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Episode 89: Finding Freedom with Justine Yeung - Freelance Graphic Designer

Meet Justine, freelance illustrator and graphic designer. Justine talks about her process becoming a freelancer, what she struggles with, and how she volunteers her work to make a difference. This is a great episode for those who might be starting out on a new path!

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Episode Transcript

Iris: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Outside by Design, the podcast about the business of creativity in the outdoor industry. I am Iris and I am coming at you from WHEELIE here in Whitefish, Montana. We do have some construction going on right across the street from our office. So if you can hear some random beeping or backhoe sounds, I apologize. But apart from construction season, it is also photoshoot season and mountain biking season. It's tourist season around here. We're starting to see more and more people visiting the valley, visiting Northwest Montana. And we're just getting into the swing of things. Video shoots, photo shoots. So that's why Lisa isn't doing this intro with me today. She is busy on a photo shoot, but she did have time to talk to our guest that we have today.

And that guest is Justine Yeung. She is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. Also known as wheresjustine on Instagram. You can check her stuff out. It is so beautiful and whimsical. And we came across her because she won the Coalition Snow shred the patriarchy contest, she designed an awesome sticker and T-shirt for that campaign.

And she offers great perspective as someone who's a little fresh into a career. So this is a wonderful episode for people maybe just starting out in graphic design, just starting out in freelancing. You might relate to a lot of the struggles and things that Justine has been dealing with in the past few years and the things that she has run into as she moved away from agency life and into being a freelancer full time. So Justine talks a bit about why she chose to go into freelancing, why she doesn't work with friends on projects, the work she does volunteering for environmental agencies and how her early memories of being outdoors, even in big cities like Hong Kong and New York, has shaped who she is as a designer. If you are just starting out in your outdoor industry career, this will be a good one for you. So please enjoy Lisa's interview with Justine.

Lisa: All right. Justine, thanks so much for being on our podcast today.

Justine: Thank you.

Lisa: And the first question we ask everyone is where are you in the world and what are you looking at?

Justine: I am in Hermosa beach, California. I'm actually sitting in my car in the garage because there's a house being framed next door and it's... my boyfriend and I live in like a bungalow-style house. So there's no insulation. So there's no sound insulation either.

Lisa: That's hilarious. So you're just in a car in a garage.

Justine: I am, it's a little weirder than I thought, it's darker than I expected.

Lisa: Cool. So I'm excited to have you on the podcast. You are a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, and we first heard of you because you won the Shred the Patriarchy contest for Coalition Snow.

Justine: Cool. I'm glad you found me that way.

Lisa: Yeah. So that was pretty exciting. How did you get your idea for that design?

Justine: Well, I started following Coalition Snow, I guess earlier this year. I was in Tahoe and my friend Betsy was telling me about the Coalition Snow popup store in Truckee, which... I was staying pretty far North so I didn't really make it to Truckee this season. But I started following them on Instagram and I really like how they promote women in the outdoors and they have - I think every Friday - they post like, things about positive body image. And I liked that it wasn't just all about skiing and snowboarding.

And so they announced that they have this logo design contest. And I just, I think, well, since COVID started, work has been pretty slow for me. So I've been taking advantage of the free time and just doing more illustrations on the side, which is much more of my passion. So I thought this would be an awesome way to incorporate women and skiing. And two of my passions into one thing.

Lisa: Yeah, it looks really cool. So I'm curious what's your story? Because I was expecting you to just say that you were in New York, but you were in California. So how does a freelance artist in Brooklyn end up sitting in a garage in California doing design for some of the coolest brands in the outdoor industry?

Justine: So before I became a designer, I actually worked at a microbrewery in Long Island city, which is in Queens. So I was… I was maybe the third person hired and I did a little bit of everything. So before that I came from sales, I worked a little bit in sales, like working with restaurants and eventually the distributors, I would help with the events putting on events and then publicizing them on social media. So creating flyers. And I would often work in Photoshop and Illustrator just because I was given files in Photoshop, but I really had no idea what I was doing. And I'd always just look online for tutorials.

And I really got into the design. I enjoyed making t-shirts for events or making different flyers. And then eventually really wanted to... I wanted a job that I could do from anywhere. So graphic design was what I set my focus on and I went to this bootcamp-style school called Chillington school. It was a full-time three month course. And then I came out and I started freelancing, worked at an agency for a little over a year, and now I'm able to freelance from anywhere.

Lisa: Boy, that's awesome. Your work has a lot of, a lot to do with like surfing and a connection with nature. And like, where does that come from for you?

