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    Regional creative: Amanda Cole, designer


    By Mirella Marie

    Amanda Cole is a graphic designer from Newcastle, Australia. Alongside her husband Scott, she runs Shorthand, a creative studio that specialises in branding. I wanted to get Amanda’s insights into running a business in a regional area after moving from a capital city, and her thoughts on starting up a design studio.

    After living and working in Melbourne for many years, how have you found the transition to Newcastle, both personally and professionally? 

    The transition to Newcastle was actually a move home. I completed my degree in Newcastle, living here before heading to Melbourne. Personally it wasn’t too stressful as I was returning to old networks and my husband and business partner Scott has been there every step of the way (including that dreaded 10 1/2 hr drive!) Professionally it was a bit daunting at first. There isn’t the sheer volume of potential clients in Newcastle like there is in Melbourne. Getting your name out there is tricky, as businesses in smaller places put a lot of weight on word of mouth referrals. You need to be patient as it takes time to build up your reputation. We were lucky in that previous Melbourne clients were nothing but supportive of the move and many have stuck with us even now, two years down the track.

    How would you describe your work?

    We are first and foremost a branding studio and that is at the core of everything we do. Generally our projects begin with a client requiring a new brand, or a rebrand in the case where a business is evolving. We like to work closely with our clients, spending time getting to know their business first before jumping into creative. Once an identity is finalised we roll-out to any number of touchpoints, be it business cards, stationery, web or environmental design. Visually we are big believers in less is more and find that a minimal approach allows for the clearest communication.


    Who is your typical client?

    Our studio doesn’t have a typical client and we tend to attract from a variety of sectors, which I have always enjoyed. In saying this, quite often their problems are similar e.g. businesses evolving internally with new technology having a bigger influence on processes. In recent years the studio has attracted a lot of not-for-profit organisations which has been really rewarding.

    Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?

    Presenting the concept to the client is always stressful – but when they love the work and have a big smile it always makes my day. We have an initial collaborative approach with clients and like to involve them in the strategic process. I find working this way really beneficial, as relationship-wise we form a team. This also means when we unveil the concept, the client already has a general idea of what the identity is going to look like so there is no ‘presentation shock’. By getting clients more involved, they take more ownership over the brand as truly theirs which is great!

    What advice would you give to someone starting a design studio?

    While some manage to pull it off, I would advise against attempting to start a studio straight off the back of study or abruptly leaving a full-time position. The way I got to where I am now was in small transitional steps. I began freelancing after hours until I could no longer manage both it and my day job. After this I began a part-time position and eventually moved on to doing my own thing full-time. Even then I still occasionally took contract jobs or a bit of freelance before I was in a really secure place to start the studio. This was great for me as it’s low stress, low risk, and gives you opportunities to keep earning some steady cash whilst setting yourself up and gaining regular clients.

    Once you’re set up, keep your overheads low by setting up a home office – although if you don’t trust yourself to get things done at home, co-working spaces are a great alternative.

    Plan ahead. You need to be constantly thinking about the future and looking for new clients to keep the work flowing. Aim to transition your regular clients to retainers to give your business stability. Make sure your website and social media are regularly updated – leaving these jobs until the work starts to dry up will only give you a headache. 

    Lastly, don’t neglect the admin. Xero is great if you’re looking for some easy to use accounting software and helps you keep an eye on those monthly budgets. Also, figure out what those budgets are! There are lots of easy to find calculators out there to help determine how much and how many hours you need to be charging. If you prefer the printed word, the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines is a great resource.


    What is the creative community like in Newcastle?

    Really blossoming which is fantastic! There a lot of talented people here doing amazing things. Newcastle has one of the highest retention rates of any place in Australia. This is of great benefit to the area because while people often leave to experience other (bigger) cities, they then bring that experience back home with them when they return. 

    What does a typical day involve for you?

    I jump on my phone with my morning coffee to check any overnight emails, social media and read the news before heading to the office by nine. As Scott and I have evolved our roles within the business, I now spend the first full half of the day on meetings, scheduling, accounts, proposals and emails. After lunch is when I’ll aim to get into any creative work – this can be helping the guys with any overflow or actioning our latest brand roll-out. 

    Each day ends consistently at five. After working in bigger agencies where it seemed competitive as to who could stay the latest, I’m very aware of leaving on time. Occasionally if there are deadlines looming we will work after hours, but I like to avoid that as much as possible.

    I enjoy cooking so most nights revolve around making dinner. Being winter, it gets dark earlier so nights are spent in hibernation, but in summer it’s hard to resist a walk along the beach to the Anzac Memorial Walk (if you’re ever visiting Newcastle I recommend it!).

    What are your plans for the future?

    Currently the biggest priority is moving into a new studio space by the end of the year. When we established the studio in Newcastle, we started in a smaller space while we got ourselves settled but have quickly outgrown it. Currently we have three team members, with the studio networking with quite a few external creatives on a project-by-project basis. We intend to keep this model moving forward as it allows for the greatest flexibility on projects and personally it makes for my ideal studio balance.

