When it comes to exploring career opportunities, we sometimes tend to limit ourselves within our physical spaces. We may forget that we have access to a global audience and market in a few simple clicks. Going international, specifically in the creative field has never been easier.
Najla Qamber is a young Bahraini graphics designer who created the perfect balance between the two things she loves, design and reading, and turned it into a career with the power of the internet. Najla is the founder of Qamber Designs and Media and we spoke to her about her journey going from blogging online to now building her own design studio.
How did you first get into design and art?
Basically, growing up I had social anxiety, it was so bad that I couldn’t go to school and was homeschooled. Because of that I needed something else to do to occupy my time. I started doing a lot art, drawing, and then I found this site called DeviantArt and from there I learned a lot. At 11, I was trained on Photoshop and would spend hours on DeviantArt doing Photoshop and creating things. My sister than proposed I do a design internship and I ended up being a graphics design intern at this very prestigious design firm and that’s when I was like “I know what I want to do in life and that’s graphics design.”
I was mostly self-taught because I didn’t really feel the need to go get a degree in something I already knew and have been doing for years. So instead, I did my Bachelors in Business to help me figure out how to open up my own studio or media company.
How did designing book covers happen and why specifically books?
As you tell from my array of books *points around the room full of books*, I really love reading and I actually used to have a book blog where I would have a segment where I’d re-cover books that I loved but hated the covers, so that’s where it started. A publisher caught on, and saw my blog and covers and decided to give me a shot.
To me, that was the perfect combination, graphics design and that one thing I love, books! That was back in 2009-10 and was the first break, with the publishing company Inkspell Publishing, and I’m actually still working with them. Then, it just grew from there with independent authors, publishers and word of mouth basically.
Do you read all of the books you’ve designed?
I’ve covered about a 1000 books, so it’s really not possible to read them all but if they are really popular and the hype is huge, I do tend to read them. I probably may have read about 15 out of the 1000.
Do you think Bahrain has a market for publishing books?
There definitely is a lot of potential in Bahrain, but it’s a very niche market. Writers here don’t realize that they can independently publish their books. Also, a lot of the people who write here are older, so they don’t really adapt to modern channels and online publishing. We actually had a few writers approach us asking for not just book covers but also when it comes to other aspects of book publishing. It is completely possible but not a lot of people are aware of it.
Since most of your client base is international, what are the differences you see when it comes to the Bahraini and the international markets?
Majority, about 99%, of my clients are international. They are mainly independent authors. They mostly approach me through social media, but the majority of the time it's word of mouth from other clients. The independent authors’ community online is ginormous, as there are thousands of independent books coming out every year. Though, there are some independent Bahraini writers as well that I’ve worked with, in Bahrain, it’s mostly corporate designs.
Internationally they tend to be more open to creatives and they see the value for money in creative work. Over here, it’s still more classic, in a sense where they see something and want to do something similar. People in this part of the world also don’t see much value for creative or design work, they’d prefer not to pay creatives or ‘pay in exposure’, especially for freelancers. But that is slowly changing with the growing focus on marketing and social media.
In the last few years of transitioning from a part-time freelancer to now creating your own studio, what’s your personal growth been like?
In the beginning I was really clueless. After doing this for a few years and learning about how to do all of this and building my own business, I realized that I did already have most of the traits but I just didn’t implement them well. So my growth was pretty huge, from a person who was very naive in the business to now being able to smoothly navigate through the ‘business aspect’ of it all.
For example, in the beginning, people could easily take advantage of me, but now the moment they say something in an email or I see some red flags, I can instantly see what they may be getting to and try to maneuver my way around it. My perspective towards everything around me has also changed a lot. Everything I see I can find a way to turn it into a business. My confidence level has gotten so much better and so did the social anxiety. It’s been a huge personal learning curve.
What are some of the things you learned from your experience that you could share with other aspiring creatives?
You need to be super determined. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t stop. For example, if you don’t have clients yet, build your portfolio. You also have to be very strict with your time, if you really want to start up and can’t procrastinate. Another thing is patience. Don’t just give up if you don’t have any clients in the first couple of weeks, just keep creating and posting about it online, go find where your audience is, show your work and bit by bit with little patience and perseverance you’ll get there. That’s how I did it. I’d go burrowing in spots where the writers are lurking, follow them online, post my work and slowly they’ll just come. Remember, the internet is huge, you can do a lot. Don’t limit yourself to the market here, if you don’t have clients here yet, you can always find them elsewhere.