. I’m sure I thought of how cool it would be to design album covers for a living. The funny thing is that my interests shifted over the course of being at art school, and I never pursued that avenue of work once I graduated.

Wildflowers” save the date card by Shirley Lin Schneider

What was your first job out of art school?
My first job was a Jr. Designer at G4, a video game network. I also freelanced for VH1. Through various design studios in Los Angeles, I have worked on projects for Bravo, AMC, FX, TLC, NBC, E!, ABC, CMT, etc. I really enjoyed working on on-air projects like opening show titles and promos for TV networks. I also liked designing for network branding projects, commercials, and film titles/trailers. I made the difficult decision to take some time off after having my first born because the long hours were not conducive to family life.  

Above: Shirley (on the right) with her coworker-producer while working on a shoot for a promo for TLC’s summer lineup. “We were responsible for directing and designing all on-air assets related to the promo as well as the graphics that wrapped around the ice cream truck,” Shirley explains. “The truck drove around that summer promoting TLC shows and gave away free ice cream.”
Shirley Lin Schneider designed these storyboard for Always Sunny in Philadelphia (above) and the Sundance Channel (below.)

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Meet a Minted Artist: Susan Asbill

When we asked Minted artist Susan Asbill to describe a typical day in the life, she explained that as a working mother with two small children, the real constant in her life is chaos. “As a type A personality, this has been hard for me to accept, but I’ve found that no amount of planning will keep things from going awry,” the Dallas designer says. “For now I’m just settling into the chaos with these two little humans and soaking up all the mess and magic while it lasts.”

That perfect combination of life’s beautiful mess and magic shows in her Minted work, a bold, colorful collection of designs that celebrates life’s major moments. After asking Susan about her goals, how’s she’s developed her career, and what she does for fun, we’ve learned that she’s a hard-working Texan with a heartwarming sense of humor, and she’s committed to the Minted artist community.

Minted: Did you study art or design formally in school?
Susan Asbill: I’ve had my heart set on an art-related career as far back as I can remember. As a child I drifted in and out of other activities, but art was my constant. In high school, I was taking so many art classes that I was short on regular credits needed for graduation—oops. I had to make these up in summer school and correspondence classes. I got my bachelor of fine arts in design from the University of Texas at Austin. I initially spent two years in studio art before moving into their design program. It was a difficult transition at first. I was used to the looser world of fine art, and it took me a while to get my footing. I had wonderful teachers who kept me challenged—and sometimes overwhelmed—throughout the program. I’m grateful for that push today. They also kept the class size small, and our group really bonded through the years. We stay in touch to this day. The bonds I’ve made in the Minted community remind me of those early designer friendships.

What was your first design-related job?
My first design job was as an art director at a small agency in Dallas. They had a lot of home goods clients: surfacing and tile companies, gourmet ranges, roofing, etc. Since then I’ve worked 10 different jobs, both at agencies and also as an in-house designer. Working with such a wide variety of clients has been interesting, and I’ve been able to bounce between different brand styles, everything from Dom Pérignon to the WWE. It’s been a wild ride.

Do you think 10 jobs is a lot, or not necessarily?
Ten jobs may sound like a lot, but it’s common in marketing and advertising. There is always employee turnover when agencies win and lose accounts. I’ve also moved around to learn new skills, like switching to an interactive agency at one point to learn web design. My most recent job change was to focus more on my family.

Pegasus” children’s custom art by Susan Asbill for Minted

How many hours per week do you usually work? And what does “work” mean for you?
Currently I work three days a week in TGI Fridays’ corporate office, primarily designing their menus. The other two days I work at home on freelance clients, Minted, volunteer work, and of course the toughest and most rewarding gig of all, being a mother.

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Meet a Minted Artist: Gerrie Magnani of Chocomocacino

Gerrie Magnani’s life sounds like a dream. Having grown up in Indonesia, she now lives in Ravenna, a beautiful historical town in Italy, and strives to work no more than 20 to 30 hours a week as a freelance graphic designer. Going by the moniker Chocomocacino, Gerrie lives and loves creativity, food, and travel. She found her design footing as a teen, and after studying graphic design in San Francisco, took a hiatus to become a yogi in Bali. While on hiatus, she met her husband, an Italian bodybuilder, who took her back to his hometown.

