Jacksonville based artist and master of visual puns, Lizzie Darden, talks with Wild Minded about brand collaborations, content creation and how she took her digital content and turned it into tangible products with her audience of 75,000 + Instagram followers.
Give us a bit of background on your career as a content creator..
I wasn’t really aware of content creation when I was in college, so I fully intended on working at a design agency when I graduated with my graphic design degree last December. However, I kind of procrastinated when it came time to apply to jobs, and I spent a lot of time messing around at home on photoshop making food puns that I was posting on Instagram instead of filling out applications. I guess in the end it paid off, though! Brands started emailing me asking how much it would cost to produce some images for them, and I was so shocked! I didn’t even know that was option, much less a career path. I started working with a few brands here and there, but I ended up taking a design job at a local creative agency in January, so I was restricted to weekends for working on my own gigs. After a few months, the amount of brands reaching out kept growing and it was getting to be too much to do both my 9-5 and content creation, so I took a leap of faith and started focusing on my own clients. I’m so glad I did because it’s been such a fun ride so far!
How would you describe your design style?
Pink, first and foremost. Ha, I love pastel-heavy imagery. Also clean and sharp; I’m not a huge fan of cluttered backgrounds, I would rather have one main focus point in a photo, which is usually the visual pun that I’m shooting. I like to give the pun room to breathe so the joke gets a chance to land. I like to make whimsical, sometimes really weird, pictures but still have them look pretty and pink. It’s a fun juxtaposition I like to play with.
Where do get your inspiration from?
I’m on Pinterest pretty much all the time. But I also love finding weird gifs and images on Tumblr where people are experimenting with lighting and colour.
Tell us about your journey to 75,000+ Instagram followers…
I never imagined it getting to this point! For what seemed like the longest time I was struggling to break 1,000; I just wanted that coveted “K” next to my number! It’s definitely not an overnight process; growing an Instagram following takes a lot of love and upkeep, like a plant. I think once I started steadily posting every day, I saw an uptick of followers. A big boost, though, came when Matt Crump (@mattcrump and founder of @candyminimal) reached out to me for an interview in January, when I was just starting out. I was SO flattered since his work is so lovely, and so overjoyed to have him post about my work on his page. I feel so lucky because that brought a bunch of followers, and it pushed me to keep creating stuff and posting every day.
What kind of brands have you collaborated with? What were the projects like?
I’ve collaborated with a bunch of food brands lately; like Dunkin Donuts, Take5, and Pocky; and a few fashion/lifestyle brands like Skinny Dip London, Adore Me lingerie, and Method home. I’ve been lucky so far in that most of the brands have given me pretty much free reign to do what I want with the styling, which is always awesome to hear!
My favourite ones, though, have been collaborations that maybe aren’t such an obvious fit at first. I like the challenge of styling something different like soap or nail polish, and creating something that manages to fit within my own style as well as the brand’s style.
How do you approach a new client brief?
I try to approach each client with a fresh take. Even though I know I’m going to be making something bright and pastel and sugary for them, I want the end result to be something totally different from other brands I’ve worked with. Usually a lot of sketching is involved, and a lot of brainstorming lists of foods that would compliment the product.
What do you think makes content compelling?
I think when you can look past that something is an ad, and just see it as a beautiful piece of art, that’s the best content. Obviously you’ve still gotta make the product look good, but in a way that’s more artistic and organic and less in-your-face and screaming at you to buy it.
In your opinion, which 3 brands make great content?
There’s so many! Some of my favourites are ban.do (they’ve been absolutely killing it with their product styling!), Poketo, and Starbucks. Starbucks makes the cutest scenes with their frappuccino flavours and they’re always so creative!
You’ve successfully taken your content from the digital world and created physical products to sell to your audience. Can you talk to us about that process? What kind of results have you seen?
That’s been a really fun part of all of this! It kind of just happened one day. I didn’t know anything about the pin-making process but one day a pin designer reached out to me on Instagram and told me my works could look cool as pins, and gave me their manufacturer’s contact. I was so excited and immediately started translating some of my favourite puns I had made into illustrations and sent them off to the manufacturer. Before my work just lived on-screen, so it was surreal to be able to actually hold something in my hands that I had designed, and then to see it in other people’s lives all over the world. I’ve had a really positive response so far, especially from the pin-designing community itself, which is just filled with the sweetest people making the coolest pins. And I’m so grateful that people want to buy something I made and wear it on their jacket it’s crazy cool! In the future I’d love to branch out into other physical products, too, I just haven’t decided quite where to start.
Do you have any advice for other designers wanting to grow their social audiences and build a profile for themselves?
Definitely never stop creating! I think it’s really important as a designer to keep pushing yourself and creating something new everyday, even if it’s just for yourself. If you’re feeling stuck, those 30-day photo/drawing challenges are a great place to start. Also don’t underestimate the importance of communicating with other artists. Reaching out and leaving a genuine comment on someone’s work that you really admire can go a long way in the Instagram community. It gets your name out there, and you never know, they may return the favour! Finally hashtags, hashtags, hashtags! But not the generic ones; it’s super important to find good niche tags that you can see your work fitting into. Your work is more likely to get noticed that way than with a #photo that gets instantly buried.