Writer and events producer Stephanie Hartman: “I knew by second year I didn’t want to be an illustrator”
Graphic design and illustration graduate Stephanie Hartman has carved a multifaceted career for herself that combines journalism and events production, with no two days the same. She programmes monthly events and an annual conference for magCulture, a platform dedicated to the world’s best print publications, as well as trialling the capital’s most exciting workshops, talks and events for London what’s on bible Time Out. Stephanie works on the Design Museum’s Young Audience programme – a job that started as a voluntary placement – and still finds the time to run Collage Club, a chance for friends and family to get crafty, which she recently expanded for Hastings Illustration Festival.
Events Producer, magCulture (part-time, 2013-present)
Freelance Staff Writer, Time Out (2014-present)
Freelance Young Audience Programme Facilitator, Design Museum (2013-present)
BA Graphic Design, specialising in Illustration, Central Saint Martins (2009–2012)
How would you describe what you do?
My roles are very varied. At magCulture I work on the events programme and produce our annual editorial conference called The Modern Magazine. I also oversee the monthly talk series we hold at the magCulture shop, along with workshops and launch parties. At Time Out I write for the Things to Do section of the mag, both online and in print and also for the Time Out blog. My role at the Design Museum involves supporting the designers and studios we work with on the Young People’s programme. I research content, facilitate and run workshops which have included the new museum’s opening weekend workshops and offsite projects. I’ve managed to carve out a job that allows me to produce, write about and attend loads of exciting events, and all of them seem to influence and inform each other.
What does a typical working day look like?
I don’t think I ever have a typical day! But an ideal one is a productive one. I spend one day a week at the magCulture studio, plus I’m there for any events we have on and work from home if there’s anything else I need to get done. I’m at Time Out maybe two or three times a week, and at the Design Museum whenever an event is programmed which is often at the weekends. The rest of the time I either work from home or head to the Barbican, Ace Hotel or library because I work better when I feel like people are being productive around me. The vast majority of my day is spent on a laptop or computer.
Office hours are 10am to 6pm but I continue working when I get home and often do a bit at the weekend. The run-up to the Modern Magazine conference in October tends to be the busiest time for me.
How collaborative is your role?
I tend to think of myself as quite autonomous during the planning stages of what I do, although I do work closely with Jeremy Leslie, the founder of magCulture. At the Design Museum I work with the Young Audiences programme producer and during workshops with designers and a group of volunteers.
“I love being able to work and meet so many people. So much of what I do involves celebrating creative people and sharing what they do with a bigger audience.”
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I freelance because I like the variety it brings, so I guess I’m not too big on repetitive tasks. My creative brain isn’t keen on the layers of paperwork involved in workshops and being self-employed means doing my own taxes which is no fun. I love being able to work and meet so many people. So much of what I do involves celebrating creative people and sharing what they do with a bigger audience. I also find working with young people incredibly fulfilling. I love having flexible hours because it means I can see exhibitions and events during the week, but it does also mean I can be working late into the night if I need to get things done.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The Modern Magazine conference back in October has to be my highlight. It’s the fourth year we’ve done it and it’s so rewarding to see it get bigger, better and more streamlined each year. I was able to enjoy speaker talks instead of just worrying about a technical hitch.
What skills are essential to your job?
Being able to communicate well, working well with the public and being able to juggle multiple projects at once.
What tools do you use most for your work?
A Macbook Air and an iPhone 5s. I use an online invoicing system called Invoicely, Hootsuite for scheduling social media stuff at magCulture and Boomerang for scheduling emails. I’ve also got Flux installed on my laptop which removes the blue light from my screen if I’m working late.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A teacher. Then when I was about eight I had a dream I had my own wrapping shop and it was full of all these amazing ribbons and different kinds of paper, and I just wrapped presents for people all day. I seemed to be having loads of fun. Still quite into that actually.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
All my roles benefit from having a good understanding of what’s going on within the design and illustration world. I knew by my second year that I didn’t want to be an illustrator but I’m still glad I studied it. I’ve been massively into collage since I was a kid and so much of what I made at university was collage-based. Whenever I get the chance I run something called Collage Club which is basically an excuse to get together with loads of friends and make collages, have beers and cook them dinner. I’ve also done it for events like Hifest (Hastings Illustration Festival) and for museum workshops. It’s also been helpful with work at the Design Museum and previous programmes where I’ve been researching illustrators and designers to work with.
What were your first jobs?
I interned with It’s Nice That straight after uni. It was a 10-week contract but I ended up staying six months, and coming back the following year to work on the Here symposium and Nicer Tuesdays. In between my Foundation course at Central Saint Martins and my degree, I interned for an independent jewellery company I’d been obsessed with as a teenager. It mostly involved making jewellery and packing up orders but I also worked on some events. I guess it’s what I’ve always been into. It’s Nice That was super-useful as it showed me I could shape myself a career in creative events which had never been suggested to me while studying.
“I knew by my second year that I didn’t want to be an illustrator but I’m still glad I studied it.”
Was there something or someone that helped you at the start of your career?
Rob Alderson, who was editor-in-chief at It’s Nice That, at the time recommended me to Jeremy Leslie when he heard he was looking for someone to work on the conference. I’m hugely grateful for that. The same year I interviewed for a six-month volunteering programme at the Design Museum, working on their Get Into Design courses for young people. I was then asked to stay on in a freelance role which has grown over time. At the beginning of 2014, the Time Out blog editor put a call out on Twitter for someone to do a one-month stint there. I’d had very little experience in writing but knew I enjoyed it, so dropped her an email, went in for a chat and I was given the role. Although it wasn't paid, I had holiday days to take from my part-time job so could just about make it work. It meant working six or seven days a week, plus working on freelance projects on top. That was quite intense. After that, the team from the Things to Do section of the mag asked me to do a bit of freelance work and it went from there.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
I feel like I’ve gained a lot of skills from learning on the job, as it’s not what I studied. I quickly learnt to say yes to things even if I wasn’t sure I knew how to do them. Sometimes that means working twice as hard, but it’s worth it if you ultimately do the job well and are passionate about it. I’ve always enjoyed working with the public.
“I quickly learnt to say yes to things even if I wasn’t sure I knew how to do them. Sometimes that means working twice as hard, but it’s worth it.”
What would you like to do next?
I’d love to produce a big one-day family event or festival spanning events, workshops and talks. Basically something that combines everything I do in one brilliant project.
Could you do this job forever?
I can see myself working in events forever but I’d like to see it evolve. I find myself really needing to make stuff with my hands if I’ve been working long stretches in front of a screen, so I’d like to find a way of incorporating more physical making into my work.
What is the natural career progression for someone in your current role?
I guess some people would like to progress to an events manager role. At the moment, a fixed role isn’t for me as I like the fluidity of my position and that I can mould it any which way I like.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give someone wanting to be a freelance writer and events producer?
Get as much experience as possible and put yourself in the right places. Volunteer to help out with events you’re interested in and ask as many questions as you can while you’re there. Read lots, constantly research and attend as many as you can.
Interview by Laura Snoad
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