Fiona Humberstone, Brand Stylist
Fiona Humberstone is a brand stylist and creative director who helps companies and freelancers to express exactly what they want. Hosting workshops like "Branding for florists" or "Colour for creatives", Fiona is an expert in guiding branding projects of all levels. We have talked with her about her creative career path - and about her best tips when moodboarding, which we are all about at Mermaid Stories.
Dear Fiona, your job description sounds like a beautiful potpourri of creative work. Is there a typical day, or at least typical tasks in your daily work life?
Thank you! I’m very lucky. I get to work on some really interesting projects with some great clients. Every day is different, but there’s usually a lot of mood boarding, brainstorming, planning, writing and photography going on. Often I’ll do some design work (just for my business, I don’t design for clients) and very often I’ll be creating a vision for something – whether that’s a new workshop I’m planning or some creative direction for a client.
Can you tell a bit about your career and what has led you to where you are today? What’s your background?
I’ve worked with small businesses since 2000 - starting out in the print industry before launching my own design and print business in 2005. Very quickly I realised that it was the design and more specifically, the branding projects that interested me rather than the print work so that’s where our focus lay. I devoured every piece of literature I could on business, design and branding and over time developed my own style, process and voice.
Over the years of running my branding company we worked with literally hundreds of small business owners. In the beginning, it was just about being the best in our local town, but over time, thanks to the internet, new opportunties grew, and by the time I sold my business in 2012 we had clients all around the world and a great reputation.
Did you have any mentors or people who influenced your career path?
I’m pretty self motivated and always have a very clear vision for what I want to achieve next, but my friend Elizabeth Cairns has been a great support to me in helping me find my feet and the courage to follow my dreams. Jo Copestick was also so much more than an editor to me in launching How to Style Your Brand - she gave me bags of industry know how and helped me navigate my way through the very choppy waters of self publishing.
Many creative people say they need a certain “vibe” around them. How does your studio look like?
Haha! I love this. My ‘studio’ is a tiny nook in the corner of our family room and the kitchen table. It’s a really lovely room: high ceilings, plenty of light and a view out over the garden but I share my desk with my children so it’s usually littered with homework, exercise books and my toddler’s drawings and cuttings. Not exactly conducive to productive work and very much not the vision I have of my perfect studio. But honestly, I can work anywhere.
Time is the thing I lack the most, so when I get the opportunity to work, I never struggle to get started. My husband is currently designing me a lovely office in the garden. It’ll be full of light, with high ceilings, a woodburner, a table to brainstorm at and a desk to write. I’ll have a sofa, pale walls and lots of plants and it’ll be my haven. I can’t wait!
We feel like moodboards are a big part of your work. At Mermaid Stories, we are also in love with them and use them constantly (there’s print magazines all over the place!). Do you have some tips of how to create great moodboards?
It’s a huge part of what I do; my way of translating what’s in my head to a tangible vision. It’s how I communicate with my clients and also how I’ll share my ideas with designers.
The first thing is to be clear on what you’re communicating. What sort of mood do you want to communicate and how do you want the reader to feel? Next, find images that reflect that. It doesn’t need to be literal – you can find inspiration in the smallest things – the fold in a fabric, the way light falls on a surface or a beautiful typeface. Bring all of those together to find the mood.
For speed, and if I’m working on something like a Brand Blueprint where I need to put together a lot of mood boards, I’ll often use digital mood boards and I like to use Blog Stomp to comp everything together.
But honestly, nothing beats a lovely tactile mood board with layers of images, texture and shapes. Keep things simple, make sure you use plenty of white space and layer up elements to add interest.
Next to workshops, seminars and your writing, you also consult companies and people who need creative input. What are the problems that most clients come to you with?
More often than not, it’s working out what they want to be known for. When you’re so close to your business it’s really hard to see what your clients value about what you do, what makes you different and the message you want to communicate. It’s my job to find the clarity in the brand, identify the most profitable clients and create a clear and compelling vision. It’s only then that we can work out how we elevate the brand through gorgeous design, packaging or a fabulous website.
What do you love most about your job?
The variety. I’m very lucky. When I started my new consulting business I decided that I was only going to take on projects that I could really add value to and for clients I’d really enjoy working with. I have a wonderful array of clients as well as my own projects and I love that no week is ever the same. I’m constantly learning, testing and challenging myself and I love it.
Where do you get inspired?
New York is my most favourite place and I find the energy and the can do attitude very inspirational. But on a personal level I love being in the forest and with my children. They constantly inspire me.
Doing so many different things, how do you stay focused? How do you manage your time?
Good question! I have such little time that I have to be very structured and very organised. Working in print all those years have given me a healthy respect for deadlines so I always plan ahead, only work on one project at a time and do my utmost to not take on more than I can manage. My husband would argue I don’t always get that bit right! But I’m constantly working out what I can manage.
What’s on your desk right now?
A True Grace ‘Greenhouse’ diffuser, a sketchbook, various pens, pencils and scissors and photographs of my children. Oh, and lots of junk!
You have been very successful with your book “How to Style Your Brand”. Right now, you are working on a new one. Can you reveal a bit of what it will be about?
Oh I would so love to but I need to keep things a little under wraps until I’ve sent it off to print. What I will say is that it’s the follow up to How to Style Your Brand but you’ll find that it’s actually much more about giving you the tools to win the work you want without the hustle.
Last but not least: What are some of your favorite brands in terms of styling and design that you think people should discover?
My go-to designers are Braizen and Caz at Making Waves. Caz was my studio manager for my last business so we know eachother inside out – warts and all! And work together really well. Braizen are based in Austin, Texas and just produce brilliant work. Their process and approach is very similar to mine and they work so hard to create brilliant identities.
There are also heaps and heaps more and I do try and showcase them through my instagram account. I’m often asked to recommend designers but it really depends on the sort of look you want and the person you feel is the best fit for your unique business – you’ve got to connect on a personal level too so keep your eyes open on Pinterest and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone overseas.
And some of your favorite Instagram accounts?
So many! I love Gudy Herder’s account which is generally packed full of really lovely mood boards; I love Does My Bum Look 40 for fabulous fashion and also the Wardrobe Icons girls.
➸ To have a look at Fiona's work, head over to her portfolio or discover her blog The Brand Stylist.