Hop, skip, and a jump into freelance with Lauren Hom
Passion project aficionado and hand lettering artist, Lauren Hom, joins us on Overtime to chat about the success she’s found by doing the work she loves. We discuss a few of her popular projects including Flour Crowns, Will Letter for Lunch, and Daily Dishonestly.
She also shares some sage advice on freelancing and how she quit her advertising art director gig to work for herself. It doesn’t have to be a big jump—there are steps you can take to move the mountains closer and make it more of a hop.
Lauren urges creatives to share work that’s not perfect. Quality over quantity still reigns true, but quantity does have some validity in the current landscape of how we share things on social media.
This episode is brought to you by .ME. Make it easy for your clients to recognize your awesomeness by featuring your best work in one place—a place you own and control. Start building your online home with .ME, the most personal Internet domain.
Links Mentioned in Overtime
- Lauren Hom
- Lauren on Dribbble
- Lauren on Instagram
- Lauren on Twitter
- Flour Crowns
- You Don’t Need Much to Make Magic (behind the scenes photo of the Flour Crowns project)
- Will Letter for Lunch
- No Photos Please
- Ex Boyfriend Tears
- 26 letters 26,000 miles
- Justin Gignac
- Gail Anderson
- Daily Dishonesty
- Daily Dishonesty book
Dan Cederholm: Welcome to Overtime, Lauren Hom.
Lauren Hom: Hello. Thanks for having me.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, thanks for being here so much. We met in Omaha, Nebraska probably five years ago or something.
Lauren Hom: Yeah, 2014 or 2015.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. And, that was great, and it was AIGA show event there. And, I think you were just about to travel the world, which I definitely want to get into later because it’s just a massively cool project in a lot of ways. And, big fan obviously.
Lauren Hom: Thank you.
Dan Cederholm: Your works amazing. And, really you’ve had so many successes with a lot of passion projects, and that was a theme that we had running through last season quite a bit, and so it’s perfect to start off this season with you to talk about those and how you took those passion projects and made them successes and everything. One of the passion projects that I think I’d just kick it off with is your Flour Crowns.
Lauren Hom: Yup. One of the recent ones.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. It’s a recent one, Flour Crowns as in, F-L-O-U-R.
Lauren Hom: Yes.
Dan Cederholm: So, I wonder if you could tell us about that one and the inspiration for it, because it’s both amazing and a little bit humorous too, which I love.
Lauren Hom: Thank you. Yeah. I think my passion projects tend to swing humorous, because I’ve fallen into that stereotypical trope of workaholic graphic designer, and when I do fun passion projects it allows me to play and work at the same time. And, looking at flour, something like Flour Crowns, it’s actually interesting to compare that to some of my earlier passion projects which were all hand lettering based. I never thought I would be doing a passion project where I photograph bread on my head, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with Flour Crowns, that’s what it is. So, I have crowns made of croissants, and baguettes, and cookies, and crackers, and all those good things.
Lauren Hom: I think I launched it in spring 2017. The idea stemmed from, I think it was a couple maybe a month prior I was just starting to get a bunch of music festival content in my Instagram feed and Facebook, because I grew up in Los Angeles, and so it’s Coachella season’s right around the corner, and I kept seeing typical pictures of girls and cutoff shorts and flower crowns, and I just had an idea because I am super passionate about cooking and food. The pond just naturally came to me, and I wrote it off at first, I was like, oh, that’s just a silly thing. And then, I had a spark and was like, I could make that funny. I have always been interested in styling and art direction and photography, it doesn’t really have anything to do with my current profitable skill set, but whatever, it’s a passion project. It’s whatever I want to make.
Lauren Hom: And so, it’s a typical pattern for me that when I have an idea, I make it within the next month, even the next week or so if I have time. And so, I happened to be on a little pit stop from my trip, I was still traveling at the time. So, from when I met you, spring of 2017, I was still on the road, but I had a pit stop in LA, and I ordered all these paper backdrops and pounds of bread to my grandma’s house, and set up my little tripod and digital camera, and started doing the project. And, I made the project, all of the content for the project, I think the first 20 of them within a week, I was just nonstop making these bread crowns on these little plastic headbands I found and shooting them in my grandma’s backyard. And, she just thought I was nuts. But, her main concern was, did I pay full price for all of that food, because she’s a big couponer, which was so cute. And then, after I was done with the crowns, I’d cut up the muffins and give them to her and she’d smack on them, and it was adorable.
Lauren Hom: But yeah, that was really just a true passion project in the sense of it was something fun that I wanted to explore and create. And, I’m guessing that you’ve had people on your show or you’ve heard the advice before that, as a designer you should make what you want, what you wish existed in the world or what you would want to see in the world. And, it really is as simple as that sometimes like in the case of Flour Crowns is. I think projects can be fun. And honestly, my most successful passion projects have been almost the most irreverent and silly ones, because they’re so honest and pure, and I think they come from a very genuine place as opposed to trying to reverse engineer, what’s popular right now? What would be trendy? What will get me exposure? What would people share? Trying to think that way, it just comes off as a little disingenuous I think.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, yeah. No, I love that and I love that it starts with a sense of humor and playfulness, and then it turns into these snowballs and turns into this thing, because you’ve done a lot of the photographs. For me they look like they’re done in a professional studio.
