[Call for Entries: The International Design Awards]
Kathie Soza’s road to becoming a lettering artist took time and dedication, and a little juggling. It also took change. She had done hand-lettering on the side since she graduated college, but balanced that work with her full-time role as a production designer at Shutterfly. She felt a desire to focus on one thing, and set herself down the path to become a professional lettering artist. Since diving into lettering full-time, she hasn’t looked back. And although it was a big change, she’s kept one thing the same, namely herself, by staying true to who Kathie Soza is as a person and as an artist.
Having to work at both Shutterfly full-time all while managing her own lettering clients on the side, Soza found it challenging to make both jobs work. She also felt like she wasn’t giving 100% to either. Becoming a full-time lettering artist was a big change, and one that she knew she had to commit to entirely. “I would say that my move to lettering was a reinvention of myself, mostly because prior to that, I often described myself as a graphic designer who knew lettering, as opposed to a lettering artist and designer.”
Now having that single focus, working entirely on lettering projects, she had an advantage when it came to marketing herself and her skills. She could brand herself and sell herself as a lettering artist because that’s what she did—100%. “I couldn’t sell myself as a lettering artist if I didn’t fully believe that I was one and that involved branding myself as a lettering artist first and a graphic designer second.”
When it came to branding herself as a lettering artist and also finding work, she considered her position in the market. The first step was identifying the kind of work she wanted to do. “I knew I really loved print, so I started reaching out to magazines and publishers. Afterwards, I started reaching out to design agencies and creative/art directors because I liked the creative process behind branding projects and packaging and wanted to be more involved with that.” In time, as she built up a client roster and added that work to her portfolio, the work just kept coming.
And then there’s look and feel, the visual style and aesthetic in her portfolio. Her work had to stand out on its own, especially when it came time to showing work to prospective clients or agencies she’d partner with. Playfulness is something Soza is keen on embracing, and also bringing out in her lettering. Her designs not only look fun and exciting, but they also look somewhat unfinished. That imperfect quality makes them stand out, giving her a signature style. And most importantly, it adds a human touch.
The human element matters a lot, and in more ways than one. Working with clients, Soza says she tries to be “as truly me as I can.” So that hands-on quality and human touch that’s present in her work is also part of how she relates to and communicates with clients. “I want my clients to feel like their project is being worked on by someone real who they could either relate to or be themselves with, not just some robot with a degree and some computer skills.”
But with so many people out there like Soza, all vying for lettering work, how does she manage to really separate herself from the pack? She suggests that her x-factor, the thing that makes her unique, is the variety of styles she can provide. There’s not just one trick, one look, being manufactured over and over. “I like to experiment with a variety of lettering styles, instead of constantly having the same look. I reference a lot of history for lettering inspiration (typically old signage, books, and packaging) and keep my lettering style as true to the references as possible.”
If you’re in a similar position as Soza was and juggling two or more jobs, you can dedicate yourself to the one you want to do. But you have to go all in—100%. It can be easy sometimes to test the water out with that side job, merely dipping your toe in the water now and then or just on the weekends, all while staying on land and maintaining the status quo with your full-time work.
But if you feel the urge to jump into the water and make that side gig a full-time commitment, dive in and don’t look back. And above all, be yourself and be enthusiastic. It works for Soza. “I think my passion and excitement to work on new projects is what ultimately makes my clients want to work with me.”
To learn more about branding, rebranding, and marketing, including how to rebrand and reinvent yourself, get HOW’s Promotion & Marketing Issue.
Kathie Soza’s portrait photograph by Bridgette Aikens.