I received this letter recently, and I thought I should share my response with all of you.

Hello Star,

I’ve been told time and time again that it can be hard starting out in design because it’s such a competitive industry. I’ve been trying for a few months now and I’m wondering if I’m doing something wrong? I’ve contacted plenty of people, art directors etc and some of them have been really encouraging, but still, no proper work. I just wondered if you have any tips or advice about how you established yourself. I’m real serious about this and want to do it, but this first hurdle is so hard!

While I don’t profess to know what will work for everyone, I’m happy to share what worked for me. Hopefully this helps!

My senior year of college, I decided that I wanted to live off my artistic talent. At the time, I was working at a coffee shop, where my artistic talent was used only to letter the chalk signs that displayed the latte specials.
While I could make a mean cappuccino, the last thing I wanted to do was spend the rest of my life slinging coffee.

I took a course called “Art, Life, and Money” which was geared towards helping us make art after graduation. I learned about resume writing, artist statements, taxes, and grant writing. More than that though, I learned that I had to be really proactive about art making, and pursuing ways to make that lucrative.

I started to freelance, doing illustration and web design in my spare time. I was still a full time student, and still working my coffee shop job. I knew that if I was going to jump into full time freelancing after graduation, I needed to get myself set up ahead of time. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

Get a website.

It is 2008… if you run a business and you don’t have a website, you don’t exist. Even if you just have your contact info and a brief description of what you do, it is incredibly valuable to be able to tell a prospective client where to find you on the web.

Read my primer, Building a home on the web, if you’d like more tips on how to do this!

Remember to have your contact info, resume, and portfolio in really accessible places! Many people will only give you 2 clicks worth of their time, so make sure that you can reach all the important info in 2 clicks or less.

Many people have taken to joining popular social networking sites, and using their networking pages like a website. While this is much better than having no web presence at all, it’s kind of unprofessional. Anybody can make a myspace page and call themselves a business.

That said, there is nothing wrong with using social networking sites to extend the reach of your work.

Join social networking sites

Social networking sites should be looked at as a free marketing resource. The presence of your business on these sites can only help you to connect with more people. Accept friend requests from everyone. Show your work on your page, and make your website URL prominent, so people will travel from your social networking page to your portfolio. Design your page to look good and don’t post embarrassing photos of yourself!

Use community based sites like flickr or livejournal to move farther outside of your circle and into other groups of artists and designers. Post illustrations and designs to group photo pools and themed discussion communities. Also comment on other people’s work! I promise they’ll come back and comment on your stuff later.

Make friends with craigslist.

You can get work off craigslist. It is a difficult pursuit, but one that will yield results eventually. Look for work locally, but also look for telecommuting work in EVERY CITY. You will run into some great jobs, and some awful ones, but after you’ve got a few clients under your belt, word will start to get around and people will start contacting you.

Make friends!

Talk to people in your field. Make friends with them! If they like your work, they will recommend you to other people. I frequently get work from other designer friends who refer me when they are too busy to take another client. I also repay the favor when I’m too busy!
Also, consider that the people you already know might have use for your skills. Does your great aunt need a portrait done of her dog? Does your accountant need a new logo? Does your best friend need an awesome layout for her blog?
Even if you do some of these sorts of jobs on the cheap, if they tell one more person who gives you work, it is totally worth it!
When you meet new people, make sure they walk away knowing you’re a designer, and that you’re taking clients.
Word of mouth is key.

Go to conferences and events

I’ve done really well with attending events like comic conventions and zine fairs. You can meet tons of other people doing what you’re doing, and share advice and resources.

Get business cards

& hand them out to everyone new you meet! For more info on this read my article on Business Cards.


It’s easy to get noticed when you work with other people. Their friends and fans will now know who you are, and if they like you, they’ll tell people.

Participate in group shows and anthologies
If you see a call for work anywhere, apply. If you don’t get in, no harm, no foul…but if you do, somebody important could see it and offer you work. At the very least, it’ll look good on your CV.

Keep learning!

Always keep improving your art. Take classes, study other artists, and just generally make an effort to keep getting better. Make sure your website reflects your growth, so potential clients can see it too!

Don’t give up!

Make a list of the people you will call when you don’t feel like making art anymore. There will come a day when you will get fed up, and it’s really, really important to have a network to get you through.

It’s a super difficult road to travel. Working freelance is almost always feast or famine. You will be working a 60 hour work week for your first year, and yes, you will be living paycheck to paycheck. A great deal of your success will come from being at the right place at the right time. Here’s to hoping you get there! Good luck!

at the desk

For another perspective on this subject, see Nubby Twiglet’s Life of a Graphic Designer in Training.