Lauren Hom: Thank you. They’re definitely not. On my blog, I actually, I can send you a photo to go along with this Podcast. I have a photo that my brother’s snapped at me in the process of shooting those crowns, and I demanded the photo back, and then he ended up … I was like, don’t you dare post that because it’s in my grandma’s backyard, and my grandma is old and very cute but is a hoarder. And so, we consider it her trash alley, so backyard equals trash alley in this scenario. So, it’s just me surrounded by a bunch of junk, but it’s like a little four foot by four foot colored paper backdrop, I cropped in tight enough where you couldn’t tell from the photos. It’s not the kind of equipment you have, it’s what you do with it, and I love that challenge of how can I low budget hack this.
Dan Cederholm: Oh yeah, super, super fun. And, that’s part of the creative process, what makes it interesting, right?
Lauren Hom: Oh, yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. I think I did see that photo somewhere, I guess on your blog and it’s wonderful, we’ll share it in the show notes if that’s okay.
Lauren Hom: Yes, of course.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. You were out in the sun. I mean, you’re literally … I guess the Los Angeles sun is like nothing can beat that for natural light.
Lauren Hom: Yeah. Natural light, paper backdrop, digital camera, it wasn’t anything fancy.
Dan Cederholm: I love it.
Lauren Hom: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: In that project, it’s funny to start with that one, right? Because as you said, you’ve made a career of lettering and that’s a really different creative outlet for you.
Lauren Hom: Yes. And, I don’t think I would’ve been able to pursue something like Flour Crowns had I not built up a pretty strong consistent basis of hand lettering projects. It was a natural progression actually. I started with hand lettering projects, obviously still infused with humor, and wit. But then, I started doing hand lettering and food projects, and then hand lettering and travel. And so, I started incorporating my other personal interests into hand lettering, and I think that because I had started to build an audience, not only of people who enjoy the lettering but also enjoyed the humor and the themes in my work, I was able to get away with posting a project like Flour Crowns and not have half of my followers jump ship because it was just completely a 180 from what they were used to seeing.
Lauren Hom: And, I think that that’s what things like Dribbble, and Instagram, and these kinds of community based platforms allow for designers to do is build a following around not only their work but their personality and their advice and their other skillsets besides just their portfolio. So, it’s really cool.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, no, that’s super cool. And, do you feel like that’s helped you with clients, attracting clients that maybe have those interests? In other words, have people seen Flour Crowns and been like, oh wow, this is great and now I want to hire you to do photography, or lettering?
Lauren Hom: Yeah, I’d say that I haven’t had any direct Flour Crown commissions, which I was honestly surprised about, but no worries. I always tell people, the worst case scenario with a passion project that you’re super excited about and that you really loved making, worst case scenario is that you have a bad ass new portfolio piece and someone might see it eventually. It might not be today or tomorrow or even six months from now, but you have something that you’re really proud of. So, it’s just there. I think it’s helped differentiate me online, because I don’t know how many other hand lettering artists also post photos of themselves with humorous bread on their head.
Lauren Hom: I definitely have moved. I was joking with my agent the other day actually that we’ve moved into more of content creation space. I’m a hand letterer, but I also now style photos and photograph things in conjunction with my lettering, and we were joking that social media content and digital content for me in terms of client work has replaced the editorial stuff that I used to do. I still do the occasional editorial project, but I’d say in the last two years it’s been way more social content for brands.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, right. So, that experience of learning how to light a photograph, it’s probably been really valuable, even though you’re known for lettering.
Lauren Hom: Oh yeah, and I’d say too because it shows off my personality and sense of humor and interests, it’s attracted maybe not clients who are in the food space, but the people who come to me are almost more excited to work with me because they feel like they know me already. And so, I really love that aspect of what a passion project like that can do, and yeah it’s-
Dan Cederholm: That’s a great point.
Lauren Hom: It’s great to start off a client relationship with them like already wanting to be friends with you. What’s better than that?
Dan Cederholm: That’s a great point. Honestly, it’s not necessarily about creating this work so that you’ll do this work to get paid, it’s more your personality, right? And then, people understanding that.
Lauren Hom: I always tell my students too, there are many different ways you can position a passion project for different, I guess goals you’re trying to achieve. You can do a passionate project mostly to try to add a new portfolio piece and get hired for a new type of work. I think in 2014 I did a project called, Will Letter for Lunch, where I was doing lettering for a while, but I really wanted to do chalkboards, but I really didn’t know where to start. I thought about pinning a chalkboard wall in my apartment or getting a little a-frame and practicing quotes or song lyrics. But, then I had the idea to barter with local restaurants in Brooklyn, I would do their chalkboard signs, a little a-frames outside in exchange for whatever I wrote on the board.
Lauren Hom: So, the food items that I wrote on the board, I would get paid in and I blogged about it. I would post the menu board and post the food I got, and it was really just a fun marketing barter project, and it got picked up by tons of food blogs and design blogs, and it was really cool because it cross promoted me to a new audience of food people. Whereas typically I think … I told my students this too, designers typically think that they need to market to other designers, and cater to other designers, but it’s actually usually designers are not the ones who hire us. I get more referrals from regular people, and people who aren’t in the design industry I’d say, than from my peers, I get the occasional referral from a peer of course.
Dan Cederholm: That’s another great point. It’s easy to think of the designer audience as the ultimate audience when a lot of … Especially for client work, right? It’s not.
Lauren Hom: Yeah, I mean, it is valuable to have art directors following you or following your work, but the vast majority of people who are in your audience maybe I’d say on more so on Instagram then Dribbble, Dribbble is mostly a community of creatives I’d say, are there recruiters too or other people?
Dan Cederholm: There are. Yeah. There’s not necessarily recruiters, but also just people fans or just people that are interested in design, and yeah, yeah.
Lauren Hom: Yeah. Because, I’ve booked jobs before where I’ll usually, if I can ask a client like, by the way, who sent you my way or how’d you find out about me, if they haven’t already told me that they follow me on Instagram or whatever it might be. There was one girl who had hired me for an onsite lettering event, and I asked her, I was like, “By the way, how did you find out about me?” And, I kid you not, she said, “Oh, I asked my roommate if she knew any hand letterers, and she showed me your Instagram.” And, that was it. So, her roommate, who is not a designer, sent her or sent me her way and I ended up getting the job.
Lauren Hom: I always tell people too, I think it’s smarter to not position yourself but cater a little bit more to the non-design crowd, because in the design world I think we have a tendency to … We downplay ourselves because if you’re in a design bubble, everyone else around you knows how to do what you do, and we forget how valuable we are and how rare we actually are that you’re probably the only Illustrator or graphic designer or an animator or letterer that your friends and family know. To the average person, we’re pretty frickin’ special.
Dan Cederholm: I love that. Yes. I’ve had that thought myself, it’s so cool to hear you say this, because it is very easy to get caught up in the tight knit community that we’re in, and not realize like, yeah, for the average person. I think that’s wonderful. That’s a great perspective.
Lauren Hom: Yeah, and there is so much value in the design community as well, but I think over the last couple of years had to remind myself to temper that with getting some outside perspective and making some friends who don’t do what I do just to give me a bit more even keel perspective on where I stand and how I’m doing, because too far down either way is not good. I have so many people who come to me who are just crippled by self doubt because everyone else out there is already 100 times better than they think they’ll ever be, so why even try, and that’s not good.
Dan Cederholm: No, it’s not, and it is such good advice. So, we talked about before when I met you in Omaha, I think you were about to travel the world, and I want to get into that because that triggered or was an inspiration or vice versa for a couple of different projects of yours. So, I wonder if you could tell us about how you traveled the world while still being able to work, and also like publish projects out of that that were amazing. So.
Lauren Hom: Thank you. It feels like such a long time ago, but it really wasn’t. So, at the beginning of 2016, two months after I think I met you in Omaha, I packed up my apartment in New York. My friend moved in to cover the lease, and I put everything into a backpack and just decided I was going to travel for at least a year. I had been freelancing for a year and a half from my kitchen in New York. I always say my studio, but let’s be honest, it’s probably your kitchen or your living room or your bedroom.
Dan Cederholm: Exactly.
Lauren Hom: And, you have to say studio to look professional.
Dan Cederholm: Absolutely, yes.
Lauren Hom: And, to take it a step up, you have to use, we, we on your portfolios, so you’re a studio, you’re not an individual.
Dan Cederholm: I always use, we. Absolutely.
Lauren Hom: Yes. And so, I packed everything up and decided, I had been doing freelance successfully for a year and a half, which in hindsight was not that long and probably was not enough of a data set for me to confidently leave. But, I appreciate some of the naivety and irreverence I had in my earlier twenties. I’m glad I just rolled with it and I was curious. And so, I decided if I can do it from my kitchen in Brooklyn and clients don’t seem to have a problem, sure, I knew I was going to lose maybe 25% of the work that was onsite or that I had to be there for. But, other than that, I felt confident that I could work and travel at the same time because most of my work was being done digitally.
Lauren Hom: Thank goodness for laptops. And, I had a little portable scanner, I didn’t even have an iPad at the time. I was scanning actual work and doing it with my Wacom tablet and Photoshop, and delivering files that way. And, honestly other than the time difference, it was completely fine working abroad. Sure there were some countries like in Bolivia and in Vietnam, the Wi-Fi isn’t very good so you had to adjust for that. Luckily for me, the only Wi-Fi heavy things that I do are either video chatting or uploading files, so it was generally okay. And yeah, I decided I was going to work and travel.
