Updated: Jan 19
"Stick to your guns and know your worth"
Words: Nelli Yli-Malmi & Elle Nelson
Illustrations: Bethany Mannion
Elle Nelson is a leading graphic designer based in Rye, East Sussex working with clients worldwide to produce design that is both unique and ahead of its time.
First of all, how are you? I'm good thank you. I felt quite burnt out at the end of last year, working relentlessly through the pandemic and not being able to take a proper break really took it's toll on me. But I managed to get a much needed breather over Christmas which gave me chance to put everything into perspective and recharge. Tell us about your journey to become a visual artist (working across disciplines)? I have been creative since I was a child, making art and music for as long as I can remember, I come from a very artistic family so my creativity has always been encouraged and supported. I had no intention of becoming a visual artist, I had my heart set on so many other things... I wanted to be a Jockey (too tall), a marine biologist (shark phobia), an actress (too shy) and finally I settled on the idea of being a musician. It was being in a band that first led me to graphic design, we needed things such as posters, album covers and a website but we didn't have the funds to pay a designer to do it for us so I learnt. For many years I managed a music venue which not only allowed me to explore graphic and web design further but also gave me the opportunity to work ad hoc in interior design, during this time I set up my own brand The Happy Kimono which was picked up and published in 'Print, Pattern and Design' and the 'Sunday Times Style' Magazine. I then went on to collaborate with a friend designing and creating children's homeware under the name The Velvet Egg. Overtime the exposure of my work led to more opportunities and commissions and things grew gradually from there. After years of holding down unfulfilling day jobs and repeatedly bashing my head against the egoistical and misogynistic wall of the music industry I finally decided it was time to walk away and go freelance.
Are you self-taught or did you study visual arts? I'm self-taught. I'm actually not very good at being in a classroom, it always felt claustrophobic to me. When it comes to learning I like to find my own way, I have a tendency to just jump in at the deep end and figure it out for myself. It's probably down to a lack of patience, stubbornness or an inability to take directions from others that makes me that way.
What is in the heart of your work? At the heart of my work is a desire to challenge and a need to communicate something that can't be easily be put into words. I don't always explain my work or give too much information to the viewer as to what or why I created it. I think it's important to allow a person to interpret it for themselves and take their own meaning or personal connection to the piece away with them. What is your favourite thing about being a Designer? My favourite thing about being designer is being able to create, build or transform something. No two days are the same, each project comes with a new challenge, each client requires a different approach. It keeps me on my toes and stops me becoming lazy or complacent.
Who is your ideal customer? My ideal customer is someone who understands what I do, and respects my industry. Most designers and other freelance creatives struggle in general with people that believe design is a frivolity rather than an imperative aspect of their business that will make or break their brand. Apps such as Canva mislead people into believing they can create an individual identity for their brand themselves, when really it's just a generic template which is being trotted out by the dozens. What has been your favourite project? I'm lucky in that I have pretty much enjoyed all the projects I've worked on so far, so it would be difficult to single one out. I do tend to prefer working on projects where the client completely trusts my judgement and gives me free rein. I believe any designer will testify that they thrive so much more in these circumstances and the client always gets the best out of them as a result, so when these opportunities come along I grab them with both hands.
What advice would you give young creatives who consider taking the leap from an existing occupation to become a full-time creative? I think it's important to know your strengths and play to them. Put together a strong portfolio, online presence and have a water tight contract ready to go. Stick to your guns and know your worth, in the beginning you'll spend a lot of time figuring out what rates to charge and negotiating with your clients but this will gradually become second nature and it does easier. In all honesty you'll never have it all figured out at any one time no matter how long you've been in the business, it's part of the process when being a creative, you're constantly learning and constantly evolving from project to project. email: firstname.lastname@example.org Instagram: @elsacloud W W W . E L L E N E L S O N D E S I G N . C O M
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