Much as her life story so far is a winding journey, Gerrie views her design and art as a constant evolution. You can’t quite pinpoint her signature style in a few words, and that’s what she’s going for—for the moment. “I like things that either have elegance, uniqueness, modernity, and adorable/cutesy quality to it, so that’s where I’m directing my designs, too,” she says. “I haven’t found the right combination or balance between all of these. Maybe it’s because my work is so different.”

Minted: Why did you move to Bali after college?
Gerrie Magnani: I lived in Ubud for almost two years, to pursue my yoga life, both teaching and studying. I got a scholarship and studied my yoga teaching right before moving to Ubud, also in Bali (Canggu) with Australian Yoga school. I taught yoga mostly privately in villas and hotels for guests who came to Bali, and some retreats. I also attended yoga-related workshops like astrology and meditation. My husband was my neighbor in Ubud; he managed an online rental accommodation. As a bodybuilder, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s completely the opposite of a yogi.

Before living in Bali, you attended Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and majored in graphic design. What was your first design job after graduating college?
I went back to Jakarta after school, and my first job for almost 10 years was as a wedding invitation designer—very much my dream job. I’ve always had a passion for paper and stationery, and I liked going to card stores to look at the illustration, lettering, and how cards are printed. Creating beautiful cards was really not a job for me; I had so much fun that it felt more like a hobby. I learned so much about printing processes—from laser cut to embossing, foil stamping, creating boxed invitations, and even printing with velvet texture. Dream world!

Amalfi – New York City” save the date card by Gerrie Magnani of Chocomocacino for Minted

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Meet a Minted Artist: Erica Krystek

Triathlon magazine creative director. Former competitive tennis player. Journalism major. Mom and wife. These are a handful of the words we can use to describe Erica Krystek, who like many of her fellow community members, enters Minted challenges by night. With more than 200 Minted awards to her name, Erica’s work spans from exuberant holiday cards to humorous baby and kids designs, and a little bit of customizable art for good measure. If you look a little closer at Erica’s work on her Minted Artist Store, you’ll likely find yourself smirking at her usage of clever puns: “Let’s Taco ‘Bout How Awesome You Are” and “You’re Tool Cool” among them. It goes without saying that she’s not only a talented designer, but she’s also got a way with words.

Here the San Diego artist talks about her “plannerly” creative process, how she’s evolved as a Minted artist, and how quality mommy time and a good work-life balance makes her heart happy.

Sleepy Fox” baby shower invitation by Erica Krystek

Minted: Did you study art or design formally in school?
Erica Krystek: I grew up in San Diego and, other than college, have lived here my whole life. I did not formally study graphic design, and instead received a B.S. in journalism at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 2002. My intention was to be an editor or writer; however, my senior year while working as an editor at Cal Poly’s daily newspaper, I realized I enjoyed the design aspect of journalism more than the editorial side. At the time, the paper was a very low-budget operation, and as an editor, you were also tasked with designing your editorial section. So I quickly taught myself Quark and found that I kind of had a knack for it. After I graduated, I was fortunate to get a wonderful job working for a firefighting magazine, where I honed my design skills, eventually working my way up the ladder to Art Director.

Erica’s dog Sherman likes to stick his nose into Erica’s work.

What’s it like to work as the Creative Director of LAVA magazine?
I grew up heavily involved in many sports and received an athletic scholarship to college, so working for any sports-oriented publication piqued my interest. When I had the opportunity to work as the Creative Director for LAVA, it seemed like a perfect fit. LAVA is a newsstand, coffee-table-style triathlon magazine, published nine times a year. Our content caters to more serious and seasoned triathletes, versus beginners, and takes its name from the lava landscape of Kona, Hawaii, where the Ironman World Championship (the premier event for most triathletes) has been held each year since the early ’80s. We have a very small operation of eight people, so I do the majority of the design work for print and web as well as create our marketing materials and direct our cover shoots.

Erica Krystek is the Creative Director of LAVA Magazine.

