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Meet Valerie Thompson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Valerie Thompson.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I came to be a self-employed designer and photographer in a roundabout kind of way. I grew up in Australia and spent a lot of my time outdoors, so I always dreamed about something more than a desk job. Being primarily right-brained, I was also drawn to creative work but I always believed I would never be able to make a sustainable profit doing what truly fulfilled me. When I came to college in the U.S., I pursued a double degree in journalism and fine art. I dropped the art degree to a minor in order to graduate on time. It didn’t take me long to realize a career as a beat journalist wasn’t for me, although I’ve kept my love of literary and long-form journalism. I filled up the remainder of my art minor hours with photography courses and convinced my professors I was cut out for a rigorous MFA program with a specialization in fine art photography.

During my two years as a grad student in San Francisco, I started taking online courses in graphic design alongside my master’s coursework, and that is when I started seriously considering the idea of a creative career that pays the bills. Design very much moved from my periphery into my main field of vision, and I’m glad that I paid attention to it. Someone once told me that it’s the things we do on the side while we’re putting off what we’re supposed to be doing that are the most important.

Back in Dallas, after working as an intern and then lead designer at a music venue for about a year, I landed my dream job for three short months as a contract designer at a small studio downtown. While working full-time for the year and a bit I had been out of grad school, I spent my spare time and lunch breaks building my photography business with the hope that I’d one day be able to go full-time as a freelancer both in design and photography. When the opportunity presented itself earlier this year, I jumped ship and started my dream of working for myself a little early. Now that I’m here, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else.

Please tell us about your art.
I’m a designer and photographer. As a designer, I prefer to work on brand identity – particularly for other creatives – and illustration-heavy projects, and as a photographer I shoot weddings and couples mostly. I think both as a designer and a photographer my work is rooted in storytelling.

When I photograph a couple on their wedding day, I’m telling their love story. I’m interested most in the quiet moments surrounding the formalities of the marriage – the un-posed moments filled with emotion and truth – rather than stylized and forced poses taken from Pinterest or magazines. In a lot of ways, I think my approach to wedding photography stems from my journalist roots. Photographs can help you remember the comically dated style of the wedding gown or the decor, but to me it means nothing if your photographs can’t show you how it felt.

As a designer, being able to craft a visual story around a brand or an individual brings me the most fulfillment. I’m working on a brand identity for another photographer right now and it has to be one of my favorite projects because photographers are their brand.

Do you have any advice for other artists? Any lessons you wished you learned earlier?
So many lessons I wish I’d learned earlier! A big one is actually to learn from each other. I think in my industry there can be a lot of competition, and sometimes it feels like we’re all after the same damn clients. But that also means we’re all reaching for the same goals, and we can help each other get there without diminishing our own success. I’ve found immense support from the online communities I’m a part of, and I’ve made several photographer friends on Instagram and Facebook first, before meeting them in real life. Learning from these communities has meant having to humble myself a lot. I don’t know everything and as much as my stubborn personality tries to stop me, I’m usually better off asking someone who has been there before me. The world won’t implode if you tell people you’re new to something and you need help (took me a while to learn this). It’s honestly amazing what you can accomplish with creative allies.

The other piece of advice I have is more on the business end: people will ask you to work for free. Your friends, your family, people you know from school or work – that is just part of being a creative. Know your worth. Invest in your worth. Keep yourself accountable to maintaining your worth. And charge for your worth, no settling.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Picture of me was taken by Laken Mackenzie Photography.

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