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Freelance designers balance creativity with business chores

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST – Without creative services the world would be a dull place. Graphic designers and art directors are an important cog in the wheels of advertising, printing and promotions. These artistic people are usually free to be creative while others in the shop tend to business and sales matters and interface with clients.

What about freelance designers who must run the whole show? Three talented Gulf Coast freelancers say it`s the creative phase of their work they relish, but to be successful the must also take care of everything else.

Wayne Hamilton of Gulfport, Tim Hope of Pass Christian and Laura Tolar of Ocean Springs all say billing is the part of being a freelancer they don`t like but necessary to get paid. All three had years of agency experience before going out on their own and agree the experience was valuable. They believe young designers need experience in a structured agency before freelancing.

Hamilton of Wayne Hamilton Advertising Design spent 10 years with Ogilvy & Mather, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world before moving to the Coast. “The agency experience is very important,” he said. “I keep track of my hours and estimate projects for clients like an agency does. I don`t like the billing but I must do it.”

He said Ogilvy & Mather is big on teaching and the learning never stops, something he tries to continue as a freelance designer. He got his start in editorial graphics at the agency doing layout for publications such as magazines and annual reports. He currently is creative director of two magazines, Mississippi Newcomers & Visitors Guide and Senior Scene.

“To give my clients the best service I can, I keep learning and find it easy to keep up with trends using sources like Media Research Institute (MTI) in New York that report what`s working and what`s not with consumer magazines,” he said. “MRI finds out what percentage of readership is gained by four-color ads and do bleeds help – things like that.”

Hamilton, a graduate of Baylor University with a degree in fine arts and graphic design, says he loves doing layout and design for the magazines and has tried to come up with a design format that`s branding. He finds it gratifying to see tangible results of his work in ads, logos, brochures and billboards too.

“I especially like to do a whole marketing support system like I’m doing for Gulf Coast Investment Developers,” he said. “I prefer to present everything as a package.”

He begins the creative process by getting as much information as possible from the client then looking at the client`s competition to avoid anything similar.

“It`s not like I have a file of ideas and just slap them on,” he said. “It`s tailored to each client. At the agency, we kept old files that had not been used by clients but we were never able to use them for other clients because they were not tailored to fit them.”

Hamilton works in a home studio, gets business through referrals and has no trouble motivating himself to work.

“Truthfully, I’m a workaholic,” he said. “When I get started, I want to stay with it.”

Hope`s favorite design work is creating logos. “It boils everything about a business down to the basic essence of what the business does and stands for,” he said.

A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, he has worked at agencies in Hattiesburg and New Orleans but prefers to freelance.

“I’m lucky in knowing enough people to stay busy, and I like to make my own schedule,” he said. “I’m a morning person so I may start work at 5 a.m. and take off early in the afternoon. That really helps me keep up with my two sons’ activities.”

He feels modern technology, especially the Internet, has opened the way for freelancing and keeps him from feeling isolated. He does have some face-to-face meetings with clients but most matters are handled in other ways. He lives in Long Beach but has an office in Pass Christian, noting that it`s best for him to have a separate work place.

He views interaction with printers and others involved with producing materials as part of a freelancer`s job. “At an agency, a creative person is removed from doing that,” he said. “I like being involved with it but it`s also risky because I take on the responsibility for someone else`s work. It just goes with the territory.”

Hope does a lot of creative boutique-type work and said he sometimes gets the creative juices flowing by playing word association games.

“I’ve developed different ways of doing concept work over the years, ways that work for me,” he said. “About half of what I do is coming up with ideas but I can execute production and fill in where people have a need.”

In addition to creating logos, he also does a lot of artwork for billboards, print ads and brochures.

“I can`t imagine doing anything else,” Hope said “but I would advise young people to do an internship in design while they’re still in school to make sure it`s what they want.”

Tolar of Laura Tolar Design, LLC, received a fine arts degree from Louisiana State University in 1980 then headed to Houston, Texas, where she worked for 16 years in boutique and small advertising agencies. She also did a stint with the University of Texas Medical School branch in Galveston before moving to Ocean Springs in 1997.

She says she wanted to be a freelancer so she could be a helping hand to agencies in the area but that hasn`t materialized. Instead, she stays busy with work that comes through referrals and by word of mouth. Winning 30 to 40 awards from the Gulf Coast Advertising Federation`s annual contests hasn`t hurt her repartition, either.

“The awards are nice but I try to have consistency in my product,” she said. “I don`t just slap stuff together to get it out the door even if it`s a black-and-white classified ad.”

Tolar rents “a wonderful creative loft space” in downtown Ocean Springs in a building she shares with her brother, an architect, and sister-in-law, a Realtor. It`s the creative part of being a freelance designer that makes her enjoy going to work every day.

“Running the business part of freelancing is not my cup of tea,” she said, “but I like sitting down with clients and getting information first hand instead of someone else interpreting to me what the client said as it`s done in agencies.”

Tolar said she asks lots of questions and can often pick up a lot by a client`s body language. A good lesson she learned from working in agencies was that she can`t do everything. She concentrates on what she can do and relies on other people for services such as illustration and photoshop.

Her creative business consists of lots of high-end brochures, logos, stationery packages, invitations and ads. She even did original packaging for a line of food products for the Corsair Company in Pass Christian. The things she likes to do the most are brochures and invitations.

“I love printed pieces – choosing the paper and ink, doing press checks. All the print shops know me,” she said. “I’m meticulous and very picky for my clients but the printers may have other words for me.”

She was pleased to design the invitation for the grand opening of Cirque Du Solail, the French circus production that performed at the Beau Rivage Casino for several years.

“I designed it in my head in about 10 minutes when I saw the round theater,” she said. “I had a die cut piece in mind that I knew would make it work.”

A few of her other clients include Casino Magic Bay St. Louis, Mississippi Power Company, Cedar Lake Medical Center and Bienville Orthopedics.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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