Life on the other side:
Beck Feiner’s ‘Aussie Legends Alphabet’ was an Instagram hit before becoming a poster and then children’s book published by Harper Collins. She now has three more books on the way, and talks to us about how rejection helped shape her career.
Can you talk to us about your journey so far?
I was a graphic designer for seven years before becoming an advertising art director (at The Monkeys). I left there to produce my two most rewarding creations: Levi and Esme, now aged 2 and 5. Fast forward to today, and I’m an illustrator and children’s book author.
I’ll tell you how that happened. Shortly after the birth of my second child I decided to focus on illustration full time and created the Aussie Legends Alphabet which exists as a poster, flash cards and a book published by Harper Collins. In this illustrated alphabet, each letter is creatively morphed into a prominent, iconic Aussie, to help young Australians understand the diverse mix of people who make our nation so amazing.
My first book was published in September last year, and I have 3 more kids’ books coming out with Harper Collins. My husband, Robin Feiner, is co-writing them with me and the next one is coming out in June. I can’t say what it is yet but it’s totally different from the Alphabet book which is exciting.
What sort of role did rejection play in your decision to become an illustrator and children’s author?
After having children, I struggled with the advertising work/kid balance—I couldn't do all those late night pitches anymore. I loved advertising by my family needed me and I wanted to see my kids at the end of the day.
I guess I did feel rejected from that type of work model and I lost my career self-identity that I’d loved before I had kids.
I had always wanted to become an illustrator/author but never really has the guts to do it. I guess I was scared of rejection. But after giving birth (which is pretty traumatic!) I got a new perspective, and thought—F*CK IT—what have I got to lose? Life is too short for me to be scared of pursuing my real ambitions. So I opened a new Instagram account and started to show my work; then new illustration ideas also started to flow. Starting is the hardest part. I became less and less precious as time went on, and kept the momentum up.
How do you come up with your ideas?
The Aussie Legends Alphabet came to me when I wanted to teach my son the alphabet but found everything out there pretty boring. I decided to illustrate each letter as an Aussie Legend that could inspire him to learn his ABC and at the same time learn about an incredible and diverse range of diverse incredible people who have made Australia amazing.
However I knew it was a lot of hard work so I set myself a plan to upload one letter to Instagram every night until I had a poster and it just grew from there. The result was very positive and I knew I was onto a good thing.
You’re a mum as well as multi-faceted career woman. Did your experience of motherhood play into your decision to do your own thing?
Being unable to work the sort of hours demanded in an advertising job meant I needed a career where I could work the hours I wanted to. But I hate the whole “Mumtrepreneur” label, it’s a bit condescending. I always had ideas, it’s just that going out on my own gave me the chance to make these ideas happen. I feel like we’ll have true equality when the word “Dadtrepreneur” takes off!
Plus motherhood actually made me more confident to do my own thing. I really thought it was now or never to try something new.
I think working by myself and not for a company has allowed me to take more risks. I am not as scared of what other people think.
The benefit of being my own boss is I don’t have clients to tell me whether I can or can’t make my ideas. But there is a downside—it can get lonely, and I’ve always loved working as a team. I do sometimes feel sorry for the Coles cashiers when I haven’t spoken to anyone for around 4 hours…
I am very lucky that my husband works in in the creative industry so after hours I can always bounce ideas off him.
Does your experience in the advertising industry help inform your work today?
I learnt so much from my time in advertising. My work is very conceptual and I still try and come at everything from a ‘big idea’. If my idea is strong then I know it can easily work across different areas. Even though I am so happy doing what I do, I know that this started from all my years learning from incredible creative directors so I don’t regret my past career choices for a second.
I also have to do far more by myself now. I have a fantastic team at Harper Collins who provide designers/editors etc but I also do lots of other commercial projects independently. For example, I just had to organise a shoot and I became the producer, account manager and art director. Thankfully all my years in those looong advertising production meetings paid off!
How would you say you’ve experienced rejection in your professional life?
I was pretty lucky in that I managed to get jobs at the best creative agencies in town. And it’s part of the advertising life to have your ideas rejected. It toughens you up.
But I can see now that it took me a long time to build up my confidence. I’d gotten to a stage where I didn’t think I would ever achieve some of my dreams—you know I saw all these 20-year-old kids achieving things very early and thought, ‘well I’ve missed my opportunity.’
But then as I grew older and had kids, things changed and I began to fear less. There is a plus side to getting wrinkles!
How has your experience of rejection changed since leaving the industry?
Honestly, I experience it a lot less—like I don’t have that thing of not getting an ad made, or not winning an award. But there are still lots of milestones I want to achieve, so there’s still time!
Some nerves and fear of rejection are a good thing—for instance that’s partly what propelled us to work our butts off on our next book.
I was very nervous after the first one was such a success — I didn’t want to disappoint the publishing company with our next idea. But we ended up coming up with a great story and everyone was very happy with the results.
I am also constantly hustling to make doors open for me. I would like things to happen on an international level and that’s a lot harder. I have had some wonderful successes lately with my book deals and national promotion but I have to keep the momentum up and it means constantly pushing myself.
In advertising we’re always trying to please someone else. What does it feel like to be able to just please just yourself?
I feel incredibly fortunate that I have finally found something that I love doing. I also love being around more for my kids. I am not saying I have found the perfect balance. I am often stopping a kid from face planting off a slide while on a conference call with my editor, but I love being my own boss.
Someone told me that if you were woken in the middle of the night and told to start doing your work—would you be happy? And honestly the answer is yes. It doesn’t feel like work. Except when doing my taxes.
Beck has recently launched Lady Legend and US Legend alphabets, with her UK Legends alphabet due out soon. You can see more of her work at alphabetlegends.com