Vanessa Hernandez
Art Director / Graphic Designer / Illustrator


Vanessa Hernandez

Art Director / Graphic Designer  / Illustrator

Los Angeles, CA


What do you do?

On which day? Hahaha... honestly, this is the most difficult question! Technically, I’m an art director / graphic designer / illustrator, but I tend to be all over the place with projects that I take on.

Any given day I could be spending my time cocooned with my laptop and wacom tablet, or at a coffee shop with some watercolors (and sometimes painting with coffee, which I’ve received stern barista looks for), or on a photo set lettering with guacamole (true story).

I’m also fascinated with gold leaf as a material, so I spend a fair amount of time gold leafing things – anything, including ILC co-founder Puno’s face. I’ve been really lucky that my clients trust my ideas and that our projects allow for me to utilize hand-rendered options whenever possible, which I really love to do.

Aside from all of that, it’s also really important to be able to spend days doing things that benefit me that are completely unrelated to work. There are days that I’ll spend at the beach from morning to night (thanks Los Angeles!) or just wandering and getting lost, which I think is essential for my job. Totally. My former bosses didn’t really believe me there.


If you have multiple jobs and/or skills, which one do you wish you could do more often?

The biggest appeal to being an independent designer is that allows me to do all sorts of jobs and utilize different skills for them, but if I could pick one it would definitely be teaching more workshops.

I’m always running the gamut of worst-case scenarios in my head before those events (mostly: WILL ANYONE EVEN SHOW UP?!) but in reality, they’ve always been the most rewarding. I tend to be pretty lax about keeping things majorly professional, so the workshops end up becoming what feels more like a small gathering of pals just hanging out and making stuff for the afternoon, which is really gratifying for me since I spend a majority of my working hours alone.


Give us a specific example of how you do your job like a BOSS.

Be. Yourself. I’ve learned (and am still learning) that part of not only doing my job like a boss but being a boss is learning to take care of myself and my brand first. Seriously! Everyone says it, but for me it’s been really difficult to take to heart. 

In learning what works for me as a designer and someone who runs her own show, I’ve also realized that some of that means doing things the way I want to, regardless of outcome. I’m not one to be formal with my clients, which is why most of them have become friends, and that’s strictly against advice I received in school and even afterward. Once as an intern, I said the F word loudly in a group meeting with Oprah’s producers – and I was moritified, as was my boss – but it broke the ice, and one actually approached me afterward and said she appreciated feeling like we could just talk like we were human beings. It’s not for everyone, but it’s who I am. If I can’t be a boss just by being me, what else is there?

What are all the tools (digital or physical) you use on a regular basis?

The ever-uniform Macbook Pro, of course. I do a lot of lettering and for the small amount of projects that don’t require me to start in a sketchbook, I love my Wacom Intuos Pro.

A good set of headphones is key for blocking out extra noise or just pretending like you’re busy so you can focus on organizing your Netflix queue without anyone walking up to you (don’t lie, you do it too.) I’ve purchased multiple pairs of Coloud Pop ear buds over the years, but mostly because I keep giving them away to people – the quality is excellent for the price and they’re tangle-free thanks to a smart little built-in loop lock, which is perfect for traveling.

For my hand-rendered stuff, I have a collection of materials I use regularly – mostly gold leaf and vellum acetate for my posters. I love Yasutomo’s variety of watercolors and inks for my lettering, and I always carry a pad of tracing vellum and a water brush with me just in case I feel like painting. I do a lot of screen printing and linoleum block printing for clients that have small-run merchandise orders, and with that comes lots of screens, inks, brushes… basically, my house looks like a kindergarten art studio.

What is frustrating you right now? 

Definitely myself. I find that not a lot of people talk about their insecurities (including me) until someone else opens up and says ‘Hey, I’m feeling all of these fears and weird things about myself and my business’ but once that one person does, nearly everyone else is like ‘Man, me too.’ This blows my mind every single time but in a great way, because we can be more up-front about the things that make us human! I definitely have insecurities that I’m letting hold me up, and I’m so grateful for the people who get it and encourage me, rather than tell me to get over it and move on. The hardest thing for me is letting go and jumping in, even though I know that the end result will far outweigh the initial fear.

What are you putting off right now, but you know you have to get to, but you haven’t had the time?

As mentioned earlier, my workshops! I’ve been meaning to reach out to different venues that host creative conferences and gatherings to see if there might be any interest, but it really hasn’t come together simply because of a lack of time. I know that if I were to spend a week just composing a plan and a reach projection, I could make it happen; it just never seems to.

If you could hire someone for $20/hour, what would you have them do to make your day easier?

It might sound trivial and completely unsexy, but copyright infringement damage control. I’ve had many instances in the past where companies have used my images for t-shirts, tote bags, sweatshirts, what have you… and it’s frustrating because if I wanted my work on those items, I would have done it myself. It’s a lot of work to scour and figure out who’s done you wrong in that respect, and even more work to deal with it legally. Luckily I’ve been working with a great lawyer who respects and understands a creative’s position when it comes to simply not having enough hours in the day to dedicate to that, and he’s been amazing and helping supplement the search.

