Category Archives: Advice

Ask Me Anything Q&A: Part #1

Nubby Twiglet | Ask Me Anything Q&A: Part #1

First of all, thanks for all of your interesting, insightful questions! I picked 10 at random and will be answering another 10 next week. If you’d like to ask a question, you still have time — feel free to add your own to the mix!

Here we go….

1. How do I find my personal style when I don’t know what I want it to look like? —Konstantia

The truth is, nobody really knows what their style is when they are starting out. It’s one of those things that we all struggle with because it’s a process of self-discovery that can’t always be unlocked easily. The trick to finding it is to set aside time to work on creative projects every single day. After awhile, you’ll be able to look back at your body of work and spot a clear stylistic evolution. We all have signature visual cues in our work whether we realize it or not, it just takes time and commitment for it to emerge.

2. How do you know when it is time to move on from a good job that has zero chance of advancement in the design field? —Nikki

This really depends on what you want out of your career. Some people thrive when they have a sense of comfort and balance at a stable job. I found that having extreme stability and a good paycheck left me feeling bored and unfulfilled. I wanted adventure infused in my career and the only way to find that was to throw caution to the wind and start my own design studio. If you’re feeling unsettled in your “safe zone” and have a cushion of expenses saved up, you have absolutely nothing to lose. I moved around a lot and not every job I landed in worked out — but I can honestly say that each one taught me something valuable that I was then able to take with me. If you stay too long, you run the risk of getting stuck and letting fear of change take hold.

3. How can you get better at “designing” without a proper education? —Asuka

There are so many great avenues these days — Skillshare is my top pick, along with Creative Live. If you’re focused on the technical side of things and want to learn the ins and outs of a program, Lynda is the perfect place to start.

If you’re looking for a more serious path of being full-time designer down the road, I’d still recommend immersing yourself in a college program. The live critiques, connections and project deadlines all prep you for the real world. I used to be one of those people who thought I could be completely self-taught and then one day, a designer sat me down and told me, “To break the rules, you have to know them first.” I hated that advice at the time but he was right. Soon after, I enrolled in a two year program at a community college and it was the best time and money I’ve ever spent. If you’re into self-study but find yourself still yearning for more, don’t be afraid to make a bigger commitment.

4. How do you know how much time to pour into promoting your business (like blogging) vs. doing the work? —Emma

There is no right answer here but it comes down to setting a schedule that you feel good about, even if it’s posting new content once a week. The point is to be consistent. When you’re running a business, self-promotion is important but it’s easy to put off since it’s not a paid job. I’ve always thought about self promotion this way: I can spend my time networking and creating work with a with a handful of people locally or I can pour my time into sharing my work with the entire world and have a much larger, more diverse audience. You have to be willing to carve out the time because no one is going to do it for you.

Nubby Twiglet | Ask Me Anything Q&A: Part #1

5. How long did it take to define a niche? Should you take on as many clients at first and go from there? —Michelle

Oh…about 8 years. Seriously! When you’re starting out, chances are that you have to take on whatever paid work is thrown your way and defining a niche is the least of your worries. I literally did everything imaginable including campaigns for the NBA and NFL. While none of this work (along with 100 or so other jobs) is visible in my portfolio, it helped me earn a living as a designer in those very early days. Each job I did built a connection that helped me land more work. Over time, I was able to improve my skills, speed up my output, significantly raise my rates and cut out all the work that wasn’t a good fit. These days, I’m careful about the projects I take on and in turn, the work that I do share has allowed me to attract the right types of clients. This very defined focus has only been possible in the last year.

6. Have you partnered with Kat from Rock ‘n Roll Bride for her new magazine? The layout looks a lot like the one you created for the previous issues, however I cannot see your name in the credits. —Marie

First off, I love Kat — she was one of my first-ever clients, long before we ever went into business together at The Blogcademy! Branch designed the first three issues of her self-published magazine but when she hit the big-time and got a magazine distribution deal, we sold the rights to her publishing company. Creatives, this is a good lesson in business: if you do a job for a client that’s independent and just starting out but the outcome eventually turns into a much bigger opportunity, make sure that you negotiate for your fair share. Seeing the design we created take on a whole new life has been pretty amazing.