Justine: Um, okay. So back to when I was at the brewery, we would work with a bunch of outdoor, like, industry people. So I became really great friends with the people that would work at Patagonia in New York city and then I would eventually... later on they would ask me to work on some flyers and then I just, I'm really big into biking and skiing and hiking. And I think just being around that all the time, people would ask me for things or I would just get inspired by what I would experience outside.

Lisa: That's cool. So your design kind of reflects your inner world as well as the experiences that you're having.

Justine: Yeah, and I feel like it's much more fun when I can relate to it and it's something that I connect to.

Lisa: Yeah. I really liked the one you did recently with the surfer on the dolphin.

Justine: Oh, thank you.

Lisa: Did you recently see a dolphin while you were searching?

Justine: Yes. So there's... I guess there are a bunch of dolphin pods that come into like, close to the coast in Southern California. And I feel like over- I mean, I feel like every time over the past couple of months that I've been out, I'll see dolphins jumping around. And so this post that you're talking about, I always freak out when I see that fin coming up because I'm not always sure whether or not it's a shark. So I always just freak out, like I've seen seals and otters and, and then that initial shock, like sometimes I just, I almost fall off my board. And I'm not a surfer by any means. Like, I can hardly get up or paddle out. But I'm trying to learn.

Lisa: Yeah, you got to just keep... keep trying.

Justine: I feel like the ocean on the West coast is so much more powerful than on the East coast.

Lisa: Why did you decide to leave your agency and start freelancing?

Justine: I had been thinking about going full freelance, probably most of the time that I was working there. I started off as a freelancer and I just, I really liked having that freedom to not be committed, but then I wanted to be able to pick and choose the clients and the projects that I could work on.

I think it's almost harder to freelance because you're always trying to negotiate for yourself. And I think saying no is harder, uh, just because I don't want to turn away work, but then it's also empowering at the same time because I am able to pick what projects I want to devote myself to.

Lisa: Yeah. What for you is like your barometer of like, yes, I'll do it / no, I won't? Like when do you know it's a bad fit?

Justine: It's a couple of things. I think it's harder to work with friends, because some friends expect to get things for free. And then I’m really bad at saying no to that because I want to be a good friend, but then things take a lot more time than I think anyone expects. And I have to admit that before I went to design school, I thought it was a lot easier than it is. So sometimes if it's a client that asks for something that's so elaborate and I know that it wouldn't fit within the budget, then I don't really want to kill myself over doing it.

Lisa: Yeah.

Justine: Or lately for me, I've been trying to do a lot more illustration, so I try and work on projects that are more geared towards illustration. Or I actually enjoy doing layouts and some deck designs. So I've been doing that as well. And just saying no to other projects... like, web design isn't really in my realm. And I think it's easy for clients to think that all design is design but I want to be more specialized and be more of like a master of some things then a Jack of all trades, master of none.

Lisa: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And some people love web design, right? So then it just opens up space for the people who love it.

Justine: Yeah. And there's so many people, designers out there that I think there's something for everyone.

Lisa: Definitely.

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Iris: I love what Justine says about setting these boundaries. And that's a great thing that she can do as a freelancer, she can personally set those boundaries and decide what to say no to, what to say yes to. And this also plays into a theme we've been seeing a lot this season, which is negotiation. So being able to ask for money, negotiate back and forth with the client, maybe saying no to a project or negotiating the budget, going back and forth. And that takes time. That takes lots of practice. And it's not easy to talk about money. It's not easy to push back on a client if they're trying to pay you less than what you're worth, but it does really pay off in the long run. And we've had a few guests talk about that so far, we've had artists and business owners and entrepreneurs talk about negotiation in their lives. And it is also a huge, huge part of being a freelance artist. So let's hear a little bit more from Justine about her style and her inspiration.

Lisa: How would you describe your style or like what's your dream project? Those are two different questions, I guess.

Justine: I would say, okay. So my style is much more, like, whimsical and playful. I've been... in terms of my illustration style, I've been trying to narrow that down more lately. I think I end up getting excited about everything. And so my problem is trying to focus more on two or three things that I enjoy, or like a style that I enjoy and that I can apply to everything that I do.

Lisa: It sounds like autonomy is really important to you.

Justine: Yes.

Lisa: It sounds like that's like a really, really big thing that you're shaping your life and your career and your art around.

Justine: Yeah. Oh, so my dream project would be… I actually went into design thinking that my dream would be to work for a Marine Conservancy doing their communications. I feel like a lot of nonprofits have a great message, but it's hard for them to communicate it. At the same time, I think it's hard for a lot of nonprofit organizations to devote a lot of money to communications, design, marketing. So lately I've been getting involved with Patagonia Action Works. They have skills-based volunteering. So while I'm doing other work, I can also volunteer some of my time. And I've been working on a couple of annual reports for some, like, environmentall- minded agencies.

