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Lauren Hom

Lauren Hom started in her career in advertising, working at one of largest agencies on the planet. But what started as a dream job, quickly became less and less dreamy over time. And exciting new opportunities were ripe for the taking.

The business of hand lettering
The business of hand lettering

The business of hand lettering

Ep
110
Dec
02
With
Lauren Hom
Or Listen On:

From the ad world to the business world.

Lauren Hom is an accomplished hand lettering artist, designer and founder of Detroit-based studio, Hom Sweet Hom.

She initially started in her career in advertising, working at one of largest agencies on the planet. But what started as a dream job, quickly became less and less dreamy over time. And exciting new opportunities were ripe for the taking.

In this episode, Lauren and Chris talk about her journey from the ad world into the world of running your own business. And how to fight the instinct of doing it all on your own.

If you are an aspiring hand letter or just curious about how the relationship between artists and agents work, then you will especially enjoy this episode.

Hosted By
special guest
produced by
edited by
music by
Appearances

Episode Transcript

Lauren:
Because of social media and the internet now, I have seen a lot of women be able to, myself included, sidestep the traditional business world and just do your own thing, build your own business around your interests, and build your own audience. I haven't run into any barriers there because I'm doing my own thing. People are here for me. I see a lot of female letterers be more entrepreneurial.

Greg:
Hey, I'm Greg Gunn and welcome to The Futur Podcast. Today's guest is an accomplished hand lettering artist, designer, and founder of Detroit-based studio Hom Sweet Hom. Now, she initially started her career in advertising, working at one of the largest agencies in the world. But what started as a dream job became less and less dreamy over time and exciting new opportunities were ripe for the taking.
In this episode, she and Chris talk about her journey from the ad world into the world of running your own business and how to fight the instinct of doing it all by yourself. Now, if you are an aspiring hand letterer or just curious about how the relationship between artists and agents work, then I think you'll especially enjoy this episode.
Also, there're a few swears peppered throughout this one, so heads up if you have kids around. Please enjoy our delightful conversation with Lauren Hom.

Chris:
First, I'm excited to do this podcast with you and for people who don't know who you are, Lauren, can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Lauren:
Yeah, I'm excited to be here. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Lauren Hom and I am a hand lettering artist and designer, art maker person, who runs the small creative studio Hom Sweet Hom. I started my career in advertising and found lettering as a passion and I've been doing it for seven years.

Chris:
How deep into your advertising stint did you find your passion in lettering?

Lauren:
I actually found my lettering passion before going into advertising, but I stayed the course. I'll give you a little backstory on that.
I always loved drawing and painting growing up and I was the artsy kid. I decided to go into advertising to study that in school because it seemed like this perfect intersection between practical and creative. I was like, "Oh, art directors get to come up with creative ideas for ad campaigns and design stuff. That seems cool." It seemed a little bit more stable and it was easier to sell my parents on art school through advertising than it was fine art or illustration.
I did that but senior year of college, I picked up a passion for lettering because I had taken some general typography classes. The first time I realized you could draw type. Before that I was like, "Oh, it's font. That's all you do." I picked up this passion, dabbled in it on the side, used it in some projects.
I started this Tumblr blog back in 2012. I feel like that's dating myself talking about Tumblr. It was called Daily Dishonesty. I had this idea, I was drunk with my girlfriends one night, and we realized we lie to ourselves a lot, things like, "I'll be there in five minutes," or "I'm not drinking tonight." We were 21 years old. I started hand lettering these little white lies, I called it Daily Dishonesty, and I just published it a couple times a week and it took off. Caught this weird, awesome wave of internet. My lettering work, even though I was an ad student, started circulating around the internet and actually, before I even got my first advertising job, I had landed a book deal for Daily Dishonesty.

Chris:
Wow.

Lauren:
I got freelance work. I'm 22 at this point and I'm just like, "What is going on?" But the pragmatic part of me was like, "I can't waste this four-year degree and not go into advertising." I still went into advertising.

Chris:
You're still pragmatic. You're an artist and a designer and of all the majors you can take, advertising, it's the most corporate one where, "I have some job security," I think and despite your early success, now, what year is this that you're doing this blog that gets all this notice? I want to talk-

Lauren:
It's 2012.

Chris:
2012.

Lauren:
Wow. Eight years ago. Almost to this day, it was October 2012.

Chris:
Wow. Before we move on with the story here, I got to ask you about the book. You said you have interest in the book and I see that you've published your book. Tell me about that process.

Lauren:
I think it might have been my 21st or 22nd birthday. I got an email after the project had been circulating around the internet for, I guess, a month at this point. I got an email from a woman saying she was a literary agent, she saw my work on Pinterest, and she thought that the blog had potential to be a book. I thought she was just pulling my leg because I was like, "Who the fuck offers a 21-year-old a book deal?" Is it a scam? What's going on?

Chris:
It's a phishing scam.

Lauren:
Yeah. I hopped on a call with her and it seemed like the real deal. She was like, "All right, we need to get this into a proposal and basically entice publishers to want to publish this thing." She set me up. She was like, "We're going to make a proposal and we need to get the blog more press." She helped me pitch the blog to some other media sites, get it featured more places. Basically, build up a case for why a publisher should publish this book.
We did that for about six months and then we put together this big like, I don't know, 30-page PDF proposal and she shopped it around to her contacts in the publishing industry and we actually got three offers. I ended up signing a book deal with Abrams which is a publishing house in New York.

Chris:
And since 2012, how has the book performed for you?

Lauren:
Honestly, it was a gift book and it hasn't really performed in terms of income, anything. I signed a $25,000 book deal which was pretty sweet at 21.

Chris:
Wow, holy cow.

Lauren:
There was that. It had a pretty big audience I think that's why. I don't know if the book ever earned out. I get royalty statements. I have a couple different projects.

Chris:
I see.

Lauren:
But for me, it was mostly a credibility marker. I was like, "Wow, I can get a book published. I could put it in my portfolio." In terms of income, the book does not support me whatsoever but it was just really cool and validating to know that my work could be shared in that way and I sell my book in Barnes and Noble and Urban Outfitters and that was really cool. That gave me a lot of confidence, but I still went into advertising, got a full time job, because I really couldn't stomach the idea of "wasting a degree."