7. With all the perfect, polished pictures you post, do you ever worry about appearing disingenuous? —Rayna

Not at all. Every single photo you see in my Week In Pictures posts was personally styled and taken by me. The same goes for about 95% of my blog content. If I had a few more lifetimes in front of me, I’d probably be a prop or wardrobe stylist — I love the art of transformation and creating visual arrangements. How very Virgo!

During the week, most of my time is spent working with clients at Branch so sharing still lifes and personal moments is a creative outlet that I hold onto very tightly. Everything you see on my blog and Instagram is real life: I have a very bold, graphic decor style, run three businesses, travel a lot, have an awesome husband, a very eccentric puppy and a crazy pet squirrel. My life naturally has a lot of photo ops!

When it comes to content, I tend to focus on sharing moments that I find inspiring and beautiful in hopes that it inspires people to explore and seek the same in their own lives.

Nubby Twiglet | Ask Me Anything Q&A: Part #1

8. How do you manage your blog + agency when you are away on long trips? —Steff

I wish there was a wizard behind the curtain making everything run like clockwork but the truth is much less glamorous. Any time I have a trip coming up, I put in 12 to 14 hour days the week before to work ahead on client projects, pre-schedule blog posts and hopefully buy myself some time to enjoy where I’m going. What you tend to not see on the blog or Instagram is that on the “fun days” of exploring a city and doing photo shoots, I was probably up by 6 am answering emails and sending off client work. The one secret weapon I do have on my team is my mom. She puts out any client fires and sends me tidy lists of emails that came in overnight. Thank god for moms!

9. If I want to change my specialty in design, is it okay if my portfolio consists of only personal projects until I can bring in clients? —Jessica

The general rule is that you should only show the work that you want more of but it’s tricky just showing self-initiated work for a few reasons:

1. Clients want to know that you have experience with other projects similar to theirs.

2. A portfolio of paid work shows that you’re established and reliable.

3. The more quality client work you can show, the more you can charge because you’re regarded as an expert.

The easiest way around this conundrum is to offer up your services to a few clients who fit your new direction, even if you’re charging less than your usual rate or throwing a few freebies into the mix to round out a project in your portfolio.

10. How do you manage to have so much balance in your work/life balance? You always appear to make loads of time for stuff outside work yet you manage to do SO much work! How do you do it?! —Karen

In reality, there is pretty much no work / life balance in my world but I’m okay with that. My personal motto is “work hard and play hard” and I pretty much live by it at all times. Juggling is mandatory when you have a life that’s packed with a lot of things you love.

My one general rule is that family comes first and that opens the door to a lot of fun (like two weekends ago when I took my 85 year old grandma to a drag queen brunch). If my grandparents call me, I’ll drop everything to meet them, even if that means that I have to go back to the office and work until midnight afterwards. If my dad invites me out for drinks, chances are that I’m pushing through as much work as possible the three days prior so I can leave a few hours early on Friday. It’s all about compromise.

Thanks again for your questions — tune in next week for part two!


Photos: Shell De Mar, Paris.

Rapid-Fire Q&A Submission: You’ve Got Questions…And I’ve Got Answers!

Nubby Twiglet | You’ve Got Questions…And I’ve Got Answers!

Later this year, I’ll celebrate my 8th anniversary of blogging in this space and because I’ve been here for so long, I figure that most of you know me pretty well (and I’ve gotten to know a lot of you pretty well, too). It’s easy to forget that there are new people landing here every day so I thought it would be fun to try something different this week — a rapid-fire Q&A!

I’ve done an advice column since the very beginning but that’s usually a long, detailed answer to one question. Here, I’m going to gather 20 of your questions and split them into two upcoming posts.

It’s time to think about what you want to know. Do you have a question about blogging, graphic design, creative careers, personal style, business, a specific font I use, travel, squirrels…or something even more random? Head on over to my Facebook and ask away!

