Valio Con Personal Recap

Longtime no see, blog world! I’ve sincerely missed blogging and I’m striving to carve time out for it in my life again moving forward.

Now with the formal “Sorry for not posting in forever” intros out of the way, I want to pop in with an awesome update!

As those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook may have seen, I was recently honored with the opportunity to speak at Valio Con, a designer conference here in San Diego. It was my first speaking gig and such an exhilarating, inspiring experience. I met so many awesome people, listened in on talks from some incredibly talented creatives, and all-in-all spent 4 days soaking up a wealth of knowledge I can’t even begin to encapsulate in this one post.

Coming off the high of this past weekend, I’m super inspired to keep the momentum going and continue sharing my insights, experiences, and learned knowledge as a designer/photographer/creative of many talents.

While I impatiently wait for the recap videos to come out, I wanted to share a few points from some of my favorite talks.

Ash Huang closed us out on Thursday and her talk was by far my favorite of the first day. Even though this was a designer conference, Ash spoke on her experience writing and publishing her first fantasy novel – something that totally spoke to my long-lost writers heart. I absolutely loved her “why not?” attitude and her statement, “Don’t wait to be chosen.” So if there’s something you want to be doing, go out there and make shit happen. Even if it means scrapping everything and starting over, keep going for it.

The second talk I loved was the last talk of the conference from Alex Medina. He talked about his journey through music and design in the hip-hop scene. Coming from a migrant family living in New York, he didn’t let limits be his limitations. His mother challenged him, saying if she could finish school with her broken english, what was his excuse? I loved Alex’s pure passion for his work. One particular example really spoke to me. He designed the cover for Lecrae’s book Unashamed, and after designing several iterations, the publishers chose his least favorite option (as clients are notoriously wont to do). But that didn’t sit right with him and he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if that was the cover that went out into the world. So he fought for a second chance to make something better, and mocked it up like crazy to prove it was the better option. He challenged all of us with the notion that we, as designers, are hired for a reason. We need to trust our instincts and be willing to stand up for them. Our ideas are valuable.

Anyways, make sure to check out these designers and the rest of the talented people listed on the Valio Con website. Their work is all so incredible and I’m still beaming from the opportunity be among them.

6 Steps for Finding & Properly Crediting Image Sources

I’m a bit of a source credit nazi. Having had my own work misused and passed around the Internet multiple times without proper acknowledgment, I personally know the disheartening feeling of coming across my work on Pinterest and seeing it unsourced, or even worse, credited to someone else. So I try my best to do unto others as I would have them do to me. Here I’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to finding the source of an image using Google’s reverse image search and how to properly give credit where credit is due.

But first, why is crediting important?
We live in a world now where so much content is generated and shared on the Internet, it’s easy to forget there are hard-working creatives behind the scenes actually making that content. But the reality is, someone out there dedicated time, effort, and who knows what else to create the images we so easily pass around on Pinterest/Tumblr/whatever. Not acknowledging sources puts everyone at a disadvantage – artists don’t get noticed for their work, and viewers don’t get to discover new artists. Overall, it just makes for a bad experience, so let’s try to make the Internet a better place, starting with crediting sources.

How to Find & Properly Credit Image Sources

1. Gather the image address of the photo you want to credit by right clicking > Copy Image Address.

2. Open up Google Images and click the little camera icon in the search bar. Paste the copied image address and Search.

3. Skim through the search results. Now here’s the part where you may need to do some Sherlock-style sleuthing. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the original source will be right at the top. But since images get passed around so much on popular sites like Pinterest, the original source of a lesser known creator often gets buried under the reposts. (For this reason, some image sources are unfortunately impossible to find through this method.)

✳ Ignore results that come from Pinterest boards – you’ll most likely just end up back at an unsourced image.
✳ Tumblr is notorious for unsourced images, but sometimes the image has been reblogged from the original source or the blogger actually took the time to credit in the caption. So those links are worth checking out.

On page 3, you’ll notice I finally found 2 results that seemed to match (the highlight squares have been added by me for emphasis). The first one was a dead end, but the second result seemed promising. Open those pages up in a new tab.

4. Inspect the results. Often times, the page that includes the image still won’t be the original source, but may include a link to the real artist. In this case, the search led me to a Tumblr reblog and fortunately the original artist was quoted below, so I clicked through to waspandbone‘s Tumblr.

5. Finally! We’ve found the original artist! A personal caption explaining the creation of the piece and a quick look through her other posts with a similar style confirms this is in fact the original artist. Not only is it great that I can give proper credit, but now I can browse some of her other work that might interest me, maybe purchase something from her Etsy shop, or just make a new connection. See how crediting benefits everyone?

