A Journey to Opening My Own Design Studio

A Journey to Opening My Own Design Studio

Priscilla Sodeke is a multidisciplinary creative professional with experience working at startups and social media, public benefit, non-profit, publishing, and beauty industries. She is co-owner and creative director of her design studio Pink Studio LLC.

My name is Priscilla Sodeke, and I am co-owner, creative director of a graphic design and creative services studio. I studied Graphic Design in college. I had wanted to go to an art school, but I didn’t get enough scholarships to pick and choose where to go. The same year I graduated from high school, I won a congressional art competition for a self-portrait I had completed for my drawing class that year. This, to me, was like a sign or a salve for the pain of not being able to go to an art school. I got into art school, I got a small scholarship, I got national recognition as an artist, which sounds absolutely ludicrous as I’m writing it out, but at the time, it was what I needed to feel okay with going to the public university in the town where I grew up.

I knew even in high school what I wanted to study. I had been interested in art and making art since I was really little. I have this memory of being at home with my mom, so this was before preschool. There was this crafts booklet I had, and my mom had just finished helping me make one of the crafts, and I remember asking if we could do another one, and she was like, “We just finished one.”

In the second grade, when I was about 6 or 7 years old, my teacher read a book to our class about a fish born with brilliant, shining, colorful scales. This fish stood out from all the others around her. In the story, the fish eventually learns to give away all her beautiful scales to the other fish, one by one, so that they can have a bit of brilliance amongst their own scales. After listening to the story, we all made our own shiny, colorful fish from colored tissue paper and aluminum foil. Everyone around me finished pretty quickly. But I sat there and cut out foil and tissue paper in the shape of scales and glued them down in layers one by one. My fish looked the most like the one in the book.

I was still so proud of that, perhaps because it’s helping me fight imposter syndrome more than 25 years later. Not to glorify me, but to give myself a much-needed pep talk, I can see myself as that fish in the sense that, as I told my oldest sister the other day, I’m almost always interested in making things look or work better than they do. Little did I know how much I would need that sort of pep talk throughout college and forever thereafter.

My second oldest sister (three of us), who was in college studying architecture while I was still in high school, saw the work Graphic Design students were doing and suggested it. She noticed that I was already trying to do similar work for every school project whenever I got the chance. That was all it took to convince me that graphic design was for me.

College was a beast. I never had enough of the passion for creativity others seemed to possess. One moment I felt pretty good about a project, and the next, I saw someone else’s work that looked so much more “designerly”—whatever that means. The next moment, my project was facing a critique panel of my professors and my entire class. I began to loathe the subjectivity that exists in art and design. All of this was exhausting. I wanted to quit, but I was already in my last year of university. I was jaded, drained and every creative bone in my body was fractured. It was with that mindset and a barely passing grade on my senior design project that I completed my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and entered a job search in the middle of a recession.

I spent over 2 years job searching and working retail jobs and then part-time in a position more closely related to graphic design. I was not just ready to give up on the job search. I was ready to give up on life. In the act of desperation, I left my parent’s house and moved to Texas, where my second oldest sister lived. In Austin, Texas, I interviewed for another part-time position related to graphic design, which led to a position as a content editor at the same company. When the content editor before me vacated her position, I was able to qualify for the position based on the minor focus in creative writing I had while at university. It was a small start-up company that allowed for taking advantage of opportunities like that. I ended up hating this new position. Writing may actually be my true passion, but experience has since taught me to guard it by never again putting upon it the pressure of making it my main profession. I do not want it to become what design had become for me in school.

After being with that company for about 9 months in two different positions, the in-house Senior Designer moved on, leaving her position open. I immediately let the company know I was interested, and they let me slide right into that position while they found a more qualified content editor. I finally had a full-time, in-house graphic design job. After 3 years with the company, I began to feel restless and trapped. I wasn’t interested in another design job or upward mobility in my career. Looking back now, maybe I just needed a break, a kind of sabbatical. So, I took one. The monotony of being an in-house designer at this company was wearing on me. I left my job and went to teach English in South Korea for 13 months. While jittering and stuttering in front of 5 or 6 classes a day, I realized that I love one-on-one mentorship-style teaching, but teaching in front of a classroom full of students can melt me into a puddle of 85% pure anxiety. I could hardly wait for my contract to end.

Once my teaching contract was up, I planned to return to my parent’s home. Reality had already begun to set in before I even boarded the plane—I was about to return to the same situation I had been in 6 years earlier. My mental health had declined significantly while I was in Korea, and I began spiraling into an even darker abyss. I was going to have to begin a job search—again. It became obvious I’d have to start healing before I could even think about starting to search for graphic design jobs. Just the thought of my past job search made me want to quit before I even started. I took a part-time food service job, which helped me first feel useful and capable again and then realize I needed and wanted more. After prayers, doctor visits, prayers, counseling sessions, prayers, and antidepressants, I quit my food service job to focus on a User Experience Design Academy program with Designlab.