Part one goes live next Tuesday and I can’t wait to see what you come up with! -Shauna

Nubby Twiglet | You’ve Got Questions…And I’ve Got Answers!


Photos: Janneke Storm.

Oh, The Embarrassment: A Little Reminder That We All Have To Start Somewhere

Nubby Twiglet | Oh, The Embarrassment: A Little Reminder That We All Have To Start Somewhere

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whenever I look back at my early design projects, I see promise…but for the most part, I feel embarrassed. Do you feel that way about your past work, too?

I actually think that a touch of embarrassment is a healthy reaction because it means that you’ve grown as a creative. Over time, your taste has evolved, your skills have improved and your sense of style has matured. You know that you’re capable of even better results.

Sometimes when I feel that embarrassment creeping up, I have to step back and remind myself that without posting those early design projects online, nobody would have known about my work. Even if I didn’t see the promise at the time, some people who came across those projects did. The people who saw enough promise hired me. When they hired me, it gave me the opportunity to build out my portfolio. With a growing portfolio, I was able to get my first agency jobs. Those jobs gave me the steady footing to take on bigger outside projects I loved which in turn built my portfolio even further. And eventually, all that work allowed me to launch my own boutique design studio. I now realize that it was a very slow domino effect over the course of seven years — each project I shared, no matter how embarrassing now, led to even more opportunities.

If you’re feeling uneasy about your work, always remember that it’s secretly the push you need to get over the next hurdle. If you’re always satisfied, there’s no reason to improve. You’ll settle for exactly where you are now because the urge to try new things that scare you isn’t there. Use that discomfort as motivation.

I still feel that discomfort all too often. I see portfolios of work that are much better than mine. I read blog posts that are brilliantly composed. I see photos every day that make mine look amateurish. And all of this leaves me wanting to improve.

We all have to start somewhere, even if that somewhere feels like a black hole some days. The only way to get out of that black hole is to practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect…but it will make you better. So the next time you feel that embarrassment creeping up, transform it into a positive outcome.


Photo: Made U Look.

The Secret To Reaching Goals: Keep Them Fun and Attainable

Nubby Twiglet | The Secret To Reaching Goals: Keep Them Fun and Attainable

All too often, I get sucked into the vortex of digital comparisons. Do you, too?

It starts out innocently enough — I’ll be scrolling through Instagram on the weekend and see one beautifully composed still life after another. You know the ones: that perfect golden light shining down over a beautifully prepared breakfast at the coolest cafe in town with a frothy latte peeking into the edge of the frame. Oh, and don’t forget the freshly done gel manicure casually resting on the table.

If you feel a touch of envy creeping up like I sometimes do, it’s a good idea to step back and analyze your feelings. When I stop and actually think about it, my feelings are not rooted in wanting to be there. My feelings are rooted in wanting to create images that look that beautiful. And from many years of experience, I know that it’s much harder than it looks.

Like most of you, I work full-time, splitting my hours between Branch and Blogcademy and there just isn’t a lot of leftover time to creatively experiment just for fun. The easy way out would be to make excuses — I’m too busy, I’m too too tired, I’m too whatever. But excuses will get you nowhere.

A better solution is to set small, attainable goals. I’m a big fan of goals that build up steadily but don’t take over your life. Who needs more stress and pressure?

With the goal set to improve my still life skills, I created a simple challenge for myself last year: on Fridays, I’d set aside 10 minutes or so and snap a photo of a new composition. To track my progress, I’d tag it with #stilllifefriday. Though I’ve taken a few weeks off here and there, the photos are starting to accumulate. It’s been nice having something simple yet fun to look forward to every Friday.

Whether you’re struggling to blog, Instagram, or *insert task here* more often, the key is to set manageable goals. That way, the finish line always feels within reach. Keep it fun and keep it light.

Nubby Twiglet | The Secret To Reaching Goals: Keep Them Fun and Attainable

Here are some suggestions:

• If reading more is on your list, join a book club to stay motivated! There’s a great one going on over at A Beautiful Mess and the selections change out monthly.

• If writing more is on your list, Morning Pages may just change your life. Really.