Many times throughout my day as a web developer, I find myself styling a page that has a woeful lack of copy. Rather than rollerskating over to the marketing department and demanding some text, I turn to my trusted friend Lorum Ipsum.

Many of you are likely acquainted with Lorum Ipsum already, but for those who aren’t, I turn to the wikipedia:

In publishing and graphic design, lorem ipsum is common placeholder text used to demonstrate the graphic elements of a document or visual presentation, such as font, typography, and layout.
Even though using “lorem ipsum” often arouses curiosity due to its resemblance to classical Latin, it is not intended to have meaning. Where text is visible in a document, people tend to focus on the textual content rather than upon overall presentation, so publishers use lorem ipsum when displaying a typeface or design in order to direct the focus to presentation. “Lorem ipsum” also approximates a typical distribution of letters in English.

The most common lorem ipsum text reads as follows:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

While I’ve been using Lorum Ipsum for years, I only recently began using the Lorum Ipsum generator.

lorum ipsum

This thing gives you custom Lorum Ipsum in a bunch of different formats. How rad!
I use this tool regularly, so I thought I should pass it on.

& on that note, I’m off to work.

House of Leaves, by Mark Z Danielewski, is one of my favorite books. It’s right up on my ist next to Lolita and White Noise…but for completely different reasons.

This was the first book that used it’s typesetting against me as a weapon of psycological attack.
Let me explain.

House of Leaves is a story within a story. Different fonts represent different narrators, and the type appears to know no bounds except perhaps the page itself.

The arrangement of the text is meant to mimic the feelings and thoughts of the characters. Words are found upside down, backwards, and even in braille.

The fastest paced part of the book is printed with only a few words per page, forcing the reader to frantically flip through to read what’s next. In doing so, the physical activity involved actually raises your heart rate. Thrilling to say the least!

There are numerous codes hidden throughout the book, if one is so inclined to decipher them. However, they are by no means required to be solved to understand the story.

Oh, and did I mention it has a soundtrack? The Author’s sister, Poe, released an album, “Haunted” as a companion piece to the book. There are page numbers in the liner notes of the album that correspond to specific passages of the book.
Also, the endpapers of the book are hexadecimal characters, which are actually an AIFF audio file of Poe’s track “Angry Johnny” from her first album, “Hello”.

Until this book, I hadn’t really thought about books as being an interdisciplinary medium. It really changed the way I look at design, and still influences me today.

As for what the book is actually ABOUT…..I’ll just say that it’s about a house that is 1/4th inch bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Little solace comes
to those who grieve
when thoughts keep drifting
as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves
moments before the wind.

* all photos in this entry are not by me and are linked back to their respective authors.

My friend Matt linked me to this awesome gallery of envelope security patterns.

pattern library

This made me think that I should share some of my other pattern resources.


+ Squidfingers | Patterns
+ The Inspiration Gallery
+ Kaliber10000 | Pixel Patterns
+ Portfelia | Patterns
+ 44 suburbia | Patterns

+ Citrus Moon | Patterns
+ Headlock | Patterns
+ Fractured Sanity | Patterns
+ everyday icons Playground
+ | Pattern4u

+ Shizoo | Patterns
+ Panthea | Patterns
+ Tickie’s Web Page Themes
+ bgMaker
+ Dearest

+ Architectural Ornament
+ Huge Magazine | Patterns
+ AppendixSquared | Patterns
+ Barracuda Backgrounds

+ DinPattern
+ milleseicentopercento
+ Secretloft | Patterns
+ Klukeart | Patterns
+ PixelDécor | Patterns

+ Don Barnett | Tiles
+ Pattern-Bomb
+ Tile Machine
+ Alice Grafixx | Patterns
+ Hybrid Genesis | Patterns

+ print & pattern (blog)

All of these links are from Blue Vertigo, a really rad resource list.

Happy patterning!




Thisisstar <3's Galadarling

Since I work from photo, I get a lot of e-mail asking how I go about choosing a subject or model for my work.
Generally, I find that my work falls into two categories;

  • Illustrations which are about the model playing a character.
  • Portraits which are completely about the model as a person in real life.

The previous post about my collaboration with Evan, is an example of the first category.
When I do work of this sort, my model could become anything or anyone. I could change their appearance drastically within the illustration, or even during the photo shoot. Most of my editorial work is like this, because I’m often asked to illustrate specific articles. In these cases, my models could be anyone that even remotely fits the physical requirements of my character.

