Interview with designer and illustrator Kary Fisher

Find out how talented artist and mum of one Kary Fisher manages a successful freelance design and illustration career from her rural home in the South of France.

What’s your career background?

I’m a freelance graphic designer working both in the Uk and France. After studying graphic design and illustration in Paris, I made the move back to the UK and worked in design agencies in London and Brighton for many years. 

I started out mostly in the publishing industry working on book jackets, layout design, illustration and marketing for many publishers such as Hodder, Penguin, Pan Macmillan, Simon & Schuster.

I was lucky enough to work with Anita Roddick from the Body Shop on several books. To me, she was a real inspiration for her campaigning work on environmental issues, as well as her business prowess. 

For many years I also designed the Roald Dahl and the national Summer Reading Challenge websites, as well as several other children’s book author’s sites and online games.

I absolutely adored this work as I am a strong believer in getting children to love reading, by making it fun and interesting. This also led me to understand that I do my best work when motivated by the subject matter or if the company ethics align with mine.

This made me think more and more about freelancing to allow me to choose who I worked for.

How did your career change after having children?

After having my daughter I started back quite soon part time in a design agency, but unfortunately (or fortunately) they decided to close down soon after, making me redundant.

This prompted me to launch into setting up my own company which I’d been thinking about doing for a while. It just made sense on many levels: I had contacts, determination, and experience with creative project management. And I could choose to work around my daughter’s school timetable of course.

I met and became friends with Hannah Martin when we were both pregnant with our daughters – a friendship that actually started online. She had the brilliant idea of Talented Ladies Club (TLC), which we launched together – me designing the graphics and website and her the content.

We both had extremely talented friends who were struggling to either resume their careers or find a better way to work around their families and it became clear that TLC was well needed. I’ve been the creative director ever since, and love working with a fantastic team.

I am a natural introvert so working alone doesn’t faze me, and I have developed a network of talented creatives I rely on for things like web development or copywriting for example. That’s really important. 

I also wanted to move back to France one day where I was brought up and wanted to find a way of having clients when I did. So after a few years we made the move and bought a place in the south of France in the rural countryside. With high speed internet obviously!

What’s your USP?

Creative branding – I think I can deliver inspired branding and logos as well as providing illustrative elements and marketing material that allow the brand to be cohesive across the board.

I think I would say I love colour and bold branding! I want people to be happy and inspired when they see my work. I’ve branched out to doing more packaging design as an extention of the branding work I do, and I love that, that’s definitely an area I’d like to explore.

Who’s your target audience?

I love working with small to medium businesses on developing their branding. Some of my clients are ethical food, beauty and services, others are just generally creative but I like to support people with the same values and who like me love a challenge.

Supporting small businesses, artisans, artists and makers is something I feel strongly about.

My advice to people starting as a freelance designer

I had to work hard to make contacts the first few years of freelancing but most of my work is by referral now. Here are some things I learned along the way.

1) Don’t give up 

I remember when i first started out a couple of years after graduating I phoned 100 design agencies to find out if they needed freelancers. 35 said they did employ freelancers at some point or rather, I emailed all of them and got three replies and one interview. That one interview got me a job, and they referred me to my next freelance employer, and so on… So persevere.

2) Talk to people 

My advice for anyone starting to try and develop a client base is just to network as much as possible – and not just at ‘networking events’. I make so many contacts by sitting in coffee shops, talking to small businesses when I was purchasing things, and meeting new people over drinks or at the school gate. Face to face really helps people get a feel for how enthousiastic about your work.

3) Give helpful advice

I gave advice, tips and referred people I knew where good (such as website designers, copywriters, social media managers for example) as much as possible to help and many of those people then contacted me to help with branding down the line.

4) Update, update when you can

Spend time updating your website, Linked-in profile, social media profiles so they look professional. SEO is important. I don’t necessarily get a lot of work through social media but people look you up and it’s reassuring to them that you are active.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Moving back to France with my family and retaining my UK client base. Pretty much everyone has stayed with me and I go back every few months for meetings as well as speaking on the phone, WhatsApp or Skype. I love getting to speak two languages especially with clients who have companies in both countries.

Why is work so important to you?

Being creative is my lifeblood – I couldn’t live without that. It might sound sentimental but I feel amazing when a client is pleased with the work I’ve done. I feel a vested emotional interest in my long term clients’ business development if I know that I have contributed to their success in some way.

How do you balance your work with your family?

When I first started out, my daughter was young and it was hard without family nearby to help. I really relied on friends who like me freelanced and we’d help each other out, with playdates and such.

I think getting your kids involved with what you do in some way is important if you are freelancing from home even if it’s just showing them some projects or talking about them at the dinner table.

Amelie is now 11, and has come to some events I did exhibition graphics for, and even started jumping up and down in the supermarket when she saw a packet of cereal I designed.

I think she realises there are highs and lows, that you have to have qualities like patience, perseverance, creativity, planning skills, and many more to make it work. But to me, being my own boss suits me, and is worth all that. And I get to spend more time at home.

What’s your advice for people thinking of investing in their design or branding?

Don’t invest any time or money on a designer until you have worked out exactly what your business needs, and this means understanding what makes you unique, what your values are, your tone of voice, what makes you different to similar businesses.

Giving keywords such as “high end, fashionable, and ethical”, or “approachable, family orientated, and fun”, will help a designer create the right logo quicker than if you say, “we sell clothes”.

Things not to say to a designer and what to do instead

“ I’ll know what I want when I see it.” This doesn’t give us faith that you will ever be satisfied. Have a look at Pinterest and make a mood board of things you like, companies you respect and like the look of their branding.

“ Can you show me some ideas and if I like them I’ll pay for them.” Would you say that to your plumber or a mechanic? Don’t get several people to pitch for a job unless you are planning to pay them, you will know from their portfolio and a telephone call whether they are right for you.

“ I don’t have any money but it’ll look great in your portfolio” We also have families to feed… whatever you propose, imagine someone else asking you the same. Would you be happy?

“ Can you give me a quote to design a brochure?” Don’t be woolly! We need to know if you need picture research, illustrations, how many pages etc. before quoting. Get all the information together you possibly can before getting a designer to quote, in the long run you won’t get any surprises.

“ Can you use this image? I found it online”. Without the copyright, no you can’t! Big no-no there.

“You’re the expert here. Can’t you just do your creative magic?” Us designers are unable as yet to read minds, so having examples of what you do and don’t like is very helpful!

You can see more of Kary Fisher’s work on her website, on Instagram and on Facebook.