Lauren Hom: And, you had mentioned the couple of products that I started because of that. I figured that because I was going to be gone for at least a year, it’d be fun to have a personal project to work on while I was there. And, I like structure, it’s interesting. I feel like people romanticize freelancing because there’s almost no rules, no structure, work in your pajamas, stay up till 5:00 AM. But, I think most creatives function well with a little bit of structure. And so, when you’re working for yourself, you have to give yourself that.
Lauren Hom: So, I set myself up with this project called, No Photos Please, where I vowed to draw everything instead of take photos of it on my trip to spend less time on my phone. And, what I thought was going to happen was I would practice drawing like people and mountains and like cityscapes and stuff, but I ended up just going back to lettering. I didn’t take any photos for the year, I genuinely didn’t. But, instead of having images in my sketchbook, I ended up with all of these hundreds of hand lettered pieces in my sketchbook. Some of them were journal-y entries, some of them were quotes or thoughts I was having, some of them were, I was lettering the names of the places that I went. And, the project took a slightly different turn, but it was still true to what I had set out to do.
Lauren Hom: And that was really fun. And I realized too, that that project grew my Instagram following exponentially because I was sharing all of this hand done content as opposed to finessed polish off images of lettering done in Photoshop or Illustrator. There’s something really nice about, I don’t know, seeing the work done by hand or in an actual environment that I think is special. Prior to that too, I had also had an idea, there were two passion projects that were inspired by my travels. I had just come off the success of three passion projects that were honestly my first three passion projects were pretty wild successes. I had Daily Dishonesty, Ex Boyfriend Tears, Will Letter for Lunch. So, I had hit three home runs basically.
Lauren Hom: And so, I figured, the next one is obviously going to be a home run, which was totally not what happened. But, I was like, oh, it’d be so cool if I could fundraise for my trip around the world. I had money saved up already, I’m pretty risk averse, so of course I had money saved up already in case I needed to dip into savings. But, I figured it would be a cool conceptual way to fundraise for my trip if I created travel themed posters, and sold them, and then the profits would fund my trip. So, I created the series of nine travel quotes. I called the project, 26 … What was it? Oh, 26 letters, 26,000 miles. 26 letters in the alphabet, 26,000 miles being the circumference of the earth. It just lined up nicely.
Lauren Hom: And, I had I’d say decent size Instagram following at the time, maybe 20,000 people and for some reason in my head, I was like this is going to make 10 or $20,000, it’s going to be great. I had never really sold posters before, and I don’t know why I just set my expectations so high. And, I launched the project, and some people bought posters, but the real valuable thing from this project was at the very last minute when I was building out the website, I think I had used Squarespace at the time. They had an option to add a donate button at the bottom of the page, and I had originally been like, why would anyone donate money if they could just have a poster, no one’s going to donate money. And then I figured, why not put it there? And so, I just threw it there at the bottom of the page and said something like, if you hate posters with a burning passion but love me, donate here.
Lauren Hom: And, when I checked the financials at the end of the … I think I ran the campaign for four or five months, I had only made about $4,000, which was still pretty good, but I was really shocked to find that half of that money had come from poster sales, but the other half had come from pure donations. And, I was really blown away that someone would want to give me money without getting anything in return.
Dan Cederholm: Wow, wow.
Lauren Hom: Yes, I know. And, it was not what I expected. I really didn’t expect anyone to donate, and that really got the gears turning in my mind for … It led me to what I’m doing now actually where I realized that, hey, people like my work, they want to support me, they like what I’m doing, but maybe they don’t want a physical poster to hang in their house for whatever reason. At first, of course my ego took a bruising and was like people don’t like my work. And then, I realized that there are a multitude of reasons why someone might not want a poster with a travel quote on it, maybe it doesn’t match the color scheme of their house. Maybe they’re moving, maybe they just … You can like a piece of art and still not want to put it in your home or in your office. And, I realized I shouldn’t take it personally.
Lauren Hom: But, because of that information though, I realized that people want to support me, and maybe there’s something else I could offer that wasn’t physical that would be valuable to them as well. So, from there I actually started teaching workshops while I was traveling, and then back in the States when I would pop through every six months or so, and that was really fun. And, it ultimately led me to what I’m doing now, which is I do client work, but I also teach online courses where I teach people how to hand letter or how to create conceptual passion projects, and I have a couple more in the works. But, I realized that I can provide value to people in tangible ways I guess with knowledge.
Dan Cederholm: Well, that’s interesting. Well, the whole thing is interesting about don’t be afraid to put a donate button on there, which is super interesting that …
Lauren Hom: It’s also paying attention to your actual … I’m actually deep down, no one knows this about me, I’m a Math nerd. I was a Mathlete in middle school, and I thought I was going to be a doctor or a scientist for the longest time, but I ended up an artist, go figure. But, I still have a deep love for quantitative, numbers. And so, I always tell people too, there was a turning point for me because I realized that all the effort I had put into making those posters, and the previous efforts I had put into making just products, and like we were talking about earlier cups and mugs and prints and just all the pins, all the things that designers made and sold that I had seen previously, they weren’t selling for me.