6. Go back to wherever you were planning on sharing the image (Pinterest, Tumblr, your blog, moodboard, etc) and give proper credit – name the artist and link to their website.

Other Tips
✳ For some images, click the All Sizes link near the top of the search results. A new page will open listing the image and places where it’s found at varying sizes. Usually the site with the largest size is the original source, so click around through some of the results and follow a similar sleuthing method to find the original.
✳ Using reverse image search and the All Sizes option is also a great way to find larger, better quality versions of an image you want to share.

Now go make the Internet a better place and credit your sources!

Freelance Life – How I Got Started

My freelance journey and how I got started is one of the most frequently asked questions I get on a monthly basis. I sat down to write this email to a reader and ended up with a novel-long response, so instead here it is turned into a blog post about my early beginnings and how it led me to where I’m at now.

Q: How did you get started? How were you able to grow your business? Was it mostly word of mouth or social media? Is getting work ever a problem for you?

Art and design have always been parts of my life. Literally, I’ve been drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil, and designing things ever since I’ve been on a computer (hello AOL Kids, pixel dolling, Neopet stores, and Xanga layouts, haha). So becoming a professional creative “just sort of happened”. There wasn’t ever a conscious decision to pursue these things; I was just always doing them because I loved it, and people eventually started hiring me to do more of it. That natural progression fueled by pure passion is why I’ve been able to do this for as long as I have.

At 16, someone who had seen my custom Myspace layouts, reached out to have me design her logo. That was the moment of realization that this hobby could be a real service, and potentially a career. I had an obnoxiously large Myspace following back then (xSceneQueenx for lyfe), and it gave me an outlet to promote my design work. Eventually I was designing layouts, logos, websites, album art, and t-shirts for hundreds of clients all through word of mouth. Although, things were very different back then. I don’t think a lot of people had yet fully realized the potential of social media, so the few of us out there using it to our advantage were really on the cusp of things. There were only a handful of other people servicing the niched audience of scene kids and bands, so it was easier to stand out and be in high demand.

After Myspace died, a major source of my clientele went with it, and I had to reinvent myself in a way. For a while, I focused mostly on music photography and designing for bands, lending itself to more word-of-mouth work and free promotion from the musicians. Not wanting to put all my eggs in that basket like I did with Myspace, I decided to get a degree in graphic design to leave the door open for more professional opportunities.

In school, it was easy to feel like a know-it-all at times, having already been freelancing for the last 5ish years. But my instructors acknowledged my skills, and pushed me to be even better, refining my process and challenging me to think beyond what I was used to doing. One professor actually gave me a D on a project because I skimped on sketches – even though she said it was the best final design of the class. Needless to say, sketching is now one of the most important parts of my process. In my final year, I fell in love with branding, and completely revamped my entire business model and services, catering specifically to small businesses and “creative makers and doers”. Which leads us to where I am today.

Throughout all of that, social media was going through a major evolution and it changed the way people stumbled upon designers and influencers. Before, I was used to people knowing me because of the presence I had years ago on Myspace. Now suddenly, I have to hustle a lot harder to be at the forefront. It seems like everyone is now a designer, developer, branding coach, Squarespace specialist, yada yada. So there’s a lot of crowd to stand out from. Nowadays, Instagram, blogging, and a few design sites like Behance and Dribbble are huge for promoting my work. If I neglect those, I’m sure my business would suffer.

I cannot stress enough how absolutely necessary and vastly important social media is for a freelancer in this day and age.

If you don’t put your work out there and make it possible for people to find it, no one is just going to come along and hire you. And I get that not everyone is going to be good at the whole social media thing – it’s definitely a full-time job of it’s own. But if you want dream clients of your own, it’s 100% necessary. I have friends who are so ridiculously talented, but they suck at social media promotion. So the only client work they get is the random word-of-mouth jobs from friends/family/coworkers/etc. Now don’t get me wrong, those jobs can then snowball into other jobs and so on. But you’re leaving your success in the hands of other people when you can be out there hustling for yourself.

In the end, everyone’s experience is going to be different. As a zillion other designers will tell you, there’s no magic formula to this. All of that to say, the biggest takeaways you should get from my experience are:

✳ Do what you love & don’t stop.
If you’re passionate about something, work at it every day, and don’t expect success to be handed to you. Just because you get a degree, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to a design career. Just because you make an Instagram account for your designs, doesn’t mean anyone’s going to follow you, let alone hire you. You have to hustle for it, constantly.