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Meet a Minted Artist: Jessie Steury

Scroll through Jessie Steury’s Minted Artist Store, and you can see that she is a prolific illustrator. Since joining Minted in 2011, she’s built a strong reputation for her signature style of perky, colorful illustrations of animals, maps, trucks, and more. Hers is the kind of art that transforms a child’s room into a gallery of rainbow-colored wonders. Jessie’s illustration style is a mix of modern and vintage influences, a direct reflection of the things she loves in real life. “I love clean modern spaces, but I also like to spend my spare time searching thrift stores for silly old knick-knacks,” she says.

Funny thing is that Jessie never planned a career in illustration. “I’ve always loved drawing, but never thought I could actually do it for a living,” says the Indiana artist and mom of three. “This is where I owe another big thanks to Minted. Entering all these design challenges have really helped me grow and find my own style.”

In this interview, Jessie talks about her original career plan, life as a “farmer’s wife,” and how she developed her successful path on Minted.

Animal World Map” by Jessie Steury

Minted: Did you study art or design formally in school?
Jessie Steury: I did! I attended the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, with a focus on graphic design. It was such a great experience — both the formal education and what I learned while living in the city.

Animals of the World” fabric by Jessie Steury

Illustration comprises a lot of your work now. What were your “original” career plans?
Graphic design was the original plan. It seemed like a more realistic career choice — something I could do and get a job anywhere, even in an Indiana small town. I worked for a marketing company in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on projects like RV brochures and outdoor furniture catalogs. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t a good fit for me. Looking back, I realize that before I left for college, I had no idea that the Internet would allow me to work with companies all over the country.

Can you share the schedule of a typical day in the life now, as a Minted artist?
I’m happy to say there is no “typical” day, although, they are all probably pretty similar. It’s a mix of normal mom duties and designing on my computer. I really do enjoy the flexibility of working for myself. I don’t force myself to sit at a desk for a certain amount of time every day, and I probably never will. If I sit down to work and I’m not feeling it, I do something else — just until that creativity comes back. Usually a few minutes of housework, and I’ll quickly feel like getting back to designing.

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Meet a Minted Artist: Kimberly FitzSimons

Kimberly FitzSimons spent a decade working in investor relations and product management for leading Fortune 500 companies before becoming who she is today: a successful designer and parent of two girls. Like many of Minted artists’ success stories, Kimberly’s career transition didn’t happen overnight. As a self-taught designer, she built her creative path from the ground up and got her hands dirty with her own letterpress company before focusing solely on the design side of stationery. In this interview, Kimberly shares the wisdom she’s gained from working on Wall Street, connecting with the Minted artist community, and “learning how to fly” as a designer.

Kimberly’s style is timeless and refined with eye-catching type.

Minted: What did you study in school?
Kimberly FitzSimons:
Finance. I spent 10 years working as an investor relations consultant for several public companies and then led a product management team for a large financial technology company before giving it up to be a full-time mom and part-time graphic designer.

While I was planning my wedding in 2007, I fell in love with the letterpress printing method. Not long after my wedding, I enrolled in letterpress printing classes at the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College in Chicago. It was letterpress printing that ultimately jump-started my passion for design. I taught myself Illustrator so that I could have something to letterpress print in those classes. Eventually, in 2010, I bought a restored Vandercook (letterpress printing machine) and started a design and printing business for wedding stationery. My business grew very fast, and ultimately, I had to outsource the printing work to my commercial printing partner (Rohner Letterpress) and focus on design. My old Vandercook is still a workhorse and is now owned by Steel Petal Press in Chicago. I had a few very crazy but good years offering custom letterpress wedding stationery, but I closed my business in 2014 to focus on my family and concentrate on designs for Minted.

Fresh Christmas Wishes” holiday card by Kimberly FitzSimons

How has your former career in finance and tech shaped you as a designer?
All of my jobs within the finance and technology industries helped shape who I am today and how I think about my business. As an investor relations consultant, I worked with management teams of Fortune 500 companies and interacted with their large institutional shareholders. I learned so much about the financial markets and Wall Street, but I also learned very quickly how to ask questions, build relationships, and creatively spin a “story.” It was not always the easiest job, but it had it’s thrilling moments, like interacting with well-respected executives and helping companies plan their IPOs.

When I moved into product management for a financial technology company, I was able to use some of my previous market knowledge and relationship skills to help build and implement products for a web-based asset management and trading platform. One of my favorite parts of the job was brainstorming new product features with our engineering team in Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale, California). There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes to brainstorm, build, test, implement, and launch new products. It makes me truly appreciate all that the Minted Engineering and Product teams do for artists and their customers.

