Crafting Courage: A Conversation with Designer Jess Vandenberg

(Above photo: Jess and her wife, Haley Greenwell)

Tell me a little about yourself and your entrée into graphic design.

My name is Jess Vandenberg, and I use she/they pronouns. I’m a Gemini, an introvert, and an Enneagram 6. When I was younger, I’d draw Pokémon comics and design shirts I wish I had. As I got older, I decided to try and pursue art as a career. I have been doing graphic design for over a decade and freelancing full-time for over 7 years now. I’ve always been drawn to creating, and design has let me combine my creativity with the more logical/organized part of my brain. I like organizing information in a crisp, aesthetically pleasing way.

You have worked A LOT with local business, corporations, and nonprofits in and around Memphis. Can you talk a little bit about those and why it’s important to you to work, live, and play in Memphis?

Ideally, I hope everyone would want their community to be uplifted. Memphis has been my home for over ten years now and I have a love for the city and the people. I’ve been really fortunate that 99% of my work has been through word of mouth, which I consider to be the highest compliment. Referrals link me from one great organization to another, so I’ve had opportunities to work with multiple local organizations that are invested in empowering Memphians (MLK50, Indie Memphis, Knowledge Quest, etc). I also collaborate with a community & public relations firm Power Solutions, and that has allowed me to work with organizations like More for Memphis, First 8 Memphis, and Literacy Mid-South, which has been really awesome. I hope that by offering my design services, it will help local businesses & nonprofits grow, and they’ll be able to help even more people in the community. Plus, it’s really fun to see my stuff out in the wild. 🙂

What natural wonders inspire you and why?

I was born near Charleston, SC, so I’ve always had a really special connection with the ocean. I feel most at peace when I’m near a beach. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been drawn to canyons and deserts, cacti, and western floral. I think I like how big those kinds of spaces are; there’s always more to see and discover. I think they both have almost opposite vibes (the ocean & western canyons), and I’ve also always been drawn to opposites.

Do you have inspirations from non-graphic designers?

I get a lot of my inspiration from pop culture honestly. I loooove to watch TV & movies, and I get a lot of inspiration from that & playing video games. My wife is definitely a source of inspiration too; we always have a lot of fun. She’s really goofy but also has a great eye and helps suggest solutions or gives me feedback on what I’m working on. I also really love pop music and get inspo from people like Carly Rae Jepsen or Kacey Musgraves.

Can you share more about your shift to freelance and advice for others in your field?

I began freelancing in the summer of 2015 after graduating from Memphis College of Art (RIP!) and completing an internship at International Paper. That summer I was an intern at Harvest Creative from 9 to 5, and I did my freelance work from 7pm-2am. I had a super great mentor Andrew Lebowitz who took me under his wing and taught me the dos and don’ts of freelancing. I found that I really enjoyed working on my own client work simply because of the freedom in creativity and more personal investment in the end- product. My student loan repayments weren’t due for a couple more months, so at the end of my summer internship, I decided to take the risk of freelancing full- time. I had tried corporate life, I had tried agency life, and just thought it would be the perfect time to try working for myself. I’m really introverted, but also very driven and organized person. I’ve been doing it for over seven years now and I love it; I wouldn’t change it for the world. My advice to others is to try to test the waters a little before jumping in the deep end if you can! You don’t want to put yourself in a bad position financially by jumping right in without any kind of plan. Stay organized as much as possible and stick to your word. Do good work and be kind (because it’s the right thing to do, but also because you never know what opportunities may come your way from a good referral). Always look to learn. It’ll be a lot of hard work, but it can really be worth it. That being said, it isn’t for everyone, and that is totally okay!

What are some dream projects you’d like to create from scratch or collaborate on?

A huge dream project of mine has been to have my own shop of cute things that make people smile. I started that in April and that’s been my main dream project for a really long time. I just feel like I’ve recently been able to put more time into that. I also have a dream project for maybe making stamp designs for USPS one day. Finally, I’d love to design something really big one day, like an interior mural. I’ve painted murals in my own home, but I’d love to design one for a big space for a client who likes my style.

Check out their website at
Follow on Instagram and Twitter @ JVandyink