This is my first (and only) piece of direct advice to you, Reader: keep learning while you wait, while you search, and as you are working. Learn how to do what you are interested in. You never know what opportunities it may open up for you. Learn how to do your job better or expand your skillset as it relates to your current industry. I chose UX/UI Design because it seemed like it was something that could propel my knowledge and experience with graphic design into the future. I thought that it would make me more professionally relevant. Looking back, it did just that. I chose Designlab because I wanted a program that would lead me through creating my own website to showcase a portfolio of new work.

A specific answer to prayer was getting a job before I even finished the program. I didn’t apply for this job, and I barely had what you might call a typical interview for it. I had just started going to a local co-working space to work on my UX Design program projects. During a dinner with some family friends, I had shared what I was learning in the program. A few months later, I just happened to run into one of those friends at the co-working space. He was on his way out of a meeting with someone, and he suggested to us that we might be interested in working together—we were. The person he had met with owned a company that needed my new skill set. I started getting the experience right away using the skills I was learning in the program.

The paycheck at this small startup company was little more than what I could have made as a manager at my food service job. So, after several months of a wonderful growing and learning experience, I jumped at the chance to move to a major metropolitan area in the next state to work for a large organization and better pay. A childhood friend with whom I’d grown closer at college was working for this organization and had reached out to me to see if I was interested in filling a temporary design position in their marketing department. I was interested. I interviewed over the phone. They hired me. I started less than a week later.

Working there presented some unexpected challenges. I was finally part of a full-fledged marketing team with a handful of graphic designers and senior and executive-level design leadership. I had never had that. It was exciting and exhilarating to be part of a team like that finally, but at the same time, it was intimidating and stifling. When my time as a well-paid, temporary, part-time staff was up, the organization informed me that they would open up a new full-time designer position and needlessly encouraged me to apply. I earnestly desired the position and knew that I’d get it if it were meant to be. Simultaneously, I had an inexplicable sense that it just wasn’t a good fit for me.

Today, as I write this, I am sitting at my desk in my home office, which also happens to double as my dining room, in my studio apartment. For the most part, I work at my own pace as long as I can meet my clients’ deadlines. I had 3 meetings this morning with 3 different clients and still have the flexibility to leisurely write this story without the pressure of any looming deadlines or figuratively hovering supervisors. I own a design studio of one, and I get to work with friends and ex-coworkers as clients. Now I have increased autonomy, freedom, and flexibility in what I design and who I design it for. Still, it’s safe to say I would never have leaped starting my own business if the last organization I interviewed with hadn’t chosen someone else. Even though I was somewhat disappointed at the time, I’m really thankful that they did choose someone else to fill that position. It would never have been as good a fit for me as the job I’m now able to be part of designing for myself as I go.

It really does matter who you know. Please know that this is coming from an introvert who still hates the word “networking.” However, I have never gotten a job or a new client by advertising my services. Nor have I ever intentionally or actively networked. You can’t see me right now, but imagine a look of disgust and extreme discomfort on my face every time I type that word. If you haven’t already noticed, practically every job or client I currently have or have had in the past is a friend or acquaintance, was recommended through a friend or acquaintance or happened because some stranger asked me what I studied university or what I do for a living. In those conversations, someone is always looking for a designer. I met a past client while working in a foodservice. While having a meeting with that client in a coffee shop, I met another current client. She was shamelessly eavesdropping on our meeting and handed me her card before she left. The large organization I worked for temporarily is now one of my current clients. A project manager I had worked with reached out to me after we had both left the organization to see if I was interested in working with the organization she had moved to. Now, most of the work I do is with that organization.

Obviously, Reader, you cannot exactly retrace my steps to get to where I am if that is your goal. I wouldn’t encourage you to try either, but to realize sooner than I did that there is no exact formula that will get you to where you are supposed to be. I cannot give you any tips on how to win in an interview because, quite frankly, I am terrible at interviewing. I can’t even offer any tips on how to get new clients, as I hope is clear from the story above. I applied and interviewed for countless positions after coming back from Korea, and the only company willing to hire me full-time was mine. One of the most important things I have learned along the way is that no job or experience is too small to teach you something you wouldn’t have learned without it. If you made it this far, I hope that reading my story has been one of those small experiences for you.

Also, read Follow your dreams – My Creative Career Path

A Journey to Opening My Own Design Studio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top