Chris:
We're in 2020. Young kids are going to be like, "What is Barnes and Noble?"

Lauren:
Oh my gosh.

Chris:
But okay, Barnes and Noble. It was my favorite place to go. Tons of books.

Lauren:
So good.

Chris:
I go there and I'm a book nerd, I'm a bookworm. I just go in there and buy random books that I haven't even heard of before. I have to ask you, when you see your book on the shelf for the first time as a 20-ish person, what is the feeling that you get when you see that?

Lauren:
I don't even know if I can describe it. It was surreal, perhaps? I had my friend take a picture of me with it. It just felt really good. I feel like we get the advice a lot like, "Don't seek external validation at all. It should all come from yourself," but it felt really good to get that external validation.

Chris:
Yes. This is nice.

Lauren:
Yeah, I'm a big fan of some external validation. Don't put all your eggs in that basket, but it felt validating that, "Oh, there's a market for my work," especially because I had just picked up lettering and put it on the internet a year prior.

Chris:
Wow. Did you move the book up into more prominent position? Stack it up real nice and just make sure it's well represented?

Lauren:
Every place, I thought it was well enough represented so I didn't move it. I know some authors will go in and sign some copies, but you have to ask the front desk first. I was too shy to do that.

Chris:
Yeah, that's another level, right? You're barely even out of school, you already have a literary agent, you're learning about PR. I think this is setting us up for what happens to you later in life and you're getting this validation, whether it's external or internal, doesn't really matter. It's really nice to be able to say, "I'm published by a reputable publisher. This is great." And then, you get your job in advertising. It's like all the ducks are lining up for you. Where do you go? Where are you working in advertising?

Lauren:
My advertising partner and I, we worked together in school and we got hired together at BBDO, New York which is a pretty established advertising agency and it was our dream job. We were really stoked about it. We started as junior art director and about three or four months into the job, I was like, "We're working some late nights. The work isn't super exciting. I'm not super jazzed about it. But I heard if I just keep my head down and keep plowing through, I'll eventually work my way up to senior art director, creative director, ECD, all that good stuff." I had this 10-year plan for myself.
It was my dream job. I was dealing though behind the scenes with this weird, I don't know what to call it, ego thing, where I was like, "I got my dream job. I graduated top of my class. I don't know if I really liked this job that much, but I don't want to seem ungrateful for it. So I'm just going to stick it through."
I stayed for another four months passed and by that point, I was feeling super drained and I was like, "I think I made the wrong choice." But it was really hard to verbalize that. I only told my best friends about it because I didn't want to seem ungrateful.

Chris:
You and your partner were hired to work as a team together?

Lauren:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:
Are you the writer or the art director?

Lauren:
I went to the school of visual arts and both of us were actually training to be art directors but we worked together and I ended up being the pseudo copywriter even though we were both trained as art directors.

Chris:
Very interesting.

Lauren:
I guess, from the outside looking in, the agency was probably like, "Great. Two art directors. They can do double the work in terms of producing graphics and stuff." I did most of the copy but we brainstormed on everything together.

Chris:
Okay, very, very interesting. For people who don't understand advertising, it is fairly typical practice for them to hire two people at the same time because of chemistry. They just need to know you can work together. There's really no point to hire art director and a writer that don't like each other because it's going to be a terrible partnership. I've had my own little stint in advertising so I know what it feels like on the inside.
This is fascinating. You study advertising, you have all these designed and art making skills and lettering skills. You're bringing a lot to the table for them to say, "We want you to work on the words part of it." I can see how this could be very stifling for you.
Now, conversely, I worked in advertising as an art director when I got out of school and I felt ill-equipped to work in the ad industry because I studied graphic design.

Lauren:
Really?

Chris:
I didn't even have an ad book. Yeah. I got thrust into these positions and they were giving me bigger and better jobs. I'm like, "Shoot. I'm moving really fast on a path that I'm not sure I want to be at."
You had your ECD fast track 10-year plan. I was just like, "Let's make money? Let's see what we can do with this?" It didn't feel right, even though all kinds of wonderful things were happening for me.
Now, I was working in a fairly small Seattle-based agency. You're working at one of the bigger... BBDO is big deal in New York, major market, right? You're probably one of what? How many employees are at BBDO?

Lauren:
I think they were like 700 people there.

Chris:
Yeah. Huge. Huge.

Lauren:
I didn't meet everybody. We barely left our floor.

Chris:
You were the new junior art directors coming into town doing the work. Four months in, what gets you out of BBDO?

Lauren:
Four months in, I still stayed.

Chris:
Oh, you still stayed? Okay.

Lauren:
Four months in, it was the first time I ever told a friend that like, "I don't think I like my job." That was really comforting to just have someone else listen to me and to be able to say it out loud. I just had that gut feeling, too. We were junior Ads so that means we were putting mood boards together, working on pitches, doing the grunt work-

Chris:
Hard work.

Lauren:
But I knew what to expect. I'm an optimist and in ad school, you got to come up with whatever ads you wanted for whatever client you wanted and it was instantly approved because you're doing everything. It's not like I thought it was going to be like that. I wasn't that naive. But day in, day out, 9:00 to 5:00, or I guess more 9:00 to 7:00 of the agency life just wasn't really filling my tank up.
All the while this is happening, me questioning my job at the beginning? I'm working on Daily Dishonesty stuff for the book on the side. I'd go home from my ad job and letter and design stuff I really liked to make. I was living this dual life. I was working all the time but I think most college graduates in New York are working all the time post graduation.
I told my friend and it was validating. I stayed and I told myself four months wasn't long enough to really know-

Chris:
Right. It's true.

Lauren:
If it was right.

Chris:
Yes.

