Designing every day: An interview with Tatiana Bischak
Tatiana Bischak is a freelance illustrator and designer who is known for her incredible work ethic, vibrant colours and constant exploration of style. In addition to her freelance work, Tatiana moderates the Happy Learners Club Slack, inspiring countless members of the community every day. I sat down with Tatiana to ask about her upbringing and how she went from mechanical engineer to one of the top 50 most liked designers on Dribbble.
How did your upbringing influence where you are today?
Growing up I was raised with no television, no siblings and I was homeschooled. As a result I was really bad at talking to people—sometimes I still am. The only thing I really had was reading and drawing. My mom was an oil painter and my dad an architect so it seemed completely normal to be drawing all the time. One thing I loved to do was draw pictures of my toys, cut them out, and play with them. I still have them to this day.
Around the time I was going to college the housing market crashed. My dad was seeing his business not do so well and so both my parents really hammered it into me that I needed to do something that would make money. Because of this, rather than pursue a creative field, I went to Michigan Tech for mechanical engineering.
Very quickly I found that I didn’t like where I was headed. I found myself calculating the flow of water while showering because I just couldn’t get my head out of the math. I could never relax and it was burning me out. At one point I broke down and started crying during an exam because I couldn’t do simple addition. It was that bad.
How did you transition from mechanical engineering into design?
I decided to drop out of college and go live in Ireland for a bit with my future fiance Scott. Yes, we met on Chatroulette. Scott loved the fact that I was always drawing and making art and so he really encouraged it. Together we both toyed around designing logos and illustrations. We were so bad back then.
When I came back from Ireland my parents were divorcing and my mom was living on her own with bills that she wasn’t able to pay. So I began to go to the people who she owed money and offer them logo design instead of payment. Most of them told us not to worry about the money—people can be nice sometimes. However, two others accepted my offer and those became my first real projects.
It was while creating my first logo, a little stick figure for a meditation company, that I realized people really liked what I was doing. To this day that client wants to get the logo I created tattooed on her! I promised my mom that I wouldn’t be an artist so when I shifted into design I decided I would base my art in practicality. I’ll do branding—everybody needs that! I easily fell in love with branding and logo design and just wanted to look at it all the time. Whenever I could, I kept trying to do it.
What was it like not having a traditional design education?
It was really intimidating moving into a space with other designers. I remember meeting one designer who stopped talking to me after I told him that I was self-taught. But no one stresses to us how important it is to talk to other designers. It made all the difference for me. By doing so I was able to meet three individuals who really helped me get to where I am now. One helped me refine my work, one pushed me to design every day and the other taught me how to network with others and find jobs. It was like the trifecta!
Because of this I generally tell others to find their design people. Join a community and talk with people who are passionate about design. It’s so important that you’re not just sitting by yourself looking at a computer screen but actually reflecting on your work with other people. It also helps with jobs. Not only will the community come to you with work but you can help others with jobs too which makes you a very valuable person to know.
What had you start your 365 days of design project?
I wanted to do it for a while. In fact, I had attempted once and failed. During a video hangout with a friend we both got really drunk and promised each other that we would do it. “We’re going to do the 365! We promise!” So when I woke up with a hangover the next day, I started on my first design—a tipi. It was a little triangle with some smoke coming out of it, nice and simple. I posted it online and got some likes. “Oh, that felt good! Let’s do that again tomorrow when I’m not hungover! It’ll be even better.”
Many people start 365 projects but few stick to them. How did you?
At first, guilt. If I ever faltered I would go to a good friend and tell him “Hey, I don’t want to do this anymore.” He’d say “Stop being a little bitch” and guilt me into doing it by reminding me that not everyone can do this and if that if I wanted to make it, it was up to me. Eventually the number of days in a row was getting so high that I wouldn’t dare stop. If I stopped I would have to start all over again and go through the embarrassment of admitting it.
Also, I could see the project training me. Whenever I had to work on a project, I found that I could. Instead of sitting down and opening Facebook, I sat down and starting working because I was so used to having such a limited time to get things done. Not only did it advance my ability to illustrate, it advanced my ability to stay focused on illustration. It refined me in multiple ways.
What advice would you give to anyone starting or in the middle of a 365 project?
If you feel like it, give it a shot. Even if you decide you have to stop at day 100, those are 100 designs that you never would have done before. Say you spend one hour on each, that’s 100 hours of design time you hadn’t done before! Not to mention that’s 100 images of your work people are now seeing out there in the wild. That’s huge! Yeah, it will burn you the hell out, but it’s worth it.
If you’re lacking inspiration, find a book or series and follow it. Do some Star Wars stuff or follow a theme from a video game. My series on Zelda didn’t just teach me a lot about lighting and shading but kept me inspired. It’s also important to know your limits. If you really are burning out, you can stop. Don’t run yourself into the ground. Don’t make yourself sick.
What would you like to say to all the designers reading this right now?
Find what you love and let it kill you. If you’re going to do this, then do it. Don’t just sit there and wonder why you don’t have clients or aren’t as good as some other person. Just keep doing it. Every single anchor point you make in Illustrator or brush stroke you paint in Photoshop furthers what you’re doing. Nothing is going to come find you, you’re going to have to chase it. You’re going to have to give up the lazy parts of your life.
Also, don’t force yourself to do a style you don’t like. This industry is so based on emotion and how we perceive things that if you create something that you’re not truly in love with you won’t be able to deliver great results. What we create has to be aligned with our passions.