ON CALLIGRAPHY AND QUITTING:
WNW #4995 Member Lynne Yun originally wanted to be a linguist. So perhaps it's not a surprise that her career path led her from graphic designer to letterer. Lynne says she never outgrew the childhood "Why's," always asking herself, "Why do things look the way they do? Who agreed on what they should look like and which letter combinations form a word?"
Lynne has turned those questions inward, digging deep: what kind of work do I want to create? What is the life I want to lead? That reflection has led Lynne to take the recent leap from full-time to freelance. Much to the confusion of her family and friends, Lynne left a steady income and a prestigious company to give herself the space to work in a self-directed manner, fueled by passion.
Lynne shares her story, taking us through her process of quitting and what she's learned along the way. Her advice for freelancers can work for anyone: "It's so easy to overwork yourself when you're a freelancer — but keeping your rhythm is what will keep you from getting burnt out. Slow and steady is what will win your race, and keep your sanity too."
How did you get into typography?
Learning has always been a huge part of my life. It’s a passion with a tint of obsession: sometimes I lie awake at night being afraid of the inevitable fact that I’ll never have enough time in my life to attain everything that I want to know. I don’t think I ever grew out of the childhood phase of asking millions of ‘Why?’s. Why things look the way they are, why things function the way they do.
Out of the many useless and useful topics I happened to obsess with (among dinosaurs and outer space), was typography. Why do letters look the way they do? Why do so many people use them? Who agreed on what they should look like and which letter combinations form a word? Fueled with questions no one could answer, I started sketching letters - small and large, thin and wide - often pushing the drawings to the point where the forms would break away from the recognizable to the abstract.
I used to wonder if I should become a linguist, but eventually ended up going to an art college in New York. After going through a few design jobs and graduating from the School of Visual Arts, I was hired at Apple and moved out to California. Vitalized with meeting such talented people from all over the globe, I started taking calligraphy classes with the little time I had away from work. Through writing letters with the same tools that scribes had used since centuries ago, I finally had some answers to the questions from my younger years. However, more answers inevitably lead to more questions. I wanted to learn more, more than ever.
Why did you decide to go freelance?
I realized I had two choices: to stay at my job or to leave in pursuit of learning. Without much hesitation, I chose the latter and drove 3,000 miles back to New York to attend the Type Design program at Cooper Union. By day I worked at an advertising agency and by the night and all through the weekends, I endlessly drew letterforms. After taking on a few freelance gigs and testing the waters, I slowly started doing what everyone always hopes for: making a living out of doing what I enjoy most. I decided to take the leap of quitting my full time job to go freelance and it was one of the scariest, toughest decisions I've ever made.
If chasing the lifestyle you want is a little scary, I think that’s a small price to pay. All big changes start with courage.
What did your friends and family think when you gave up a full-time job at such a prestigious company?
I don't think a lot of them understood why I left. To a certain extent, I still think they don't. It was a good job with a good paycheck, and it was my first job straight out of college. A lot of people around me seemed to think I was making a mistake, that I didn't realize what a great deal I had because I didn't have much experience to compare it to. To be honest, I think it was the opposite! I was able to leave with determination because I knew it was a good job. And if I didn't want to kick myself in the foot down the road, I was going to try really hard to achieve what I'd set out to do.
What are some pro's and con's of full-time vs. freelance?
Being part of a full time staff definitely has its perks - the peace of mind that comes from stability, getting to have a deeper connection with your coworkers, and really getting to know how your company's ecosystem works. Although I did love being part of a full-time staff, ultimately I decided to transition into freelance to have more control over my workflow. I like to plan out my own timeline and choose the projects that I want to work on. I love being able to wake up in the morning and know what my week is going to look like. Being able to take charge of my own schedule enables me to focus more, work efficiently and spend time on the passion projects with the time I save.
What's advice you can give to anyone considering going freelance?
I'm a firm believer that creativity and productivity is a habit. It's a lifestyle more than anything. For me, freelance is all about knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and keeping yourself happy knowing those things. Also keeping a good routine is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Everyone’s ideal schedule looks different but this is how I usually plan out my day:
Every morning, I set myself a schedule over coffee. I know I'm most energetic in the morning, and half useless in a food coma after lunch, so I usually get the most important things done in the morning and a monotone task early in the afternoon. I'm fully aware that I lose focus after two hours of concentration, so I usually rotate the projects that I'm working on every hour or two. One of the most important parts of my schedule is that I give myself at least an hour or two of 'study time' for anything I've wanted to try out, read up on, or just to experiment. Creativity isn't something that you can spew out, there has to be an input if you want an output, and this study time is when I plant ideas in my head. Knowing me, my best efforts are usually spent by the time evening rolls around, so I always try to keep to a 9-hour work day. It's so easy to overwork yourself when you're a freelancer — but keeping your rhythm is what will keep you from getting burnt out. Slow and steady is what will win your race, and keep your sanity too.
What are some of your inspirations?
I love collecting printed and typographic ephemera and American antique packaging. Here is an example of items I’ve collected over a recent road trip from San Francisco to New York that radiates inspiration: