A Quick Guide to Collabs

A good collaboration can be career-boosting opportunity to get your name out there, meet new people, and stretch yourself creatively. On the other hand, a bad collab can leave you in the dust wondering why you wasted your precious time. As a freelancer, your time is your most valuable asset, so it's important to sniff out a bad collab when it comes your way.  Hopefully this post will help you learn from my mistakes! 

Red Flags 

Here are some things that signal this collab may be a disaster: 

If someone approaches you and says "we should collab sometime!" but has no ideas to get started, you might want to walk away. Having no potential project ideas shows that this person hasn't put in the effort to think of ways that your work would fit with theirs or why this would be beneficial to both parties. If they haven't put in the minimal effort to write a thoughtful email, there's little chance that they will put in the effort when it's time to work together. Trying to work with someone who doesn't care is the most frustrating thing I've ever encountered. I recommend that you politely decline this "opportunity" and save yourself a few hours of yelling at your inbox.

Never work for free. Never work for exposure. As I've said before in my post about surviving in the art world, your work and your time is worth something  *repeats to self in mirror.* Anyone who asks you to work for exposure doesn't value your time and doesn't respect your work enough to pay you fairly. Working for people who don't respect you is a nightmare, especially with custom collaboration work. You could spend hours and weeks going back and forth making draft after draft, with no compensation other than a shoutout. Last time I checked, I can't pay rent with exposure, so it's not worth it. There are tons of ways to gain exposure without giving yourself away for free. Get creative and get yourself out there in a way that's fair and sustainable for you, because you deserve it! 

Many times you will be approached with a collaboration that is not in line with your experience. This kind of collab can be very one-sided and only beneficial to the other party. When you're approached with a project that has nothing to do with who you are and the work you do, it's challenging gain anything from it. For example, I was approached by a fashion company to promote their product on my blog. Sure, I could I write a blog post about it and get paid for it, but it would be so off-target from my usual posts that it would seem a bit fake. A sponsored post that has nothing to do with my artwork would potentially water down this blog that I've worked so hard to keep an honest place (and no amount of money could make that worthwhile).

What a Good Collab Sounds Like

I'm always happy to see companies reaching out to artists and creatives to make something that celebrates both parties. For example, I've been so excited to see my friend Natasha of Violet Tinder partner with big brands like Dunkin Donuts and Method. It shows that her photography is well respected and she's expanding her business to greater heights! It also shows that these companies are smart enough to go beyond the typical ad campaign and collab with content creators and artists who are killing it on social media. 

A collaboration between two artists with different styles can also be a great way to stretch yourself creatively and broaden your horizons. For example, I recently collaborated with the feminist illustrator Ambivalently Yours, who I've been a fan of for years. I sent her an informative, thoughtful email outlining some ideas, and we both agreed to co-create three pieces of artwork that we mailed to each other to finish. I'm so happy with how these came out, and I even got to interview her and learn more about her process! We chose to split any profits from print sales 50-50, and she was a delight to work with.  Not only was she thoughtful and attentive, but she was open to new ideas. 

Ambivalently Yours x WildHumm collaboration, see the rest of the collection here.

Ambivalently Yours x WildHumm collaboration, see the rest of the collection here.

A good collab can start with an email. Whether I'm the one approaching someone to collaborate with or they are approaching me, all of my successful collabs thus far have started with an email containing information that answers the following questions: 

Who are you and what kind of work do you do?  

Why do you want to work with me?

Why would the two of us be a good fit?

What are some potential projects that we would be working on together?

 What are the goals of the project?

And of course, it should clearly mention compensation. Compensation is up to you to negotiate, whether that's a payment up front, a percentage of co-created products sold, or an hourly rate - but again, never work for free. You're worth it. 

Have you had any collabs go sour? Or collabs that were a thing of beauty? Let me know in the comments! 





Makers to Know: Heather Kirtland

You might recognize this week's artist! Heather Kirtland was on the blog a few months ago with Marissa Huber talking about Carve Out Time for Art (it's a fantastic project, read more on that here). But today, the spotlight goes to Heather. She's a former figure painter turned abstract artist with a great outlook on life and all the ways that art can fit into it. 

Heather Kirtland, hard at work (from Instagram)

Heather Kirtland, hard at work (from Instagram)

BB: For those of us meeting you for the first time, tell us a bit about your background and how you got started. 

