Written in HerStory | Hollie Arnett
Counter to the popular belief of having a six-months worth of salary in the bank before starting a freelance business, Hollie left her position as a Creative Director and Head of Design of a start-up company at the age of 22 years old and launched into her own design company full-time called Black and White Studios with a few thousand dollars in debt. Now, Black and White Studios continues to grow as a purpose-led and story-driven company with a heart to reach and teach others to cultivate their own creativity.
Val: Hollie! Thank you so much for volunteering to be in this interview and sharing your life with us. I can't wait to learn and get inspired by you, but before we dig deep , I bet our community would love to know the answer to "who is Hollie?"
In a speed dating style, tell us five things about you.
Hollie: Yes! So...
1. I’m obsessed with all things typography.
I am a massive design nerd. I could talk to you about kerning & leading all day, and can’t go outside without noticing and commenting on the typography all around us! I make purchasing decisions based on good or bad design, and I will want to scream if I see your business using Papyrus or Jokerman fonts.
2. I am an INFJ - A.K.A “The Advocate.”
I LOVE personality tests and INFJ is my Myers Briggs personality type. INFJ’s make up less than 1% of the population, known for our Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Feeling (F) & Judgement (J). I love learning more about who I am and why, and reading about INFJs has helped understand why I am like I am!
3. I am originally from England & have a possibly unhealthy addiction to tea.
Being British, loving tea is basically ingrained in my DNA and I probably drink way too much. My house is stocked with so many different teas and I love it. It warms my soul and brings people together - my favourite place to be is cozied up at home with my favourite people, gathered around a pot of tea!
4. My family are my favourite people in the world.
Having moved from the UK, half of my family is still in England and I miss them so much. But here in New Zealand, my parents live in Christchurch and my younger sister lives here in Wellington with me. The Arnetts are a tight-nit bunch; we love each other loads and laugh together so much and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
5. My favourite way to unwind is by watching terrible TV shows.
I have a super overactive mind that never shuts up (yay) and the only way it does is to take it somewhere else. Reading a good novel is one way, but the best is watching terrible, cringe-worthy TV shows. They require little-to-no brain power, provide endless entertainment and are a sure-fire way to de-stress me!
Tell us more about Black & White Studios and the heart behind it. What was the path that led you into the founding the business?
Ever since I first tried design in the early years of high school, I fell in love. I’ve been creative since I was a child but finding design felt like coming home. I threw myself into design, painting, photography and any other creative subject that would help me become the best designer I could and ended up choosing to study design at university when I left high school.
I moved from Christchurch to Wellington in 2012 to study a Bachelor of Design with Honours majoring in Visual Communication at Massey University. In my second year, after working for years in supermarkets, I decided that I’d had enough and I went on the hunt for my first design job.
In my third year at uni, a group of us entered and got into ISTD (The International Society of Typographic Design). It meant designing and making a book about a chosen topic and it had to be PERFECT. The typography had to be on point and your concept had to be super strong. I worked so unbelievably hard on that project and I got in!! I got a merit award and was accepted as a member of ISTD and I’m so proud. If you find me on LinkedIn, I have MISTD after my name and everything. I did tell you I was a massive type nerd!!
Anyways, I found a programme called Summer of Tech, and got a summer internship as a Marketing Design Intern at Xero through that. Since then, I have worked in-house at another tech company doing UX & UI Design, co-run a design agency, been the Creative Director and Head of Design at a startup, and now here I am, owning and running my own design studio.
Through trying many different types of design and different ways of working in design, I discovered that running my own studio was the way to go! I wanted to have the freedom to choose the clients I work with and projects I worked on, develop my own unique style, and be creative however I wanted to. So, I took the leap into running Black & White Studios full time and now here we are!
I know that when people start a business, launch a startup, create a social enterprise or begin something new, they have a vision, purpose and passion that can be hard to visualise. When you see your idea encapsulated in a beautiful, strategic and effective brand, you can see that vision come to life. Seeing the look on my clients’ faces, reading their excited messages or talking to them through the process when they realise that they can see their passion on paper or on screen and they can confidently and proudly share it with the world and tell their story in style, is the best feeling ever! It’s why I get up every morning and do what I do. I want to be the one that makes your vision visible. That’s the heart behind Black & White Studios.
