Photograph by Rylee HitchnerThis post is a public apology, a heeded warning, sage advice and a gripe all rolled up into one.  Now that I am pregnant I have decided to become an extreme multi-tasker, it’s not working out as well as planned.  First, let me publicly and humbly apologize to the uber talented Rylee Hitchner and Pearl & Godiva.  A couple weeks back I got an email from Pearl that she wanted me to do some lettering for a Rylee Hitchner shoot, it was all the stationery for a mock wedding, all I heard was “Rylee Hitchner shoot.”  I adore this girl, her talent is in spades and Pearl’s work is amazing as well.  Let’s step back a couple steps here, a couple weeks ago I had just stopped being fed through a tube and was just sitting up again, yes, I am getting better but no, I am not even close to being back on track. There is something well known in the world of both impending motherhood and motherhood it is called ‘pregnancy brain’ wherein you don’t think as clearly and in my case not at all. Did I mention I was just getting back to sitting upright?  Two weeks would not be enough time if I was 100%, it would be impossible in my current condition, plus the project had to be shipped overseas and to not incur exorbitant fee’s would need to be sent at least a week+ in advanced.  Let me also mention some other fun facts my ‘p’ brain was not considering A) I hadn’t been lettering at all for at least the last 6 months B) I am just learning to string words together with my lettering C) I don’t do wedding work or lettering in my business which makes a spec (gratis) project foolish for me, but all I could think of was ‘Rylee Hitchner’.  I was in essence a bit star struck.  If I was in my right mind I would have politely declined, but since my brain has been replaced with this new fangled non-rational one I said “sure!”  I think you might be seeing what a disaster in the making this is, no?  I missed my overnight deadline as I thought I had an extra day (see pregnancy brain), then we decided the morning of deadline I would send my work digitally and they would print there. Mind you as mentioned I am still not 100% and maybe it was also stress induced but I started getting sick again a couple days ago, the day of the rushed project my fingers had become sausage size (it’s called edema), I could not bend them to hold my pen holder and nib. From sitting down too long my ankles and feet swelled to disproportionate sizing (hamhocks come to mind). With only a few precious hours to work with I went to plan B a gorgeous font by my friends at Magpie Paperworks. I already knew this was a disaster but I still wanted to come through with something. I sent digital comps in the morning (comps are visual renditions of what you are presenting to the client) to make sure I was headed in the right direction, my heart raced, I was sweating, my fingers were numb. Hours ticked by, I begged for feedback on the comps so I could adjust accordingly, I did not hear back I kept working in between being sick. Alas, I threw up the white flag of surrender after hours of working and not getting feedback–I had to give up.  I sent the comps again + all the original files and got a-“Sorry, we are not going to use these”. Not only was I sick and swollen, my ego had been as Pearl likes to use the word, “gutted”.  I crawled into bed, cried my swollen head off (I cry easier these days) and fell asleep for the rest of the day.  Don’t get me wrong, I know this was a mishap of grand proportions, even with my brain not working properly I clearly see my role in this disaster thus my public apology.

Now on to the heeded warnings + sage advice a.k.a how this whole fiasco could have been avoided. Let’s talk spec work (where you work gratis in exchange for potential exposure).  I am all for spec work if it makes sense for your brand and your business.  In my case, where I am at currently I don’t have near future plans to add lettering or wedding work to my offerings (I am not confident enough in my skills) so this was a very foolish (read stupid) move. I took this amazing opportunity away from someone that could have benefited from the experience + exposure and that is my worse regret (again see pregnancy brain and how I am not thinking).

When taking on spec work, you should treat it as if it is a paying client and vice versa on the part of the individual requesting you to do this work for free. I plan to offer a download soon of a checklist on this, but in the interim here are some things I learned in regards to spec lettering projects–Create a timeline for you and your ‘client’, make sure you have a list of all your deliverables and the dates due ie. when will you send initial comps to client? Date when you expect to have feedback from client? How many comps you will be providing on spec before you will ask for a fee (this will eliminate the spec client from taking advantage of you)? Get the exact wording of everything from the client.  I had worked on another spec lettering project a while back that did not come into fruition and the client said I had ‘free reign’ for the wording, so I took the time to come up with the bride and grooms name, dates, etc. When I sent to the spec client they said the names were not ‘X” enough and the shoot was for the summer (where I had put in fall dates).  I had to start over again (lettering, cleaning up artwork, re-formatting files and re-creating comps–hours of work). Most of you that are working on spec jobs it’s because you are trying to build your portfolio and get exposure, which means you probably have a full-time job on top of running a household and being informed that all the work you created which you eeked out precious hours for is now null and void, that’s just not okay. Tell the client you will be happy to work on spec if they provide you all the copy (wording) and of course agree to your timelines.  You will be nervous enough trying to create the most beautiful lettering for the project you should not have to think of what you will be lettering.  You may worry that if you make these demands the client will walk away, this could happen, but more than likely the client will have more respect for you and treat you as a creative equal and realize that you take your craft seriously and are a true professional (unlike someone we know, yes, I am talking about moi). Hindsight is 20/20, looking back I would have not taken this project on, it didn’t make sense for me, but when I did I should have had something in writing so that both myself and my client were accountable.

