Discovering myself again - Graphic Designer Lucas Gini

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Lucas says that setting up on his own was like discovering himself again. Learning to know himself, what his goals are, and how he wants to live his life.

Right now that means trying to stay balanced in the Brazilian countryside, managing the graphic design work he does for clients alongside building his illustration portfolio.

And as for the piece of advice he’d give his younger self, it’s one we haven’t heard before: “Don’t be a bad boss to yourself,” Lucas says. That’s good advice, right? But how many of us can say we follow it?


Steve Folland: Well, as ever, how about we get started hearing how you got started being freelance?

Lucas Gini: I think I never really got a 9:00 to 5:00 job because I first graduated in advertising and despite of all the initial excitement, I found that I really don't like working with it. So I started working as a freelance for advertising agencies and reading and seeing things about graphic design, I really found out that I wanted to be a graphic designer not an advertiser.

Lucas Gini: After this first graduation and still working at advertising agencies, I studied again, another graduation for graphic design this time. So it was a tough decision because I also had to kind of go back to being an intern and never getting like a junior designer place. I think it was a little bit tough but it was the right decision for me.

Steve Folland: Excellent. And when was that just to put things in perspective?

Lucas Gini: My second graduation started in 2014.

Steve Folland: Your second graduation. So, you've graduated for the second time in 2014, what did you do after you got that certificate?

Lucas Gini: Actually, I started the second graduation in 2014 and ended it in 2016, but while I was there, I started to know people that worked with graphic design and I worked for a while in a branding studio, actually a big company working for branding. And I learned a lot from there because I really had that advertising mindset that would not work for anything that I wanted to do.

Lucas Gini: I worked a lot for about two years there, and then I went to a really small studio with two other people which also changed a lot my experience. I learned a lot about talking to clients and doing meetings and everything else apart from doing the graphic design itself. Because in the big company, I was the intern so I did the job but I had no client contact. I didn't go to meetings. I didn't do anything else.

Lucas Gini: In 2016, it was like a desperate year because I was doing my final work for the second graduation, and I had two jobs actually. I spent a bit of my week working with a type designer from home, and the rest of the week I was in that studio, that small studio. It was really, really busy but I think it was essential to becoming a freelance then after that. It was the most learning time, I guess.

Steve Folland: Yeah, because once you were learning skills at the university, you were actually learning what it was going to be like in the real business world from over extra work you were putting in there and then.

Lucas Gini: Yes, but also it wasn't like I didn't make the decision to become a freelance full time. By the end of 2016, the studio could not keep me there and the type designer I worked with could not pay me anymore either, and college ended so everything changed and I didn't know what to do. I just took a month to think about what I was going to do and I was really upset because of all of that.

Lucas Gini: But then one job just popped out like someone called me to do something, and I worked for like six hours and was paid more than I used to get in a whole month. This is when I thought, "Well, maybe I don't need to look for a job anymore."

Steve Folland: So how did you go about getting those first freelance clients?

Lucas Gini: To this day, the places I get more jobs is from ex-coworkers and ex-bosses, people that I know from working in agencies and studios, and even other freelancers. I think this is the way that things come for me. I don't remember really getting clients from my website or Behance. I have it all updated and everything, but most of my clients are indications.

Steve Folland: But are you working remotely or do you ever have to go in and work in their buildings?

Lucas Gini: Most of the time I work from home. As I said, I live in the countryside so it's kind of difficult to go to the city if I have to go like every day. But sometimes, I get an agency or something that I spend a week or a month, and I'd go there but I don't really think it's necessary. So whenever I can discuss that with clients, I can really show them that I don't need to get in a car and spend two hours going out there just to see you in person because I can really send you an email and everything is going to be fine.

Steve Folland: Obviously, you graduated in graphic design but I know that from having seen some of your work as well, but you like to do illustration as well, right?

Lucas Gini: Yeah. I'm trying to focus actually in illustration and type design now which are both amazing and hard things to do for me, so I'm not sure I'll be able to work with them both but I can try still. That's what I'm doing now. I think I've been drawing since I was a kid which is everyone else's story also, and I never really understood that this could be work, I guess, and I never really connected dots like graphic design and illustration seemed to be pretty much the same thing to me. It's like the same mindset to create things like ... Illustration is not always drawing, but it's solving a graphic problem with maybe drawings or collage or something.

Lucas Gini: When I did this connection in my mind, I was like, "Hey, I think I need to be an illustrator. I want that since I was a kid and I did this whole big wave with advertising and graphic design, branding. And it's not that I hate those things, but I really feel much better when I'm with brushes and ink or even in Photoshop, I don't know, but doing things like creating illustrations.

Steve Folland: And so how did you go about getting illustration work? Like did you just go to your existing clients and say, "Hey, by the way, I could do something like this"?

Lucas Gini: I never really thought of that really. Maybe it's a good idea, but-

Steve Folland: So, how did you? How did you make that transition? I know you're still primarily a graphic designer, but obviously, you wanted to be doing it.

Lucas Gini: Well, first of all, my portfolio now has lots of illustration work. I'm trying to focus that instead of showing branding, logos and everything else. I think that's a point, but I think the first step was a work I did in the graduation that in someone's class, I don't even recall what class was that, but the teacher said, "Well, you all choose some children story and illustrate that. That's the work."

Lucas Gini: And I thought I could invite someone to create a story because I didn't have time or creativity at that time to create one by myself, and I invited a friend and I illustrated it. By the time I got it ready, I wasn't really happy with it but I redid everything on vacation and we got really lucky to know someone that worked for a publisher. And the book was actually published.

Lucas Gini: I think this is the initial kick for that. I actually saw that, "Hey, if I post this, maybe people will look for me to illustration not for graphic design."

Steve Folland: Wow, so it came off the back of a college project?

Lucas Gini: Yeah.

Steve Folland: And it's that because I'm aware that one of your books is now going out to all or most Brazilian schools, right?

Lucas Gini: Yeah. Not all, because well, Brazil is really big but I'm really excited with that because Brazilian government bought like 2,000 copies of that book and it's going to public schools all over the country. This is probably the coolest thing in my career.

Steve Folland: Yeah, that is so cool. And like you could have taken that project from your tutor and just like taken any story if it was already written like from Goldilocks and the Three Bears to the Little Mermaid. But instead, you decided to bring somebody on and create something new and look where it's gone. That's amazing.

Lucas Gini: Yeah, I think we got really lucky but there are some credit to the story. It's a really good story and it's all rhymed so I think it's cool for kids. Since we finished this project, we have seen some kids like buying the books and reading with their parents, and this is the most amazing sensation ever, like seeing kids actually learning and having fun with something I drew and my friend wrote. So, I think it's the biggest sensation of my work is in real life now.

Steve Folland: I mean that was effectively a side project which then grew and is now focusing into work. Do you do much of the sort of like the personal creative side projects?

Lucas Gini: Yeah, I think I've always loved side projects and I've always had them but of course when I was an intern or a freelancer in agencies, I had less time for it. So when I got to be a full-time freelancer, I felt amazing that, "Hey, I can pull off like five hours to do something that I want," and of course, you can't like exaggerate on that because you're not getting paid. But maybe there's something that could be paid someday like this book is getting somewhere.

Lucas Gini: Nowadays, I have personal projects with fonts because I want to become a type designer and it's a strange market. I mean, if you don't do your things by yourself, it's really hard to get somewhere even if you were trying to get to a 9:00 to 5:00 job which is really rare because there are not many agencies type foundries that look for designers to work full-time.

Lucas Gini: But even if you're doing that, you have to show some work. You have to show fonts you did, you designed. And it's a work you have to spend so many hours on your own drawing and programming, and it's like a big side project anyway. And I keep on doing children's books also.

Steve Folland: You mentioned living in the country, working from home. So, how is your work-life balance? How have you sort of adapted your lifestyle in the last couple of years?

Lucas Gini: I think work-life balance is the most difficult thing about being freelancer because I tend to be a workaholic. I think everyone does, I don't know. But rationally, I can think that, "Hey, I don't want to work like 12 hours a day and never see my friends." But sometimes, it's like midnight and I look around and there's no one working, like everyone should be at the bar. So, it's a little tough for me and living in the countryside is a little bit different because I have to plan things a little bit more. I have to know the things that is happening like two hours before it's happening or else I will never get there, and something like that.

Lucas Gini: But I think being in freelance is improving all the time. I think that when I got to be a full-time freelancer, I discovered myself again. It seemed like everything started over and I'm getting to be like an adult now, I don't know. That's the sensation I have.

Steve Folland: You've managed okay with like the business side of things since what you picked up from the studio or have there been struggles?

Lucas Gini: I haven't had too much struggle because I think I do really good with money, so it's never been a problem. I don't spend a lot and I still live with my parents, so I don't really spend too much to ... I've shared bills and everything so I don't have like expensive lifestyle and this is, in my opinion, very important if you want to become a freelance especially when you're young because you can really get excited on, "Hey, I don't have a boss. I could spend everything on the bar." Well, that's not going to take you far.

Lucas Gini: I think I haven't struggled a lot but as I said, I think I'm always improving. I'm always getting references on the internet of how people do things, how they deal with cash flow and clients and how to politely ask for a client to pay since they're late already which happens a lot. But I think I like it this way. When I had a job and I got paid like every month the same day, it was cool. I cannot complain or that it was like a secure option but I don't know. I think I like to be in full control of everything that I do. So, I feel like I am going the right way now.

Steve Folland: And how do you manage your day? Are you somebody who has multiple projects on the go at once or do you tend to focus on one thing?

Lucas Gini: I usually have lots of projects. I mean not lots like 10 things going, but I usually have at least two or three things going on. I tried to be hard on my schedule, like I have a time to have lunch, a time to take a bath, like to do some exercise, to wake up, everything. I try to be a little bit hard on myself with that. It doesn't work all the time but I think it's a good starting point. If I don't set myself some time to do things, I think I'll be completely lost and maybe I will spend the whole day doing some project that wasn't a priority or spend the whole day getting references for something that I should spend like one hour.

Lucas Gini: It works for people in different place but for me today, that's the way it works. I've seen lots of freelancers that don't really do that. They work on the thing they feel like working every day and I really admire that. But I'm not sure if I can do this like tomorrow, I don't know. I'm preparing myself to someday be more flexible but I'm not sure how long it's going to take.

Steve Folland: Are you part of a community at all of other freelancers or other designers? Because obviously, you live out in the sticks, but you've got your family around you, so it's not like you're isolated. But do you know other people like you basically?

Lucas Gini: I do know other freelancers and illustrators and designers mostly, but I really lack a community thing. I've seen you have been on lots of freelancers, events and talks and, I don't know, non-employee of the month prizes. I'm not sure if I just don't know or they really don't exist a lot here in Brazil or in Sao Paulo because I get these things. I have events with designers and illustrators but I don't really know people that work with anything else that do it from home or that don't have a 9:00 to 5:00 job.

Lucas Gini: This isolation is a little bit hard to deal with but I'm working on it. I'm trying to know other people. I'm trying to ask people to tell me what they do, how they deal with things pretty much like you do with this podcast. I think it helped me a lot.

Steve Folland: That's got what the podcast helped you?

Lucas Gini: Yeah, because when I was in advertising agencies or even graphic design studios, I just couldn't listen to podcasts because I had this thing that, "Oh, my God. I cannot work with this people talking in my head," like I just couldn't do it. But after I started working from home with no team and not much of, "Oh, let's stop for a coffee or something," I really found out podcasts are the way to feel better and to listen to people and to learn from people while I'm doing what I have to do.

Steve Folland: Well, hoorah for that. No, I'm glad you found that. Most of your clients are Brazilian or do you work with clients all over the world or they're quite local?

Lucas Gini: Most of my clients are local yet I want to project my career to be more international. But I think I struggle with it because I'm also still trying to be more of an illustrator and type designer. And I feel like there's a lot to do and I can't do it all at the same time. But I plan to be more international because I feel like I can experience different markets all over the world like from listening to podcasts and seeing things online or even other portfolios, I feel that countries have their characteristics like I see that there are some kind of illustration that is selling a lot like in Europe or in the US. And I want to see that kind of thing happening. I want to have this like international experience doing different things and different demands.

Steve Folland: Yeah, but you haven't figured out how to do that yet?

Lucas Gini: Not exactly. I think, I trust on the thing like, "Oh, if I update my portfolio and I have really cool projects, people will ask for it." But I'm not sure because as I said, these haven't worked a lot for me to this day. I plan on having an illustration agency someday, trying to work on my portfolio to send to some agencies, and maybe have them looking for works for me especially for children's books because in Brazil, it's a really tough market. And I love this thing that happened with my project and I loved doing that but getting some real money out of children's books in Brazil is like, I don't even know if it's possible actually.

Steve Folland: Because it's a smaller market?

Lucas Gini: Yeah, it's tough to sell lots of books here. And I don't know if someone could really live only doing that. I don't know actually if it's any different in other places but I want to find out.

Steve Folland: You spoke about updating your portfolio in various places but are you also on, for example, Twitter or Instagram, the likes of those putting yourself out.

Lucas Gini: I'm in Instagram with my drawings and my work. And I have a personal account in Facebook but I found out that social network is not really a good thing for me. I don't know, I get a little anxious with all that and I've had lots of days last year that I spent more time than I wanted, seeing things and updating things and looking for things in Facebook or Instagram.

Lucas Gini: So, I'm trying to be a little apart from all of that now. I'm using less which is, I don't know, I get always this tense feeling that maybe I should be updating every day, maybe I should be doing more instead of less. But I don't know, my days are really longer and I work a really lot better when I'm not doing these things, when I'm not visiting Instagram and Facebook.

Steve Folland: Yeah, it's a tough one. So, you kind of feel like you should be doing it but there's a distraction that you would rather not have?

Lucas Gini: Yeah, it's big distraction for me. And I don't know, I know lots of stories of people that grew up in Instagram and are doing amazing jobs for illustration all over the world because of it. But I don't know, maybe this is just not my thing. I have to believe that because, I don't know. I spend a lot of time doing it and I never really got a job for it from Instagram or Facebook. So, I'm working on other things now trying other ways to put my name over there.

Steve Folland: Yeah, it's good to get your name out there but equally if something isn't working for you, then that's good to recognise that too, isn't it, if it's not making you feel good? But if you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?

Lucas Gini: As I said, freelancing is about knowing yourself and where you want to go, how you want to live, and of course, working a lot. But I tell myself to stop being afraid of failing and I think this advice still works for me because I'm still afraid of doing like bad work and not getting my name over there and everything else. But yeah, I think my advice for myself would be, "Hey, relax and don't be a bad boss to yourself," because I don't think I would be a bad boss to anyone else, so why am I doing this to myself?

Steve Folland: I like that. Lucas, thank you so much. All the best being in freelance.

Lucas Gini: Thank you, Steve.