    To view Amanda’s work visit http://shorthandstudio.com. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

    Photography by Sophie Tyler

    Mirella Marie is the owner and creative director of Vertigo, a Melbourne based graphic design studio specialising in brand identity and design. She is also a contributor for Women of Graphic Design, a project examining the work of female designers around the world. Join her on Instagram @studiovertigo.

    Tags: Amanda Cole, graphic design, Interview, Newcastle, regional, small business, studio visit
    Posted by: Emma Clark
    Categories: Growing a Business, Interviews with Creative Women, Regional | Comments Off on Regional creative: Amanda Cole, designer
    Posted on

    Australian Women in Art: Tai Snaith


    By Annette Wagner

    The inspiration I gain from passionate artists who actively, consistently and unrelentingly, explore their practice, while supporting the greater arts community, is beyond measure.

    Admiration for Tai Snaith is deservingly fitting. With reflection and optimism, Tai translates her world through her art and dedication to the arts community.

    She currently has no less than three projects on, between managing the logistics of her her young family; ‘Art Attack’, the weekly arts review program she co-hosts with Ace Wagstaff as part of Richard Watt’s show Smart Arts on Triple R; and she is working on her third picture book.

    To say she keeps busy is an understatement. Her focus is an incredible attribute. Tai completed her BA in Fine Art with Honors at VCA in 2002, and she didn’t return to her art practice until her late 20s. Since then she has worked within arts organisations Express Media and the Next Wave Festival, and has exhibited and curated her work extensively in solo and group shows.

    I approached her earlier this year to contribute to our Australian Women in Art series and I’m thrilled to finally have her informative and insightful responses to my questions.

    Tai’s authenticity and courage are evident and she inspires us to aim for our dreams and bring ideas to life. She discusses her experiences with the gender imbalance within our arts industry and her inspiration generators. Good advice and encouragement goes a long way. Many creative people attribute growing up, and continuing to make room to dream as being  important in exploring and forming creativity.

    Tai by Hilary Walker

    Image by Hilary Walker.

    What in your personal life influenced you to choose and pursue a creative career?

    Growing up, I spent half of my time in the city with my mum driving fast cars and going to the beach. When we visited my dad we were on the farm with cows and horses, so I had the best of both worlds as a kid. I guess the freedom on the farm was very formative in the way that I formed as a person and a thinker. I love horses and I spent many hours on a horse – galloping, wandering and dreaming. I even used to lie on my horse backwards and read my book while she was eating grass. I was always obsessed with drawing as a kid. I pretty much drew all the time I was not on a horse.

    Actually, come to think of it, I made lots of different things as a kid – painted rocks, wax sculptures from dripping candles, constructed and designed environments for animals that I collected (frogs, crickets, lizards, rabbits, mice). I wrote dense and imaginative short stories. I was always pretty sure I would be something creative as an adult. There was never really any question about that. Tricky thing has just been working out what kind of creative I am!

    Snaith_Tai_ Wilting Facade

    Wilting Facade by Tai Snaith

    Since graduating from VCA with honours, you’ve consistently maintained and actively pursued exhibiting, curating, residencies and reviewing the arts. Your commitment to seeing these projects through is demonstrated from the arduous task of grant and proposal submissions, to creating the work and installation. Exhibiting is often not a fast process. How do you find this process now? Has it got any easier with practice and do your networks you’ve established over time help?

    It’s still difficult. And you’re right, it’s not a fast process. It takes a lot of perseverance to keep making work and finding ways to show it. Even just the process of following through an idea or finishing a painting without losing interest or courage. I am actually considering going back to do my Masters in the coming years, as I still have the desire to learn more about critically positioning my work and trying to tie all the loose ends together conceptually. Making the work is one thing, but talking about it and writing about it is at times very challenging. I actually have a long term dream of writing more fiction, I have always really loved that too. Maybe even a novel one day.

    As well as your exhibitions, in 2012 your first children’s book, The Family Hour in Australia was published by Thames and Hudson. From concept, research, writing, illustrating, pitching the book to Thames and Hudson and receiving a hard copy of the book in completion, how was this process and how long did the book take you?

    The first picture book took me about 10 months. With a young baby, not having a clue what I was doing with either the baby or the book, I made most of it in delirious fits of drawing during my baby’s nap times. The second book took me about 8 months, with a toddler and a newborn! I still have no idea how or when I did that book- In my sleep?! I actually have very little memory of it now. The process of creating a picture book is quite an investment for very little return financially in the short term. But that’s not really why you do a book. The idea of planting a seed and watching it grow over time is a nice idea for me.

    The idea of planting a seed and watching it grow over time is a nice idea for me. Also, getting into the minds of thousands of children is also pretty special. They are a lovely audience, the best kind really. I am working on my third book now and in some ways it is kind of like having a baby! And similar gestation period too.

    Were you ever discouraged or had setbacks that derailed your career? Was there something that kept yourself optimistic and motivated?

