Meet Jessica McKenna, freelance Graphic Designer based in Brisbane and the girl behind our very own Blakely Rhode branding. I first met Jess in 2019, at University in Manhattan, New York City. Jess is such a special friend to me, not only is she an amazing person who I share some of the most life changing moments with, she is crazy talented and the work she has done is now being worn and posted by people on an International scale. For anyone who is interested in Graphic Design, is interested in hearing some tips or is just interested in the creative industry in general, this is a great read for you!
Q: When did you first realise you wanted to do Graphic Design?
Jess: Honestly, I only started thinking about being a designer maybe 6 months before I signed back up to University in 2018 when I was 24. Before that I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career. I was briefly enrolled at University after high school to become a history teacher but that didn’t last long. I had no motivation and dropped out within a few months . After my failed university attempt, I took a gap year and worked. Eventually, I felt like I needed to do something else so I signed up to study special effects make up artistry. After I finished the 6 month diploma I started working for Mecca.
I was working at Mecca as a Makeup Artist for maybe a year before trying to figure out where I wanted to progress in the company. I had a meeting with my manager about what I was interested in and mentioned that I liked the design aspect of the advertising campaigns Mecca did so he suggested I looked into becoming a graphic designer and applying for a position in Mecca’s head office in Melbourne.
I didn’t obviously need much convincing because from there I applied for my second round of University. I started my studies in 2018 and over the next three years my ideas for working in beauty change again. I took a semester abroad in New York City and was inspired by the fashion, entrepreneurial, make-your-dreams-a-reality spirit that everyone seems to have living in NYC, so I think that is where my design style and ideas for my future career evolved.
Q: Did you grow up very creative? Talk us through what you were like growing up.
Jess: Growing up my mum was really creative! Pretty much all the art in my parents place is her own creation. She is an incredible drawer but she also used to make all mine and my sisters dance costumes and even made teddy bears that she sold all over the world.
Having a mum that always had creative projects happening definitely inspired me to be creative from a young age. I competitively danced from age 6-22 (which is probably why I fell into makeup school so easily) and took art classes through out school very seriously. I have always had art journals growing up, I doodled as a form of stress relief, and still even now if I feel overwhelmed I will draw to distract myself.
Q: How has it been finishing University and going straight into freelance? So many people work for years in a full-time job before they build up the courage to go out on their own and you have thrown yourself in the deep end, not to mention already being booked out by clients! Talk us through navigating this journey.
Jess: Freelance definitely wasn’t where I thought I would be taking my career in design. When I graduated I really wanted a job within a company, where I could have full time income and a team of people that I could learn from. You learn a lot at University but I still felt so under prepared for the industry upon graduating so moving into a team environment felt safe to me. I think I was applying for jobs for 6 months post graduating but with COVID happening, nothing seemed to pan out. With all the free time I had at home during lockdowns, I created some little designs for my creative Instagram account that luckily enough got noticed by a start up fashion brand that I really liked - In My Moods.
The brand asked if I could create some website collateral for them, so I spent like 5 hours making a couple of web banners because I wanted it to be absolutely perfect! My efforts paid off though because they reached out a few months later to see if I could make a couple of textile graphics for them. A year later, I have helped create 6 designs for In My Moods.
Q: What is your favourite thing about Graphic Design?
Jess: My favourite thing about designing would be seeing the finished outcome. I’ve been really lucky that some brands I work with will send me the products once they are made as a thank you, which I’m so grateful for! Seeing the design on your computer screen is one thing but being able to see it as a tangible product is next level!
Q: If you could give someone a piece of advice who is just starting out in freelance graphic design, what would it be?
Jess: I think the best advice I could give to aspiring freelance designers is to start a creative account and be active on social media. Social media is a great tool to build a network, be inspired and connect with potential clients. Make designs and tag brands that you would like to work with. Chances are they might see your work and love it too!
Q: What has been your favourite brand to work with so far and why?
Jess: Thats a tough question...If i had to pick a personal favourite project I’ve worked on it would probably be Daily Iced. There was a lot of sketches and drafts of the logo and character design before we were set on the finished illustration which I think makes the whole process more exciting to look back on. Seeing how the little Ice cube character evolved to have its own personality and style is so cool.
Q: You have worked with some amazing brands such as "in.mymoods" and I would love to know if you have ever seen your design on one of their trucker hats or baby tees while walking down the street or anywhere in public? What was this experience like?
Jess: I hadn’t seen anyone wearing any of my designs but the other night I was walking through the city with my partner Matt and I saw a girl wearing a hoodie I made with In My Moods. I saw the girl coming from a mile a way and got so excited that she was wearing something I helped make!
I was a little buzzed so…. I may have freaked the girl out a little but seeing a stranger wearing something I was really proud of made my night! Hopefully as Winter comes around in Australia I might see more people around!
Q: How has it been navigating how to put a price on your own work?
Jess: Money is probably the most uncomfortable thing for me to talk about! I have no idea why but I hate it! When I started out with my first freelance jobs I charged a lot less because I was scared clients would say no to me and I would miss out on opportunities, but I knew if I wanted to do this full time I would have to think realistically about what my time was worth. I think a lot of people don’t realise how much goes into a single design. There is a lot of backwards and forwards emailing/dm clients, a lot of sketching and planning, a lot of different layout positions, a lot of computer screen time and a lot of researching.
Q: Do you have a special routine when you are about to sit down and start on a new brands logo or design? How do you get in the mode, how do you get the feel for the brand? How does the creativity BEGIN?
Jess: I don’t know if I have a routine - I should probably get myself one of those - but this year I started sending clients a questionnaire to fill out before we start on their designs. The questionnaire basically narrows down the clients inspo and ideas so we can have a general plan when we start our conversation. Some people find it really hard to explain or articulate what they want so I thought having a set of universal questions to answer helps get the ball rolling, and so far it has been really successful! It also makes our line of communication a lot smoother since there isn’t as much back and forth emailing to understand each other.
Q: How do you stay creative and unique in your spare time?
Jess: I love scrolling through Pinterest and TikTok to inspire myself! There is honestly so much great content out there and so many tutorials to watch to expand my knowledge further in the design programs I use. I also really like making personal designs in my spare time to practise techniques I might have seen somewhere and wanted to try. I love making designs for clients but there is something freeing about making a design purely for myself and to my exact liking.
I feel like I should say though that it is normal to get in creative funks! I was in one recently and I was hating every design I created. You can’t always be switched on and thats ok. If i’m feeling a bit blah, the only way I know how to lift myself out of this hole is to get off the computer and do something else for a few days. Take a walk, play with my dogs, spend quality time with my partner, friends or family. The more I stare at my screen the more stuck I feel so take a break, recoup and come back fresh later, otherwise you’ll waste hours at a screen for nothing.
Q: Following on from the above, what would be your top 2 tips on getting inspired?
Jess: My first tip would be to take breaks from the computer and let your brain have a rest! inspiration will come, you can’t force it. My second tip is to try new things. Whenever I feel like I have hit a wall, I look up design tutorials on Youtube and try to teach myself new skills and effects for Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator (my most used programs!). Getting out of my comfort zone and challenging myself really helps inspiration flow!
Q: Lastly, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Jess: A lot can happen in 5 years but I would love to be running my own small freelance creative team from a studio in Melbourne. A girl can dream!