After graduating cum laude in design and illustration from The Open Window School of Visual Communication, Lize-Marie Dreyer began her honours in illustration at Stellenbosch University before zooting off to the world-renowned LUCA School of Art in Belgium where she did 6 months of masters in illustration.
This year, the talented young designer – who’s already got a Loerie award and several craft certificates to her name – has launched her own creative studio: Aurora. Inspired by the Aurora lights, which people travel from far and wide to see, the studio employs an imaginative approach across various projects from event posters and invites, to corporate identities and custom illustrations.
We caught up with Lize-Marie to find out what motivated her to launch Aurora, and she responded with some valuable insights around making it as a freelancer, not getting pigeonholed into one particular style, and finding creative inspiration.
What inspired you to take the leap and launch your own creative studio?
Well, it’s a strategic move you see. To the industry I look like an entire creative studio made up of a whole team of people, instead of one person sitting behind her computer in her pajamas. Haha – just kidding!
This allows me to charge good rates for my work, plus, I’m hoping that Aurora WILL eventually become a team of people working together anyway.
What’s it been like? Tell us about the triumphs and challenges so far.
I went a bit overboard and made a LONG pros and cons list to answer this question. It’s a lot to read but I think it will give good insight into the triumphs and challenges of being a freelancer and having your own business. I’ll start with the cons – bad news first right!
1. You are your own boss: Basically, you need that extra little bit of self-discipline to be the one to drag your own lazy butt out of bed every morning. There’s going to be no one making sure you actually do work that day and no one to shout at you if you arrive late or don’t pitch for work. Luckily, my boss is quite the slave driver!
2. A fixed salary is not something you can rely on every month: But bills, you can definitely rely on those. Every month I work I don’t know for sure if I’ll be able to pay my bills at the end of the month. I think this definitely makes freelancing that extra little bit more stressful. I’ve been very lucky to be very busy thus far.
3. You won’t be working on big name brands from the get go: Bigger companies tend to trust their big brand with more established creative companies. I’m not saying it might never happen, but its definitely going to take a while for AURORA to build a good enough name before we will be able to work with big brands.
4. For the first few years you won’t have a 9-6 job: Overtime work is the name of the game.
5. You’re thrown into the deep end and there’s no one to guide you: If you don’t know what you are doing – you better make a plan quickly. YouTube and Google become you’re greatest teachers.
6. There’s no incentive program: I have no promotions to look forward to, no “night of the stars”, and no one to pat me on the back when I did well.
7. No pension, medical aid or paid holidays: Unless you pay for it yourself of course, but it’s definitely more expensive than the group pensions and group medical aid funds.
8. It can get pretty lonely: That’s why it’s good to have a studio space with a bunch of other freelancers. It also allows you to treat your job, well, like a job – to get up in the morning and go to the “office”. Or otherwise, it’s probably a good idea to be an introvert, like me.
1. You are your own boss: While this does require a lot of self-discipline this also gives you a lot of freedom to run the business the way you want to. This goes hand and hand with my next pro.
2. You can manage your own time: So, if you work better in the evenings when everything is quiet then you can work that way. If you have kids and need to drive them to sport or school, you can. You have the ability to manage your time the way it suits you best.
3. Each minute spend working is a minute building your own success, and not someone else’s.
4. You learn to be your own secretary, accountant, and more: I mean, I really need to start thinking about filing systems for all my quotes and invoices, and knowing how much to quote for a job was a nightmare.
5. You work directly with clients: Every time I do, I imagine the little Sims ‘Charisma Bar’ popping up above my head and loading a bit more. Understanding clients and learning how to work with them is always a valuable business lesson. Being able to form good working relationships with them is always rewarding. A few of my recurrent clients have become like mentors to me. How selflessly they are prepared to share their knowledge and advice is something that I will never forget, if in the future a young creative needs that from me.
6. You’re rapidly and constantly growing and learning: Running your own business means that you need to know what Value Added Tax is, which apparently you only have to pay that if you’re earning a million rand or more a year. I also learnt that VAT and Income Tax are two different things, and even though I don’t have to pay VAT I still need to register for tax.
7. Achievement is measured by happy clients who keep coming back for more work.
Do you have a set of design principles or aesthetic choices that you incorporate into your work – however loosely – no matter what?
I’ve recently read an article that was against an illustrator developing a particular style and I must say, I kind of agree. Avoiding a particular style means being able to offer a variety of clients, a variety of styles – instead of only being able to provide a small niche set of clients, a single style. The job opportunities are just much greater if you can offer much more.
I am currently working two distinct styles. The first is a more organic style, with flowing curves and very slight hint of realism which works better for personal work. The second is very vector and geometric with block-like characters which works better for commercial work. Many times I combine the two. I get different clients that request different styles depending on their needs. It just works.
How has your own work developed over the years? What do you think accounts for this?
Every day I’m learning and every year I look back at the previous years’ work and know that my style has grown and developed exponentially. I think my work has definitely matured over the years, as I myself have matured.
Tell us about the type of work that Aurora creates, and what sorts of projects you’d like to work on going forward.
Our ‘about’ section says: “At Aurora we have the overwhelming need to create things that are absolutely unique, once-in-a-lifetime and truly…phenomenal” – this pretty much summarizes the type of work that Aurora aims to create. The company has been very fortunate to be approached for mostly illustration work thus far – which is very exciting!
What does your creative process typically entail, from start to finish?
The conceptual part is the part I often spend the most time on. I usually like to draw out that which I am seeing in my head and then change and modify the sketch until I am 100% happy with it on a conceptual and visual level.
From that point onwards it’s usually just the execution process where I scan it in and start to digitalize it. Once I start to see that which I have imagined become a reality I am hooked. After that there is no stopping me, I could sit for hours and days and work and work and work until a project is complete.
I pretty much can’t do my work without my trusty Wacom tablet, Illustrator and Photoshop. Those are my three essentials.
How big a role does collaboration – be it with clients or fellow creatives – play in your approach?
Collaboration with clients is very important and building a compromise with them on any project is imperative if you want it to succeed. Compromise doesn’t have to seem restrictive to any party – it’s a two way street that requires both parties to work together towards a common goal!
I would love to do more collaborations with fellow creative’s though. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
What sparks your creativity and makes you tick?
Books, stories, interesting facts and folklore are my biggest inspiration and trigger my imagination like crazy.
I love both design and illustration, but illustration is my real passion! You know how when you read a really good book and you get so lost in the story that when you stop reading it, it feels like you’ve been lost at sea for a few hours need to ‘resurface’ into reality? It’s the best feeling ever. I feel that way when I illustrate.
And lastly, what does Aurora currently have in the pipeline?
We have so many exciting things happening soon! We can’t give it all away just yet, all we can say is – watch this space!
See everything we’ve got on Graphic Art Month here!