✳ There is always learning to be done, & challenges to be had.
Just when you think you know everything, dig deeper. When I thought I was hot shit in school, I got a D on a project, and that opened my eyes to how much growing I needed to do. Read books, take classes, join groups, set goals, and grow.

✳ Lastly, put your work out there.
Use social media to your advantage. Use hashtags. Be authentic and make genuine connections. Don’t just promote your ego. Share stories. Inspire others. (Read Austin Kleon’s Share Your Work if you want to learn more about how to share like an artist and not like a salesrobot.)

Hope this has helped and/or inspired your own experience. Feel free to reach out to me either in the comments below or via email if you have any questions or need any advice about anything! Happy to chat! :) Also, I plan on doing more posts like this, so if you have any burning questions you’d like me to cover, feel free to shoot me an email!

Tips for Creating Effective Mood Boards

Being a graphic designer requires a certain level of telepathy to fully understand a client’s vision before starting a project. Unfortunately there isn’t a Skillshare class on mind reading (correction: there was, but it’s since been removed). So using mood boards is the next best way to visually communicate ideas between parties and ensure everyone is on the same page before getting too deep into a design.

Mood boards have been such a helpful part of my process, for clients that know exactly what they want and for those that need a little help making sense of the ideas in their head. So I’ve written up some tips for making mood boards and a step-by-step of how I go about creating them.

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Quick Tips

✳︎ Gather inspiration from all sorts of places

Search online (I use these sites: Pinterest, Dribbble, Behance, Designspiration, Tumblr, Flickr), browse through books, and look around your environment. Go out and take your own photos, browse through the stuff you have in your own home, peruse the shelves at the store.

When I designed the vinyl album art for Being As An Ocean’s Dear G-d…, I pulled out my parent’s old record collection and spent an hour observing design trends, font styles, textures, etc. The back of that album was actually based off a tattered copy of The Eagles’ The Long Run. When I rebranded a nearby neighborhood, I drove around and took photos of the retro building signs, architecture, and preexisting artwork in the community (murals, paintings on electric boxes, etc). Inspiration is everywhere, so think outside your computer!

✳︎ Focus more on styles vs final designs

It’s good to include some examples of similar design styles, but avoid filling your entire mood board with other designer’s work. Be inspired by similar styles, but don’t set yourself up to imitate these designs. However, if you find yourself inspired by a design, save it. One of my past instructors used to tell us to save every design we took note of that way we could reference back to them and make sure we didn’t subconsciously copy it. Keeping a private Pinterest board is great for this.

Instead of only referencing other designs, seek out different mediums. When I’m putting together a mood board for a logo design, I don’t just look for other logo designs. I gather photographs, illustrations, book covers, patterns, textures, etc that all convey the style I’m going for.

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Process of Creating a Mood Board

01. Start with keywords that describe the project

Sometimes they’re literal – either related to the brand name, the product, or target audience (for example, bison and jerky were literal keywords for The Dapper Bison); while other times they’re more conceptual (words like rustic, masculine, and adventurous).

02. Search for images that represent the literal keywords

I usually use these as my main images. For example, for The Dapper Bison, my main images were of a bison, a jar of jerky, and a well-dressed gentleman. These main photos helped drive the vibe of the mood board.

03. Next find secondary supporting images

Look for photos, textures, patterns, lettering styles, etc that encompass the conceptual words, and also match or compliment the style of the main image.

04. Notice color trends between the images

Colors are packed full of meaning and have a huge impact on the mood. These sites have some great info on the psychology of color: Symbolism of Color | Color Meaning

05. Look for other images related to that color

Lucky for us, there are people on Pinterest who obsessively organize images in boards based entirely on color. Search for your particular color, select Boards, and browse through the multitude of images strictly in that color. Pick ones that further enhance the overall style of your mood board and carryout the keywords.

06. Reflect on your findings

As I search for inspiration, I throw everything into a private Pinterest board to later make sense of. Some of the images I was originally inspired by won’t get used because they either don’t work with the others, or they just don’t represent the brand like I originally thought.

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07. Ask Why?

If you want to be more than just a pixel pusher, your design decisions need to have purpose. Ask why certain images inspire you or your client, or why they help influence the overall style of the mood board. For example, in my most recent moodboard, my client and I included a specific book cover because we loved the oxblood color, the Old Style serif all uppercase lettering, and the fact that the floral elements mixed in with the medieval weapons felt strong and powerful yet feminine. All of these observations helped influence the final brand.

