Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week we talk to Samantha Hahn, freelance illustrator, blogger, mother, and now author. With a track record most of us only dream of, Samantha has worked on illustrations and surface pattern designs for Tiffany’s, Johnson & Johnson, Victoria’s Secret, Daily Candy, Refinery 29, and Anthropologie just to name a few. Most recently, Samantha has written her first book Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines where she illustrated 50 of the most legendary female characters, including hand lettered quotes from each. It’s currently on display at the New York Public Library. You can pick up a copy of her book here.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a NYC based illustrator and author. I work with a range of clients for magazines, books, advertising, branding and licensing. Some clients include:The Cut (New York Magazine), Daily Candy, Refinery 29, J.Crew, Marc Jacobs, Mac Cosmetics, The Hatch Collection, Decor8, Tiffany’s, Anthropologie, Galison, Vogue Nippon (Jp), Conde Nast Traveller, The Telegraph (UK), Glamour , Elle, Marie Claire, The Chicago Tribune, Surface, Real Simple, Random House (Potter Style), Assouline, St. Martin’s Press, Storey Publishing and Chronicle Books.
As a freelance illustrator, you work for a variety of brands. Tell us about the process of gaining a new project.
Work begets work. When I started out I worked with smaller clients, such as indie jewelry designers and indie magazines. Then I evolved and began working with magazines and publishing houses. Advertising agencies and branding agencies saw my work in these places and reach out to me to do work for them. Sometimes an advertising agency will reach out to my agents looking for an artist that does what I do and my agents will submit me and then we go from there.
In such a competitive field, how do you stand out and market yourself?
At this point in my career, my work markets itself. It’s published on sites and publications so it gets seen. I also maintain a blog called Maquette where I share ideas, inspiration and work that’s come to fruition. I send out a newsletter to clients every 2-4 months with links to projects. Sometimes if I see something or someone cool that I want to work with, I will just reach out and introduce myself.
Where do you look for inspiration and what has been your favorite project you’ve worked on so far?
I love Pinterest. It’s the perfect source for a constant stream of inspiration. I also read blogs and magazines, news sites etc. I live in NYC so there’s inspiration on the street outside my door and I surround myself with friends who are also doing inspiring things.
What advice/recommendations do you have for someone looking to start a business?
Do what you are passionate about, pay attention to the business end of things, pick up what’s working and what’s not, develop skills, learn from rejection and failure, keep plugging, remember that the cream rises to the top. Think about this famous Ira Glass quote, “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” Work hard to close the gap. Reach out to other people who can help you in areas where you are weak. For me that’s management. I have an agency who represents me that handles contracts, negotiations, billing and even some marketing. It’s very helpful to me to be able to focus on new ideas and the projects that come my way.