Print designer and artist Kelly Anna on building confidence and steering clear of bad internships
Trained as a fashion illustrator, Kelly Anna had already earned two years of industry experience by the time she graduated from London College of Fashion. Soon landing a job as a print designer at local fashion label Illustrated People, her energetic graphics and illustrations were applied to both male and female apparel, and have adorned the likes of Beyoncé and Major Lazer. Now a freelancer balancing commissions with her own projects as an artist, she works on everything from shoe designs and 2D invitations to installations for clients including Sophia Webster, NikeWomen and Asos. Here Kelly Anna fills us in on the long road to building confidence, getting yourself seen and avoiding the wrong kind of internship.
Print Designer and Artist
Nike, NikeWomen, Sophia Webster, Airbnb, Asos
Freelance Print Designer, Sophia Webster (2014–present)
Head Print Designer, Illustrated People (2011–2014)
Print Designer and Researcher, Gilles Deacon (2009–2010)
BA Fashion Illustration, London College of Fashion (2008–2011)
How would you describe what you do?
I am a freelance print designer for a range of high-end designers, while at the same time focusing intensely on my own development. The work is very varied, I could be working on a shoe one day and an installation the next, but my work process is pretty much always the same; starting with research.
What does a typical working day look like?
My working hours are also quite varied. I work regular days at one company, so I have to work around that when other jobs come in. This can be challenging, as it often means I’ll have to work through the night depending on the size of the project – but that’s fun for me, as I prefer working in the evenings. The one thing I am very aware of when working on big, tiring projects is my diet. If I am eating properly, my mind stays awake for longer, and I run a lot to keep my energy levels up. I sit on my laptop a lot, but I also draw loads too, so I am often hunched over; this is why it’s really important to get out and stretch your body and mind.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
I am actually in the middle of looking for a studio space with some other creatives. But right now I usually work from one of my clients’ studios or my studio at home.
How does your freelance work usually come about?
I often get a lot of work through word of mouth, or via my social pages and website. I think it’s really important to have a social media presence.
“You came into this industry because of your love for it, so don’t ever forget to work on your own projects – this will inevitably get you more work.”
How collaborative is your work?
Since I am working with clients, my work often has to be collaborative. I have to listen to and balance the needs of my clients with my own, and try to merge them together.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The accounts part is the worst! However it’s definitely not as bad as I thought it would be. I got myself an accountant and I keep on top of my receipts. Also, trying to organise my time around different projects can be challenging as it’s hard to jump from one project to the next.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
My favourite projects were with NikeWomen and the Women’s Day Party, which I created with Women Who. The NikeWomen project was developed around the theme of female empowerment; they let me be quite free with what I created, which was amazing! They have always been one of my favourite brands, so it was a dream project for me.
What skills are essential to your job?
Confidence in your work, and this doesn’t come easily. As well as drawing, painting and doodling, it’s important to get good at Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign – you learn bits of this at uni, but most of it should be self-taught, which means a lot of practice. I recommend creating your own projects and using these programs.
Are you currently working on any self-initiated projects?
I am always working on personal projects, they are so good for developing belief in what you can do. If you just work for clients, you are only producing work that someone else wants. You came into this industry because of your love for it, so don’t ever forget to work on your own projects. This will inevitably get you more work, as it’ll be a project filled with genuine passion.
What tools do you use most for your work?
Winsor & Newton pens; an Ipad Pro; Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign; a Mac laptop.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
An artist and dancer. My upbringing had a huge impact on this, as my father was an artist and my whole family dance!
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
It was useful as I still use some of the skills I learnt in my Photoshop and Illustrator lessons, although most of my knowledge was self-taught. It was also good for learning to take criticism! You will have to take a lot of criticism throughout your career, so it’s best to get used to it and learn not to take it personally.
What were your first jobs?
I interned from the beginning of second year at uni. When I graduated I already had two years’ experience in the industry, and I got my first job as a print designer for Illustrated People – this then lead to being their head of print.
Was there anything in particular that helped at the start of your career?
A lot of hard work and my family’s support! In this industry people won’t just come to you (at the beginning anyway). It is really important that you push yourself to get out there.
“In this industry people won’t just come to you (at the beginning anyway). It is really important that you push yourself to get out there.”
Was there a specific project you worked on that helped your development?
Every project I work on helps with development, because there is always something new to learn. Sometimes you’ll work on a project and you’ll only have one round of feedback, and with others it will just go on and on! Working with different clients is a constant learning curve.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
I have definitely learnt to manage my time, although I am still not great at it! I also learnt how to charge for my time, which is not something they teach at uni. This just came from asking other artists, and genuinely charging what I feel happy with, knowing how much work I put into each project.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge for me has been confidence. It’s so easy to get swept up in the industry and constantly be looking at your competition. I am incredibly competitive and am always looking to push myself further so this can be challenging. I’ve made quite a lot of mistakes in the past but I don’t dwell on these. We are all human and we learn from them. If no one made mistakes we wouldn't have half the incredible art we have in the world – it makes life fruitier!
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Yes, everything and more. It is really tough sometimes though.
What would you like to do next?
I am actually working on a few incredible projects and will wait to see where they take me. However, I would really just love to continue doing what I’m doing and keep pushing to work with more incredible clients and creatives.
Could you do this job forever?
Nothing lasts forever, but I hope this does.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
I would say just to continue to work with bigger and better clients. Also to create my own line.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a print designer?
Put in a lot of hard work, teach yourself new skills – also outside of your chosen career. Internships are good, but only if you are learning something valuable. Sack off anywhere if they are not teaching you anything. It’s good to get your foot in somewhere, but you shouldn't trust a company that treats you with no respect. Trust me: just making tea is not useful as a designer. I interned loads and each of the companies I worked for had a lot of respect for all my hard (unpaid) work!
Mention Kelly Anna
Interview by Indi Davies
Mention Illustrated People
Mention Sophia Webster