on freelancing and finding work you love
It's still way too early to get out of bed. With eyes half opened I scroll down my instagram feed - Greta is already at work. Not only she has managed to get up, commute, make a cup of coffee, but is also writing down her to do list for the day. Next thing I know I'm in my running shoes. If she can do it, I can do it. For the first interview we picked that one person who inspires us to get out of bed in the morning. That's also the point of these conversations - there are heaps of creative and crazy happy people living and working in Lithuania. Their energy inspire us and inspiration breeds great work.
Two hours later I'm in Greta's gorgeous studio with sky-high windows and lots of light. Greta is a living proof there's no need to go work in an agency just to get experience. Or get a job altogether. In fact, doing stuff the hard way quickly teaches and accelerates you. After graduating from Leeds College of Art she moved back to her hometown in Klaipeda, Lithuania and started what now is one of the most exciting freelance design practices in Lithuania. We meet at her studio to talk about the good, but the ugly too. Have you ever started a project and lost motivation? Felt overworked and drained to the backbone? Looked at other people and wondered how the hell are they so successful? Positivity and success goes hand in hand; these are honest and raw conversations about creative life and unconventional work.
You suggested to meet up for the interview at 8am. When I scroll through your social media, I often spot pictures of your studio. The sky is pale pink and it’s probably not even 7am, yet you are already at work, making coffee and starting work. It’s bloody early!
Yeah, I am an early bird. I once read that artists usually work at night and the best ideas tend to come between 3 and 4am. I’m not sure if that’s true, definitely not sustainable. Maybe when fatigue meets late-night inspiration it all turns into magic? I much prefer mornings. I love leaving home when the sun is rising, the city is asleep, when you feel at ease.
Why did you come back to Klaipeda?
I was studying at Central Saint Martins College in London. I spent a year there and then continued my studies at Leeds College of Art. I felt seriously depressed after graduating. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. I remember feeling the need to be closer to my family and home. My brother has a flat in Klaipeda, he’s a sailor and often spends long periods of time at sea. So here in Klaipeda I immediately had a free place to stay. With a slow burn rate, I had more time to do the sort of creative work I wanted to do and not worry about money.
We’re both from Klaipeda and even went to the same school. Hands down, it’s an amazing city, especially to grow up in. Yet, just like us, our friends left to study and are very hesitant to come back. They either think it’s going to be very tricky to find a job or that culturally it’s a bit...nah.
To be honest right at the beginning I got very lucky. My friends Neringa, Viktorija and Jurate, who stayed and live in Klaipeda, invited me to join their studio. So I had a flat and a few friends willing to help out. I got some work directly from them and later I too started working with their clients. Back then, I knew that in many ways Klaipeda is a bit behind, but I saw it as a challenge. People would often ask me to make a logo - not a concept, but a logo. Then, I’d try to explain how brands are built and what having a concept means. It all sounds positive and educational, but I lost a lot of work and money this way. I do think you need to invest in the people you work with. I travelled, studied abroad, I experienced new ways of working and commuting. My biggest contribution is generating positive change in the market by implementing my knowledge. In reality, it’s me being patient and having a subtle strategy. I won’t lie, I ended up saying no to many clients. I learned the hard way who I can work and collaborate with and who will simply take away my energy.
What are you currently up to?
Some of my clients are still in Klaipeda. Most of them are small businesses and really interesting projects, mostly because of the founders - I’ve always enjoyed representing people who are passionate about the work they do. There are some big projects too. In the past year, I created the identity for Karles music festival, redesigned Musangas coffee shop and Klaipedos Duona is my big account too. My growth has been very organic, mostly relationship and recommendation based. In exactly the same way, I started working at the CandyShop studio in Vilnius. I say ‘working’, but we’re trialling a new concept when everything I do is on freelance basis. It’s a true collaboration!
Let’s talk real life. You’ve never worked in an agency before. Instead, pretty much from day one, a young graduate, you chose to go freelance. What was your beginning like? It must have been so much harder emotionally!