Lisa: Yeah. That's way cool. California has got a lot of environmentally-minded agencies that are doing some really, really nice work for the ocean and surf community there.

Justine: Yeah. And even just education-based organizations, like people that are bringing students out who like might not necessarily have access to nature. I think a lot of groups in New York are doing that. Just because it's… while it's hard to get to without a car, there's like great hiking around the city that you can just take a train to or, or take a bus to.

Lisa: Do you have a memory of your first connection with nature, where you were like, “Whoa, this is my life?”

Justine: I think when I was younger going on trips with my family. My parents are... we’re really into hiking. So I was born in Hong Kong and there's like the New Territories, which is maybe an hour drive from the city. My dad would always take us to go hiking. And like, I remember when we moved to new New York when I was around five and I was learning to ride a bike and he took me to Central Park and my dad just pushed me down this hilly, like, this grassy area that was down a hill. And I just, I would just fall a few times, but then I finally made it to the bottom without falling. And I, I just… I don't know, that was... maybe that was not the most positive memory because I definitely remember the falling part. But I really enjoyed, like, having an activity that I could do with my family.

Lisa: Yeah. We work in the bike industry a lot. And I think that the first memory people have of riding a bike is usually pretty powerful and something that sticks with everyone. It’s kind of that feeling of freedom. ‘Cause when you're a kid and you get on a bike for the first time, you're like, “Whoa, the world is mine. I can go anywhere.”

Justine: Yeah! Like you go as fast as you can. And people jump out of the way.

Lisa: Yeah. So I think it's quite unique that you have these outdoor memories in Hong Kong and then again, in New York, kind of like those really, really early memories.

Justine: In the big cities.

Lisa: Yeah. How cool. How do you think that impacts your art or like kind of what you notice in nature?

Justine: I think most of my inspiration comes from nature. It's like, I feel like I can focus more there. I'm not distracted by other people or reading the news. And something about like being away from everyone else brings me back to being in the community. Does that make sense?

Lisa: Oh, yeah. Nature is very special like that. Don't you think?

Justine: So I would say like when I'm... when I'm doing a hike or if I'm skiing or something, and then I end up lost in my own thoughts, but then it gives me more clarity on what I'm thinking.

Lisa: Yeah. Because there's less distractions and you can get super clear on what you're thinking. That sounds like a pretty good process for an artist.

Is there anything I didn't ask you about that you want to share with our audience of like-minded creative people?

Justine: So I think it's important to take time for yourself and do things at your pace.

I would say it took me a long time to find what I enjoyed in design. But I don't regret it. Like, I've had a lot of like weird experiences that go into my design.

Lisa: What kind of weird experiences?

Justine: Oh, like I first started out in the hotel industry, so I worked at the front desk and it's just like so many crazy stories and people come out from that. And then, so, I feel like I saw a lot of different sides of human nature. I think it helps… it helped me keep an open mind.

Lisa: Yeah. That's a positive, that's a positive attitude, you know, when things, so many different attitudes and perspectives where you're like, “Oh cool. I can like stay open to this instead of closing.” I think that's awesome.

Justine: Yeah. And I think... I feel like sometimes I'll start to get a little cynical, but I... so I just finished Michelle Obama's book Becoming. At the end of that book she talks about how that's like the worst path to go down, like, being cynical.

And it's like, it's up to you to stay open minded and just, you know, meet different people or do different experiences to inform your perspective.

Lisa: Yeah. It looks like you're taking that to heart and bringing all those perspectives into your art. So I think that's awesome.

Justine: Yeah. Thank you.

Lisa: Yeah. Where can people find you online? Where can they follow you or watch what you're doing?

Justine: You can follow me on Instagram. My name is @wheresjustine.

Lisa: Cool. Well thank you so much for your time and insight.

Justine: Cool. Thanks so much for the time. It was nice to meet you.

Iris: Thank you so much for being on the show. Justine, you can check her Instagram and her website out at the links in the show notes, and you can also find transcripts and all of our other episodes at And you can follow us on Instagram @wheeliecreative. And we'd love if you send us a DM or a comment with recommendations of who we should have on the show next, we are always looking for outdoor leaders, entrepreneurs, people who are leveling up themselves, their brand, and their community in the outdoor space. And we'd really appreciate if you have a few seconds to leave us a review on your podcast app if you haven't already, that really helps us get to more people in the industry.

And with that, we will see you next week. Thank you so much for being here.

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