Lauren:
Both of my parents would probably back me up on that, how could you know in four months. Four months went by again, so a total of eight months. At that point, I was like, "It's almost been a year. Nothing has changed. The only variable in the situation to change is going to be me." It felt really scary to admit that to be like, "I can't change the agency structure. I can't change the hours we really work. I can't change that we get briefed at 4:00 PM and have to stay till 8:00 sometimes." What I ended up doing was, I still tried to talk myself into staying. I was like, "I'll just do another four months."
Luckily though, I had coffee with one of my friends and mentors, Justin Gignac. He runs the site Working Not Working. He co-founded it and he used to work in advertising and then he started down his entrepreneurial path. I told him I was like, "You know what? I really don't like the job but it was my dream job. I'm just going to stay for a year so it doesn't look bad on my resume." I don't want it-

Chris:
Right.  You're such a responsible person. My God. Look at you like, "This is not going to look good on the resume."

Lauren:
I just had a realization last night. I feel like I Asian parent myself where I have-

Chris:
Yes, you do.

Lauren:
My angel-devil. Where it's my wild and free artist creativity and then I've got my dad on my shoulder. I love you, dad.
But I do it to myself. It's not even my parents telling me these things. Anyway, I said, "A year." He looked at me and without missing a beat, he was like, "But if you know you don't want to work in advertising and you don't like it, why does your resume matter?" I had a light bulb moment.

Chris:
Whoa.

Lauren:
Yes. I was like, "Whoa, that's a really good point." But me being in my first job, not really having much of a resume, I didn't think about it like that. Getting that outside perspective from someone who had walked the walk, he was in advertising for about 10 years. He went to my school. He presented at my ad class my sophomore or junior year and I loved his work. We had a chance meeting again. This is such a wild story.
I was interning in Spain for the summer at an advertising agency and my partner and I won a contest in the agency. It was Lowe & Partners, so still a big agency network. We won a contest as interns and we got to go to the Cannes advertising festival with our creative.

Chris:
Are we jumping around in the timeline here?

Lauren:
Yeah.

Chris:
Pre BBDO, right?

Lauren:
Yeah. Pre BBDO.

Chris:
Okay. You're in school. You're doing an internship. Is this after your junior year or something?

Lauren:
Yeah, after my junior year, the summer between junior year and senior year.

Chris:
Wow. Keep going. Keep going.

Lauren:
I was gunning down the advertising path. I was doing all the right thing and that led me to this chance encounter again with Justin. I saw him at one of the after parties when we were in France and I was like, "Oh, my gosh, it's Justin Gignac." I had six glasses of rosé at this point.
I went up to him and just started complimenting his work. I was like, "I love your work so much. I really like this project and this project and it's so cool that you came up with this one." I'm really glad he didn't think of me as this weird, blabbering, drug person coming up to him. He was super flattered and he gave me his card and he followed up with me later that summer and we kept talking and now, he's one of my mentors.

Chris:
Beautiful. Okay. I got to get back in the timeline.

Lauren:
Okay. Yeah, sorry. I jumped around.

Chris:
You decide the responsible Asian thing to do is to work for this agency for years. It looks good on the resume, the LinkedIn profile's nice and tight. Where does this jump happen? And what's the next move for you?

Lauren:
After that conversation with Justin, that was pretty pivotal for me. I was like, "Yeah, if I don't want to work in advertising, why does the resume matter?"
That's what really started getting things into motion. I was like, "I've got this side thing going on with lettering. I've got validation that... I got a book deal. I'm doing freelance work on the side. People seem to like my work. Maybe I could work for myself. I could do lettering." I had seen people like Jessica Hische and Dana Tanamachi and Jon Contino do these primarily type based portfolios and I was like, "Other people are doing it. If they can do it, maybe I can do it too."
In my immediate circle, we were less than a year out of school, I didn't have any friends who were freelancing full time yet. I didn't have anyone close to me who was walking the walk but just having those other design idols were helpful to me.
After that conversation with Justin, I started getting my ducks in a row. I made a separate portfolio that had all my lettering. None of my ad work. I started reaching out to agents to represent me.
Everyone always asked me about this, too. I was 22 at the time and I didn't know that getting an agent was a big deal. I just saw that Jon and Jessica and Dana all had agents and I was like, "If they have agents, then maybe that's one of the things that I should do in order to get to where they are."
I just cold emailed, I don't know, 30 or so agents. I went to all of my favorite designers' portfolios, clicked on their contact link, and saw who was repping them. I did it with no hesitation. I didn't know it was hard to get an agent. I didn't know it was a big deal. I heard back from a couple and I ended up signing with an agent right as I was about to leave my ad job.

Chris:
That's very cool. You have a literary agent and you have an artist rep agent?

Lauren:
Yes.

Chris:
Wow. And you're all of 22 at this time?

Lauren:
Yes. The hardest part of that whole transition was breaking the news to my ad partner that I was not going to continue.

Chris:
Right. You're abandoning your friend.

Lauren:
It was heartbreaking. He understood. It was probably a hard conversation for him but he said he understood and we're still friends. He and I went to our ECD together who had hired us and broke the news. I remember his first reaction was like, "Oh, but I just hired you guys." And then he was like, "Go out there and do your thing." He actually ended up hiring me for some projects a couple years later. I thought I was going to be blacklisted from the creative industry, any advertising stuff, but that turned out not to be true. It turns out that creative people are generally on other creative people's teams, like we're all rooting for each other.

Chris:
Generally speaking. I want to take a moment to point out something here that you can assume a lot about a person and their character when you go to quit and your former boss hires you. That says a lot about how you handle it yourself and how you built a relationship because I got to tell you, people quit on me before, they didn't do it. I got to tell you. They're like, "I'm out of here. See you." And it was like, "Wow. Okay. All right." I'm not going to go out of my way to hurt you in the world. But it's not leaving a great feeling.
Whereas some people will come in and say, "Boss, I got an incredible opportunity. I know this sucks. I know you just hired me, you put a lot of faith in me, and I want to finish up any of my obligations so I'd love to get my two weeks' notice but if you need more or less for me, I'm totally flexible. I want to do right by you." That's really how you quit and you can tell.
For all you, young people, the world is opening up, just remember all the people who took a chance on you. Now, you got a great position, of course, you graduate at the top of your class but that's not always the case for everybody. Somebody, somewhere took a chance on you and it's horrible because when there's turnover in an agency, it costs them money to get a new person in that's going to fit and there's a reason why they hire you as a partnership between you and your partner. Now, they have to figure that out.
I got to ask you about your art director friend, who stayed behind, is he still in the industry?