• If improving still lifes is on your list, join me every Friday by hashtagging your photos with #stilllifefriday on Instagram. I’d love to see your inspiring compositions!

• If learning new design skills is your focus, try out some Skillshare classes. It’s the easiest way to access the knowledge of creative experts.

• If stepping up your blogging game is on your list, Blogcademy Online launches January 29th and teaches you the keys to running a successful blog in a single weekend.


Your turn: what are you hoping to improve upon this year? How can you make it more attainable?

10 Tips To Get Your Work Noticed (and Land a Job!) at Design Studios and Ad Agencies

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Tips To Get Your Work Noticed (and Land a Job!) at Design Studios and Ad Agencies

As the year winds down and you have some free time to reflect, now is the perfect time to start thinking about what steps you can take to land your dream job.

The thing is, there’s nothing worse than putting in some serious effort when applying for a job only to receive the tired response of, “You’re not quite what we are looking for” or worse yet, no response at all. As creatives, we want our work to get noticed by the right people. I often receive emails from recent design graduates asking how they can land their first professional position but the competition for spots at design studios and ad agencies can be notoriously tough.

Today, I’m sharing 10 tips gathered from personal experience — over the course of seven years, I worked full-time and freelanced at a total of seven spots ranging in size from less than 10 employees to a few hundred. Each experience was slightly different but I used similar techniques to get into each.

10 Helpful Tips

1. Do your homework.

Before walking into an interview, take the time to research your employer. What is their visual style like? How do they communicate on their website? Is their copy buttoned-up or humorous? In a sea of creative studios, what do they stand for? Do they mostly work with corporate clients or small businesses? All of these pieces of information are cues for how you should present yourself and your work. Even if it means pulling an all-nighter, re-jig your presentation for a particular interview and study up. If it’s undeniable that you “get” their style (and sense of humor), you’ll be a shoe-in because they already know that you’re a good fit. I’d obsessed over Cinco’s work for years before I ever had an interview and because I knew their work well (and referenced it), I was able to get into one of Portland’s best agencies.

2. Design a resume that stands out.

When applying for a creative presentation at a studio, a standard Word document won’t make the cut. This is the perfect opportunity to show off your personality and turn a traditionally boring document on its head. In need of inspiration? Check out this roundup. Don’t go too crazy with the design, though — the bottom line is that legibility matters most. Before sending out your resumé, print it. Are the fonts you chose easy on the eyes? Does the hierarchy of information make sense?

3. Replace school projects with real world client work.

Start freelancing as early as possible to gain actual client work. Employers want to see what you can do outside of the very structured confines of school. Can you handle difficult clients, sometimes ridiculous timelines and still deliver beautiful work? Because honestly, this is what the world outside of school looks like. Client work conveys that you are a self-starter and took the initiative to create a well-rounded portfolio. Not every project is going to pay well in the beginning but think about it as an investment in your future. I did many $200.00 logos while I was in school but that work later helped me get into the door of my first few jobs.

4. Expand upon each project.

Even if you’re hired to just do a logo, take the time to do a full build-out on your own. During my first few years of freelancing, my clients had small budgets so I’d often take their logos and build them into a full suite of collateral free of charge to create a much stronger visual presentation. An example of this was Semiospectacle who only had a budget for a logo at the time.

5. Brush up on skills affordably.

If your skillset isn’t quite up to par with the job you’re applying for, study online affordably. If you need to dive deeper into the Creative Suite and learn every little tip and trick about a particular program, Lynda is fantastic. If you want to learn a particular skill like hand-lettering or logo design, Skillshare is great.

6. Take the time to mock up your work.

Don’t just show a logo and flat graphics on a portfolio page because they offer no context. Instead, take the time to show a more complete visual story. Search out appropriate templates to give your work some dimension and relevance. For instance, if you designed a logo for a coffee shop, show it on a mug, a sign and across a suite of collateral. It shows that you understand the art of presentation, which agencies in particular appreciate….because once you get in the door, you’ll be helping to build out a whole lot of pitches. You can play up the outcome with templates from Creative Market, Pixeden and Live Surface.

