Browse popular categories
Most recently posted
To many aspiring artists and illustrators, Caleb Luke Lin is living the dream. He’s built a successful career in Brooklyn as a freelance artist with clients like Graft Cider and Anthropologie, just to name a few. When he’s not busy designing deeply cool cider labels, scarves, pillows and more, Caleb spends time building up his Spoonflower shop, seeking inspiration from our weekly design challenges.
On a recent visit to Brooklyn, the Spoonflower team sat down with Caleb to learn more about how he runs his creative business, while managing to stay connected to his fellow artist community, well organized and inspired along the way.
For me, the most basic thing is being able to pay my bills. I feel like that’s the benchmark, but, you know, for some people that’s a very low benchmark, but for others, you’re not there yet. I think for me that’s kind of where I’m at for the most part. Other than that, it’s doing work that doesn’t make me miserable!
As far as organized groups, not really. Thankfully, because I went to art school, I have a lot of friends who are, if not illustrators, various kinds of artists. Keeping connected with them and then, fairly basic and straightforward, is following artists I like on Instagram. Occasionally, I’ll follow hashtags for something in particular. Right now, I’m following #36daysoftype, which has got me inspired to do lettering.
I work predominantly digitally, so it would just be my computer and my Wacom. As far as traditional media goes, I hilariously just work with mechanical pencil on printer paper because I don’t want to be too precious with my drawings. If I don’t like where something’s going, I don’t need to worry about it, I just throw it right out.
Spoonflower is great for my workflow since I work primarily freelance. Sometimes I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, and sometimes there’s a lull. When there’s a lull, I ask myself, what is it that I want to do? I can look at Spoonflower, see if there’s a design challenge that inspires me, and just kind of doing it at a personal pace and getting my stuff out there, and letting people appreciate it.
For me, one of the hardest things about being a freelance illustrator is keeping track of my hours. I know that there are apps where you can clock in, clock out, but I think it’s odd in that when you work an office-type job, you take breaks, go to the bathroom, etc., it’s all part of your work. But when I’m working (for myself), what counts as working time and what doesn’t count as working time? If I’m in an artist’s rut and aimlessly scrolling through Pinterest or Wikipedia or Instagram, is that working? That’s a difficult question to answer and one I have to discuss with other artists or with clients about that kind of balance.
It’s a really long time ago, but I had a major failure in high school. It was early on, I was kind of full of myself, and thought I could hit the ground running. I started a clothing brand, got a bunch of shirts made and sold a handful out of hundreds. So that was just a waste of money. Unfortunately, I think it made me really scared to do anything like that in the entrepreneur sense for a long time. It wasn’t until a few years later, in my senior year of college, that I made these maps of Baltimore. It was a passion project, but I thought that they could sell and I went to a place where the minimum order was 1,000.
It was really scary going into that, but I was able to recoup my costs within a month and then make profit off it for another 10 years, which was really nice. Now I go for things a little bit slower, reserving my expectations knowing it could go any which way. Of course, you try to predict how people are going to respond, but you never know. Thankfully a lot of my self-motivated projects in the past few years have had at least moderate success where I was at least happy with it.
I’m relatively organized, I think, since so much of my stuff is digital. It’s just folders, I just put stuff in folders! With my art supplies, because I’m in a small Brooklyn apartment, they’re just tucked into random corners and then I forget where certain brushes and paints and supplies are.
My advice would be to go at your own pace because I think when I first started out, I felt a lot of pressure to do a home run right out the gate or come out with a whole line of things. The nice thing about Spoonflower is you can make one design at your speed, upload it, see how the reaction is and, honestly, don’t expect that much. After you get a few pieces out, you might see, oh, this is working, that people react to this. Don’t get discouraged! Just do your thing, get some stuff out there and then read how everything is received.
Being an illustrator on one end you want to have a specific style, a brand that people recognize so they hire you know what they’re getting. On the flip side, I have different interests, hobbies and styles that I like that I want to explore. For me, the middle ground is settling on a family of styles. It’s not just one thing: some stuff all-digital, some line work, some more playful. And it helps keep me fresh so I’m not doing the same thing over and over again.
As far as specific projects I don’t think I have anything very flushed out in my mind. I do want to do another throw blanket because I did one this past winter that was received pretty well. I might do another blanket in the fall or winter because this was a really fun project to do!
On the inspiration front, I’m going to London and on the docket, me and my friend we’re going to Liberty to check out some of those patterns and we’re also going to go to the William Morris Gallery. So we’re definitely going to just be taking in some classics, as far as textile design, pattern design and I presume I’m going to be inspired by that.
Caleb Luke Lin is a freelance illustrator living in Brooklyn, by way of California, North Carolina and Maryland. His artwork draws on inspiration from biodiversity, mythology, and cartography, and aims to instill a sense of backstory and lore. Outside of drawing, he spends his time listening to trap rap, reading wikipedia, and playing accordion. In 2012, he graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in illustration. You can find out more about Caleb and his work at caleblukelin.com.
When she’s not immersed in all-things content in her role at Spoonflower, Theresa currently spends evenings pursuing her Master’s degree at UNC Chapel Hill. She also makes time to watch and paint birds, sew her own clothes, garden, and eat pasta as often as possible in her home city of Durham, NC.