That's amazing! Before we hit record on the interview, I loved how you mentioned the word 'hustle', because what was the hustle life like for you? You did freelance since high school and internship at uni. What were the humble beginnings and the challenges when you started Black and White Studios?
Like you said I have been freelancing and pushing myself to launch into design and into my career as soon as possible. So I started doing some stuffs in high school, and design work for my church and for my friends. That helped me to get into what designing is like in real life. Like at uni you learn so much about it, and not be taught what’s like in real life like invoicing, and contracts, how to talk to clients, and meeting deadlines. I mean we get deadlines, but it’s not really the real life kind. So trying those little tiny projects for like 20 bucks or a 100 bucks or whatever without yarn or even for free gave that whole experience.
I’ve been volunteer designing for a church since I started going to church, so that’s like 8-9 years ago. The experience is so valuable and also I get to design, you know, something I’m super passionate about, which is awesome. And so yeah, I’ve just been cranking along doing that the whole time and then, did internship and Summer Tech. I was actually just googling around, looking for internships because I was like I need to get an intern design work as soon as possible. I hate my job at Pak N Save. And I just wanna be designing all day everyday! I found this programme and they had an event in two days time, so I signed up for it and said I’m coming! I’m all in! They weren’t that many design jobs at that time, mostly developing and sort of tech stuff. And I was like one of the people who managed to get design job and I was so lucky, grateful and thankful. So I worked so hard at that job, and put everything that I could into it and learned as much as I could. And yeah, that’s a massive launch into my career.
I have always been a driven person. I’m real self-motivated and like I have always been a hard worker and I don’t know why but all throughout high school I’m like “gonna get excellence!” then “gonna get paid when I get to uni!” I have always, I don’t know, push myself to be the best that I can be. When I launched Black and White Studios, I launched it back when I had a job so I was not doing it full-time. I was testing the waters and see if I could get work here and there.
I was working at a start up, and I had to quit because they kinda stopped paying me. Uhmm yeah, the kind of work environment turned a bit sour. So I was like you know what I don’t want to care anymore because you’re not treating me the best, so I spoke to a life coach cuz I was just confused about what to do with my life. I knew that I wanted to do Black and White Studios, but I think I was just scared because it’s a massive leap and I was just only 22 or 23 at that time. There’s a lot at risks. And me and my partner we’re in a point we’re trying to think about an exceptional life.
If I take this leap, there’s potentially no money and all the stuff who knows what happens. But he just said to me: “Look, do you really want to do this?" And I said yes. He asked what my idea would look like. And I described Black and White Studios and what I was doing there. And he said what would you do if this doesn’t work? Well I said, I’ll try find another job and go out and try find more clients. He said, well exactly. All you can do is try. Then you’d know if it’s going to work or not. If I’d it like or not. If you’re good at it or not. And kind of grow out all of these self-limiting beliefs that I was believing and stressing about or whatever. So I launched into Black and White Studios full-time in October of last year when I quit my job.
Oh wow! That’s so recent then?
Yeah it’s pretty new! I mean, Black and White Studios has existed longer than that; but full time it’s been October last year. So people always say when you’re gonna go full-time you should have like six-month-worth of salary saved up. And because of my job situation, I was actually in like a thousands of dollars of debt. So I was in the opposite position and really the worst position to launch into a full-time freelance work. But I thought I have to try this now, before I will have responsibilities of children, mortgages, or pets to look after. It’s kind of just me and my partner so I kinda have this opportunity to try it out. It’s definitely been challenging but I am so happy that I have made this decision—like beyond happy. *laughs together*
You’re doing great! Do you have a team that works with you? Or is it just you for now?
It’s just me for now. I’m definitely open to turning it into sort of an agency style thing or still me sort of doing the design. For now, it’s a one woman team.
But you’re doing it with so much grace—which is awesome! Just like me stalking you on instagram and your website and I’m just like “dang this girl knows what she’s doing with her life!”
That’s awesome to hear! I’m glad it appears that way! I really don’t know what I’m doing! *laughter*
I’m pretty sure it’s there in the hindsight, but yeah you’re doing great! *laughter* So how has your journey with Black and White Studios helped you grow and your faith? Was there a verse of scripture that you held on to?