Expenses?  This is tricky, if you have the budget I would say count this as the money you are spending for your exposure/advertising (the materials and shipping), if you don’t have the extra money (and can’t borrow it or find another way), you can be honest with the client and tell them how badly you want to do this project and that you will do an amazing job but you need assistance with materials or shipping (especially if it is an overnight job overseas). I haven’t worked in nearly six months, have incredibly huge medical bills and my shop has been pretty dead, buying materials and then the potential of over nighting the finished project overseas is an expense I could not afford right now (again, not thinking at all). I hope this little tid bit helps, it’s hard to know what to expect when this is all new to you. When I ran my PR business I would tell my interns and jr. staff ‘all we have are our reputations’, you need to preserve that, think about how you want to be perceived and be authentic to who you are (much easier to be you than someone else).  I like to think of myself as a professional and I take great pride in my work, this little (okay, big) fiasco was not a representation of who I am and my principles–in a word I f’d up, I hope I may have saved you from doing the same.

P.S. This spec advice should also be considered for whatever your medium is–photography, writing, styling, graphic design, etc.

photo by rylee hitchner

Author / Miss Tristan B

Miss Tristan B. is the proprietress of Besotted Brand and the writer of this delightful blog. She recently re-located to sunny Seattle with her handsome husband and two pups, they are expecting a baby girl in December. Her lofty goal here is to make this a creative resource repository and to inspire you to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with your life.


  1. * hugs * oh my miss B, thanks for sharing this. no doubt you pour your heart into everything you do… it really pulled at my heart when i read “all the work you created which you eeked out precious hours for is now null and void” — certainly resonate with that. thank you for sharing this (painfully earned) wisdom with all of us, you are an inspiration to take everything as a learning experience ! x

    1. Thank you Karm, I hope that it comes off more as a ‘good to know’ and not a whiny brat! I acknowledge my role in this scenario but I also know now what I would have done differently and hope that I can help others avoid my pitfalls so they have a smoother outcome:)

  2. I think you are being waaaaay too hard on yourself! Who knows, they could have asked three people to submit and yours just wasn’t the one they used. I do sympathise – I once did an entire book of little illustrations for a stupidly small sum. It was a real learning curve that one! You have had a terrible couple of months so you should remember you are amazing for getting through that and don’t be too hard on yourself for the other stuff. Big hugs… Xx

    1. I hadn’t thought of that Rach and that would probably be a smarter move on their part, lol. A pair and a spare;) It is hard starting out, trying to get exposure and excited by the opportunities that may come by. I think the advice of treating it like a real job will keep things a lot more smooth and hopefully prevent other creatives from learning the hard way! Yes, I have to remember that I can’t just dive in head first these days, it’s so much a part of my personality to just get things done, but I have to be careful with my precious health, because it is still precarious (and my hands and feet are SO scary right now, gah!!!) Thank you for your kind words and empathy, may we be a good example of what not to do!

  3. Reading this, I feel serious pain for you. To get that very final email must have been an awful moment. I cannot but applaud your ability to move forward, however, which is as it should be. Your work, talent, and character are in no way lessened by this mishap (one would assume they will in fact be strengthened from it), as I am sure you know. Obviously that does not ease the agony of the moment but I hope it will pass for you quickly and that a new and feasible project will come along for you soon!