HK: Hi!  I have been creating for as long as I can remember.  Artist was my career of choice in elementary school.  When applying to college I considered fashion design but after visiting schools it didn't seem like the right fit.  I ended up graduating from The Maryland Institute College of Art with my BFA in painting.  I knew that the chances of supporting myself as and artist once I graduated was slim.  Thankfully I had super supportive parents that encouraged a fine arts college experience.  Perhaps naively I figured I could get a "job" doing anything to pay the bills.  But fortunately that's exactly how it worked out.  I have for the most part always continued to create, and used my "day job" to support my passion.   When I could I would apply to gallery shows.  The introduction of social media has really helped me get my work out there.  The fantastic community I've found is so encouraging.  About 14 years ago I stumbled into becoming a hairstylist.  I love the creativity and the people (both my clients and co-workers).  Best of all it allows me a huge level of autonomy to do my studio work.  I am beyond grateful. 

Echo, 36"x36" acrylic on canvas by Heather Kirtland

Echo, 36"x36" acrylic on canvas by Heather Kirtland

BB: You balance a full time hair dresser gig, motherhood, and your shop. How on earth do you find the time?

HK: Ha! Some weeks are better than others.  I work only part-time at the salon since having my daughter (5) and son (almost 3).  I spend 1 day a week in my actual studio and then fit in all the admin and at home painting in the cracks.  I try to schedule things as much as I can.  This way time with my kids is focused on them, and I know that I have time set aside to create.  I also have to be super flexible and willing to bail if something comes up.  I am super lucky to have a lot of support from my family and they pitch in a lot.  

In all transparency it wasn't always like this.  When I had my daughter I was totally thrown for a loop and felt like I would never create again.  It took some time to figure how to make it a priority and then to my surprise the entire experience of being a mom brought a whole new level to my artistic practice.   I partnered with Marissa Huber on a project called Carve Out Time for Art, that fosters this community of mothers, people that work full time and people that are returning to a creative practice to find time to nurture that part of themselves.  It has been such a joy and I've learned so much.  

I am still learning as I go too.   My shop is the part that usually gets the least attention.  I'm trying to get better at that. 

Encaustic pigments

Encaustic pigments

BB: What has been the hardest part about getting started in painting? How did you overcome that? 

HK: I worked mostly figuratively in college.  It was technically difficult, but I didn't have to worry about subject matter.  My senior thesis work was when I started to dip my toe into abstraction.  I still used a form within my compositions that I attached a persona to.  (My house forms still represent that in current.)  There have been a lot of dry spells too, where I just didn't know what to paint.  I find that sometimes I have to consider that down time as just as important to creating as actually creating.  It is a place to find space and just be.  It can sometimes make room for what is next.  I know setting down to sketch and be less precious usually sparks ideas.  Also reading can be a catalyst for a painting.  Sometimes I come across a word or phrase and it conjures a composition in my mind.  I used to get so scared that my creative energy was gone forever when the ideas dried up.  Knowing it will come back allows me to have a little more grace with myself.

Escape, 18"x18" encaustic by Heather Kirtland

Escape, 18"x18" encaustic by Heather Kirtland

BB: The concept of "success" can be paralyzing to any artist, how do you avoid that fear of failure or comparison to other artists? What does success mean to you? 

HK: I think it's changed over time.  When I graduated college all I wanted was to show in galleries.  Once that happened I wanted people to buy my work.  Once that happened I wanted more people to see my work.   I'm not sure if this is a good path or not... 

The comparison game is hard.  I fall victim to it too and sometimes it leads me in a direction that I realize once I'm in it that I don't really want it.  It's not "me". What I have recently realized is to think about how I want it my life to look and to define my success with that. Which could be time for more travel, building a studio on our property, having more family time or building a wider collector base.  This has been much more rewarding.

BB: What are some of your favorite mediums to use? What makes you gravitate toward encaustic or acrylic when you start a painting? 

HKAt the moment my primary mediums are oil, acrylic, and encaustic.  When deciding on which to go with it comes down to the properties of the medium and my time constraints.  I usually work on acrylic at my house in a corner of my den.  I enjoy the immediacy it allows.   I can build layers quickly without the wait that oils require.  My encaustic and oils I work on in my "studio" which is a garage.  I have everything set up and great ventilation. I go to encaustic when I want a tactile quality or a composition that I want to carve out.  Lately I've really been enjoying painting with the blowtorch on them!