However, it is the second type of work that I’d like to talk about more in depth. My number one source of inspiration as an artist is the people I meet. I am fascinated by the ways people choose to present themselves to the world. There was a period last year where I was doing portraits of mostly alt-looking females, and this really changed how people looked at my body of work. Many people assumed that I had a particular attraction to punk rock and body modification. While this is partly true, I am more interested in people who have a strong look, whether it’s punk or not.

Here’s a snippet from an artist statement I wrote last year:

I have always been interested in the nature of identity and how that relates to self-expression. Specifically, I am interested in the manipulation of a person’s outward appearance in reaction to their emotional state. I believe that people physically manifest their emotions, and my portraiture is an attempt to reveal and emphasize this inherent quality.

This interest in portraying real people has led me to draw a number of inspiring people, such as Nubby Twiglet, and Katie West.

But to get to the main subject of this post, I, like Salvadore Dali, just can’t stop drawing Gala.
Gala Darling is an excellent fashion blogger, and she’s also my friend!

She’s genuinely inspiring on so many levels, I imagine I’ll end up drawing her another thousand times before I die.
Please check out her site & get some inspiration of your own!

To take a little Gala home with you, swing by my print shop ( to snag your own copy of either of these.

Or, if you’d like a little Gala love on your computer, download the free desktop wallpaper!





P.S. Tomorrow, I’ll show you all the steps I went through to create this image!


The best thing I ever did for myself was building this website.

That may sound like a rather weighty statement, but it’s true!

Being able to promote myself digitally has been my number one most valuable resource, as a freelancer.

Here’s how you can do it too!

Get a domain name.

First, find a site to register your domain at. I use & I’m really happy with it but I’m sure that there are a bunch of other excellent websites out there.

Once you’ve found such a site, see if the name you want is taken already. Give alot of thought to what name you pick, because this will be your main identity on the web. It should be easy to remember, and easy to spell. Also, be conscious of other websites with similar names.
You don’t want to be confused with another site, especially if that site is affiliated with something unsavory.
A friend of mine picked a domain name that was one character off from a popular adult website’s name. He ended up having to change it.

You might also want to consider the possibility of buying several domain names. If you are purchasing a .com, you should look into who owns the .net and .org of the same name. If nobody owns them, then you might want to consider buying them yourself before someone else does. A friend of mine owned a popular .com site for several years, and another group bought the .net without his knowledge. He didn’t like being affiliated with this group at all, and it quickly became a fight over who should own the name. It might be wise to avoid this possibility altogether if you can.

A quick note on the Whois database.

When you register your domain name, you are required to fill out a form with your name and address. This information goes into a database that is open to the public. You can check out who owns any given website at If, like me, you are freaked out by the idea of total strangers finding out where you live, I would highly recommend making your info anonymous. Many of the domain registration websites (including the aforementioned godaddy) provide services to do this, however, it does cost extra. If you don’t want to pay extra to be anonymous, think about getting a p.o. box.


Once you’ve purchased a domain name, you need to find a place to host your site. If you’re unfamiliar with how this works, think about it like real estate. Your website takes up space, and you need to find a place for it to live.
There are many, many different companies that provide hosting. Often times hosting can be bought as a package along with your domain name, so check out what your domain provider has to offer.

Make your site look good!

Once you have a domain and a host, you have the daunting task of building your site ahead of you.

This is perhaps the most difficult of all the steps to starting a site. If you have either design or programming skills, as well as a fair amount of time, I’d recommend trying to do at least part of your site yourself. If you’re short on either skill or time, then hire someone to do it. There are tons of really talented webdesigners out there who would love to work with you. If you can’t afford to pay much for it, consider trying to find a design student who needs to expand their portfolio.

Think about branding.

Your website should have a visually recognizable look to it. This look should also be present in any other marketing materials you have, such as business cards, postcards, even your myspace page. I change my branding every time I redesign my website, but there are elements that always remain present.  Perhaps it’s a consistent color scheme, or maybe a re-occurring theme.  Find something that works for you!

Don’t let your domain name expire!

Accidentally having your domain expire is a terrible thing. Losing ownership of your digital identity is no small thing. You can spend a lot of time promoting yourself, only to have all your work undone in seconds.

Sometimes if this happens, you can go ahead and re-purchase your domain. No harm, no foul….just a matter of setting it up again. Other times, however, somebody else can buy your domain out from under you. If this happens, you have little option other than to buy the domain directly from them….and they can charge whatever they want.

Thankfully, most domain providers give you a heads-up if your domain is about to expire. However, you should always check in before the one year anniversary of your domain purchase, just in case.