Design Goals: An Update

I celebrated my 31st birthday almost six months ago, so I figure it’s time to get in writing some of my goals for the year.

  • Create a portfolio I’m happy with.  This is a hard goal to meet considering no artist ever has been happy with their portfolio. What I should have said—and what I’ve accomplished!—is to create a portfolio at all. I’ve updated this website a few times, so the work I’ve been creating finally has a home on the internet (other than Instagram), but I also created a PDF portfolio. It’s a cruel joke that in the time it took me to create a portfolio, I was creating newer (and mostly better) work. But I’m so excited to mark this one as done (and forever in progress).
  • Be happy with where you are and excited about where you’re going. Yes! I’ve really loosened up and just enjoyed creating bad work and sharing it. Looking back on lettering I was creating a couple years ago always helps me appreciate what I’m creating now even more, especially when I’m feeling stuck or inadequate.
  • Open that Etsy shop! I did this almost two years ago, and I haven’t looked back! I’ve always loved making things for other people, so this has been one of the most rewarding outlets. I genuinely love packaging up orders, writing thank you notes, designing packaging elements, and delighting people who’ve purchased something from my shop. I have so many plans for the shop this year: expand my screenprinted apparel and accessory line, expand my greeting card line, buttons!, and a second Etsy shop for wedding products.
  • Learn & grow. This is a lifelong goal, and I’ve been loving Skillshare for helping me continue to pursue it. To expand on this for 2019, I plan to keep creating new classes and sharing my knowledge as well.

Now that we’re well into February, what are some goals you’re working toward this year?

Skillshare Classes I’m Taking & Loving

I have been on a Skillshare kick lately, and I wanted to share some of my favorite classes.

Introduction to Procreate: Illustrating on the iPad Pro with Procreate

I’ve been using Procreate for 6+ months now, and I still learned so many tricks during this class. I took the class on my lunch break one day at work, and I couldn’t wait to get home and try some of her techniques. Next time I plan to rematch when I have my iPad in front of me.

Shortcuts to Map Making for Illustrators: Illustrate Your Favorite City

I love illustrated maps, and one of my illustration goals is to start making my own. I even drew a little map of our venue for the back of our wedding invitations! I’d eventually like to create an illustrated map of Boston that I can screen print onto totes or tea towels, but the first step is to learn the technique itself. I haven’t finished this class yet, but I’m enjoy it so far—and it’s just fun to look at all of Anne’s illustrations!

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Product Photography Basics for Your Handmade Business

If I’m being honest, I haven’t been spending as much energy on my Etsy shop as when I first started it, and it’s showing. Taking Kristina Turner’s class on simple and professional product photos (that don’t require a ton of equipment) is one of the steps I’m taking to improve my shop. The class is well-paced and full of tips that feel very do-able for someone who isn’t doing this full-time. I purchased a simple tripod for my DSLR the other day, and I can’t wait for a cloudy day to get started.

Teacher Tips: Building a Successful Skillshare Channel

Skillshare’s been beefing up its teacher support system this year, and I am loving it! One of my goals this year is to publish two more classes and I want to start building my channel and brand on there with better quality videos.

Teacher Tips: Easy Tips and Tricks for Using iMovie to Edit Your Skillshare Class

I’ve been waiting for a class like this since I started teaching on Skillshare! The hardest part for me is editing the video for my classes, and this intro to iMovie was such a great crash course to get me started. I’m actually excited to edit my next class because of Tabitha’s course. I even went back and edited the intro video for my screen printing class because of it!


What classes have you been taking and loving? Anything you’re interested in learning? If you haven’t heard of Skillshare (or you want to give it a try), you can get two free months of Premium right now!



I’ve decided to try the 100 day project again this year! Last year I made it so close to finishing and completely lost steam, but I’m taking what I learned from that experience and loosening up the restrictions. Last year I set out to carve 100 stamps and then create patterns from those stamps. I experimented in stampmaking more than I would have otherwise, but it was really difficult when I travelled or had plans after work. I found myself playing catch up at the end of most weeks, which completely defeated the purpose of creating every day.