Also, I would totally pay someone $20/hour just to keep me grounded, help wrangle my crazy ideas, and maybe make a cocktail now and then.

If you could talk to an expert to gain more insight on something, what would it be about?

I suppose I’d like to talk to an expert just about their experiences in tying their professional life with their personal life, because for creatives both of those realms are so often intertwined anyway. I’ve always been interested in the psychology behind what drives creatives, especially at a primal, need-to-make level. For many people I’ve spoken to it’s along the same vein as eating and breathing, and I find it all fascinating.

What are you working on right now?

LOTS – and I don’t mean that in a way that comes off as ‘Oh man, I’m so busy all the time always, I just don’t have time for anything’ because you should really see how much Golden Girls I rerun / actively pay attention to. But it just happens to be one of those times where things are exceptionally crazy versus things being really quiet, and I think that balancing those two extremes is something that everyone who runs independently deals with.

Anyhow, right now my most important job is being maid of honor in one of my best friend’s weddings that will be held locally, and since the maid of honor just happens to be a designer, I’m definitely doing a lot of that – the invitation suite, website, event design, et cetera. I’ve also been doing some marketing and design work with Quincy Jones Productions, which has been really exciting, and helping a few former clients-turned-friends revamp their existing branding systems.

Oh, and I’m trying my hand at writing and design as a new LA contributor for The Bold Italic. I’ve also been meeting a lot of brilliant creatives and it seems that when you get people like that together, projects and collaborations just invent themselves out of nowhere, so there’s lots of that happening as well – nuts right now, but I’m definitely into it!


What kind of opportunities/projects are you looking for right now?

Does anyone have a book they need designed?! I’ve been dreaming of doing book layout and cover for a long time but haven’t had the opportunity yet. I love all of the intricacies of typesetting and really get into the zone when I’m doing detailed work like that. Another dream of mine has been to do a large-scale gold leaf installation somewhere, just in case anyone has a spare wall. I’m also looking for more opportunities to collaborate with other creatives and working with more growing brands that would like to take an out-of-the-box approach on locking down identity systems.


How are you looking for these opportunities/projects right now?

Well… okay. Is ‘wishing’ an option? I really do need to start putting the ideas out there more and figuring out avenues to go down and really find what I’m looking for (did that U2 song just pop into anyone else’s head? Sorry about that.)


Describe your ideal client/job/collaboration. Even if it doesn’t actually exist!

Luckily I’ve had rad experiences in all of these realms. The clients and creative collaborators I keep up with are all people who are creative themselves, so we get each other and the ways our minds work. During my gold leafing session with Puno, we had a team of people who just wanted to create for the sake of creating, and we all left feeling fulfilled and having had a blast during the afternoon – that’s ideal, when at the end of the day, you feel exhausted just from smiling and really digging into something you love. That’s the end goal, every day.

What is your preferred style of working (remote, in-house, on-site, etc)?

It really varies. There are tons of co-working options around LA now, and I’ve been fortunate to make a cool little family at The Unique Space, where I currently co-work (and also designed the branding system for!) On days that I feel on the lonely side of freelance, I’m glad to know I can just head over and pull myself out of the funk. However, there are definitely days where a quieter atmosphere in my own home is necessary. I’m definitely someone who’s sensitive to my environment, so I try to make sure I can allow myself to have whichever space and atmosphere I need to have a clear mind when digging into work.

Available for purchase.

Describe a client you would rather not have. What are your deal breakers?

Luckily, there have been very, very few clients / jobs I’ve had that have had enough downsides to deter me, but the first thing would probably be a harsh relationship that feels very stuffy and very limited to profession. My favorite clients have always thrown in a little link to a new hip hop song they thing I’d like at the end of an email, or asked how something is going on in my life that has nothing to do with work. When I have to be robotic about my actions and feel like I’m walking around on eggshells to get the job done, it’s not fulfilling for me.

What is your rate, retainer, or salary range? If it depends on the project, give us some examples of projects and the cost.

That, also, varies. A majority of my clients rely on me for implementing or supplementing branding systems for their small businesses, and generally composing an identity suite from scratch would range from $5,000 – $7,500. Luckily, a majority of my clients have returned for projects, and their estimates are usually substantially lower since we’ve already established a foundation. I get a lot of requests for lettering and calligraphy, from tattoos to invitation suites, and something small like a few works for a tattoo will run from $300 – $500, whereas doing more detailed work like addressing a couple hundred invitations will run about $500 – $1,000, depending on materials and methods. I try my best to keep my ranges fair and accessible for my clientele, but in the end it’s about what works for both parties.

How should someone approach you about working with you? 

I vibe with people who approach me like I’m a pal, so definitely that. A good intro email would include a scope of the project, any ideas or inspiration they may have, and if it’s a client, a base budget would be incredibly helpful in gauging how much time we can both allow for the project. And if anyone wanted to send me a playlist of great west coast hip hop, I wouldn’t be mad.

This member profile was originally published on December 2014.