Making Money with your Adobe Skills: Violet Reed / Portland State University

Before you can start making money doing the creative thing you love, one thing has to happen first. You have to share what you can do. For some people (hi, extroverts), this is no biggie. Thrilling, even. But for a lot of other people, talking about their skills out loud is a barrier they’d rather not cross.

If that’s you, then consider Violet Reed’s story a postcard from the other side.

During her sophomore year at Portland State University, Violet planted herself in the graphic design program, where she honed her craft as an illustrator and multimedia artist. As her talent unfurled, this self-described introvert mastered the skill of working a half-step outside her comfort zone, building a solid community of people invested in helping her grow right where she was planted.

Through a mentor, she got a gig doing illustrated comics for Portland’s No. 1 alternative weekly newspaper. With an introduction made through her teacher, illustrator Kate Bingaman-Burt, she scored an enviable paid internship.

And with Instagram as a self-promotion launchpad, she pads her bank account with money earned from custom illustrated portraits, enamel pins, greeting cards, and zines.

While Violet’s work already speaks for itself, her community is her amplifier — and the design world at large is about to take notice. We certainly are. Read on to learn more about how Violet is making it all happen.

How did you get into design?

My mom is an artist, and I grew up with a lot of creative friends, so I’ve always been surrounded by art. While I was always drawn to it, I had so many people in my life who were owning it that it never felt like “my thing.” But when I found the graphic design program, I realized how I can create things for a purpose beyond liking it aesthetically.

Take us back to the first time you scored a paid project. How’d it go down?

I actually found my first paid project through a classmate. One of my team members for a science project was a parent, and I overheard her talking about wanting help with invitations for her daughter’s birthday party. I offered to help, the project went really well, and that’s how I got started.

Now that you have a little more experience, how do find clients?

For me it’s half school, half Instagram. Thankfully my program is really great about helping students sell their work through group shows, craft fairs, and that sort of thing. So I’m always thinking about how I can turn passion projects into things I can sell.

On Instagram, I’ve built up a network of people who do similar stuff, and potential clients who need my skill set. I’ve found some really cool projects that way. For example, I got the gig at Willamette Week (Portland’s No. 1 alternative weekly) because I saw a posting that they were looking for artists. It turned out my first mentor in the design program now works there, so I think that helped me lock it in.

Sounds like having a mentor has really paid off. How else have you made connections?

A few years ago I started studio assisting for one of my teachers, Kate Bingaman-Burt. At the time, she was sharing a studio with one of the cofounders of Biklops Design, and that connection led to a paid internship. If I look at the significant career opportunities I’ve had, they’re all connected to a web of people I’ve met through my community at Portland State. That’s pretty cool.

How do you figure out what to charge your freelance clients?

It’s not something people talk about that much, and it’s something I’m still figuring out too. For my first few portraits, I set a flat rate, but tracked my hours to get a real sense of how much time it was taking me. When I adjusted my rate, I knew it was based in that reality. Now that I’m graduating, it’s time to re-evaluate and make sure what I’m charging matches market value.

And all of this was going on while you were in school? How do you make it all happen?

Honestly, I’m still learning how to balance school, work, side gigs, and personal projects in a healthy way — it’s super easy to get overwhelmed by whatever deadline is closest. But I’ve found it’s really helpful to stay on top of my online calendar and to-do list, and make time to look at what’s on your plate every day. Once everything’s laid out and organized on screen, it’s a lot easier to plan ahead and break projects into manageable pieces. My favorite apps right now are Google Calendar and Wunderlist.

What advice would you give other design students looking to make some money?

Definitely stepping out of your comfort zone and networking as much as you can. When you tell people what you’re interested in, and share what you’re good at, people will gravitate toward you with opportunities.

So now that you’ve checked college off the list, where to next?

Eventually I’d love to be working on cartoons and/or graphic novels. I’ve always been really moved by strong storytelling, and I think illustration has the power to make stories extra captivating and special. My dream job would be concepting and/or storyboarding an animated series — either a beautiful children’s show like “Over the Garden Wall,” or something bizarre enough to belong on Adult Swim. In the meantime, though, I’ll be hitting the job market looking for some full-time work experience as a graphic designer.