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We’re kind of in awe of Anelise Salvo. Not only did she leave an unfulfilling career behind to follow her dream of becoming a graphic designer, she is completely self-taught. So many of us have dreams that go to the wayside because we simply don’t know where to begin or don’t feel like we have the where withall to make a career leap, but Anelise is here to tell you it is possible and breaking it down in six easy steps that anybody can follow to do it too. Really. Oh, and if this wasn’t awesome enough, she just did a 6-week stint living in a van while traveling through both the north and south islands of New Zealand. Isn’t she amazing? Read on to find out how she took control of her career and built a flexible life for her and her family that allows her to continue living the life she once only dreamed of…

Like most people, I received an undergraduate degree in a field I ended up doing nothing with post-graduation. I studied Political Science, and while it enchanted me with dreams and aspirations of saving the world while living in a United Nations compound in a remote village in a far-away land, “real life” hit me with student loans that needed tending to that the non-profit world was, needless to say, not cut out for. I took any job I could get for the majority of my mid-twenties just to make some significant dent in my education-turned-debt. I learned a lot, but most importantly, I learned what I wanted from a career and what I could not stand another day of. I needed to be able to pick my ideal location and have independence and I would never again work for a cause I had no passion for.

Flash forward to today. I own a boutique graphic design studio, specializing in crafting custom WordPress websites and designing brands for outrageously superb humans and I’m happy to report I. LOVE. MY. JOB.

You may be wondering, how?! How did I go from knowing literally nothing about design to running my own design business. Well ladies …I’m here to share what I did and how you can do it too:

1. Absorb: Learn as much as you possibly can and seek out the masters

A: Start by learning the founding principles of design – what makes good design, what is the history? This is vital to understanding where graphic design is today and it’s also critically important to know the rules first, so then you can break them later (not the other way around). Good design can look so simple, but trust me, it doesn’t just happen. It takes intention, practice and critiques. To do this, read books (this is a fave, as is this) and take online courses through sites like Skillshare.

I did take an InDesign 101 course at my local city college the second I quit my cubical job, but the pace of learning dragged on, so I resorted to 100% online learning.

B: When you feel you have a good understanding of step A, then start to find other graphic designers who are doing their craft reeeaallllyyyy well. Learn from them. Email them and ask questions. Study them and their work. Chances are, if you surround yourself with well-crafted design, you will start to emulate it in your practice and then eventually, you will start to create original practices because you now know the founding principles.

2. Practice: Bring your knowledge into the Adobe Suite

A. Sign up for the Adobe Suite (at this point you only need InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop) and, wait for it…yep, take more classes. This is the time to practice what you just absorbed and that can be done by committing to taking X amount of classes per week. I learned most of what I know through Skillshare graphic design and web design classes (with some hand lettering classes sprinkled in the mix) and Nicole’s Classes; Illustrator, InDesign and Branding 101.

B. Hire yourself to create something. Anything. By doing this you will struggle to figure out how to achieve what you are looking to achieve and through this process you will learn so much. At this point, utilize
YouTube like it’s your best friend. Don’t know how to use the pen tool? No problem. YouTube it. This cycle is such an important part of learning on your own, so don’t rush it.

3. Don’t Say No: No job is too small. Do them all

Put your skills out there to your friends and family! Offer your services and you will be amazed at the things people ask you to do. You will learn a lot. Fast. When you get a request to make a flyer for a retirement home’s 10th annual pot-luck, trust me…don’t say no (even if you want to). You never know what that opportunity will bring; from learning a new skill, meeting a potential new friend, or a client with a job that may be more up your alley.

4. Find Your Niche: Do one thing really well

They say it takes 10,000 hours and yea, they are probably right. But in the meantime, start to hone-in on what you get excited about doing and do more of that. I firmly believe it is better for you and your future clients to do a few things really well instead of doing a bunch of things kinda well. By making your offerings short and concise, you are able to work on the things you dream about instead of things you dread. Don’t worry, this has taken me years to figure out.

5. Take an Hour: The learning never ends

Set aside one hour a week dedicated to learning. Be it learning by reading design-related articles or taking a class on a design element you have yet to tackle. Even when you feel you have it down, chances are you could benefit from refining your skills and soaking up new inspiration. Whether you’re taking graphic design on as a profession or not, this mindset will help you keep current.

6. Collaborate: PR is your best friend

A very fun and effective way to get your name and craft into the world is to collaborate with other creatives. Reach out to people whom you admire and make some magic. Styled photoshoots are a great way to show off your hand lettering talents, or your skills in invitations or print design. At this point, you will quickly realize that whatever you put out into the world you will get back, so choose your collaborations wisely so you are staying true to your niche and don’t find yourself being hired for jobs outside of your “love zone.”

Happy designing! You’re gonna be awesome.

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