15 Rules for Freelancers with Shauna Panczyszyn

ADC Member Shauna Panczyszyn is an illustrator and letterer based in Orlando, Florida. She took the plunge into full-time freelance work last year after turning a potentially disheartening career setback into an opportunity for growth.

Ever since, she’s been busy working on hand lettering and illustration projects for clients like 3M Post-It Brand and Scholastic, developing a signature style that brands seek out for its personal touch. Shauna also contributed one such hand-crafted lettering piece to the Blood Sweat & Tears showcase leading up to this year’s Portfolio Night — just one side project she’s taken on in her (increasingly less abundant) spare time. But she doesn’t always wait for an assignment to stretch her creative muscles: in December, she started Three Word Stories as an outlet for her constant lettering practice and began featuring submissions from other artists and designers.

Shauna talked with us about her passion for lettering, how to turn fear into motivation and the daily grind of freelance work. Turns out one of the secrets to success is knowing when to give yourself a break.

ADC: When did you first start to feel that you could pursue typography as its own discipline?

Shauna: The opportunity presented itself. I had been fired from my job, and I had been practicing lettering every night for about two years at that point. And it just was a point where it felt right, where I felt like I could push through making this a very niche career. But it wasn’t until probably about six months ago that I felt comfortable calling myself a hand-lettering artist.

I remember saying “You know what? I’m not going to be a victim.”

ADC: How did the moment you were fired define the next year of your career?

Shauna: Well, at the time, it was honestly really scary. I had moved to this new city, all I knew of Orlando was Disney, and I had one friend I grew up with that lived here. Suddenly, I was jobless and alone, so I called my parents who happened to live about 40 minutes away. They jumped in the car, hauled butt down I4 in rush-hour traffic to come and just be with me. And it was the longest drive home of my life. Not only because I was stuck in traffic for 40 minutes, but also because I couldn’t shut off the voice in my head that was saying, “You have no job. What are you going to do?”

As I was sitting on the couch with my parents and a drink, I just looked at them and said, I’m going to job hunt, but I’m going to try freelancing in the meantime. I remember saying “You know what? I’m not going to be a victim.” I got fired Friday, and then the following Wednesday, I was back at my apartment, setting everything up to start freelancing. The next day, I got a call from a company in New York City. They wanted to hire me to do the illustrations for their annual report. And that just sort of continued.

ADC: Where did the idea for Three Word Stories originally come from?

Shauna: Anytime I would sit on the couch and just kind of practice, because I never know when to say done with my day. Usually, done means I’m not at the computer anymore, but I’m usually sitting on the couch watching TV, sketching in my sketchbook and just trying different styles, different letters, different lockups.  And I realized one day that I have an easier time laying out three words than I do anything else. And it’s only in the last couple weeks that I’ve been more comfortable with laying out stuff with more wording. I have a piece I’ve been working on since July of last year, and I’m embarrassed to say it’s still not done because it is a really long quote about dentistry.

I started putting things up very slowly. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself to do a blog post a day because I have days where I sit down and I just don’t have the energy to work right then. I’ll go watch TV for a couple of hours and come back to work, and then I have to push through everything. So I set it up wanting to do at least do one a week. If I can’t hit it one week, I’m not going to kick myself for it.

You’re not always going to get the job that you really, really want.

I’m still brainstorming and doing my ideal lettering warm-up every day; I start with pencil and paper and just write. I feel like an old lady sometimes because I wake up and my hands are very stiff because I draw all day. I do lockups to warm up and sometimes I’ll go on Reddit where there’s a whole thread of three-word stories.

ADC: Do you try to pick quotes that you’re actually inspired by in your day-to-day work?

Shauna: Sometimes it comes from songs. The most recent one, Papa Loves Mambo, is a song I heard in a movie. Unfortunately, it was playing in my head for a week. After a while I thought, “Ugh! It has to go!” so I finally drew it out to get it out of my head. But there are some I’ve done that are just mottos of mine, like “Make great work.” I wanted to play with animating it a bit. I have one that I’ve had in my head for a while based on the movie Goodburger; I just want to do four in a row that say “I’m a dude. He’s a dude. She’s a dude. We’re all dudes.”

ADC: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your time as a full-time freelancer?

Shauna: You’re not always going to get the job that you really, really want.  But you’re going to get the jobs that are good for you. And every one of them is an opportunity to improve.

Here’s a list of the top 15 things I’ve learned (and observed) as a freelancer:

    1. Every job is an exciting opportunity to learn.
    2. Find something that excites you in every job.
    3. Clients don’t always have large budgets.
    4. Don’t announce your client until after the project is done. Many things can happen between point A and point B.
    5. Always have a contract.
    6. Having an agent isn’t for everyone, but it can be a huge blessing.
    7. Putting your heart and soul into your work is both exhausting and rewarding.
    8. Greet those all-nighters with open arms.
    9. You will have successes and you will have disappointments — embrace the journey.
    10. Personal projects keep your creativity flowing.
    11. Take time for yourself to avoid burnout.
    12. Take care of your health.
    13. It’s ok to take a morning off if you just aren’t feeling it, but make the hours up somewhere else.
    14. Get out with friends.
    15. Always have booze ready.


What freelancing wisdom would you add to the list? Tell us on Facebook and Twitter!

And submit to Three Word Stories at threewordstories@gmail.com.

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