Designer Allyson Shields gets graphic about her career

Quite often in these Celebrating Women interviews, I find the women have turned adversity into an advantage.

We have Annie Haak, founding her jewellery business when her world seemed to be falling apart, and the women of Beautiful Homes in the North, who set up after redundancy.

Today’s amazing woman could have given up when she didn’t get into her dream college. Instead, Allyson Shields looked on the positive side and built a great career from another course.

Since then, the 47-year-old graphic designer has worked on some of Scotland’s biggest newspapers and publications, in between finding the love of her life – photographer Damian Shields – and having their two beautiful boys, David, 16, and Ryan, 15.

But like many people working in journalism at the moment, she was hit by the downturn in sales and advertising. And so she started up on her own, running her Shields Design business from her home studio in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire.

Not that this was enough. As well as creating amazing designs around other people’s images, she’s started taking her own photographs from the nature on her doorstep. Now she regularly exhibits in commercial galleries and craft fayres.

And good 50Senser that she is, she also roots for female-led small businesses on Facebook, passing on news about events and sales.

Why? That’s easy, she says: “They are such a great inspiration to the next generation of young girls who want to go it alone and I want to pass on the message that it is possible and worth it.” 

Good lass!

Here, Allyson tells us about starting up on her own, the pros and cons of freelancing and how missing out on dreams can have a silver lining…

Tell us about yourself…

I studied Graphics at Glasgow College of Building and Printing and went on to work for various organisations including Inverclyde Council, Police Scotland and latterly The Herald and Times newspaper group.

I enjoy the challenges that design work can bring and the varied nature of tasks from a wide range of clients from small start-ups to large corporate businesses. I also enjoy the creative process and working with clients to realise their vision and it’s always immensely rewarding when I’m given positive feedback, whether it’s a logo, artwork or business card etc, that I have created for them.

How did you get into graphic design?

As a child, I was entranced by the wonders of colour and form in the world around me. I would energetically paint and draw the things I saw. Thankfully, I had the enthusiastic encouragement of my father, who I remember taking me to an art shop in Glasgow, where I was born and raised, to buy me my first set of colour pencils and pastels.

I always wanted to draw and was desperate to get into the Glasgow School of Art. I applied but didn’t get in, so I ended up going to the College of Building and Printing instead.

But I must say, it turned out to be the better route for me to take because the design course was more career-focused.

Why did you go freelance?

I was made redundant from my job and I wasn’t sure what I should do workwise. Then I noticed Business Gateway were doing a course on starting your own business and I thought: ‘Perfect. That’s what I should do.’

What has been the best part of that?

Being at home when the boys finish school and making your own hours. 

And what has been the worst?

Chasing clients for payment.

What are you proudest of?

I am most proud of my Holyrood Magazine covers. They can be quite challenging, as the theme is always political, but I always get a strong brief from the client which makes things easier for me. 

Why did you move into photography?

I sometimes join my hubby when he goes up north to take pictures. The elements of nature will catch my eye, so I started taking my camera with me to capture them.

Is it hard combining freelancing with raising a growing family?

It was harder when they were younger and they were  still vying for my attention when they came home from school. Now they are older, they have become engrossed in their own teenager worlds.

What advice would you give to women wanting to start their own business?

Just do it!!! Network as much as you can. Contact your nearest Business Gateway Centre as they always have lots of courses and information to get you started. And don’t forget to take time out. I try and do a bit of yoga every day on my lunch break to help energise me and get my focus back.

To contact Allyson, visit Shields Design or tweet her at @shieldsdesign20.

What dream did you think had gone only for it to turn out better? Let me know in the comments below.

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