This year, I want to create a gratitude list in illustrations, or rather 100 illustrations of my favorites—things, activities, places, and (this one scares me) people. Some days I might doodle all of my favorite flavors of ice cream and some days I might draw my closest friends. One day I might letter my favorite quote from an overheard conversation on the train! Who knows! My main goal is to practice illustrating each day, pushing myself to draw things out of my comfort zone, and to just experiment with different illustration styles. I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about things I’d like to draw rather than actually drawing, so this is my chance to follow through.


I’m a little nervous that this year’s project ends three days before my wedding (I could be crazy), but I’m excited to have a little illustrated journal of the last 100 days before I get married! I hope to use this project as a break from the chaos of planning a wedding rather than adding more stress to the process.

How I’m preparing:

  • Brainstorming ahead of time. I’m overwhelmed by creative ideas every day when I’m tied to my day job, but by the time I finish my 1+ hour commute home, my brain has shut down, and I feel like I’ll never have a good idea again. Having a note of jotted down ideas will help on those days.
  • Telling people! I’m putting it out there that this is my goal, and I plan to engage with the community on Instagram throughout. There’s something powerful in complete strangers bonding over a shared challenge, and I look forward to cheering people on and accepting encouragement when I need it.
  • Preparing for when I don’t have time. These are the 100-ish days before my wedding, so I’ll be simultaneously making stuff for that, going to my bachelorette party and bridal shower, hosting family members, and traveling around to visit vendors and the venue. Remembering to charge my iPad and Apple pencil ahead of time (and bring them with me!) will be a major factor in succeeding.


If you’re not familiar with the 100 day project, you should check out the project website. There’s a list of simple steps to help you get started including signing up for the newsletter and following the founders of the 100 day project—Elle Luna and Lindsay Jean—on Instagram. I also really loved Elise’s Instagram stories about how she’s preparing and how to get motivated.

You can see everyone else’s projects by following the #the100dayproject hashtag—my favorites to follow along with last year were @bydylanm‘s #100daysofillustrationbydylanm and @elisejoy‘s #100plantsonfabric—and follow my project at #100daysofMJSfaves. I’d love to hear what you’re doing (if anything) for the project; share your hashtag so I can follow along!


My Favorite (Free!) Design Resources

I fell in love with design around 2014, but I didn’t really commit to teaching myself the skills until about a year later. I have the kind of personality where I get very frustrated when I’m not immediately good at something, then I waste spend a lot of time trying to learn every little thing about how to do something. This often leads to me feeling overwhelmed and moving on to something else entirely. While I’ve managed to stick with design—albeit with many starts and stops and tangents—one of my favorite tricks is to hoard free resources wherever I can find them. When I find myself stuck in a project, often I’ll just flip through the free design resources I’ve picked up over the years for a forgotten typeface or dainty watercolor leaves in the perfect color palette. I’m sure there are infinite other places to pick up free resources, but these have been my favorite in terms of quality and consistency.

Creative Market’s Free Goods of the Week

Creative Market was one of the first sites I discovered when I started learning design. I love the affordable fonts, mockups, and illustrative resources. Having access to this pool of resources at different price points saves me from feeling like I have to learn every illustration or painting technique to expand my design style. The best part for me is that the majority of the shops are owned by artists trying to make a passive income selling their art. For access to the weekly free goods, create an account and visiting the Free Goods portion of the site. I also subscribe to their newsletter, which reminds me to download my free resources each week.

Our save the dates were created using watercolor elements that I bought from GraphicsDish on Creative Market, but this greeting card mockup was downloaded for free one week from CM!


Every Tuesday’s tutorials and free design goodies

I found Teela’s YouTube videos when I was just getting started. I knew the basics of Illustrator, but I needed guidance and motivation to start creating and honing my skills on a daily basis. Teela’s tutorials and pep talks have been such a great motivator in my design journey, and if you sign up for her newsletter, she often shares free design downloads along with valuable design tips. If you’re at all interested in learning how to create your own font, I’d recommend jumping on her newsletter list so you can find out when her Learn Fontmaking course opens up again. I’m currently working my way through the class, and I hope to share my first font soon!