Lauren Hom: It took a couple years to figure out that hey, the effort I’m putting in to creating these products that I think I should be making, like posters aren’t really paying off. And, I always refer to it as like the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze. Then, I realized like, hey, maybe it’s just, everyone’s audience is different. Everyone’s demographic and everyone’s specialty is different. And, t-shirt sales might be through the roof for someone else, but if they don’t work for you for three years straight, you should probably stop doing them if you’re trying to have a profitable business. And, I think that’s one thing that no one in art school prepared me or any of my classmates for is how to run a business as opposed to how to just have the design skills. And, it is pretty simple I supposed to if it’s not profitable, stop doing it. But, I think that as designers we put the creativity and the design first, and we focus on that as opposed to the actual numbers behind what’s actually moving the needle on our businesses, at least that was what I did for the longest time.
Dan Cederholm: Did you go to school for art and design?
Lauren Hom: I went to the school of Visual Arts in New York City for advertising actually. Like I said, I thought I was going to be a scientist or a doctor or something, and I always hate telling the story, but it’s true what happened. I was super smart, super nerdy, and then sophomore year of high school I got a boyfriend, and my grades started slipping, because I’m an asshole, and I was always good at art though, I always liked to draw. I just was always told that it was a hobby, not a career. And so, because my grades were not great enough to get into a regular college or a regular college that I would really want to go to, I decided I would go to art school. And, it wasn’t really like a plan B, it was just, I realized I had another option and I sold my parents on it.
Lauren Hom: And, I ended up selling them on it because advertising was this perfect intersection between commerce, but also creativity. And, I showed them I had done my research and I was like, I can be an art director and make $80,000 a year, and it’ll be solid, there wasn’t going to be a starving artist thing on the table with advertising. And, my parents liked that. And so, I got them to sign off on it. And, I did four years of ad school at SVA and I ended up getting a job in advertising right after school.
Lauren Hom: And, like we were talking about earlier, I burnt out pretty quickly though. I think I romanticize the advertising industry, and the kinds of projects you make in school for whatever client you want with no limitations to budget or creative just were not realistic for what an actual advertising agency was like. And, we were working anywhere between 10 and 12 hours a day, and it was just all over the place, and I just really felt, I felt like the job lost its glitter very quickly within the first six months. But, I didn’t really know what to do because I didn’t know anybody who was dissatisfied with their job that early, and I felt alone and didn’t really know who to talk to about it, because, it was my dream job.
Lauren Hom: If you had asked me the day I graduated, what I wanted to do, I got the job that I said I wanted, and it was very weird emotional way to admit to myself that I think I fucked up. I think I made a mistake, this actually isn’t right. And so, I realized that I was the only variable left to change. It was a big agency, we were working for big clients. Everybody else around me was working late nights and pulling their weight, and I just realized that if I’m this upset and this dissatisfied with my work at six months in, what is six years in going to look like, and is that something that I really want to do? And, actually the best career or some of the most pivotal career advice I got, I don’t know if you’ve interviewed him for this Podcast or you’re friends with him, Justin Gignac, who runs, Working not Working. Do you know him?
Dan Cederholm: Oh, great. No, I don’t and I would like to though.
Lauren Hom: I should put you guys in touch. He’s fantastic and I consider him one of my mentors. He and I met for coffee right about the time where I was realizing I hated my job or I had come to terms with the fact that I did not like my job, and I told him about it because he’s an ex advertising art director as well. He was at Ogilvy for a while, I believe, and then decided to jump into entrepreneurship and that was always really inspiring to me. I just didn’t have an idea for a business, but I thought I could freelance. And, I told him, I’m unhappy in advertising, but I think I can freelance and I’m going to just wait six more months so I can get a year on my resume, and then I’ll quit, because it looks bad if you’re at a company for less than a year. That was what I thought.
Lauren Hom: And, without missing a beat, he looked at me and he was like, but if you don’t want to work in advertising, why does your advertising resume even matter? And, I was like, whoa. I had a light bulb moment, and now I was like, you’re right. And so, I put it in my two weeks pretty shortly after that.
Dan Cederholm: Wow.
Lauren Hom: But, I will backtrack a little bit, and say the reason I was able to make that decision and put in my two weeks and have freelance to fall back on, it’s not like I started from scratch. I had a very interesting path actually happen at the beginning of senior year of college. Like I said advertising major school of Visual Arts, I had taken a communication design class from Gail Anderson my junior year, and she does a lot of type focused work. And, I really liked to type. I didn’t know what lettering was exactly at the time, but I really knew that I had a knack for working with type, and it was important for advertising art direction anyways, so I figured that would be the application in the future.
Lauren Hom: But, Gail pulled me aside the second week of class and she was like, I think that you’re in the wrong major. You should be a graphic designer. She basically told me like, I see something in you, you should switch majors. And, Gail Anderson is one of the most prolific graphic designers in the field today, and I totally brushed her off, and she and I joke about it to this day. We probably have lunch once a year, and we’ll always joke about that, and I guess the takeaway from that is if anyone who’s listening, if Gail Anderson tells you to do something, you should probably just do it. She’s probably right.
