Making Collaborations Work For You

If you've ever wanted to breathe new life into your work, expand your audience and push your skills, then doing a collaboration could be amazing for you. BUT, they can also burn you if you don't go in with the right expectations. We are excited to have #ahasmember Kimberly of Lacelit share her recent collaboration and what she learned in the process.

Q: Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little about yourself, your business, and how it came to be.
 My name is Kimberly Taylor-Pestell and I’m the artist and owner behind Lacelit, a greeting card and home goods company featuring ink and watercolor illustration and hand lettering. Lacelit is all about sending intentionality through the post and creating starting points for meaningful connection through pen and paper.

I am still relatively new to the world of visual arts and am mostly self-taught. Growing up in the performing arts, dance, choreography, music and theatre were my creative outlets. While earning a degree in psychology, I happened upon a love of film and digital photography, but it wasn’t until college had come and gone that I began to take note of the many doodles in the margins of my notebooks and the various hand-lettered fonts that filled my journals.

I began drawing lace-like geometrics and as a sort of personal test, I designed my wedding invitations to see how my designs would be received. With encouragement from friends and family, I started to explore ink and watercolor more intentionally, creating designs for stationery, and eventually incorporating freehand watercolor patterns into my work.

I launched Lacelit in 2014 and have been doing my best to make up for lost time ever since.

Q: What's the biggest lesson you've learned in the time you've owned a business?
 As I’ve come to identify myself as an artist, illustrator and designer, I’ve learned not only about developing my own work and style, but also about working with fellow creatives. Some of the most valuable lessons have come from navigating what makes a successful and meaningful collaboration.

Q: How did you learn to identify what a meaningful collaboration as an artist looks like? What collaborations in the past helped you form this understanding for yourself?
There are undertakings that stem from your own making and others that begin with the dream of a fellow creative who invites you to partake in something you could not create on your own, but only in partnership with others who have different, complementary talents.

Making art is a very personal endeavor. To put an idea to paper is an exciting, yet unnerving experience as you wait to see if it will become what you imagined or end up a lesson learned. To work within a collaboration necessitates that everything you make be seen in its most raw form, which is a vulnerable place. Because of this, collaborations must center on trust and a commitment to the creative process with mutual respect for each partner and their role throughout. I’ve found that where gentleness, honesty and patience are exercised, there is room for creative brainstorming, artistic freedom and constructive guidance.

When my first collaboration offer came along, identifying as an artist and creative professional was still very new to me. My experience was limited and I did not know the standards of the trade, so I deferred to the others.

From the onset, it seemed that the project’s focus was more about highlighting each other’s talents than for profit alone. Though all three of us had a different medium (designer, product maker, shop owner), we shared a common thread through our individual brands with a focus on intentionality and kindness, and a minimalist aesthetic.

In addition to my admiration for the leading partner’s products, the shop owner was someone whose creativity I had been following for some time and who was well-respected in the online creative community. I was eager to be part of a meaningful partnership and began working on my portion right away.

Yet, even as I tried to move things forward with a clear timeline and artwork use agreement, the shop owner and I began to notice that the leading partner’s communications became less and less frequent until they eventually fell off altogether. I had already created three original designs by the time we determined that we would have to forfeit the project and move on.

A short time later, I was given the opportunity to illustrate and hand-letter Sage Words, a book of poetry by a thoughtful blogger, Jet Widick. Kristen Alden, the creative director managing the project, was a friend and dearly respected former colleague. I moved into the collaboration without reservation, having previously witnessed the integrity and work ethic of my friend and trusting that she would look out for the best interests of all partners throughout the process.

This time, there were clear expectations set verbally and the final product was wonderful. Yet in hindsight, I realized that even though it had run smoothly, I had once again deferred to others and had not initiated any measures to ensure that a repeat of my first collaboration would not happen. I scolded myself for my lack of initiative and confidence, and resolved to do things differently the next time.

When the offer came to illustrate a second book by the same poet, Sage Spirit, I did not hesitate to request a contract and was relieved to hear that the creative director was on the same page in wanting to do things even better this time around.

Together, we discussed what went well last time and what we might change. She drew up a contract and all three partners had the opportunity to review, weigh in and request changes be made. This third collaboration went even more smoothly than the second, and being literally on the same page allowed for even more creative freedom and confidence throughout the project. We are now working on a retroactive contract for the first book as well.

Q: What impact did these experiences have on your business?
 Each experience allowed me to see first-hand, what worked and what did not. They helped me to better value my own work and taught me to establish good practices for entering into collaborations. They have increased my confidence as a working artist and my knowledge of terms I can request and require as a professional illustrator.

Not only have I learned much about being part of meaningful, professional collaborations, but they have been instrumental in opening up an entirely new area of exploration for me where I’ve discovered a dear passion for illustration and hand lettering.

Q: How has this changed the way you approach a new collaboration today?
With each new opportunity that arises, I no longer hesitate to initiate the discussion of terms and now have contract templates ready to go for various opportunities whether it be for friend, family or stranger. I’m no longer timid about sharing my policies, procedures and rates, which has helped to legitimize my work and myself as a creative professional.

I’m also much more comfortable collaborating in general. Prior to the Sage books, I was very reluctant to share control of my artistic vision or push the boundaries of my comfort zone. Working alongside such intentional, passionate artists stretched my self-set limitations and taught me how meaningful collaboration can be.

Lacelit-Sage Spirit.jpg

Q: What do you consider to be the basics of a good/fair contract? What should other artists look out for?
A: A fair contract is one that allows for each partner to review, weigh in and negotiate. Key areas to cover, include:

  • Commission and grant of rights (project parameters and how the art can/cannot be used)
  • Artist’s creative vision and Client’s limitations on how art can/cannot be edited/repurposed
  • Copyright, who owns the original artwork, artist’s right to authorship credit
  • Promotion and competitive works (if artwork can/cannot be used to promote the product or be submitted to other competitive works)
  • Rates, revisions, payments, royalties
  • Cancellation/kill fees, failure to deliver
  • Project schedule and delivery dates
  • Publication details

Having everyone on the same page helps prevent partners from intentionally or unintentionally taking advantage of teammates or making impromptu changes to the plan. Clear expectations ensure that you do not have to second-guess terms or bring up sensitive areas of discussion when you are already invested.

It is also important to get to know and learn about the people with whom you’ll be working to make sure you value the same things in a working relationship. Take time to inquire with others who have worked with them in the past to get a feel for their work ethic, integrity and commitment. You want to work with people who will pour as much time and talent into the project as you will.

Whether it be a specific term in the contract or creative concept change, always listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t sound or feel right to you, ask for clarification and take time to mull it over or seek counsel from a fellow designer or professional before making a decision.

Q: Where can we find your work?
Instagram: @lacelit
Twitter: @lacelitwonder

Sign up for my e-newsletter at

You can also find Lacelit at several delightful brick-and-mortar shops.