    1. Thank you Paige, I am afraid on the other side of the world I may not be perceived as competent as I would like, lol. I also have to remember even though I didn’t treat my work as a business, they ARE a business and their show must go on, they had to do what was best for them. If I did treat the project more like I would a ‘real’ client, then I think things may have gone a bit differently and also that little thing of being in my right mind and perhaps knowing this wasn’t feasible and saying ‘no, thank you’ would have helped as well;)

  4. I have the deepest sympathy for you! It ends up feeling like you just want to crawl into a hole and hope that someday you can remember it with much less bitterness towards yourself. On the bright side, hurrah for your strength to share this with your readers. You’re a braver woman than I. And perhaps you can get some solace from what seems like a very supportive and giving group of readers you have cultivated. :)

    1. Thank you Katie, again I don’t want to sound like Debbie Downer, I probably would cry if you said ‘hello’ to me at this point in my pregnancy, lol. I hope I did a better job of shining a light on something that I think is an important part of building your brand + portfolio and that is associating yourself in great company, you don’t get much better than Riley + Pearl, they are A+++, top of their game players and I think spec work can be very beneficial, but again it should make sense for what you are trying to achieve and the type of clients you want to attract (and right now wedding is not on my list, because I honestly don’t feel like I am there yet, not being humble but honest). I always seem to learn things the hard way and I am happy to help anyone reading avoid making the same mistakes;)

  5. I admire you for writing this blog post. Most people don’t publicly admit to their shortcoming. We have all made poor decisions time and again, but I’ve always thought the true test of character is revealed when people acknowledge when they’ve done something wrong. In fact, wouldn’t have even blamed you not for posting this at all. I mean none of us would have known the difference on if you “failed” or succeeded. But the fact that you did, is very humble. I very much enjoy reading your blog and was so sad when I read about what a hard pregnancy you are having. I am glad your health is improving and I wish you and your baby a very healthy delivery!

    1. Nakesha, I try hard to draw that fine line of being transparent here but also motivating. I think if you don’t fail at least a couple times you aren’t trying, lol. I love this Emerson quote:

      “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

      Ralph Waldo Emerson

  6. Hey, it definitely does come off as “good to know”, and not at all whiny brat!! I’ll just echo what the first commenter said: it’s pretty obvious you love what you do and put your heart into it. I’m sorry the P brain backed you in to a corner, but mille mercis for sharing it all with such honesty and aplomb! Shit happens. At least it’s good copy! ;) Best regards and I hope you’re feeling better! (Off to do a little spec work now, myself. This is timely!)

  7. I agree with a previous commenter – you’re being way too hard on your self. You went above and beyond, pouring yourself into that project – it’s a shame it didn’t work out, but hey, you never know what positive thing could come out of this whole experience. Thanks for sharing so openly with us! xo.

  8. Be kind to yourself. We all misstep at times. While I know nothing of spec work, and only dream of having your lettering skills, I do know a few things about pregnancy. Those hormones play games with our emotions. They will straighten out in time. Tears were never far from the surface for me while pregnant. Take heart, there is a beautiful baby on board!

    1. Yes, Kathy I am trying to just focus on being a happy + healthy mom-to-be;) It’s the least I can do for her for these last few months.

  9. My initial reaction to your post is to say to you: you don’t have to explain anything to us. This is your blog, your space, you can choose to share whatever you want with us, and this is most certainly not a place where we we should be judging you for the decisions you make!

    But I also want to say how incredible it was of you to be so open and honest, and to express real regret in a way that becomes a teaching moment for yourself and for us.

    Thanks for being so good at this whole blogging thing. You inspire me to be more honest and more helpful to my own readers.


    1. Thank you Diane! I think in any relationship when you share a little about yourself (sometimes the not so pretty parts) it makes you a bit closer. I like to share what I have learned and how I got there, even if it’s in a way that is haphazard as this one, lol

  10. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes you just can’t do everything!

    I do want to mention that what you’re talking about is not spec work, but contra or pro bono work. Spec work is specifically doing uncompensated work with the hope of securing a paying job (from the same client). Spec work is a big concern in many creative fields – see http://www.nospec.com/. Pro bono or contra work is free work that you do for charity or a good cause, or in exchange for something other than money (like exposure). Pro bono and contra are great. Spec is not.

    1. Thank you Jen for the clarification, I have never used the terms pro bono or contra for this type of work as my understanding of the terms was very different, I think a lot of my peers use the term spec for this as well, so it’s good to know!

  11. This is a great article! Thanks for sharing your experience:)
    Over the years we’ve collaborated with numerous photographers and planners for shoots both lending product (like dishes) and also invitations and calligraphy ephemera. I think it’s a GREAT idea to treat the person commissioning the items from you like a paying client and ask them for all of the copy for the job. (Lesson we learned pretty recently is to do this upfront so that it’s all in a document and not a HUGE trail of emails where you have to mine it all out). Also, I think that it’s really wise to let the coordinator of the project know exactly how you’d like to be credited for the work (by your business name, personal name, etc.)…this will make a difference when it comes to searches for your business. Overall, I love working with other creatives and I think that some of the opportunities that we’ve gotten have lead to my favorite designs that we’ve done. Even if there is some inspiration and direction, they are generally more flexible than paying clients. Cheers! Bailey

    1. Bailey, this is SUCH great advice, I agree on getting an upfront document so much better than a haphazard email chain, brilliant! And crediting, yes, the reason you are doing this in the first place, thank you for your insight!

