Jenna Van Hout
Jenna Van Hout is an independent designer & artist in the Bay Area


"Don't refer to yourself as a brand."

I got some good spiritual advice this weekend from an experienced freelancer. He encouraged me to spend this initial start up time exploring my art and figuring out what my voice is. Which is… pretty much exactly what I’ve been trying to focus on. It’s awesome hearing it from an outside source though. He was really speaking my language when he told me that “you spend so much time working for companies that you train you to think like them, to deliver what they want. The commercial world mainstreams your point of view. Right now you should focus on what makes you unique as an individual and a person. This is one of the few chances you get to really recover that identity, and think about the kind of work you want to do, and then go do it.

…And don’t refer to yourself as a brand—that’s a small version of who you really are. You’re a person. You’re authentic. Don’t become like them.”

So nourishing to have that discussion. Thanks for the advice!

Merry Christmas

I went to a wreath-making workshop the other night at my friend Mason’s house. It was led by Gina of Bloom Generation. It was a great gathering of ladies crafting together, in a medium that I’m not super familiar with. I had a lot of fun and really like how my wreath turned out.

For the base, I wanted the smell of a traditional tree but with more of a windswept look—so I used douglass fir for volume under longer fronds of cedar, and sprinkled some clusters of dried berries around. I wanted to do a cool asymmetrical accent and I was inspired by some of the richly colored earthy things that Gina had provided, so I made a composition with mushrooms, moss, lichens, and other strange dried things that I don’t know what they are. I finished it with some pheasant feathers.

The Artist's Way

I’ve begun a 12-week course on recovering my creativity, called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’ve had a number of friends embark on this journey to great effect. Thomas, for example, did it when he left his job to discover his art, and he said the experience was “f*cking awesome.” It has a somewhat cultish following of artists, filmmakers, writers and creatives who swear by its methods, and despite just getting started, I think it has great potential to unblock whatever’s been riding along in my psyche my whole adult life.

I was a strange and imaginative weirdo when I was young—always making, drawing, and exploring my curiosity. I lost a great deal of that imagination, perhaps surprisingly, in design school. While I was being groomed to become a process-driven, human-centered young designer at one of the best design schools in the nation, I was told that the way I used to be creative is wrong. Take for example: drawing classes. Drawing 101 and 102 had me spending weeks and weeks creating perfectly rendered three dimensional shapes, and pulled me away from the imaginative doodling and sketching I used to pull out of my brain. I am admittedly not a prolific industrial designer, so while I did well enough to scrape by as an A/B student, I just don’t think in perfectly rendered cubes, spatulas and chassis. But it was enough for me to tell myself that if I can’t draw it in perfectly rendered 3D, it’s not worth drawing at all. So, I haven’t drawn much in the last 15 years (I’ll note that I don’t think this was the intention of my professors, but the impact was certainly lasting). Anyway, I’m on a mission to get over those kinds of blockages and live a more creatively fulfilling life.

The methodology for The Artist’s Way involves writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness every morning, a weekly artist date with myself, and performing a set of tasks tailored by the week to guide the emotional and deeply personal journey of discovering/recovering one’s creativity. It’s a fairly spiritual book, and there’s a lot of reference to the Creator, which right in the intro encourages you to not think of this as the Jesus kind of God, but the divine creative force within us all that we are trying to access. I’m still adjusting to that as a key element in the journey and while I’ve never thought of creativity in that sense, I’m hoping I will convince myself for the sake of this experience. The fact that so many artists that I know and admire have successfully completed The Artist’s Way is motivation enough for me to get over my God allergy.

Texture fills

Now that I have a mark I like, I’m playing with different ways to apply color and texture to it. It’s a fun exercise to play with the shape as a fill but also as negative space. For business cards, I’m thinking of pairing a number of these patterns and textures with a spot gloss varnish for that ultra-subtle beautiful impression.

Personal branding

I’ve been messing with gradients and colors that I find to be delightful for the past few weeks, but the other night I started playing around with some abstractions of my new initials, JVH. I always find it interesting to see how different designer set themselves up for iteration and what journey that iteration takes. In my case, its always a tangential mess that I can read clearly but I imagine it looks like chaos to outsiders.

Here’s the clean version of the top contenders and my path of exploration:

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And here’s a peek under the hood at the full story, which is all the steps that you don’t see in the above graphic:

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New-found freedom, or survivor's guilt?

I find it interesting that after being a 9-5 (or more like… 10-6 or later) office worker for the past decade, I’ve been trained to need to feel productive each weekday. And while I’ve certainly been personally productive this past week and a half, there’s still a sense of rebellion that I find surprising in this newfound daytime freedom. Just yesterday in the late morning, I went to Farley’s to pick up some funky magazines, where I sat and read them in the window seat for a few hours, nursing a golden latte. Something about this activity felt so luxurious and almost naughty, like I was getting away with a defiant indulgence. Who do I think I’m defying?! Only myself and the expectations that have been trained into me over the years. I’m interested to examine how my feelings change as I adjust to this new life I have chosen for myself.

Going Indie

I’m excited to announce that I have left my job at Hustle and am starting out on my own as an independent designer. I feel completely ready for this next step—years of agency experience has perfectly primed me to manage varied clients and projects, and I am intrigued by the lifestyle that freelance work can offer me. I plan to take it slow through the holidays so that I can enjoy a period of vocational freedom that I have never had in my adult life before ramping up into filling my time with work.

While I am very excited, striking out on one’s own comes with a certain amount of uncertainty and trepidation: questions are floating through my head such as: Will I get enough work in the door? Will I get to work on things I really enjoy or just have to take what comes my way? Will organizations value my time and contributions as an individual rather than part of a larger company? Will I be a good boss to myself? Will I handle my admin correctly? Will I get lonely working from home? Will I feel like I’m truly my own boss or will my projects start to rule me instead? I’m mitigating these quiet anxieties by intentionally giving myself some time and space to get my shit together—and it’s encouraging that without really any outbound marketing and very little networking I already have some inbound interest, which I’m certainly interested in exploring despite wanting to take time to relax and start slow.