Living as Cortney Wood, Freelance Graphic Designer

Where freelance meets graphic design you’ll get the oh so adorable Cortney Wood. I had the pleasure of chatting with Cortney a while back over coffee and she was sweet enough to answer a few of my questions on her freelance graphic design business, Alvarado Creative Co.

I discovered Cortney through Instagram by the work she did with the Social Studio Shop. I instantly followed her and fell in love with her eye for design.She designs for both businesses and wedding invitation suites for couples. If you catch her on Instagram stories you’ll get to see a lot of the behind the scenes action that goes into bringing her designs to life.

The Part You’re Here For

What or who inspired you to get into graphic design?

Cortney: “I actually got really lucky with how everything evolved for me. I came from San Jose to a community college down here in San Diego after my sister convinced me to save money and trade in a university for community college. I was going to school to get my prerequisites out of the way while I figured out what I wanted to pursue. I love kids and babies, so I spent time nannying in Coronado while I was in school, and I thought that maybe I wanted to study child development or child psychology. The mother of one of the families I was working for happened to be a graphic designer and lifestyle blogger (Mrs. Lilien) who worked from home. There was a point where her workload was growing larger and larger, and she wanted some assistance managing it all. She asked me to stay a little later one day after I put the kids down and presented me with the idea of working with her on managing her social platforms. She knew I was young, had social media and used it, but not to any extent of optimizing it. (this was 4 years ago) It was this new opportunity and to be honest I had no idea what I was doing but she was okay with that and that really helped me. We ended up working together for three years. I went from not knowing anything really to diving deep into the social media world and learning all the ways it can support and bolster a person, company or brand. It definitely gave me the push I needed to recognize that there is a creative world out there for women to do what they want to do and have their own businesses. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. Mrs. Lilien was the encourager behind my decision to pursue design school.

In the last year that I was working for her, I began designing alongside her and we became this duo. We loved what we were doing and had a system down that worked for us. She ended up moving from Coronado to Guam, to Hawaii and her focus shifted to her beautiful family as we parted ways. In that last year, I had started designing things for friends and family like graduation announcements and baby shower invites. So I would say that’s what helped really get me started. I had a job in the area of what I was pursuing and was able to ease myself into freelancing rather than just jumping right in.”

Where do you get inspiration from your designs? And what’s some of your process from beginning to end?

Cortney: “For both business and wedding suite clients, I either meet with up at a local coffee shop or or we just keep contact through email or phone, it really depends on the client’s preference. If we’re on a phone call, talking about what they’re wanting or looking for, I’ll write down keywords that I hear them repeating. I then take those words to and create a huge word map. When I’m working on building a logo or brand for a business, a huge majority of my inspiration comes from taking keywords and really building on them.

For wedding clients, I follow a similar process but with their love story…focusing primarily on how they met or got engaged and the words they choose to describe one another.

I try to stay away from Pinterest in the beginning stages because the inspiration is seemingly endless. There are so many incredible designers out there and of course, you want to design something just as pretty as them, but you can really lose yourself and totally skew your process from the beginning. There is totally a time and place to get on Pinterest, but in my experience, translating those initial raw feelings and emotions from the start of my process is the most crucial part of the process.

You see something on Pinterest and you validate its worth based on whether or not it’s been repinned thousands of times. That’s where you can get into murky waters…are you doing something that feels right even if it’s totally different or are you playing it safe? Something I’ve learned is that if you created something from beginning to end, it can really hit hard when someone doesn’t like it. But, on the other hand if they completely love it, you feel so much better knowing that it was you…your talents, your decisions and your creativity from start to finish.

For wedding clients, my creative process almost always begins at the beach. When you are in your working space (especially at home!) there can be a lot of distractions. For me, escaping to the sand to read through the stories of how my couples met, their engagement, etc. really allows me to connect with them on a deeper level. I then sketch out a slew of potential suites that same day when everything is fresh in my mind and in my heart.”

Since you do both commercial graphic designs and wedding suites, do you have a preference between the two?

Cortney: “I wouldn’t say that I have a preference. They are both very creative but I feel like they use such different parts of my brain. I have to get in completely different headspaces when designing strategic marketing material for a business vs. creating magical paper goods for a couple in love. Generally, I would say that my work is 70% business clients and 30% wedding suite. For my wedding clients, there is a process that I go through but I try to make it less of a business exchange and more of a friendship. I totally text my clients, share GIFs, links to bridesmaid gowns, etc etc. I just have far more leniency of structure and boundaries with my couples than I do with my business clients.  Working with businesses can provide a really great long-term potential. Overtime, I can become their go-to graphics gal and evolve with them for months or years.”

Business card design by Cortney

Wedding suite designed by Cortney

What drives you to keep practicing your skill?

Cortney: “I really enjoy watching people evolve and love the surprise that comes along with developing your skill set. I like the excitement that progression brings, no matter how small. For instance, I’m adding gold leafing to the wedding suite that I’m working on right now and that’s something I’ve never done before!

What also drives me to continue to develop my skill set is that I don’t necessarily feel that what I’m doing at this moment is what I’ll be doing forever. I’m young and I really look at where I’m at right now as a beginning stage for me. I feel like my career has the potential to evolve into something far different. And as much as I want to perfect certain skills, I really just allow life to lead me to different areas.

I also anticipate and look forward to being a mother one day and am driven by the hope that I can participate in supporting my family financially. It was something I saw in Mrs. Lilien that I found so inspiring and motivating. Motherhood isn’t THAT strong on my mind right now, *laughs* but it is certainly something I think about when assessing my business plan.

Last thing! I’ve had people who have supported and followed my freelance journey from the very beginning, friends from all timeframes of my life (childhood, high school, college). I like to surprise them and share my experiences with them. There’s something really exciting and inspiring when people are excited and inspired by you.

What do you like most about your job?

Cortney: “As a freelancer, I really love being able to make my own schedule and choose who I wanna work. I’m doing something that I’m supposed to be doing and know that I have control of my success and my failures. I can be really hard on myself and I think that being a freelancer has really been a learning lesson to take failure as something that can help me as a graphic designer.”


What tips or advice would you give to someone wanting to freelance?

Cortney: “I was never really in the corporate world before I freelanced so I can’t rightfully give a comparison between the two. In school, I was the black sheep. Everyone was excited about working for these huge ad agencies and becoming creative directors. For me, I wasn’t ever excited about the same things. A lot of times people who are meant to freelance will feel a pull in that direction. My best advice is don’t ignore that! Freelancing is a huge lifestyle shift. You really have to work on yourself as a human being because you are wearing so many hats. There are days where you will be frustrated and you have to embrace that and recognize that you are dealing with a lot. Embrace the frustrations, feel sorry for yourself and take the day off to regroup. Don’t contact people on your day off, allow that to be your mental health day. Even if it sets you back a day, you likely won’t regret it.”

Stay up to date and catch the latest sneak peaks of Cortney’s work by giving her a follow on Instagram!