Oils are my first love so I return to them because I understand them the best and I like the depth I can create.

BB: Aside from painting, are you working on any side projects?

HK: Most of my extra time goes to Carve Out Time for ArtMarissa and I have so many ideas, and ironically not enough time!

I don't mind because it's so much fun.  I am also hoping to work on curating some shows in the future.

Find more of Heather's work here: 





Makers to Know: Amira Rahim

I've admired Amira's work for a long time because her paintings always evoke such good energy. If you're a fan of bright color and high energy marks, keep reading to learn more about Amira! 

BB: For those of us who are meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started?

AR: Well, my name's Amira Rahim! I've been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. Drawing was just something that came second nature to me and I would spend my early years buried in books. I was a huge book worm and not just for the stories. I used to dream of being an illustrator someday. I've been painting professionally now for the past 3 years. The first year was really an uphill battle. I was a new expat in the United Arab Emirates and finally decided that I was going to follow my dream of being a "real" artist. But I didn't have a style yet. So my first year was a lot of failed paintings, lots of tears, but lots of growth too. I'm happy I went through all the miserable paintings because it led me to finding my voice as an artist.

"Sisterly Love" 

"Sisterly Love" 

BB: Your paintings are bright and full of movement. Where do you draw inspiration from, and how would you describe your artistic perspective?

AR: Much of my work is quite simply about color. Lets just say that living in the Arabian desert will really make you appreciate nature. The lack of color and nature really forced me to look internally for inspiration instead of externally and I'm happy for that. My paintings are energetic by design. I want people to look at my work and feel happy, cheerful, or simply at peace. I love when someone's standing in front of one of my paintings and you can just see them find a piece of themselves in it. I guess you could say my artistic perspective is one of passion, color, and joy.

BB: When you begin a painting, what does your process look like? How long can a painting take to complete, and how do you decide that you're finished?

AR: I like to start with a feeling in mind. Often times I'll approach a blank canvas and thing "I want something feminine," or "I want something crazy and bright". But that's really it. I paint primarily in acrylics these days, and so much of my process lends itself to the materials that I use. I am able to incorporate texture, rich colors, and shapes relatively quickly in my work and that's because of the language I've developed and the relationship I have with all of the paints, inks, and more in my toolbox. I tend to approach a painting like a science experiment. I drop my projections or expectations and just allow it to happen. I'm either going to love it, or I'll set it aside and work on something else. There's very little attachment in the process and that's what allows me to keep painting every day. It's so easy for fear to creep into the creative process but we have so much fear in our daily lives. I don't need fear in my studio.

"Soft Shock"

"Soft Shock"

BB: What has been a challenge that you’ve faced as you’ve established yourself as an artist, and how have you overcome that? 

AR: Juggling marketing, fulfillment, customer service, photography, all while staying inspired and creative to paint each day. It truly is a balancing act and I think many times people forget it's just you on the other end of the website. That can be hard when you're dealing with different needs and attitudes of people. I try and separate myself from my business these days. In the beginning, I took so much personally and was quite a workaholic because of it. Ok, I'll be honest, I'm still a workaholic, but I give myself permission to detach and take a day off when I need to.



BB: You recently completed 30 paintings in 30 days, which is quite an accomplishment! How was that experience for you? What were some of the challenges you encountered, and what did you get out of this practice?

AR: This year was the 2nd time around for me doing the 30 paintings in 30 days. It is intense, haha. I'll leave it at that. Every year I experience something different. This time, I gave myself permission to do abstracts only and not try and chase some new goal. It went really well. You get a lot out of doing the 30 in 30 challenge. For starters, you get inventory. And if you're struggling to complete work on a regular basis, then doing a challenge like this, even if you only do 15 out of 30 days, that's still 15 more paintings that you wouldn't have made otherwise. It's also a great way to test out new ideas and see how your fan base responds. Sometimes, I'll try out new color schemes or techniques during this time period to test the waters. I'd highly recommend it. Just be prepared not to be good for anything else during the month. No cooking, no housework, just painting. Haha

BB: Lastly, can you name three emerging artists or makers that you would love to see interviewed here? 