Lauren:
He is still in the industry.

Chris:
So he found out what he wanted to do as well?

Lauren:
Yeah. He always knew he wanted to do the ad path. He's so smart and he ended up staying without me and they didn't immediately find him a new partner. He just paired up with some other people who are already in the agency, either freelancing or who had lost partners as well because there's going to be turnover wherever you go. While it does suck, I'm sure they're capable of filling the gaps when needed especially for a big agency.
But yeah, he actually messaged me, I think about a year ago, and he was like, "I didn't really know who else to tell..." I don't know where he's working now. He ended up going to Droga5 after BBDO, I believe. He's done quite well and I don't know where he is now but he was working on a creative project for Adidas, I think, and they ended up winning a Cannes Lions, which was our goal, when we were in advertising.

Chris:
That's a big deal.

Lauren:
That was the big one. He's like, "I know you're not in the industry anymore but I wanted to share this with you because I thought you'd be excited and proud." I was so excited and proud of him.

Chris:
Wow. This is good. You guys found both of your calling.
If you're joining us right now, I'm talking to Lauren Hom. She's a Detroit-based letterer, designer, and self-described Cheetah lover. She studied advertising in New York at the School of Visual Arts and she lives, like I mentioned, in Detroit. She runs online workshops and creative boot camps which we're going to talk about in a little bit.
Let's fast forward. Eight years later, you're doing what you're doing. You have your body of work. I noticed that because I watched your Skillshare class on chalk lettering? Chalkboard lettering?

Lauren:
Oh my, that's such an old class. I'm almost a little embarrassed that that's what you watched.

Chris:
I have to look. I have to look to see how you teach. The thing that I want to really talk to you about though is this other course that's on your site. I believe it's called Passion to Paid. This is a six-part creative course. Did I get that right?

Lauren:
I was like, "Six parts? I guess so." [crosstalk 00:23:39].

Chris:
I took a copy from your website. We'll have to trust that.
The thing I want to talk to you about the most, the most, is module five and I'm sorry if I'm putting you on the spot because you may have authored it a while ago and I don't even remember the things I've made. But I'm going to ask you this because this is the part that interests me the most is the business part. Module five is called Business Basics and it says here, "This module sets you up with knowledge and confidence to manage your first freelance client project if inquiries start hitting you in your inbox after launching your project." Let's talk about that.
Now, the internet, I should say on social media, it does feel like there are a ton of hand lettering artists. Everywhere you look on Instagram, right?

Lauren:
Oh, yeah. It blew up.

Chris:
It's made for it because it's visual, I can get an idea. Unlike an illustration where I could just look at it and some of them are non-narrative. If you write a phrase, it has the power of those quote accounts where they pull daily inspiration, but it has the power of design and illustration within. It's like Instagram was made for people who are good at hand lettering. It's blown up. Is there still an opportunity for me as a hand lettering artist to still make it? What's your take on that? I know you wrote a blog post on it that's why I'm asking.

Lauren:
I believe yes. Again, my pragmatic side, the market is arguably more saturated now, objectively. It just is. But I still think that there's plenty of room for people to carve out a space for themselves either through their artistic style or the topics they letter about or their niche.
Jon Contino is a really great example. He does stuff with ESPN and sports and his style is a little more masculine and grungy. And then you've got someone like Dana who started with chalk and it's a little more feminine. There are plenty of different niches within the niche of hand lettering that I think people can still come into especially coming from an ad background like art and copy. Like you were saying, hand lettering is this really powerful thing. I don't think that way of communication is going to go away anytime soon. I think it's still very possible.
I feel that people say this about the stock market but I did get into lettering right as it was blowing up. I definitely got in at an opportune time. I can't say with certainty. You can do exactly what I did to a T here in 2020 and you'll get the exact same results. But I think that we have to believe too if you're passionate about hand lettering or anything that it is possible to carve out your space there and build your business because if you're operating from that mentality, you're going to work harder and you're going to just go farther in my opinion.

Chris:
The way that I think about that is it does feel very saturated but I also think about how there are so many blank canvases yet to be inscribed on. I look at this background that you've painted and it puts you in a place and it gives me a vibe. Now, if this were a restaurant, a hotel lobby, or something, I'm like, "Oh, this is really cool."
Conversely, I get to travel a little bit because of what I do with public speaking and I see them buying horrific, premade, vinyl cut wallpaper or something. I was like "My God. That's a job for a lettering artist. You could have an original one of a kind piece of art here that totally captures who you are and what you stand for." But instead, I suppose the interior designer spec something else.
There's still a lot of campuses to be covered.

Lauren:
That's a really good point. I was also going to add, too, that as hand lettering has, or anything, has grown in popularity, the audience for it grows because it becomes more known. My aunt and her co-workers might know what hand lettering is now because they've seen it on Instagram. Whereas, 10 years ago, it was more like if you were in the design world, you knew what it was, but now it's become a little bit more mainstream.
As lettering has gotten more popular, I do think that the idea of adding lettering to, like you said, a hotel lobby or design projects or just new canvases is also expanding. I don't know if it's at the same rate that people are joining the hand lettering industry, but I think the opportunities have also expanded.

Chris:
What can one person do today to start to rise above? Because I always believe the cream will rise to the top. What can you do? Let's say, it's 2018. I'm done with school, I start putting together my hand lettering portfolio and it's good, it's got its own style. What are the tips you can pass on to somebody who's doing that to get noticed?