7. Develop self-initiated projects.

If you haven’t found the ideal mix of clients to build the portfolio of your dreams, that’s okay. Take the initiative and create a few self-initiated projects. Self-initiated simply means that you weren’t hired for a project but built it out for fun. As long as you’re clear about this in the description and not trying to mislead anyone, these types of projects can show off different styles and skills to potential employers. If you’re looking for ideas to create well-rounded, amazingly branded projects, Good Design Makes Me Happy is a great source for inspiration.

8. Polish up your web presence.

Remember, your interviewer can Google you in 5 seconds flat. Give them something good to look at! In your online portfolio, include more information about yourself, your accolades and an extended selection of projects if you have them. Before I launched my design studio, I used Cargo Collective as a platform but WordPress and Squarespace also work well.

9. Spell check, use proper grammar….and if all else fails, hire a copywriter.

Nothing is a bigger turn-off for a potential employer than opening a resume or portfolio and spotting one spelling error after another. It’s sloppy and conveys a lack of attention to detail. Whether you’re formatting your resume, the bio on your website or descriptions for your portfolio projects, always run spell check. In InDesign, go to Edit > Spelling > Check Spelling.

10. Always say thank you.

Manners go a long way. After an interview, send a simple thank you the next day. An email or a card are both perfectly fine. Studios are busy places and the fact that the interviewers blocked time out of their busy schedules to meet you means that you’re a definite contender. If you have impeccable taste and manners, they won’t be able to resist you!

I hope these tips help you land a position you love in the new year. Good luck!

Little Lessons #8: Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

Nubby Twiglet | Little Lessons: Step Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

On Saturday, I received an invitation to somewhere I least expected: the rodeo. I’m a city person at heart and my personal style and taste in music can best be described as avant-garde…or just plain weird. It’s about as far away from country as you can get.

But, I was intrigued. There’s something fascinating about entering a completely different cultural realm and soaking it up. I love seeing how other people live, what types of hobbies they’re into and what their version of “normal” looks like. Do you, too?

It’s good to get out of your comfort zone as often as possible because it will leave you feeling inspired in ways that you least expect. I ended up having an absolute blast at the rodeo. I made friends with some very handsome livestock, hung out next to a very patriotic carousel and happily stepped in to snap photos of folks posing on saddles in the rodeo bar.

The rodeo was the last place on my mind when I woke up but by that night, I was thankful that I’d kept an open mind, said yes and let the rest unfold. When we become overly attached to our idealized way of living life, it becomes too easy to play it safe and miss out on experiences.

Lesson learned: Inspiration is lurking everywhere. Everywhere! When the potential for a great adventure comes your way, say yes, even if it’s off the beaten path.

Your turn: What unexpected adventure have you been on lately?

What’s Your Personal Mission Statement?

Nubby Twiglet | What’s Your Personal Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a company’s purpose for existing but I like the idea of individuals having them, too. Do you have one?

For the last year, my friend Joey has been working on a personal project where she takes a photo of a different person every day and then asks them a handful of questions. The excerpts go here and I’m always most intrigued by their personal mission statements. I feel like these few words can speak volumes about a person. Some are self improvement focused while others are focused on changing the world at large. Either way, they’re always inspiring and remind me that we each have goals, dreams and passions that hinge on changing ourselves and our surroundings for the better.

As I sat next to Joey a few weeks ago while she interviewed one of her subjects, I wondered aloud what my personal mission statement would be. It came to me pretty fast:

Work hard and play hard.

No matter what I’m doing, I give it my all. When I’m working, I’m focused on creating the best possible solution. I want to put work out into the world that that not only stands the test of time but makes my clients happy. The second I’m off the clock though, I want to play hard. I want to explore whichever city I’m in at that moment, snap photos with family and friends and hit a mix of the nicest restaurants and dive bars alike. I want to soak in as many experiences as possible.

What about you?

What’s your personal mission statement?
What does it say about you?
Do you feel that it keeps you on track and gives you direction?


Photo: Diane and Mike. Playing hard for me often requires confetti and jumping on beds. 😉