Dan Cederholm: Listen to Gail.
Lauren Hom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, senior year I had started a hand lettering blog actually, and it wasn’t like a place to document, just the hand lettering work I was doing, it was actually a hybrid between advertising and design. Long story short, I got drunk with my roommate one night when we were 22, and we realized that we had all these grand plans for what we wanted to do senior year, and by the end of our list of all the things we wanted to do, we realized that there was no way we were going to do any of the stuff we talked about because we were just so busy with school. We were like, we’re going to go to yoga every day and we’re going to start a baking blog and blah, blah, blah, and that sparked the idea for my blog Daily Dishonesty where I realized I lie to myself all the time. My friends lie to themselves all the time in a lighthearted way, not in an identity fraud kind of way.
Lauren Hom: And, I just had this light bulb moment from that idea. Not necessarily from the hand lettering, but I was like, this could be a funny series or a collection of work. So, I started hand lettering all the little white lies that I and my friends told ourselves on a daily or weekly basis, and started posting them to a Tumblr blog and to Dribbble and to Behance, and all these platforms, I just put it everywhere with really no intention to profit from it or make it a portfolio piece. I just thought it was going to be a funny thing for my friends, and lo and behold, because I decided to host the main blog on Tumblr, and it had a social functionality to it. It started getting re blogged and featured and just organically spreading across the web. And, I know I don’t have a ton of time with this, but long story short, the blog went somewhat viral. I ended up getting a bunch of press and a book deal from the blog, all before I graduated college.
Dan Cederholm: Wow, wow.
Lauren Hom: And, that is not normal. I know that’s not normal.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it’s amazing.
Lauren Hom: But, it started from an innocent like this is a joke that my friends would love, so I’m going to make it. And, I always tell people too, people always talk about demographics and target audiences, my formula for target audience is I make stuff that my friends and I would get a kick out of, and would text each other on group text. And, that’s really my barometer for is it a good idea or not is would my closest girlfriends enjoy this, and it sounds overly simplistic, but it works. Making work that you and your friends enjoy is the best way to make authentic work even if you don’t think it’s smart or strategic or whatever you are trying to impose on your own work. Just making stuff that you like actually works, and helps to build an audience and helps to build a brand.
Lauren Hom: And so yeah, I graduated with the book deal, but I still got my job in advertising, because I didn’t want to give up on it. I wasn’t not enjoying it in school, and I figured I should give it a chance. It felt like a waste if I just did something else after doing four years of studying one thing. And, because of Daily Dishonesty, because of the book deal, I basically walked out of a college with $25,000 in my pocket, which was more money than I had ever seen. So, just to give some context of why I was able to decide to quit my job right away, I had financial security, I had press and I was building a reputation for myself as a lettering artist without even knowing it because of this project. And, I started getting clients because of it.
Lauren Hom: And, Daily Dishonesty was really the catalyst for everything that I’m doing today. And, all I had to do was finally be so unhappy that I made the little jump to freelance. And, we were talking about this earlier, but I think that from the outside looking in, we always refer to it as the big jump from full time to freelance, how do I make the jump? There are dozens of articles written about this. And, I like to think of it as, it doesn’t have to be a jump. It can be a jump if you make it a jump, but there are things you can do before you even lift a foot up to bring those kinds of mountains closer. You can save money, you can send out feelers to other jobs or to other clients, you can redo your portfolio and position yourself as a freelance Illustrator or whatever you want to be. There are things that you can do ahead of time to make the jump feel more like a hop. And ,that’s what I recommend that everyone who is thinking about leaving their job start to do.
Lauren Hom: You don’t have to quit your job tomorrow. I mean, you can if you want. But, I’m a bigger fan of the slower and steadier, because it still took me a while once I decided … After that conversation with Justin, I was like, okay, I don’t want to stay in advertising for a year, so. And, that was at the six month point I think. And so, I took the next, I think two months to get my lettering portfolio spruced up. I started reaching out to Illustration agents, I started sending out feelers to my networks of who needed freelance work. And, I even went as far as to line up a part-time job for myself when I left my advertising agency job, just so I would have just some base income coming in, in case there was slow work. And, I think that’s a story I actually had never really shared publicly, but I’ve been meaning to. So, this is the debut of that story.
Lauren Hom: People always forget that in Los Angeles, actors and actresses, bartender and waitress to make some money while they’re pursuing their dream, and it’s okay even in a freelance designer to a sense to have a part-time job while you’re getting your freelance business off the ground, if it would make you feel more comfortable financially. And, it made me feel more comfortable. I was a dog walker for six months, and I loved it. And then, I got too busy with freelance, and it just all worked out, but I padded the beginning of my career with that because I wasn’t confident and people think I just … Book deal, lettering, notoriety. So, I was super confident jumping into my job, that was definitely not the case. I was 23 years old, I didn’t know anything, and of course I was scared.
Dan Cederholm: That’s incredible. You bring a great point there about actresses and actors, and how they supplement. Or oftentimes, it’s more than supplementing until they can break through. I love the idea of a hop rather than a jump, it’s brilliant.