Lauren:
My best advice is, of course, hone your lettering skills but you don't need to be the best technical letterer to rise to the top. I'm a big believer in point of view and creative voice can help you stand out faster than just sheer technical skill can.
I remember when lettering was first getting popular on Instagram. I joined Instagram in 2013. There were lots of just more generic words layered on top of photos, things like a photo of a forest that says, "Adventure," or something like that or like, "Love," or "Hello." There's nothing wrong with making those things but they're aren't saying anything. There's no point of view. There's not anyone who's going to look at that and be like, "Yeah, I agree with that," Or "That's so me," because it's just a heart with the word love.
The way that I was able to... I don't know. I always consider it poor rocket fuel on my career from the get-go and this was, I want to say, unintentional but I'm sure there were some marketing and just intuitive things I had going on behind the scenes.
With my passion projects, these series of personal work like Daily Dishonesty where I was saying something about making commentary about my own life, I didn't realize that was going to attract an audience of people who also felt that way or relate to it. That got my work shared organically in a way that I think if I had done a project even in the same volume of piece as Daily Dishonesty, they were probably 100 by the end of the project, but they had just been phrases or song lyrics, things that didn't really have a point of view or were disjointed, I don't think I would have gotten that same buzz.
My best advice is, yes, hone your lettering skills but also start figuring out what you want to say. Like you just said, lettering is really powerful especially with any social media particularly Instagram because it's so visual because you get to communicate a message and it gets to be artistic. Figure out those topics that you want to talk about or figure out. This, honestly, has a lot to do with... You have to do a little soul searching and figure out who you are and what you want to say as well. It's a good holistic exercise.
But yeah, pick a pick a point of view or figure out what you want to say and that, to me is the fastest way to break through all the noise.

Greg:
Time for a quick break but we'll be right back with more from Lauren Hom.
If you're a small business owner, this is for you because running a business is just plain hard sometimes. Endless to do lists, employees to take care of, and your ever present bottom line. First of all, kudos to you for staying on top of it.
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Welcome back to our conversation with Lauren Hom.

Chris:
Now within the larger family and umbrella of design, there are many subspecialties that you can get into, like hand lettering, and I think hand lettering overlaps a little bit with typography. I know sometimes people use those two terms interchangeably but-

Lauren:
I used to.

Chris:
I'm a design nuts so I'm going to say they're not the same. But typography as it's described by many people is thinking made visual. I can't think of a better description or a way to describe hand lettering. Here's the thing. If you're just pulling out other people's words and they're fairly generic and don't share your POV and then it's just other people's thoughts made visual, here's where I think you may have an advantage over a lot of people, which is your background in writing and advertising. The more you write, the more words that you're going to come up with, the phrases and expressions that are no one else's but your own.
I had just recently interviewed Timothy Goodman and I think his thing is he writes a lot. I think that's one of the things. I would say, I would encourage you to correct me if I'm wrong, if your hand lettering artists, you don't have to have the technical skills, it's not about that necessarily, although you should know what you're doing with letter forms, it's work on your writing craft, believe it or not.
It sounds totally crazy because you're like, "I'm an artist." Work on your writing. Make up habit and practice journaling and pull out your best ideas. Pay more attention to the words that you're saying to friends and the funny little inside jokes that you might have and see what hits and you may walk into your own Daily Dishonesty.

Lauren:
That's very true. Tim's a really great example of someone who is.. He basically turns his thoughts and writing into visuals and he's been really successful with that. I actually, before this interview, was listening to some other episodes you had done and I heard you interviewed Adam JK, he's also a great example of that.

Chris:
Yes. He is.

Lauren:
Yeah. You also interviewed my friend, Joey Cofone. We went to school together.

Chris:
Oh. Wow, look at that.

Lauren:
The founder of Baronfig?

Chris:
Yeah. Oh my gosh, I love Joey.

Lauren:
Small world.

Chris:
His episode was done really well because it's such a heartwarming story.

Lauren:
You know what? I learned stuff about Joey in that episode and we've been friends for a long time.

Chris:
Great. I take that as the biggest compliment because I try and find the little stories, the nooks and crannies.
Adam JK is also a friend that I met on the speaking circuit and he does... I was going to mention him, too, but I love the way he thinks and his sense of humor. He's like half brooding and very honest talk like, okay, it sucks sometimes and let me just tell you, it doesn't get better. That's his thing. He likes to describe his work as like, "I just tried to do as little work as possible. It's just a number two pencil and that's it."
I consider him a really great writer, thinker, and a personality but he doesn't want to work on the craft at all. He's like anti craft, in a way, and that becomes his own style, too, right?

Lauren:
Oh, yeah. It's intentional.

Chris:
Yes, it is intentional. I have to talk to you more, more about the business stuff. I want to talk to you about the biggest, if you can share with us, hand lettering assignment you've gotten, whether it's a mural, a one-off, a commercial thing, in terms of client and in terms of budget, what is it and can you tell us?

Lauren:
I need to go check. I was like, "Did I sign an NDA for this?" There was some work that I'm not sure if it ran... Okay, I'm going to think of the second biggest one because this one's so good but I-

Chris:
Wait, wait. Can you describe it in a way that you're not disclosing anything, the specifics that don't get you in trouble with your NDA? Just a category maybe.

Lauren:
Yes, I would say the one of the biggest tech companies that all of us create our designs on.

Chris:
Okay. Be careful, be careful. I get it. Big tech company.

Lauren:
Yes.

Chris:
Creative tech company, yes?

Lauren:
Uh-huh (affirmative). And it was a holiday campaign, I think, last year and I believe that the budget was $35,000.

Chris:
Ooh.

Lauren:
That was a nice juicy one. I'd say I get one multi five figure project a quarter or something in a good year, maybe a couple throughout the year. I started my career doing smaller things, editorial, magazine spreads, and covers and it just started... I think as with anything it just grew into bigger and bigger things. I was so hungry for those small assignments back in 2013.
Now, it feels really cool to be able to pass on smaller jobs if I'm too booked or give other people opportunities because midway through my career, I found myself really stressed out because I was taking on too many projects because I felt like, "Oh, all of these amazing opportunities, I should take them," but I was stretched too thin and now I realize that, "Oh, if I opened my schedule up, I gave myself creative breathing room, not only am I happier and a better artist, I'm creating opportunities and opening the door for other people who were where I was  when I was starting out."
That feels really good, the cyclical design career thing.

Chris:
This really big job for a creative tech company that we all use, was this by chance done at a conference for a conference? Was it being used at a conference by any chance?