08. Put it all together

There are many ways to assemble a mood board, but I personally choose to lay them out in a stylized grid in Photoshop. Use varying sizes to establish visual hierarchy – make the most important images larger and keep the secondary supporting images smaller. For more on that, check out 6 Principles of Visual Hierarchy For Designers.


I could write a whole nother post about crediting, but if you’re going to share your moodboard online, give credit for the original works! Correct sources aren’t often easily available on Pinterest (again, I’ll save that for another rant), so Google image reverse search is your best option. Right click the image > Copy Image Address > Go to Google image search > Select the camera icon in the search bar > Paste the image URL and search. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the source of the original image on the first page. If not, you’ll have to do a bit of sleuthing.

Hope this helps some of you! If you aren’t already, give mood boarding a try. They’re not only useful for communicating ideas in the beginning, but they’re also a fun way to get into the groove of your project.

Being a Femme Photographer on Tour with a Band of Boys

Q: Most bands don’t seem to like taking girls with them on tour even if they’re there to work. How did you get the opportunities you have had? Do you ever feel like being a girl makes your job harder or like you’re not taken as seriously?

I don’t think being a female has ever hindered my ability to play with the boys and kick ass at what I do. Once upon a time, I let pseudo-“feminist” sentiments brainwash me into believing there was some glass ceiling in this industry that would prevent me from taking my talents to the next level. I was convinced I wouldn’t be granted the opportunities to go on the road or work in situations where it might be a assumed “the fairer sex” couldn’t survive. The reality is, I wasn’t getting those chances before not because of my lady parts, but because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was too busy griping about how “unfair” it is for women in a male dominated industry, rather than getting out there and busting through that imaginary ceiling.

I can’t say I haven’t ever been discriminated against in the music scene for being a girl, but I try not to let the misogynistic ways of simple-minded men get in the way of me doing my job. While I might experience the occasional asshole bouncer who hassles me under the assumption that I’m a groupie, I remind myself that this industry is full of powerful ladies running the show. While I have yet to personally photograph a girl in a band, the majority of band managers, record label publicists, and publication editors I’ve worked with have been – surprise, surprise – women! So even if it feels exclusive on the surface, there’s lots of girl power going on behind the scenes and I don’t think there’s any reason your gender should stand in the way of you getting in on the action.

My three cents for fellow femme photogs looking to tour:

1 // You don’t tour with bands, you tour with friends.

One of the biggest misconceptions girls who want to get into this scene have is that they’re just going to somehow get a job on a tour with a band they’ve never met before. I wasn’t sent on these tours as hired help for bands I barely knew; I was a friend going on the road with guys I’d grown relationships with over several years. And one of the tours was also made possible because I had developed a relationship with their manager over the course of our 4 years working together. It’s all about creating and maintaining these connections. I don’t know many bands that would be comfortable taking some girl they barely know into such an intimate living situation and having her document all the gross things they do off stage… So start with your local bands on promos and documenting their live shows; make genuine friendships with these guys, and when they start to tour, you might be a name that comes to mind for taking out.

2 // Be a blessing, not a burden.

From my observation, it’s not that bands don’t like bringing girls out on tour; it’s that they don’t want the extra responsibility of taking care of someone who is either inexperienced and/or high-maintenance. Touring sounds oh so fun and glamourous on the outside, but that’s only 10% of it. 90% of being on tour is waiting in a van, then waiting in a venue, then doing it again night after night. You don’t get to decide where to go or what to do. You have to be willing to sacrifice everything you want in order to completely go with the flow of the rest of the group. Not every type of person can handle that. And if you don’t lose your mind from sheer boredom, the living conditions might break you. On my first tour, I went weeks without a shower and sometimes days with only eating greenroom bread and hummus, all the while I was on my period and fighting a sinus infection (yeah, not pretty). But I never complained or asked for special treatment. I just did my job and hung out. In fact, on this last tour, one of the guys made sure to tell me how much my presence was appreciated and that I actually alleviated his stress on the road. Be a blessing not only with your hired talents, but with the personality and atmosphere you bring to the group.

3 // Work your ass off & don’t ever stop.

In my situation, I got lucky that my first tour happened to be on the other side of the globe with one of my favorite bands. There’s no magic formula for making that happen. The best advice I can give is keep working hard at what you do, build up an impressive portfolio that proves you’re worth the money and effort of taking out, make and maintain relationships (and I don’t mean the fake “I’m only keeping in touch with you to get something out of it” kind – people see right through that), and don’t be afraid to go after what you want. Worst case scenario: they say no; best case: they say yes and you get to travel the world.

Got more questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below!