Lauren Hom: Yeah. It makes it a lot less scary. Especially too for designers I think are typically over-thinkers, and we like to have a clear path mapped out, but there really is no clear path mapped out and the stars will never be aligned for you to perfectly make a smooth transition to anything. So, there will be some bumps, but nothing that you can’t handle.
Dan Cederholm: So true. That’s true, there’s never a perfect time. So, if you’re thinking about it, you just got to go for it. I want to switch gears a little bit, because I feel like you’ve been really successful, which is amazing. You’ve got a great audience and you’ve built up a great community around your work. I wonder about imitation especially in the lettering world this has come up a lot where you’re sharing a lot of these things online, and then it’s easy for folks to take that and imitate it or rip it off or whatever. And, I wonder how you deal with that because you must get a lot of it.
Lauren Hom: Yeah, it does happen and I think it’s just a product of technology, and how we use the internet now and social media. Obviously, okay, I’d say it’s a gray area for me. It really depends when it comes to imitation, who’s imitating, what their intentions were. There is imitation in the sense of I’ve had people who have copied my work for practice, but still posted it on Instagram, but said, artwork and words inspired by Lauren Hom and it’s been like an admiration post. And, there are mixed opinions on this.
Lauren Hom: You technically should not post copies of other people’s works, even if it’s just for practice, but I’m pretty lenient when it comes to that, because if it’s a brand who has copied my work, and they’re profiting from it, of course there’s more of an issue. Or, even if it’s a small business, a lot of the energy that I do expand on educating people about imitation and copyright and fair use comes from not a … No one comes at it from a bad place like smaller brands will just share my work, let’s say it’s a new form of media. If a small company repost my work and even though they credit me, they post it and they’re promoting a sale or something, they’re basically using my work on Instagram as an advertisement for their sale. And, it’s been hard to explain to people who don’t know about usage and who aren’t in the creative world, why that’s wrong. And so, I’ve been fine tuning my responses for the last couple of years.
Lauren Hom: But, for the most part, people always ask me about watermarking and how do I protect my work against it being stolen, and people don’t want to post their work, because they’re worried that people will steal it. But, the pros greatly outweigh the cons of sharing your work online. Yes, there will be the outliers where a brand steals your work, it’s actually happening to me right now. The supermarket chain in the states, Kroger, copy and pasted a piece of my work. They had cut it out from an old piece I did from 2014 for their holiday campaign, and we have been in touch with their legal team, and they’re just vehemently denying it. And, so that’s wrong. If you steal the work, it’s wrong.
Dan Cederholm: Right.
Lauren Hom: Copying its subjective I think. Some people would say it’s too close or it’s not that close. And, the rule that I’ve set for myself to protect my intellectual property, but also to protect my emotional sanity as an entrepreneur and an artist is, I always ask myself, is this a good use of my time and my energy? And, for me it’s boiled down to it’s going happen anyways, people will emulate, imitate, copy to all different kinds of extents. And yes, my audience is wonderful in the sense that they’ll usually alert me if there is someone who’s copying too close or if they see a brand stealing it. But for the most part, my energy is better spent creating new work and innovating on new concepts than it is trying to protect my work from ever being stolen, because it’s just something that’s going to happen, and it’s totally shitty, and you should definitely stand up for yourself as an artist, especially if someone’s trying to profit off of your intellectual property. But at the same time, I think a lot of it falls into that gray area of people …
Lauren Hom: The design community is big, but it’s not that big and trends, and if your piece becomes popular on Dribbble or on Pinterest or wherever it is, you have to expect that with that popularity are going to come copycats. Unfortunately, it’s just something that goes hand in hand. And, if anything I’ve just flipped it in my mind to see it as a new creative challenge where I just have to be extra innovative and extra creative and really be ahead of the curve when it comes to copywriting and art direction and my lettering.
Lauren Hom: I forget who said this, but I heard someone years ago give a good piece of advice of if you don’t want people to copy your work, you should probably make it less hard to copy. Make your techniques so complicated that no one else can replicate it, which honestly is why I’ve actually … I have in the last year started experimenting less with new lettering styles and more with new lettering applications and mediums and techniques. So, I’ve gone from paper and pencil, and digital lettering to chalkboard lettering, to painted lettering in murals, to lettering made out of clay, to lettering made out of food. I’m really interested in how I can apply it more so than how I can … I’m not really a perfectionist or a fine tuner, I hate sitting in front of the computer toying with like bezier curves and vector, taunting points is my nightmare.
Dan Cederholm: Same.
Lauren Hom: I’m way more of a, I’d say conceptual thinker, and I get things done to where it looks nice, but I don’t obsess over the small details which has served me well, because it’s allowed me to, I think put out a greater volume of work. Sure, not everything’s perfect, but kind of like what we were talking about with the just pace of social media now, quality over quantity still reigns true, but it’s hard. It’s a little different for everybody, but I do feel like quantity does have some validity in the current landscape of how we share things. Posting two really good pieces per week is better than posting one “Perfect piece per month.” I would say
Dan Cederholm: Wow, that’s good advice actually. Yeah, that’s true. I think I get into that myself.