    Yes, I have had many. At art school I was very confused, I had no idea who I was. Lecturers made it even more confusing. For quite a few years after finishing art school I didn’t really make any proper art work. I struggled working as a waitress and in a bookshop and riding the rollercoaster of going out to a lot of parties and the associated highs and lows. To be honest, I feel like I have not really got a good hold of who I am until recently. At least not until my late 20’s. Also, I think during your 20’s there are more restraints in terms of money, which makes buying materials, renting studio space and being ‘professional’ almost impossible. I feel like those tough times are over, which is nice and I feel very fortunate to be where I am.

    What keeps me optimistic is just the joy of making. I love making things. Creating worlds, bringing ideas to life. Creating things that no-one else can, no matter how much money they have. Expressing abstract thoughts in new languages. It is a gift and I am never bored of exploring it.

    At an event on ‘Creativity After Kids’, held in 2015 and coordinated by Darebin City Council, you were on a panel with some other amazing women including Lorelei Vashti, Robin Penty and Rachel Power, which I was lucky enough to attend. The conversation was fantastic, all- encompassing and offered great insight and reflection on managing pre-schoolers through to young adults, with domesticity and family, while acknowledging the need to allow time for personal creativity. How do you continue to manage your time and creative output with two children and all that this entails, and do you think that they have contributed to your work in some way?

    I think we all find ways to manage, whatever our situations might be. Some people manage careers AND families with serious illness. Some have to care for their parents full time. Some are haunted by bad luck. I feel like having kids has been challenging in many ways, but in more ways it has really given me a truer sense of who I am and definitely untapped a hunger and a drive that I didn’t really know I had. If you really want to do something you always find a way to do it.

    At this event, you also touched on then the gender imbalance represented in Australia, especially in prizes such as the Archibald Prize. Do you think there is a gender imbalance in Australia supporting female artists operating in our current contemporary art system and have you ever felt inequality for being a female artist in Australia? If so, how or when or what was the scenario?

    Yes! There is serious imbalance, STILL, in the art world. It is slowly being addressed, but I see it almost every day. Women are still treated patronisingly when they are single and like baby factories when they are mothers and often in good faith ‘given time’ to stop their careers in order to care for their children. What I don’t understand is how people think this is helpful? I often hear people (old male curators usually) say (and have said to me) ‘Just take some time out, your art can wait- the most important thing is to be a good mum. Don’t worry about meeting with me, I know how hard it is to just get the washing on the line.’ Like that is all a woman is good for once she has a baby. Which is absolute bullshit. The most important thing for a creative woman with young children is to keep a sense of yourself and often, for an artist, that is to keep making your art. And to have a reason to. It is the only thing that kept me sane through having kids! Women should not be made to feel guilty for spending part of their limited energy focusing on their creative work and taking time to keep it alive. I strongly believe this makes me a better mum in the long run anyway.

    Snaith Tai- Lovekiller

    Lovekiller by Tai Snaith

    The horrendous and unquestionably unfair recent Australia Council budget cuts, will see grants to individual artists and projects decrease dramatically over the next 12 months time, and potentially beyond – a thought I’m reluctant to mention. Before these cuts, and even more so now, do you feel that Australian female artists will have fewer resources, crucial financial support, to go into making and producing their art?

    I think all Australian artists, including writers, dancers and actors and subsequently audiences and broader society will suffer from these recent cuts. I was lucky enough to have my first volunteer position at Express Media as a teenager and then one of my first jobs as a producer at the Next Wave Festival, both of which have recently lost their funding after years of providing platforms and launching places for creatives like myself. Without these organisations I would not have been able to work in the arts. I would probably be working in advertising. God forbid. I fear these pure, grassroots cultural incubators will increasingly be forced to become co-opted by corporations and subsumed into capitalism like everything else. Sad times.

    On a more positive note, you have a new exhibition opening here in Melbourne. What is this exhibition about, and where can we see and support it?

    I actually have 3 projects on at the moment, or coming up. One is an exhibition called ‘Concrete Agenda’ which I have curated and am also part of, for C3 gallery at the Abbotsford Convent. I am pretty excited about this show, it’s a group of artists who I really respect including Kate Tucker, Laura Skerlj, Belle Bassin, Olga Bennett, Pia Murphy, Alice Wormald and Nell Pearson.

    The next show my work is in is a group show in Sydney at a space called Home @735 in Redfern where I will be exhibiting a series of new fictional portraits paired with abstract ceramic assemblages for the first time. And at the end of July (Saturday 30th) our house (BKK Dolls House, designed by my partner Simon Knott) is one of the feature homes to be opened up to the public for Open House Melbourne and I will be opening up my studio and also displaying a series of new my works upstairs in our bedroom! June and July are quite busy, but now that I think of it, so is November and December- lucky we are going on holiday in September!

    Where do you often find the most inspiration?

    I find most inspiration from just starting to make. I love the process of making. I also read a lot of fiction and art books and I walk along the Merri Creek a lot listening to podcasts. These would be my main inspiration-generators.

    Lastly, what is the best advice you have ever been given?

    Be kind to yourself.

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    Posted by: Emma Clark
    Categories: Advice and Tips, Interviews with Creative Women | Comments Off on Australian Women in Art: Tai Snaith