Erin Donati aka Harley Quinn & Co. always daydreamed about becoming a designer. In 2014, she juggled part-time study at #shillosyd with a full-time marketing role to help make her day dream come true. Fast forward to today, and Erin’s taking the Instagram world by storm, selling out prints in her online shop, and being approached by big brands like LeSpecs for collaborations.
Today on the blog we hear about how Shillington helped launched her creative venture and show off some of her gorgeous work.
It looks like your venture Harley Quinn & Co. has absolutely blown up during the past year!
I’ve always loved handwriting and lettering so I started Harley Quinn & Co. last year as a little way to share my scribbles. I just really love the simplicity and uniqueness of handwriting—the beauty of it is that everyone’s writing is their own—each letter and word is unique. My Instagram just started as me posting bits and pieces here and there—I just saw it as a nice little side project for me to practice my lettering. Soon after I started, people were asking me if I sold prints, or if I did custom work, so I set HQ&Co. up as a business, started taking on orders and freelance jobs and it all just kind of started from there.
My first collaboration was with LeSpecs. They approached me to do some custom typography for them which was released through their social channels over summer last year. And in March this year I released my first collection of limited edition prints through my online shop, which have since sold out! It has been crazy how quickly it’s grown, particularly my little Instagram account. I’ve found that Instagram has such a lovely design community, it’s really encouraging.
What were you up to before Shillington?
I was working full time in Marketing, planning my wedding, and spending a lot of time daydreaming about becoming a designer. I had always been interested in the creative side of my job, and learning graphic design had been sitting on my bucket list for a while, even if it did only ever eventuate into a hobby. What made me finally decide to enrol was the fact that Shillington offered a part time course, so I could continue to work full time. I think because I had put it off for so long, and I just got to the point where I thought now would be as good a time as any. There’s that saying—in a year’s time you’ll wish you started today, so I made an appointment to have a look at the Sydney campus where I was shown some past student’s portfolios and I just thought yep, I really want to do this!
Did you have any previous design experience?
Before Shillington I had no hands-on design experience. Though I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve always worked in creative industries, having worked in marketing for radio, fashion and television. So I was lucky to have had some great exposure to the creative process in my various roles over the years. But as far as experience with the design programs and hands-on design experience—I had nothing! The course really taught me everything from design theory and conceptualisation to technical skills.
I did a lot of research into design schools when I had finally made the decision to study.
What really set Shillington apart for me was the course structure. The option of studying for 9 months part time was perfect for me—it meant I could continue working while I studied.
And 9 months seemed like a manageable amount of time to juggle everything!
To be honest it was really chaotic! I look back on those 9 months now and I can’t believe what I accomplished in that time. On top of working, studying at Shillington and starting Harley Quinn & Co., I also got married in October and may have slightly overcommitted to the amount of DIY I put into the day—hand folding over 1000 paper cranes to string up as a photobooth backdrop? Sure, I’ve got time for that! (It was worth it, they looked amazing!) When we finished the course I really enjoyed a few weekend sleep-ins!
How has your life changed after Shillington?
I am still working in Marketing, but I now have HQ&Co. on the side, which is ideal for me at the moment. It means I am able to design on a freelance basis and I get to pick and choose the jobs I want to work on!
What do you love about being a designer?
I really love seeing my work out there in the world! I love a creative challenge, and the feeling you get when a client is really happy with something you’ve produced for them. The diversity is also great, no two jobs are the same. There’s always something new to learn.
I’ve always been obsessed with Rachel Castle’s work—Castle & Things. I absolutely love her playful art and her use of colour and texture. I love Jessica Walsh’s #jessicawalshhasnofilter series—and all of her work really. I stalk her quite regularly on Instagram. If you don’t follow her yet, you definitely should! I’m also a big fan of interesting and colourful street/graffiti art. I have so many photos of walls in different colours and patterns. I’m waiting patiently for my husband to let me paint one of the walls of our house a crazy colour or pattern.
What would you say to someone who is sceptical about the Shillington course?
Don’t be! It is a great opportunity to learn from current industry professionals in a really creative environment. I actually miss having school every Monday and Tuesday night. Just looking at some of the Shillington Alumni and the amazing things they’ve done speaks for itself.
Also from my experience I can also say that the quality of work that came out of my class was amazing. I think because everyone who was there wanted to be there, you could tell everyone had passion. At the end of the day it’s up to the individual and what they want to do with the course.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be?
Don’t be too hard on yourself or compare yourself to others—comparison is the thief of joy.
Don’t throw any ideas out—there will be work that you might think is rubbish at the time, but if you will revisit it in a few months’ time you might find a new appreciation for it! Take it seriously but also take time to enjoy it.