Lauren Hom: Oh, yeah?
Dan Cederholm: In other words, I was like, well, why don’t I wait until this is done. And, that’s a tricky spot to be in. You’re right in that visibility, right? Is just as important as whatever it is you’re creating.
Lauren Hom: Yeah, for sure. And you know, being, I guess … I think back to when I started lettering, I almost consider myself an accidental lettering artists because it was not intentional. I just followed a hunch, and it was a hobby that turned into a full blown career. And, I almost got lucky in the sense that because I wanted to be an advertising art director, not a hand lettering artist, I admired Jessica Hische, John Contino, Dan Casaro so much, they always seem like they were in another league. I never thought I was going to be a full time hand lettering artists. I thought I would just be an art director who also could hand letter for certain projects.
Lauren Hom: And, because I wasn’t trying to be the next Jessica Hische, I didn’t put any pressure on my lettering work to be anything other than did I have fun making it? And, that allowed me at the very beginning, which is what ended up being my saving grace from what I’ve heard from people who are beginning now is I just put out work, and didn’t really think twice about it. It wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t care because I was so in love with the concept of Daily Dishonesty and what it represented, and the backstory of how it started. And again, with the mindset of I’m going to make this fun thing for me and my best friends, and that was really all I was trying to accomplish.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. So, don’t overthink it.
Lauren Hom: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: That is great.
Lauren Hom: Yeah. I mean there’s obviously a certain level of quality and skill that needs to be put into work for it to be viable online, and for people to start following you. And, it doesn’t mean that very beginner people should not post their work, if anything it’s fun to look back in five years, and be like, wow, look at that piece of shit I made in 2009. It’s just a fun reminder from where you started. And, I love when artists post things that they made five or 10 years ago compared to where they are now, because it really just goes to show you that it takes time. There’s no way to have overnight success. You can expedite the process with a good passion project or by knowing people in the industry or with a “Lucky break,” whatever that may be. But, for the most part it’s just going to take time and practice. And, not only to build your skills but to build your confidence in like, hey, I can actually do this.
Lauren Hom: I don’t know anyone who’s been able to … Even if they’ve read every single creative self help book and listened to every single Podcast with the most famous designers in the world, I don’t know a single person who’s been able to flip that confidence switch in their mind overnight and be like, hey wait, I can actually start my own business and I’m going to do it now. It just takes time to warm up to the idea I think.
Dan Cederholm: Oh yes. Oh my gosh.
Lauren Hom: Yeah. But, it is so helpful though to see others who have blazed the trail before you, who have ventured out and been okay, and actually not just been okay, but done very well for themselves. And, higher risk, higher reward, my dad always said. And, it is seemingly risky, but it’s also not. People always think about the security of a full time job, but your job could … You could get laid off, you could get fired, the company could go under. It could have nothing to do with you. Job security at a company I don’t think is … It’s not any more secure than doing your own thing in my opinion. In fact, I like being in the driver’s seat and having more control over my business, and I feel more secure in that, in my ability to come up with new ideas and generate different kinds of income and really steer my business in a way that compliments my lifestyle.
Dan Cederholm: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, no, I agree. I think it’s a myth that, “ Steady job is secure.”
Lauren Hom: Yeah, oh my goodness!
Dan Cederholm: Anything could happen out there. And, I’m with you, I’d rather be in control of that for sure.
Lauren Hom: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Well, geez Lauren, I could hear about your projects for the next 10 hours because there’s so many of them.
Lauren Hom: There’s just so much to talk about. I know.
Dan Cederholm: There really is, it’s incredible-
Lauren Hom: We could call it the first 10 hour Podcast. Oof, that’d be rough.
Dan Cederholm: That’d be perfect for a road trip, long road trip.
Lauren Hom: Okay. I just had an idea for Dribbble to start doing a series of designer road trip Podcasts where you do 10 our road trips, and live stream the whole chat with the designer, that’d be so cool.
Dan Cederholm: I’m in.
Lauren Hom: Didn’t you just start an adventure, outdoor kind of a brand as well?
Dan Cederholm: I did actually, yes. And, I did not pay you to say that.
Lauren Hom: He did not. I swear, he did not. But, hey the second that Dribbble rolls out a designer road trip, sign me up.
Dan Cederholm: Okay. Awesome. Yeah. Honestly, that would be like a dream come true.
Lauren Hom: That would be so fun.
Dan Cederholm: I think really fun. Yeah, travel, adventure plus design. Well, if we do it, I’m calling you.
Lauren Hom: Yeah, you better.
Dan Cederholm: Thank you so much for taking your time, sharing your journey and your experience, so helpful. There’s so many things you were saying, and I’m like, yup, that’s amazing bit of advice, and it just happened so many times, so thank you so much.
Lauren Hom: Thank you for having me. It was great chatting.
Dan Cederholm: Take care.
Lauren Hom: Bye.