  12. live and learn, huh? your honesty and authentic voice is what sets you apart; a feather in ur cap despite the end of the project. persevere.
    i have 3 questioins/comments for you that i hope u can help me with:

    -first, can u please enlighten us as to what the artist’s mean, technically, when they say they ‘digitize’ their calligraphy. how/why, etc. understanding this will close the gap between ink on paper and a published piece.

    -second, when u post ur thoughts, can you please indent, etc. a bit more? it it hard to read ur posts with slim leading, etc. its just a huge paragraph where i lose my place :)

    -third, i have only heard the term ‘spec’ as it refers to speculation. ie, something made to completion w/o another’s input and available as is. if i were to do ‘pro bono’ work, that is free of charge-it has the potential to increase my visibility in the field, and may be done in exchange for credit given to me (on the reproduciton). -perhaps having my name on the back of the greeting card is my ‘payment’ for creating it. or, the work is ‘pro bono’ for the good of the community, etc. ( a poster for a street faire, hospital etc.) Another example of ‘spec work’ would be working in the greeting card arena.

    with gratitude,

    1. Dear Gina:

      See answers below…

      -first, can u please enlighten us as to what the artist’s mean, technically, when they say they ‘digitize’ their calligraphy. how/why, etc. understanding this will close the gap between ink on paper and a published piece.

      It is when you bring your hand lettering (or drawing) into the computer via a scan (usually) and work on cleaning it up in a program such as Photoshop (for use on-line) or Illustrator (which can be vectorized and used for print).

      -second, when u post ur thoughts, can you please indent, etc. a bit more? it it hard to read ur posts with slim leading, etc. its just a huge paragraph where i lose my place :)

      I will consider it, yes.

      -third, i have only heard the term ‘spec’ as it refers to speculation. ie, something made to completion w/o another’s input and available as is. if i were to do ‘pro bono’ work, that is free of charge-it has the potential to increase my visibility in the field, and may be done in exchange for credit given to me (on the reproduciton). -perhaps having my name on the back of the greeting card is my ‘payment’ for creating it. or, the work is ‘pro bono’ for the good of the community, etc. ( a poster for a street faire, hospital etc.) Another example of ‘spec work’ would be working in the greeting card arena.

      Someone left a comment on this in the comments that should explain this much better. This is how I have always referred to it, because that was how I was taught:)

  13. Hi Miss Tristan!!
    I’m late to the game but I’m just now seeing this! Congrats on your pregnancy!
    I just wanted to say, I knoooow this feeling!! Grrr. I definitely need to get better at saying no! Probably one of my biggest weaknesses…. And I know the awful feeling of needing to keep to a commitment after you’re rational brain kicks in and tells you that you should have said no in the first place! We’ve all been there! No fun.

    I also just wanted to offer to photograph anything you are working on after baby is born! I don’t know if that offer is even helpful but I just thought I would offer because I think you’re great!

    Here’s to ‘No!’s forever!! ;)
    (Ps- no worries on the shoot! I didn’t even notice we were missing anything!)

    1. Ah, Rylee you are so ahead of your years and I am sure you will have the ‘no’ down pat and I look forward to the trajectory of your career;) Thank you for your offer I would be honored and thrilled to be able to collaborate one day!

  14. WOW! Thankful for stumbling upon this. I am the world’s worst at saying “no”, even when my rational side is telling me to. It sounds so cheap, but when it comes to exposure and advertising, I will take anything. I often stress myself out, take on too many projects, and even commit to things that I feel I am under qualified for. I set myself up for disaster! Haha. This advice is so greatly appreciated. I have three styled shoots in the works and I so badly want to rebrand myself. I am going to use these shoots as my pallet and then set specific budget for styled shoots and advertising. I also need to start saying NO to projects that don’t fit the brand I want to become.
    Your p brain is nothing in comparison to a “beginners” brain :) And when you doubt yourself, remember you were contacted for a reason. Whether something comes up, illness or not, is sometimes out of our hands. I am a huge fan of Rylee Hitchner so I understand your giddiness to say YES! Sometimes (every once in a while) you have to go for it! xoxo

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