Yeah, definitely! My favourite scripture of all time is kind of a cheesy one but it is Romans 8:28, which is such a classic - Lord works together for the good of those who love Him. And to me, the key part of that is He works all things for good. It kind of annoys me, like the scripture, because I get frustrated at my life, or confused, or sad or whatever about what’s going on—but the scripture says all things. It doesn’t say some things, or those things over there but not those things, or the big things, but not the little things, or the little things, but not the big things. It says all things, so I was like: “God, what about this? He said: no, no, no, I said all things. I don’t think you get it! I said all things will be good.
Anything I do go through, I just remind myself that you know what, no matter what’s going on right now, all things are gonna work out for good. So that’s been a massive scripture for me my whole life really with starting uni and moving out of home. There were a lot of things that were scary especially when starting a business at such a young age, and still is every single day. But the only thing that can keep it okay is that God is there and God is in it.
And I know so deep down in my soul that I’m called to be a creator. I’m called to bring positivity, love and grace and impact the people around me through creativity and that's how I’m gonna live my life. And so, if I’m not doing that then I’m not living out my calling. And so yeah, God and my faith has been crazy important to this whole journey, and realising you know that creativity is my calling.
I didn’t know that when I was little, but obviously now I know that God is the ultimate creative and He’s called me to be particularly creative, because I believe everyone is. But He’s called me to be particularly creative, it means that it’s for His purpose so uhmm I have to do my part and do it. It’s such a great gift so I can’t just ignore it.
It is though! I like how you said that God is the ultimate creative, because I always think that people's creation is God imparting his creativity to them, and gives them freedom to roll with it. It’s such a great privilege and responsibility at the same time.
Yeah I heard recently and I can’t remember for the life of me where I heard it; but man, it struck a chord on me that God made the universe and everything in it, but He also gave us the privilege and opportunity to create within those things. So God created trees, for example, but we created chairs and tables and papers. And you know all those things from the tools and the materials He gifted us and He created.
So I think, it’s pretty cool that He called us to be creative and to take what He has given us turned into something beautiful and practical and you know potentially world changing. So yeah, that’s how I read it!
I love that! Just like what you said about everyone is called to be creative and has creativity in them. So it doesn’t matter what you’re kind of gifting is, it’s still something creative and you’re making something out of what’s already surrounding you. And that’s really awesome!
Yeah totally! You might not be a painter, or a drawer, or designer or whatever, but you can be creative in your decision making. Or the way that you love your family, or like you know, the way that you speak. You know, there’s so many ways that you can be creative. *laughter*
Totally agree! I’m just going to keep reminding myself that!
So the next question is: for any aspiring typographers and designers out there, what are your top 3 pieces of advice to them—who wish they also had their own studios and/or had their start up business and things like that?
1. Just go for it! I think now more than ever, it’s possible to achieve whatever dream you have. We have so much incredible resources and access to so many amazing teachers and support leaders and just incredible people from the internet and around us. So if you want to be a typographer or you want to be a designer or you want to start your own business , just go online! Like there are courses you could take, you don’t have to necessarily go to uni, or take a massive course. You can go online and then watch a youtube course on hand lettering for example, and you can become amazing just from that!
2. Learn a lot about yourself. I think learning about who I am, and what I enjoy and the work environment that I like and what works for me and what doesn’t has been instrumental and guiding my path and making sure that I’m happy where I am, because there is certain work environment or certain types of designs or types of activities or things that drain me and don’t fulfil me. Doing those kind of personality tests like Myers Briggs where I found out that I’m IMSJ, and where I found out my strengths and could help you understand like why you are like you are and why you enjoy certain things and why you don’t.
I’m a huge introvert so I hate parties, and some people are like “woah! why do you hate parties?!” And for a while, I felt bad that I do; but from understanding why I don’t like them and know what makes me not like them, I’m potentially fine that I don’t party. I’m just different from everybody else and that’s okay. Now I understand a lot more who I am and why that makes me cool. It helps me a lot with running my business and making career decisions; because I know that I’m not gonna go take a job for certain reasons because it doesn’t fit with who I am, what makes me happy and what fulfils my creativity.
3. Just have fun! If creativity is something you want to do, like being a designer or typographer or if you have a business that’s creative too, just enjoy it! And I’m kind of preaching to myself, to be honest, because like I said I find it difficult to enjoy right now and focus on what amazing opportunities I have. But you know, being creative these days is such an honour and a privilege. Like years and years ago, it’ll be hard to quit your job and be an artist! I think we’re so blessed to live now and have all those opportunities and be free to follow our dreams and our destiny to the things we want to do. So yeah, have fun, be creative!