Back at uni, I was super active. I wasn’t afraid to approach new places. Just thinking about it now, I wanted to start working as soon as possible. Sadly, the offers that I received weren’t that exciting. I felt that being a junior graphic designer is not really that much fun, definitely not as challenging. I truly felt and believed that I had a lot of energy and potential and I should be careful where I invest it. Agencies tend to drain that energy. My main worry, though, was that the work I’ll get there will be boring.
So you packed your bags and moved to a sleepy little seaside town? C'mon, Greta, tell me more about your first steps in Klaipeda.
Honestly, stuff I was doing wasn’t my dream job. I was my own boss though! Right at the beginning, I spent all of my time designing everything from brochures to stickers. That said, the studio kept expanding. That’s how I got my first real freelance job - Varna restaurant in Nida. The deadline was scary and I had to work crazy quick. Still, it was my tipping point. Varna exploded. I got really good feedback and slowly by word of mouth new clients started showing up.
I love your honesty. Beginnings are hard, aren’t they? Not sure about you, but people who are curious to start freelancing often ask about finding clients.
Hmm, I don’t know, my beginning was very small and not too glamorous. Funny though, now it’s the first time in my life when I am actually looking for work.
Four years into your design practice you are starting to look for clients? How come?
It took time to realise what I want to do. To find my niche. To learn what sort of clients I work well with. I see looking for clients not as pitching my portfolio, but building relationships. I starts with an Instagram follow, then an email, then if we’re both interested in each other, we arrange a meeting and have a coffee together. I’ve learned that it’s easier to find clients when you know what you are looking for. Call it phase number two - you know you got there, if you know what to say no to. Phase number one was saying yes to absolutely everything. I even worked with a tractor company… Imagine that! Now I’d say no immediately, back then I simply wanted to do work, to learn, to get opportunities to show my designs.
What about your relationships with the existing clients? Sometimes nurturing a long time work based friendship can be super tricky...
Right from the beginning you can tell if it’s going to be a love or hate story! Personally, I like when people clearly state what they want to achieve. Another way to see if it’s not my cup of tea is when they first ask about the price tag - sometimes I only get a text message, not even an email! It’s an immediate ‘no no’.
Although, when I just started, I wasn’t asking for much money… The price comes with confidence.
Let’s talk about choices. In the past few years you’ve changed a lot in your life - you moved countries, changed directions, started side projects that grew into a fashion line, you’ve also recently moved to Vilnius. It seems that once you feel settled and comfortable, you want to instantly shake things up. Aren’t you scared of the unknown?
Recently, I understood that the only stable thing in my life is the work I do and that I’m ok with that. No matter what direction I’ll choose and how much change it will create around me, the work element will remain. Again, I won’t pretend, the feeling of anxiety is not unknown to me.
Exactly! At least from my experience freelancing is a lot like a roller coaster - you get really high and happy and then suddenly stuff happens and you are right at the bottom of your emotional hole. It’s scary down there. Then you start thinking about comfort and life and work balance. These things are just as important.
True, but these things come with getting to know yourself. When I feel that I’ve reached a comfort zone, I know that I’ve also achieved something. Just before Christmas I realised that I have quite a bit in my life already - a studio I absolutely adore, a circle of good friends. With the realisation came a nagging feeling telling me that this is not it. Not yet. There is more out there to go get. When these feelings creep in, I start to send emails, talk to people… I want to explore, discover and shake stuff up a little. It’s all very human, all hard to explain and definitely not logical. During that stage, I tend to make many decisions and I make them fast. No hesitation. You need to ride that wave! After a few weeks of a self-created turmoil, the fear kicks in.
Fear is ugly. It sweeps away confidence and enthusiasm.
It’s a different kind of fear; it’s not like when you are scared of heights and cannot move. Anxiety is what makes you feel like you’re suffocating. You can’t think, plan, strategise and you often make wrong decisions that are fuelled by feeling uncertain and worried.
Have you learned to control it?