AR: A'Driane Nieves, Hafsa Khizer, T. Kimberlyn Art

Find more of Amira's work here: 






    Makers to Know: Jaqueline Diedam

    I first discovered Jackie's illustrations on Instagram last year and instantly fell in love with her delicate style. I'm thrilled to have her on the blog today and learn a bit more about her! 

    BB: For those of us who are meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started?

    JD:  I'm Jackie, Brazilian born in the city of Curitiba, in the south of Brazil. I grew up there and during my childhood my father, who is a pilot with huge talent for fast sketching and creating comics, was always giving me ways to feed my creative side. My mother on the other hand, is a person who always had a entrepreneurial instinct, she worked with creatives in bridal and haute couture scene, then interior decoration, and even had her own baking business for years. She would always get to a great position but then change her heart and chose a new craft to learn. With so much input from my parents, since very young I was enrolled in art programs, painting courses, and by 9 years of age I was having private lessons of oil painting. I was certain I was going to be a painter when older. But, unfortunately, I developed a strong allergy to oil paints and simply lost the interest and distanced myself for this area for a long time.

    During High School, in the process of trying to find a career, I went abroad for the first time to Spring Hills, near Nashville, TN. While studying there, I was really interested in applying for SCAD, but still had no real focus. When back in Brazil, I chose to study Product Design in the UFPR.  Inside this program I went abroad on a study program for the second time, to KISD in Cologne, Germany. Taking a big risk, I chose to stay and live in Cologne. During the last five years, I've realized that my love for design, was much more intense when I had to visualize anything: processes, products, services. This seemed like a good reason to go back to my starting point, and try to paint again. Watercolor became a great passion for me, and the more I did the more I wanted to do it. 

    BB: Your watercolor paintings are detailed, delicate, and soft. What inspires you to be drawn to fashion and travel illustrations?

    JD:  I am interested in traveling and fashion, probably because of my parents influence. I love to paint places I've been, and where I want to go next. I think I put a lot of detail trying to visualize my own memories and expectations of a certain place. I do love to recreate patterns and textures on paper, and I know it's a cliche but it also works a bit like a 'shop therapy'. If I am drawing something I can't afford on my artist budget, I kinda own the piece then and makes me feel satisfied.

    BB: When you begin a painting, what does your process look like? How long can a painting take to complete, and how do you decide that you're finished?  

    JD: It really depends on my mood. Some are fast, and because I work with watercolor the drying time is also quite fast compared to oil painting. Some still life scenes and floral patterns are painted with quick and loose strokes to created a fun, vibrant and careless finish. When working in landscapes or architecture, I tend to take much longer, because of details and textures. I worked on my "Positano" painting, for around 3 months, every day a small area. I also think when I use gouache, I tend to work slower than with watercolor.

    BB: What has been a challenge that you’ve faced as you’ve established yourself as an artist, and how have you overcome that?

    JD: I think there are 2 main challenges that I've dealt with in daily life as an artist. First, is to be able to find time to do all I want. As I was graduating, writing my final thesis, I had no time to manage a shop. I was doing a lot of commissions on the side, but everyday I received emails asking for quotes, for prints and for editorial jobs, and I even tough I wanted to tackle it all, I simply couldn't manage it all. When I was finished with university, the first goal was to actually make a business plan that would allow me to fulfill my plans. I've now opened my online shop, where I sell prints, and also commissions for portraits, and it was a true battle. Not only to find the right work to sell, but to work with all the bureaucracy, taxes, production and logistics of it. 

    The second challenge is to be paid fairly. Owning a small business and being an artist puts you in a very vulnerable position in many negotiations. I get "exposure" and "opportunity" offers almost daily, and this can be very soul crushing. Now, after a lot of experience ( and frustration) dealing with these offers, I've created a thicker skin and became clear about my rates and my value when negotiating projects.

    BB: Aside from illustration, you're also interested in three-dimensionally crafted paper designs. Can you elaborate a bit on your experience with making paper props?

    JD: I started studying Product Design in Brazil. There was a course in the program, probably the hardest if you ask anyone there, called "3D representation" by a professor that was a perfectionist and extremely focused on details. In the first year, our task was to build 3D models, made of paper. Every week. It was a whole year learning different techniques and I couldn't help but ask " When will I ever use this? Shouldn't we learn softwares and how to create digital models?" . 