Lauren:
I do not think so. These were supposed to be for commercial.

Chris:
I'm trying to figure it out.

Lauren:
I know, right?

Chris:
I'm like Sherlock here. Wait, I've sene this. Okay, fine.

Lauren:
I'm trying to think. Another big project I can say with certainty, this is actually earlier on in my career, too, I was so excited about it. I did a bunch of chalk lettering for Samuel Adams, a commercial that was running nationally here in the U.S. That was $25,000. That was my first multi five-figure project and I could not believe it. That was really cool.

Chris:
Are you being hired by the agency?

Lauren:
You know this project was actually... This is such a crazy story. This project, a friend referred me. She was based in Brazil and for some reason, there was an issue with them working with an international artist for payment reasons or whatnot and so she referred me to them and they ended up hiring me. It was through an agency but it was through a referral with a friend.
I think of that as creative person karma. I try to pass opportunities on to other people, too, because it does no one any good if the agency or the client can't find someone to do the job. Every project I pass on, I just think that I'm putting my foot in my internet karma out there and maybe someone will pass me a project in the future.

Chris:
Right. That makes sense. This is a really big job, $35,000, how long does it take you to do this thing?

Lauren:
That project was actually fairly fast. We knocked that one out, I believe, in three weeks.

Chris:
Now, when you say "we," are there people who fill it in for you or is it just the proverbial we, as a company?

Lauren:
It's in between. This was a little over a year ago. Actually no. Proverbial we but also a real we. I've been saying "we" for such a long time because I always refer to me and my agent even though separate entity. But I have one full time designer that works with me here in Detroit. She's obviously not here anymore. We've been working remotely since about March. It's feels so weird that I haven't seen her. But yeah, I started outsourcing some work. I had an intern back in 2015.
But anyways, now, I have a full time designer and yeah, I will maybe do the first rough sketch and then I'll have her go ahead and build that out and refine it and I'm the intermediary between also send stuff to the client and be the creative director. But I had a big block. I was like, "I would love some help but it felt wrong to have anyone else's hands touch my work for the longest time." And then I realized that that narrative was just holding myself back because fine artists have assistance all the time. Design studios have people creating work for them.
The first person I thought of was Louise Fili who runs a small studio in New York. She always has one or two designers working with her even though all the work is coming out under her name.
Perhaps, I shot myself in the foot or was nervous because all the work was coming out under my name versus a studio and I do technically have a studio name but I felt weird about it for a while. Now, it's great. It feels really nice to be able to employ someone else and to, again, expand creative opportunity while also being able to ease up on my workload a little bit. I'm still doing a lot of stuff but it feels nice to have that help now and now, it's completely normal. I feel great about it.

Chris:
I think that feeling that you have is actually very, very common within the creative space. It really is. It's like, "What am I doing?"
I remember my friend, Kyle Cooper, telling me that Paul Rand because Paul Rand was his mentor and his teacher at Yale and he would call him and say, "Kyle, are you a telephone designer?" He's like, "What do you mean to telephone designer?" "Like you just phone it in, you just tell people what to do." That bothered him. At the level in which he was working at, he had dozens and dozens of people running projects and doing research and doing mechanics, but he was going to be the guy who's like, "This is the idea. I'm going to write the idea and then I have to go and sell this thing to the client." That's its own art in itself.
This thing that you got over, maybe you were tortured over it. But what was the big moment of clarity, the epiphany, for you to say, "You know what? It's okay. This is in my head." Was it just knowing that other artists do the same thing?

Lauren:
It was helpful to look at creative industries that weren't necessarily hand lettering. It's like a chef who opens a restaurant has other cooks working with them. A fine artist has production sculptors have production assistants. Photographers... My designer actually studied photography at SCAD and we had a conversation and for some reason, Annie Leibovitz came up and she was like, "Oh, yeah, I heard that Annie Leibovitz just... Someone else will set up the shoot and do the lighting and get everything ready and then Annie comes in and snaps the photo."
Looking at other creative areas and seeing how the work gets divvied up was helpful for me because it was outside of what I was immediately doing and made it feel more normal. You would not expect to go to a restaurant and care if the head chef didn't prepare every single element of your meal. You wouldn't care. You just want the delicious dish and you want it in a timely manner because if one person was preparing all the food, even if they're "the best," the master at the craft, your meal is going to come out in four hours.

Chris:
Here's the thing. I'm just so grateful that you brought this up because that was another way of looking at it and if we just look outside of what you think the industry is doing and I guarantee you, the industry is doing something different than you think anyways.
But if you look outside in the real world, you see this When you go to, I think it's called, Bolo, Bobby Flay's restaurant, you don't expect Bobby Flay in the back. He's not even in town. He's busy taping something in Japan most likely. What you care about is that it follows his process and his technique, that it's indistinguishable if he had made it himself. That's the idea.
You have responsibility, Lauren. So when somebody pays you $35,000, I believe this, they don't care if 100 monkeys made it, it just needs to pass your test and you have to be the gatekeeper of quality and say like, "Yes, that feels like it came from us." And it would be indistinguishable and then you're fine. Now if it doesn't meet your standard and you put it out there, over time, people are going to start to feel like, "Oh, she's phoning it in. The standards at the restaurant are dropping. It needs new management." Those kinds of things. Fantastic there.
Bunch of things, I want to follow up with you on. The agent. Because people don't understand how this works. I hope everybody that's listening is getting this healthy dose of like, "Oh my God, this is what it takes to be a professional lettering artists." Because it's a little different. It's a little different than what you think.
Your agent, if I may assume, is the person negotiating these inquiries for you, with you, and bidding on projects and making sure you're protected. Is that right?

Lauren:
Yes. I call him my business bodyguard.

Chris:
Yes. And if you have a good one, and most agents that are still around and have a good roster of artists that they work with, already know what they're doing in business. Now, when you guys are sitting around and this tech company you can't name, the project comes in, oh, we're excited about this, does he asks your gut feeling about what it should be or does he just say like, "Lauren, I think it's going to be this." And you're like, "Cool. Go get it?"