I think that it’s very important to watch your surroundings. In the past few months I felt that I hit walls everywhere I went in Klaipeda. It seemed that I was holding on tight to something and it was time to let go. That’s when you know it’s time to make big decisions.
On a more positive note. How do you stay energised? It seems that you never get tired.
I get tired. Really really tired. And when I do, I need to spend some time alone. I do have a recipe for resting! Nothing fancy, I simply stay at home, in bed, watching Hollywood movies; and I know I need to do it at least once a month. Otherwise, the fatigue will catch up with me. Perhaps, it’s not the best or the most intellectual way to unwind, but it works for me.
Ok, relaxing is one thing, staying motivated is another… I’m sure all of us know the feeling when suddenly something breaks inside you and then you kind of know it’s the end of the chapter even though you haven’t finished or even started it yet.
I think you can learn how to stay motivated. Motivation comes and gets stronger when your work makes a positive change - when you genuinely work towards something you wanted to accomplish for a long time. When you succeed, you start to feel your potential, you know that you can improve and grow. When I feel too lazy to leave my bed, this exact feeling kicks in.
Then, you face another issue. It becomes very hard to work for someone else and you become addicted to being your own boss.
You started your own fashion brand. It’s kind of your side project too. I was thinking about you before the interview and realised that pretty much every time we walk down the street people approach you and ask where they can get a coat like yours.
Not sure if we can call it a fashion brand! Fashion design was the only thing that didn’t go so well for me in uni.
When I moved to Klaipeda, I met Gytis Jaudžimas. He’s the one who actually makes stuff, but we brainstorm together. Our first collection was called ‘Pxxx’ - we felt tired of Lithuanian fashion industry. It seemed that nobody was innovating, there’s just too much copycat culture. I mean among the designers too. I understand that people are still quite reserved and perhaps want to blend in with the crowd. So the designers create what people are willing to pay for. It’s not fashion though. That’s also how F***it was born. A new line with a flair of ‘fuck it’ mentality…
Talking to you, I get a feeling that you spend quite a bit of time thinking about work. Do you have your own strategy how to avoid distractions?
I’m a designer who doesn’t draw very much! I currently have 5 notebooks that I always carry around. I’m absolutely useless with the iPhone calendar, so hence notebook number one. Other notebooks are for ideas, phrases that I heard and liked. I also always write a to do list. One thing that I’ve been meaning to do is a 5 year plan. For now, it’s only a thought. But once I put it down on paper, I get one step closer to actually doing it.
Text: Rasa Jusionytė; Photos: Justė Kulikauskaitė
Want to read this in Lithuanian? Here you go.
Septinta ryto, o Greta Madline jau savo studijoje. Už didelių langų kyla saulė, viskas pasakiškai raudona. Aš dar tik vos pramerkusi akis, žiūrinėju jos nuotraukas telefone. Matau, kad ji jau pasidarė kavos, užrašų knygutėje rašosi svarbiausius dienos darbus. Lipu iš lovos, šoku į bėgiojimo batus. Jei Greta gali septintą ryto versti kalnus, galiu ir aš. Vėliau susitinkam pokalbiui. Greta dizainerė, kuri įrodė, kad vos baigus studijas nebūtina darbo patirties ieškoti agentūrose - visai nesunku rasti savo klientų. O dirbant sau begalo greitai įgaunama patirties bei pasitikėjimo savimi. Žiūrint į Gretą, su ja besišnekučiuojant, girdint jos begalinį entuziasmą, atrodo, kad pačioje pradžioje užtenka tik beprotiškai savimi patikėti. Visa kita - ateis, tada Tavimi tikės kiti, atsiras kolaboracijų, klietų. Taip begurkšnodamos kavą atvirai kalbam apie pokyčius, didelius, karjerą bei gyvenimą keičiančius sprendimus, darbą sau, laiką kūrybiniams projektams... Pozityvumas ir sėkmė žengia koja kojon, tik kaip pasirinkti į kurią pusę keliauti?
Visą pokalbį Lietuvių kalba rasite čia.
Text: Rasa Jusionytė
Photos: Justė Kulikauskaitė