    I bit my tongue, after 4 years, when I was already living in Germany, me, my boyfriend and a friend had the idea to create a student guide of our city, all illustrated with paper models. The project was a success, and  we are now about to release the second edition with twice as much content. We created sets of postcards and prints, build an online shop, and even had meetings with the tourist board of Cologne to sell our products on their shop. 

    I really love to work with paper, and even tough it's an area that is getting saturated, I still consider it to be a fresh way to create visuals because of the freedom you have between 2D and 3D scenes. 

    BB: For your thesis, you created a board game about gender and design which sounds absolutely fascinating! Can you tell me more about it?

    JD: My main focus during my design studies in Germany was the topic of Gender and Design. This area is extremely important because objects and visuals have great impact on people. One of the topics I worked on before, was to question the problems we have with the color pink today, how it transitioned from a 'boy' color to a 'girl' color ( a fact that most people dont know about) and what it means to society when designers simply 'make pink stuff' for women. 

    The board game I created is aimed to be used in conferences and project development meetings, to try and help to open a dialogue with people that do not know about the area of Gender and Design. The game shows the participants why this subject should be an important part of the design process. 

    Find more of Jackie's work here:






    How did you find your artistic voice?

    I've gotten several emails asking me how I found my voice as an artist, and I'm always shocked because in many ways I feel like I still haven't. My work right now is fluid and geometric but it wasn't always like this, and I don't expect it to stay like this either. To remove the mystery, and show that I am indeed all over the place, I thought it would be fun to take a deep dive into my portfolio. 

    I've been painting my whole life, but my first experience of putting my art into the public was in high school (way back in 2006). I was in charge of the painting crew for our theatre department, and in addition to painting sets, I painted school-bus-sized marquees announcing the latest plays. I loved lettering, I loved working BIG, and I loved the detail. 

    In college (2009-2013)  as I was finishing my B.S. in chemistry, I took several figure drawing classes. I was so drawn to it because by studying the body, it helped me figure out my own. I was so inspired by Jason Polan, and loved to draw people I encountered every day. I played around with realistic & cartoonish styles, and this helped me to be more aware of patterns, textures, and shapes that I took for granted in my daily life. 

    In grad school (2013 - 2015) as I was finishing my M.S. in environmental science (and experiencing a major existential crisis) I started painting in an abstract style. It was the only way to capture my feelings of utter confusion, and the racing thoughts about what I really wanted to do with my life. As someone who was notoriously quiet and timid, my work was was energetic, bold, and chaotic. I really didn't care if it was pretty, or if anyone on earth would buy it - I did this for me. 

    I started adding intricate patterns as I approached graduation, because the meditative nature of the process was calming my nerves. I was trying to decide if I should take the leap and paint full time, or get a normal, safe job. Everyone around me was getting jobs working in labs, or teaching, or continuing on to get PhD's, and I was restlessly painting in my apartment trying to get my shop off the ground. I felt like the world was rolling their eyes at me, but I was so happy in the process. 

    "Candy" acrylic & ink on paper. Prints available here.

    "Candy" acrylic & ink on paper. Prints available here.

    "Give me all your love" 12"x18" mixed media. Purchase the original here or prints here. 

    "Give me all your love" 12"x18" mixed media. Purchase the original here or prints here

    My most recent work focuses on free-flowing color with geometric details. At 25, I find that everyone expects me to be an adult, but I don't have enough "experience" to really "do" anything. So, what am I worth? My artwork right now is a reflection of my struggle with that question. The fluid color says yes! I'm free to make my own choices! But don't forget, you're still confined to this geometric cage. 

    "She has a lot to say" - Find prints here.

    "She has a lot to say" - Find prints here.

    I don't know how long I'll stick with this style, or where I'll take it from here. I hope this post was helpful and at least showed you that no, I didn't hit the ground running. I worked through several styles, but my voice has always been there throughout the process. I use my artwork to understand the world around me, and express myself in a way that words just fail to do.

    I think the key to finding your voice is to stop worrying about what the end result looks like, or if anyone will like it, and focus on why you're doing it in the first place. Once you grab a hold of why, your voice will be loud and clear. 

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this! If you're an artist, how have you found your voice? What styles have you worked in over the years?