Lauren:
I will say the latter. He is definitely the driving force behind, coming up with the estimates. He'll always run it by me. He'll say, "Here is the budget I'm thinking, here's the proposed timeline," either by us or the client, "Here are all the details. What do you think?" Nine out of 10 times, I'm like, "Great. Send as is." There might be a project where I'm like, "Oh, that might be a little tight with my schedule." Or, "Right now, since I'm busy, I don't want to take any projects that are under 5K or something like that."
But for the most part, I let him run with that because for me, transitioning from solo freelancer, not quite sure what I'm doing to being a business owner now has been an interesting shift. Deferring decision making to other people has been something I'm still learning, every day. But it frees up my thinking. I don't want to have to think about every single inquiry that comes in or every single budget. That's what I have him for. I usually let him run with that because that's his zone of genius. That's his area of expertise. That's not mine.
I know plenty of designers who are successful don't have an agent like negotiating, the business aspect. I like knowing how to do it but I don't want to be the one to do it myself. It's just so much easier when I have someone else doing it.

Chris:
There's a lot of reasons why. Then you say a lot of people do themselves and are good at it. It's like, "I need to talk to those people," because I don't know many people like that, to be honest, I really don't. Because artists oftentimes undervalue their work and it's hard not to because it's very subjective. It's like, "It's two weeks' worth of work and I'm thinking about buying a new car and this would be great so I'll lower the price a little bit."
But your agent is totally objective and their main job, their main job is to protect you and get the maximum amount of money that you're due. Just like that. They can sit there and argue with the client like, "No way. Lauren is not going to do this. She's done three jobs just like this for twice the budget. So forget about it." They can do that and feel good about themselves, right?

Lauren:
Absolutely.

Chris:
It's because you're protecting somebody else. You work for someone else and you have to protect their best interest.

Lauren:
I was going to say yeah. When you're pricing your own work, you're negotiating with yourself before you even negotiate with the client. That is dangerous. The same way we have a tendency to be extra hard on ourselves emotionally or about things in life, I don't know why we knock ourselves down a peg with pricing, maybe because we want the job so badly or because we think it's what's going to please the other party?

Chris:
Yeah.

Lauren:
When in reality, if the project's worth that, it's worth that. Sometimes, just being able to ask... There's so much anxiety around just pressing send on the email that has your estimate.

Chris:
That's the slowest finger press you've ever seen like, "I don't want to push the button. What if they hate me?"

Lauren:
It's funny. We're talking about 5000, $35,000 projects right now but when I first started freelancing, I'm a little embarrassed to say this but I've talked about it before so I'm fine now, in college, I didn't know what to charge. I didn't have any friends who were doing it. I didn't really dive into... I don't know if there was as many resources online yet. I was interning at a bowling alley at the time in school and I was getting paid $10 an hour. When I started freelancing, I was like, "There we go. That's my point of reference. I'm going to charge $10 an hour for freelance design," which you and I can sit here and tell your audience that that's way too low to charge.
I started with that. and the way that I built my confidence pricing on my own, and this is back when I was pricing hourly, too, because I didn't know any better, was every new product I got, I would just add $1 to my hourly rate.

Chris:
Oh, nice. Okay.

Lauren:
That was my own self-generated system for slowly inching my prices up and every new project I got, the client would be like, "Cool, $11, $12, $13 an hour." Eventually, by senior year, I had worked my way up to, I think, $30 or $35 an hour.

Chris:
Fantastic.

Lauren:
I was feeling on the top of the world.

Chris:
I bet you were.

Lauren:
But here's the thing. This is why relationships and talking with people and being open is so important.
I had dinner with a friend. We were seniors. She was in the design program. I was in the ad program. Both of us were freelancing on the side with design stuff. She was taking [Paula Scher's 00:49:49] portfolio class.
I was telling my friend, bragging actually, I was like, "Oh, yeah, I'm working on this project $35 an hour. No big deal." She looked at me and she was like, "Oh." I was like, "What?" And she was like, "Paula said that we're seniors at SVA. We're in New York. We're almost professionals. Paula said that we should be charging a minimum of 50 hours." My entire world that I had built up is $1 an hour more per project is shattered and had I not had that conversation with that friend, I wouldn't know. I'd be charging $36 an hour.
My next project that came in, I charged 50 and the client was like, "Yep." And I was like, "Wow, that's crazy."

Chris:
I want to point something out here and I'm watching my time here because I have 12 more minutes to talk to you.
The Lauren stock market is rising really fast. You're on top of the world. What I want to point out to everybody is that I think it's healthier for our industry, whatever creative industry you're in, to talk about these kinds of things because when you know what's possible, it changes your whole concept of like, "Oh, my God. Somebody like you, I aspire to be that and I should be able to charge that much too." It's really interesting.
There's a scene in Inception. Leo DiCaprio says to, I forget who he says this to, but he's like, "Do you know what the most interesting in the world is?" We're like, "What? Tell us, Leo, please, with those eyes. Tell us." "An idea. Because once an idea takes root in your brain, you can't get rid of it." No spoiler alerts but it's something that happens to his wife. An idea is so powerful.
The idea for you is it is possible, Lauren, to charge more. As a matter of fact, this is the minimum and then you can go elsewhere.
On that, I have to ask you really quickly because I really want to follow up this much more important thing which is how much does a rep or an agent typically take? People need to know this.

Lauren:
Industry standard is about 30%. That's the solid, old school agent standard. A lot of agents now are working on more of a sliding scale depending on the size of the project and what role they play because the nature of creative work, even over the last seven years of my career, has changed so much. There are now speaking events and there are now sponsored Instagram posts or brand partnerships. These are not typical projects.
Also, the traditional agent model, too, is they were the gatekeeper for you getting to the industry or the clients and they go around and show your book and schmooze or whatever people did back then and now, since there is social media and the internet, a lot of artists are generating their own leads just by being present online. There are lots of different setups.
But the arrangement I have with my agent is it's typically 30% for any big projects, like an agency project and ad campaigns, something like that. But speaking events, he only takes 10% because it's just less to facilitate. There might be some back and forth, headshots, and blah, blah, blah, contracts. But there are so many different kinds of creative projects now and I'm sure in the next 10 years from now, there's going to be even more that we don't know about.
We work on a sliding scale.