That’s awesome! It’s so good how knowing yourself is really important into driving what you want, or driving your purpose or calling in life. Because if you don’t know who you are, you'll just be like “I want her calling” and be like everybody else.
Yeah totally! *laughter* But actually I don’t want to work in a large studio, because I don’t want to be surrounded by that many people. *laughter* I actually prefer working by myself, and that’s totally fine!
Oooh interesting! I'm getting to know you a lot more!
I believe that we are all works in progress. What does it mean to be a work in progress to you?
I think of myself as a perpetual learner, a perpetual student. I love being at school. In high school and uni, I never wanted it to end. So for me, my kind of philosophy is that you should just keep learning forever because you can never know everything. I think if you think that you know everything, you actually kind of know nothing; because there’s a whole much to learn in life and even if you’re a huge expert or something, there’s always something that you can learn that pushes you and teaches something new.
And I think being open to learning and maybe being wrong and trying new things and seeing things in different perspectives is one of the best things that you can do. And so to me, being a work in progress means that I will forever be learning. I don’t ever want to stop learning. I want to keep growing and developing and changing and becoming the best version that I can be in all aspects of my life. We can be better. So yeah, keep learning! *laughter*
Yeah, I love that one! That’s really awesome. This is a paraphrase from something I heard from someone, but I always keep in my heart that if you stop learning, you are figuratively dead. Learning is huge part of life, and if you don't learn even the little things or adapt to change, it just doesn't seem like living, if that makes sense.
Yeah totally, I’m so with you. You just stop moving, if you don’t learn. Like stuck and stagnant.
Yeah, I don’t understand sometimes when people are just like NO or be stubborn. But in all honesty, I’m sometimes stubborn too, so I’m preaching to myself here! *laughter*
I think we all are! *laughter*
The other thing that we want to practice here at HER is self-celebration. What is the importance of celebrating our progresses in life or different pursuits, and how do you celebrate you?
I’m pretty sure that it’s scientifically backed up, that gratitude is linked to happiness and joy in our lives, so its super important that we regularly take moments to appreciate our wins and celebrate our progress. As I think I already mentioned, one of my strengths is as a futurist which, while is beneficial in many ways, makes it really difficult for me to enjoy what is happening now, be present and celebrate the moment. This means that I have to be really intentional with gratitude so that I don’t forget how lucky I am or let my wins pass me by. I try to do highs and lows at the end of each week, as well as a monthly review of my business so that I keep on top of things, and it really helps me to see the bigger picture and realise that I’m actually doing a great job and making great work, even if the week hasn’t necessarily always felt that way!
I celebrate me by being aware of and noting down the progress that I’m making, maybe sharing those wins with my people and allowing myself to enjoy the moment before futurist Hollie comes back!!
So we have reached the end of our interview. Where to from here? Do you have any personal or business goals on the works? I saw in your Instagram that you are doing a workshop, is that right?
Yeah I do have a workshop coming up, I think; but I haven’t quite secured the details yet. But yeah, I’m like looking to do a lot of workshops and an exhibition would be cool! My focus at the moment is Black and White Studios and building that and seeing where it takes me. Yeah not 100% sure where it’s gonna go, but I’m just gonna put my heart and soul into it. So yeah, just cranking along and trying to work more on my clients’ projects so that I can bring out more those visions and people to come to life. The more of that, the better!
That’s so awesome! If you have any workshop and things like that, let us know so we could jump in and say hi and have all the women behind HER follow you as well.
Yeah, of course! I would love that! I would love to see everybody there.
And I will for sure be there, because I want to know how to do typography!
Yeah I usually do hand-lettering workshops, but I’m trying to branch out into doing some branding workshops, and some typography ones. Watch this space, I guess! *laughter*
Yes! Totally will! By the sounds of it, even though Black and White Studios has been there for a long time, it’s still in its infancy stage, and there’s so much more you can do with it and I’m so excited to be a part of it even a little bit. Exciting times ahead of you! *laughter*
Thank you! Me too, I’m so excited to see what happens! *laughter*
I would like to thank hollie for being so game and fun during the whole interview, and sharing her journey with us. I am really excited to see what the future holds for Hollie and Black and white studios. I hope you were encouraged as I was and just want to keep living in the faith zone like Hollie.
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