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Meet a Minted Artist: Annie Mertlich of Wildfield Paper Co.

Casual, bohemian, whimsical, vintage, organic. Those are the five words that Annie Mertlich uses to describe her style of design. As for the words we’d use to describe Annie as a person, we’d say prolific, hard worker, and unstoppable creative energy. Annie is the visionary behind Wildfield Paper Co. and the woman who works around the clock to build her brand that’s become known for breathtaking watercolor florals.

When Annie entered and won her first Minted design challenge in 2013, she was simultaneously working a full-time job that sucked the creative life out of her. About four months after winning, she quit her day job on what she calls a “hope and a prayer,” in early 2014. Although she says she wasn’t sure if she’d succeed as a self-employed creative, she was very optimistic and determined to make Wildfield Paper Co. a reality. “I had no idea at the time how big of an impact those early Minted challenges would have on the success of my business,” Annie says. Fast-forward nearly three years later, and she’s a creative force to be reckoned with. Here, Annie shares more of her experience of building her passion into a successful career as an independent designer and entrepreneur.

A Very Merry Christmas” and “Peace on Earth in Watercolor” holiday cards by Annie Mertlich of Wildfield Paper Co.

Minted: How did you discover Minted?
Annie Mertlich: I remember being so unhappy at my job and desperately seeking a creative outlet. I worked at a company doing creative work, but the environment was so toxic that I really needed something creative that wasn’t for that company. I remember browsing Pinterest for some Christmas decorating inspiration, and I came across a beautifully designed card and I followed it through to Minted. I read all about how Minted’s Design Challenges work and joined right away. The first challenge I entered was the 2014 big holiday challenge!

Did you study art or design formally in school?
I did classic training with a composite major in painting, printmaking, and drawing from Southern Utah University, a little university in my hometown. It may be a smaller university, but the art program is highly acclaimed, and they really push you to discover your potential. It was a wonderful experience, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. With a composite major, we really had to take a lot of different classes to fulfill the credit requirements. I ended up learning so many unique artistic techniques that I likely wouldn’t have explored otherwise. I never anticipated liking watercolor, but I was required to take the class and I fell in love. Bonus: I met my husband at SUU.

How many hours per week do you usually work, and what does “work” mean for you?
I’m honestly too scared to keep track — it averages at about 12 hours per day. During my busy seasons, it’s usually closer to 17 hours a day. I’m running the full business, so work is really everything from painting to posting on Instagram, billing clients to ordering shipping and printing supplies, and filing taxes to responding to emails. I wear all the hats.

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A Day in the Life of Minted Artist Carly Reed Walker

Written By Carly Reed Walker
Portraits By Courtney Bowles Photography

6 AM: I’m somewhat of an early riser, rarely sleeping after 6 in the morning. It works well for me, because I find those early morning hours are my most calm, quiet, and productive. I try to start each morning with yoga. Usually that means practicing in my living room, but I just started a prenatal yoga class that I love — I’m 20 weeks along! I’ll have breakfast and coffee with my rescue pup, Buster, and husband, if he’s home (he has an irregular work schedule as a locomotive engineer). Buster is an adorable little beagle mix that we adopted from a great organization called the Richmond Animal League, where I volunteer regularly. I also spend a little time on Instagram before I get to work for the day, but don’t we all?

Gala” is my favorite holiday card I’ve created for Minted. I love how modern and editorial it is.

8 AM: I like to sit down at my desk between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. to get organized, which is somewhat of a challenge for me. I have an amazing office/studio in our house. It’s a dream to get to work and create there every day. When we purchased our home in Richmond, Virginia, last year, my very generous husband agreed to give me the largest room in the house for work. It doubles as an office and meeting space for clients. I’ll start things off by going through emails and making a to-do list for the day, which tends to be a little scattered. From there, I get to work designing whatever is on said to-do list. My workload is balanced between wedding stationery clients, branding projects, and other stationery/design work like Minted. It’s a challenge for me to focus on several different projects, so I take frequent breaks away from the computer to snack or take Buster for a walk through our neighborhood.

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