Chris:
That's fantastic. I would assume smaller projects, smaller percentage, bigger projects, higher percentage. Make sense. It's not even worth it to take all that money because then it just disincentivizes you from even taking the gig in the first place.

Lauren:
Totally. I remember when I told my parents I was going to get an agent they thought I was nuts because they were like, "Why would you give away 30% of your income? That's so stupid."
To be honest, I had my hesitations at first. That's a pretty big chunk. But I thought about it and I was like, "Thirty percent, if my agent can get double or triple the budget I would have asked for on my own and do all the work, then they're going to pay for themselves." Plus, they have a vested interest, like you mentioned, in getting me the maximum amount of money because they get a slice of that. It's not like they have a flat fee that they get $1,000 per project regardless of how much it is."
I like that vested interest. For me, I really didn't like managing my own projects. I'm terrible project management. I don't like checking email. Having my agent as the business arm and to keep everything running so I can really just, again, be in my zone of genius, making the art, being creative has been the best setup for me.

Chris:
Real quickly, just less than 60 seconds, because the big question is coming. Less than 60 seconds. How many projects are you doing in a given month? We heard the high end of the budget. We heard the minimum which is about 5K. What's the average size commission that you're getting in terms of dollars and how busy are you on a given average month?

Lauren:
Man, it really varies month to month. I've been very lucky to say that I've never had a month where there was no work. There's definitely been slower seasons. But I'd say on average, I'm juggling anywhere between two to four projects. I did mention 5K earlier. I wouldn't say that's my minimum. I'm flexible on my minimum depending on what it is. I was telling people last year that big project $35,000, the lowest paid project I took in 2019 was $400. Don't get mad at me. Don't get mad at me.

Chris:
No, I'm not mad at you. You get to choose, if you like it.

Lauren:
Thank you.

Chris:
I think it's even okay if you do it for $1. It doesn't matter. Yeah.

Lauren:
Thank you. It was for Elizabeth Warren's campaign and I want to support her.

Chris:
For sure, 100%.

Lauren:
And get my work circulating through that audience.
I tell people to... Yep. Like you just said, it's completely up to you. I think that you should absolutely value your work. I would actually say the average project that I get is about five to $7000. Typically, I'm at the point now where anything under 25,000, 3000, I might just pass to another friend or someone I know because I used to think that if I had $5,000 projects, that was the same as one $5,000 project, but it is absolutely not. You are managing five streams of email and there's just so much more to consider. You're switching tasks-

Chris:
It's wear and tear on you, man.

Lauren:
It is.

Chris:
Just be careful about that.
Okay. The big important question. Here we go. You mentioned this before and I wrote it down. I know I have to ask you about this is that in the world of creative, there is under representation for people of color, minorities, non-binary people, and especially women because we see in the classes when I was a student, about 50% of women and when I'm a teacher about 50% are women, but in almost every creative aspect, where did all the women go?
But in lettering, women dominate. Or do I just imagine that because almost every account, I'm like, "Wow, that's dope." Woman. Another woman. And then when I see those students enrolled in your classes, it's all women.
Is it true? Is this at least one place in the creative stage where women just crush?

Lauren:
I was going to say in terms of quantity of participants in the lettering field, I would say yes. Similar to when you were a student, half the students were women and half men but when you get to the creative director roles or in the real world, you're like, "Where all the women go?"
In lettering, I'm not quite sure because the lettering artists I looked up to when I was just coming up in the industry were maybe 50/50. Like I mentioned, Jessica, Dana, but there was Jon Contino, Dan Cassaro was a big one for me, Jeff Rogers, Darren Booth.
From my perspective, maybe because I was in the ad design corner of the creative industry, I saw mostly male hand lettering artists getting the big jobs, the ones that were aspirational. I'm not sure about it now. I think that there might be who knows something about penmanship that women gravitate towards.
I actually have really shitty handwriting, regular handwriting, it's garbage. But I was good at drawing letter form.

Chris:
It's really interesting. My wife's a graphic designer and she started to learn hand lettering and she's wonderful at it and her penmanship is horrible because I thought... I know it's a bias. I think women have better handwriting than men because men are slobs but she has beautiful lettering skills and okay, just handwriting and I have wonderful handwriting, relatively speaking, and I have to make an effort to do the hand lettering thing.

Lauren:
I think people just have different natural inclinations and talents.
One thing that just came to mind about the disparity in the field and genders is I was thinking about how in the traditional agency world or in that creative industry where you might be working full time or have to work your way up, the reason people say like... What is it? Two percent of creative directors are women. I forget what the percentage is, but it's low.

Chris:
It's very low.

Lauren:
Single digit.

Chris:
It's horrible.

Lauren:
In that regard, you see the disparity because there are all these invisible hands of sexism and racism and bias at play, but in the lettering world, because of social media and the internet now, I have seen a lot of women be able to, myself included, sidestep the traditional business world and just do your own thing, build your own business around your interests, and build your own audience. I haven't run into any barriers there because I'm doing my own thing. People are here for me.
i see a lot of female letterers be more entrepreneurial. They're making products, they are teaching courses, they're doing workshops. There are more avenues that open up, I think, when you have these entrepreneurial female hand lettering artists. In that regard, maybe that's why you see a lot of successful female lettering artists on the internet. But there is no corporate lettering industry, so who knows what it would look like is we have agencies of hand letters.

Chris:
Yeah. Maybe the idea is if you open it up to a democratic process where there are no gatekeepers and then we can see just talent rise to top and we can live in that meritocracy.
Now, I know this sucks because I have to end it. Unfortunately, I have to end this conversation. It was wonderful to talk to you, to learn about your arthroscopic, and your point of view and hear your story. I applaud you and I'm encouraging you to continue to kill it and set that path for the next generation of lettering artists.
Lauren Hom, thank you very much for doing this podcast with me.

Lauren:
Thanks for having me.
Hey, this is Lauren Hom and you're listening to The Futur.

Greg:
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