February’s freebie was a beautiful birthday card to print at home

Death to Stock photography

Simply sign up for their community emails, and you’ll receive a free pack of high-quality photos from rotating photographers each month. The emails are well-crafted, thoughtful, and a joy to read even without the freebies inside. DtS also offers a premium membership if you need access to their library of 2,000+ photos.


I love lettering over the beautiful photos from the free Death to Stock photo packs


Disclaimer: Free things are great, but there’s also something to be said for paying for the hard and beautiful work an artist has done. Design is like any other industry, where the environment you create is the also the one you get to work in, so be sure to support other artists and use their products fairly. And if you find something you love, spread the word. I’d love to hear your favorite sources for design elements—free and paid!

Melanie Jane Studio on Etsy!

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You guysssss, I finally made good on a goal I’ve had for at least two years now. Yesterday, on the official day that women start working for free, I launched Melanie Jane Studio on Etsy. Every year around my birthday, I get this burst of energy and motivation to finally make progress on my goals, and this year has been the best yet. I’m starting to realize why everyone says your 30s are the best.

I haven’t made a sale (yet!), but pressing publish on my first eight listings has been nothing short of invigorating. These last few months of cranking out lettering and designs is starting to come to fruition, and that old adage about creativity begetting more creativity is proving true. I’d really appreciate if you could go by and take a look. I’m open to any tips or feedback!

Design Goals for my 31st year

I recently celebrated my 31st birthday, and I wanted to get in writing some of my goals for the year.

  1. Create a portfolio I’m happy with. This site is my first and foremost goal. For the past few years, the main thing that has held me back from pursuing opportunities in design has been not having a portfolio. It’s a tough one: do you spend your post–day job time creating new work that can showcase your talents and interests, or do you spend that precious time working on creating a portfolio? It’s the same struggle any time I want to buy a new wallet—by spending the money, I’m reducing part of the reason I need and want the thing. I finally feel like I’m in a place where I have a body of work I can be proud of showing off. This portfolio will always be a work in progress, but I’ve been humbled and reminded that sometimes “done” is better than “perfect.”
  2. Be happy with where you are and excited about where you’re going. Every time I create a new design—whether it’s a wedding invitation, an illustration, or a lettering piece—I am torn between being happy with the finished product and looking forward to a year from now when I will be even better than I am today. It can get exhausting to strive for better every day, so I’d like to find a balance between progress and pride in what I’ve already accomplished.
  3. Open that Etsy shop! I’ve been brainstorming and creating for months now, and I think it’s time to finally take the plunge. Much like this portfolio site, I am encouraged knowing that it is all a work in progress.
  4. Learn & grow. OK, so this is a bit vague, and I intend to break it down into actionable steps (i.e., take a class in video editing, research small business taxes), but in general, I want to keep the momentum I’ve found in the last couple years. I am grateful to have a day job that supports me, provides great health insurance and benefits, but I’d love to start pursuing freelance opportunities to expand my skills.

What are your goals this year—design or otherwise?


My latest Skillshare class is live! A few months ago, I got a Silhouette Cameo machine and began screenprinting my own designs using vinyl on silkscreen. The process is much simpler and faster than the traditional method of burning designs onto silkscreens, and if you have a vinyl cutting machine like a Silhouette or Cricut, this is a fairly inexpensive way to get started.

The class includes a handlettered design to screenprint onto your own tee or sweatshirt. Let me know if you decide to take it! (more…)

New Skillshare Class: Design Your Own Spring Wedding Invitations

My second Skillshare class delves right into my newest love: designing wedding invitations and drawing florals in Illustrator. If you’re interested in making your own wedding invitation (or a friend’s!), or you just want to brush up on your illustration skills, this is the class for you. I’d love to hear what you think!

PS—You can definitely make this one more of a fall/winter/summer wedding by just changing up the color palette. Continue reading → New Skillshare Class: Design Your Own Spring Wedding Invitations