Regional creative: Amanda Cole, designer

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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.

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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.

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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.

Regional creative: Melisah May Art Studio and Workshop

11078165_10152748275622097_4743861651756603868_n copy By Christina Atherton

Being a creative can sometimes be a struggle between fulfilling a desire to create and making ends meet. Many of us have had to compromise along the way but what if the two could work seamlessly together?

Melisah May is a Newcastle based artist who has fulfilled a lifelong dream of running her own artists studio in the heart of the city. With a background in teaching she is able to combine her two loves – art and teaching – to offer a creative hub for people to discover the joys of art while continuing to make a name for herself in the art world.

Tell us a bit about your background?

I’ve always wanted to be an artist and have always been involved in something creative. I completed a degree in Natural History Illustration at Newcastle University then a Certificate in Small Business Management with plans to start my own freelance practice. Unfortunately illustrators weren't in great demand at the time so I decided to return to uni and get my teaching qualification. For the past seven years I’ve been a full time Secondary Visual Arts and Photography Teacher while building a name for myself as an artist on the side as well as holding exhibitions and teaching in London for two years. I’m not really content with staying put too long!

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Summer Rain, 2015, Acrylic on canvas by Melisah May

As a freelance illustrator and artist, how do you get your work out there?

Social media is obviously a big help now so I try and utilize that as much as I can. Before Facebook and Instagram, I had to get the word out there the old fashioned way - by talking to people! I found doing lots of markets helped me get my work out there and just asking people in cafes and shops if they would hang my work. I have to remind myself of those days because I find myself relying on social media way too much these days.

You have an amazing light-filled studio in the heart of Newcastle. How did that come about?

Completely by chance! I wasn’t looking for a studio but a friend told me about the space and I thought I’d go have a look. I fell in love and decided to take the plunge. Starting my own art studio has been my dream for a long time.  By the end of last year I had swapped full tine teaching with being a full time small business owner!

How do you use this space to create? Does it inspire your work?

It is definitely a very inspiring space. I still pinch myself every time I walk in! I love having so much room to move and I feel like I’m kind of developing and growing with my work as the studio develops. Everything I do in the space is promoting growth and positive experience so that environment is a catalyst for my practice

11047925_361378200736165_4417281684515174658_n You’ve had exhibitions in New York, London, Sydney and Newcastle. What’s the process for preparing for an exhibition?

It’s different every time really. Just quietly, it's usually a big stressful rush towards the end! Generally however, I will have an idea for an exhibition based on what I have been making at the time and just work on tightening that body of work to form a coherent narrative.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Everywhere - music, art history, pop culture, people on the street, food - you name it! I do love books though and I would have to say the one thing that never fails to inspire me even when I’m feeling flat is wandering through a bookstore and looking at books of all descriptions. It’s one of my favourite things to do especially in used bookstores!

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You also offer workshops for adults and children, is teaching something you love?

Absolutely. I love teaching, and I always want it to be part of what I do. Nothing compares to the feeling of helping someone smile and feel accomplished.

What’s next for you?

I want to continue to develop the studio as a business and provide more creative and diverse opportunities for people to indulge in their inner artist. I also want to start exhibiting my own work more frequently in 2016.  I feel I have a lot to express from my experiences in this past year and I’m excited about what’s to come.

On a quest to live a more creative life, Christina loves any type of crafty project and has tried everything from watercolours and flower arranging to paper craft and calligraphy. She has an unhealthy obsession with Instagram and when not working in freelance travel and lifestyle PR, spends her time as a mama, wannabe photographer and magazine junkie. She currently coordinates CWC events in Newcastle.