Portrait by Kari Orvik. Featured photos courtesy of Jessica Hische.
Jessica Hische is a lettering artist, illustrator, author, and self-described “avid internetter” working in San Francisco.
She’s also considered to be a mentor to many in the design space—whether through her transparent writing or speaking engagements revolving topics of processes, creating better work habits, and all guidances alike.
Put simply, Jessica is a prolific creator and an all-around great human being.
I’m thankful she took the time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about her involvement in the design community, goal setting, self awareness, and finding balance.
A special thanks to Hover, our domain management provider, for their partnership and extended generosity in making The Modern Block possible. Use code “modernblock” at checkout to save 10% on your first domain purchase.
Why is it important for you to make time for speaking engagements, guide other designers, and be so heavily involved with design conversations? Having your hands tied with multiple projects at any given time, I would think you’d be too overwhelmed to squeeze in time for interviews like these. One thing that I’ve found about being a freelance designer is that it can be very isolating. I’m an extrovert and am people-powered—I naturally look for outlets to connect with people. When I lived in New York, one of the things that I loved was that I could both be social and “work” by having my social life and work life be really intertwined. I made most of my friends in the city through my studio mates and attending design events. Friends helped my work (through critiques), recommended me for jobs, and introduced me to cool new things all the time. I felt like I had this great leg up that not a lot of people get because I was surrounded by such awesome supportive people, and I really wanted to pass that along to others. I know that some professionals think that you always need to learn things the hard way, or that you need to be put through the paces and “do your time” before you’re “allowed” to succeed—but I think we all had help in some form or another and it’s important to help others along the way.
Aside from just wanting to help other people, I get a lot out of speaking engagements, teaching, and the light mentoring that I do through interviews, email answering, etc. I love making art but I get a far deeper satisfaction from guiding someone out of a personal / professional rut than I do from creating a single beautiful piece of lettering. I have “the teacher gene”—I can’t help myself. If I see you staring at a NYC subway map for too long, I will come over and try to help you navigate it.
You’ve accomplished so much in your career as a designer. Is it still important for you to set goals for yourself, or are you more content with all you’ve achieved? Absolutely it’s important to set goals for myself. I think most people that run their own business / freelance will agree that you have to be constantly looking ahead to ensure the health of your business and make sure that you’re progressing in the right direction. That’s not to say I am not proud of what I have achieved, but I hope that 20 or 30 years from now, I don’t look back and think that most of what I accomplished I did the first 10 years of my career and then just coasted for the next 30. I don’t think about goal setting as constantly trying to out-do past accomplishments, but instead trying to do what feels right for myself and my career at the time.
“I don’t think about goal setting as constantly trying to out-do past accomplishments, but instead trying to do what feels right for myself and my career at the time.
So, at this particular season in your life, what are some of those current goals, and how do you plan on accomplishing them? Current goals include focusing on projects based on personal interest that could turn into commercial endeavors (like book projects). I’ve mostly relied on projects and clients coming to me to determine my future, but I finally feel like with a bit of breathing room and with enough years under my belt that I am ready to focus on making some bigger personal projects (like books/products). I don’t want to “start a company”, but I do think that shifting some of my time toward self-authored work for future publication would be healthy.
I understand you’re currently living in San Francisco, but are originally from Brooklyn? What differences are there between these cities when it comes to your work (and perhaps how you work,) if any? Does location have any kind of profound effect on an artist’s work? Well, I’m originally from Pennsylvania, but I spent the better part of my 20s in Brooklyn, which were my most formative years. Both places have definitely had a huge effect on my work. Moving to San Francisco made me reevaluate the impact my work has on the world, made me question whether I should be doing commercial lettering or working on something “bigger”, and has introduced me to a whole new world of design thinking. Living in Brooklyn was incredible—I was surrounded by so many designers and illustrators that were in the same boat as me, which made me feel incredibly connected to the design community and motivated to work to keep up. I was very sad to leave Brooklyn, and feel like I may have left a couple of years prematurely, but I now feel like San Francisco is the perfect place for me to be in my 30s. I think it would have been difficult to make the shift to parenthood while living in NYC, not because people don’t do it but because the work schedule / hours I was keeping would have meant a very very abrupt lifestyle shift and likely an identity crisis. In San Francisco, I had already adjusted my work life to better match my friends and peers (i.e. not working every weekend and until 1am every night). Moving here forced me to find work/life balance in a more traditional sense (in NYC my idea of “work/life balance” was working whenever I wanted to and living along the way in the moments in between). It worked for me at the time, and would have continued to work for me into my 30s before my daughter was born, but I’m happy I was kind of forced to live a more balanced life when parenthood came along.
Now that you’re living a more balanced lifestyle and have gotten that time to reevaluate those things, what are some conclusions you’ve come to about your work? That quality is more important than quantity. It feels really good to be busy all the time (I feel a real sense of purpose from being in constant motion and it’s easier to be decisive when you have no time to noodle on something), but without any downtime or time to reflect, I can feel like I’m not the one in control of my life.
“It feels really good to be busy all the time, but without any downtime or time to reflect, I can feel like I’m not the one in control of my life.
I read in a previous interview where you said self-awareness has been the crux of success in your life. I’d love to learn more. If you don’t know who you are or where you stand, it’s hard to know how to move forward. Understanding yourself—your abilities, your weaknesses, your areas for improvement, your strengths, etc, helps you maximize your time, figure out the kind of work you really want to be doing, etc. It helps you figure out what’s right for you, which may not be the prescriptive definition of success within your industry. I spend a lot of time trying to figure myself out, and acknowledge that “myself” changes from day to day and year to year. Being self-aware / self-evaluating prevents “cruise controlling” your career—making hard decisions about your future and blindly sticking to them for years without ever taking time to ask yourself if those decisions are still relevant after you’ve grown or after your circumstances have changed. It helps me say no to projects that I don’t think are right because, as appealing as they may seem, past experience has proven that that kind of work doesn’t excite me anymore once I’m in the thick of it. It also helps me forgive myself when I do need to take a break or shift the kind of work I take on for a period of time.
“I spend a lot of time trying to figure myself out, and acknowledge that “myself” changes from day to day and year to year.
Much of your writing revolves around themes of productivity and practicing better work habits. You’re incredibly proficient at time management and have developed a great structure for your work life. With that said, what are some challenges you’re currently facing in your work? How are you finding it best to minimize these challenges? One of the issues that I have with work now is that I’m a little too careful with my schedule—it means when I have a speaking trip or some planned time off that I tend to take on very “safe” work before and after, so that I know exactly what I’m getting into. The issue with this though is that there’s always an excuse to play it safe once you have a kid or if you do as much work related travel as I do, and I need to make sure I’m still pushing myself to take on challenging work or things that aren’t quite as plug and play.