Agnese Sirmā (aka Agi Amri) is a Latvia-based designer known for her intricate illustrations and ink work. Her packaging and branding work is reminiscent of vintage designs from yesteryear. Her unique style has been honed through hours of hands-on drawing and painting.
After working in an office for ten years as an architect, Agnese was ready for a change. She joined 99designs as a way to escape her workday routine and thought of it as a fun new hobby. But when she began earning more money than at her day job, she realized that full-time freelancing was a real option and took the leap.
These days, Agnese enjoys the flexibility that comes with freelancing. She’s drawn to projects that fit well with her vintage hand-drawn typography and illustrations.
We chatted with Agnese about leaving her 9-to-5, her favorite clients, and how she found her signature style.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am the mother of two amazing kids. We currently live in Latvia. After working as an architect for 10 years in an office, I decided that was enough for me. I wanted more freedom, the excitement of trying new things, and the ability to spend more time with my family.
I wanted more freedom, the excitement of trying new things, and the ability to spend more time with my family.
Did you study design or were you self-taught?
As a child, my mom took me to art, painting, composition and even pottery classes that taught me to draw and work with my hands. There was not much computer-related technology back then.
Later during my architecture studies, I had some pencil drawing and painting classes as part of the curriculum. But, everything related to design software that is used today is self-taught and I still learn something every day.
You joined 99designs back in 2012. What’s kept you coming back over the years?
Finding 99designs was a happy little accident on one particularly dull afternoon in the office that opened up a whole new world to me. At first, it was just for the sake of the excitement that I found competing in contests (and to see all of the amazing creativity brought by other designers).
Once I realized my strengths and started selecting the “right” contests for me, I slowly started winning some… and then some more.
Contests were an escape from my usual workday. I viewed them more like a hobby than a job at the beginning. I could get the same amount of excitement from playing a video game as I did from competing in contests.
I knew when I started making more money than I made at my regular job (in fewer hours) that I could start freelancing full time. After having two kids and years of sitting at an office desk, I finally have time to go to the gym and dance!
What types of projects do you love working on?
I don’t do a lot of contests anymore—hardly any, to be exact. At this point, it’s mostly just do 1-to-1 Projects.
My favorite projects come from clients who want to work with me because they have seen my portfolio and want exactly my style. Then everything is perfect. I have more confidence working on those designs and the result is always better and more unique. I often surprise even myself and get so much inspiration for my next designs.
My style is mostly hand-drawn, vintage 18th to 19th century-inspired label designs now, with some logos.
A pencil in your hands is something magical… It flows with your mind, the lines are organic, changing—whatever you imagine.
Tell us about one of your most memorable clients
McClintock Distilling Company is one of my best clients. I started working with them regularly after I won their logo contest years ago. I remember first submitting a very rough pencil sketch—not even in ink because the contest was coming to an end and I just didn’t have the time. He loved it!
The funny thing is that afterward, I had redrawn it in ink as neatly as I could (that is always a big issue: how to transfer ink graphics to vectors by scanning, tracing, adjusting and cleaning them in the highest quality without losing that authentic ink hand-drawn quality that I love)… Anyway, after he saw the design inked, he actually asked if I could make it look even more “hand-drawn”. It turns out that the look of my very rough pencil sketch spoke to him more.
After the contest, he invited me to design the labels for their entire range of spirits. Gin to vodka to cordial… It’s been around 3-4 years and I’m still so very excited when one of their new spirits comes out and a new label is needed.
I knew when I started making more money than I made at my regular job (in fewer hours) that I could start freelancing full time.
Tell us a little about your creative process
I always start with pencil sketching. I really wouldn’t even know how to come up with a design staring at a blank screen with vector tools and a mouse cursor. A pencil in your hands is something magical… It flows with your mind, the lines are organic, changing—whatever you imagine.
You can do it in a split second and see how it looks without even thinking of line weights, tool selection, anchor points, correct “construction” of shapes, transformations, warping, etc. My head hurts just thinking about how many tools digital programs have.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Old masters. Be it a composition of a Rubens’ oil painting, a Greek temple or an old map. Design is everywhere.
Perhaps I’m too “traditional” and “conservative” when it comes to design style, but that is what I am good at. As long as there are clients who want something like that, I’m thrilled.
Your illustrations are more realistic. How do you make sure you don’t borrow “too much” from photo or stock references?
This is actually something that’s extremely hard to achieve—to be able to draw believable objects and anatomically correct living beings just from your imagination. I truly admire artists who, for example, have spent countless hours studying horses in nature and then sketch hundreds of horse drawings to confidently draw one without looking at them.
My tip would be to use YouTube videos to study living creatures—not stock imagery. Study landscapes and botanicals. Flora is easy. Nature is not “perfect” and no one will care if that lemon is not a geometrically correct oval… It will still look like a lemon.
How do you keep your work fresh?
I learn and find myself evolving with each project. I discover new things, new abilities, try new techniques. With every design, I learn by researching or by practicing. If I need to learn something specific, I find a tutorial, especially for some software-related issues.
Do you find freelancing to be easier than working in an office?
Freelancing is a lot easier for me. The 99designs platform takes care of everything I need—the project pages, the handover process, the payments, etc. It’s very easy for me because I don’t have to think about stuff like that.
What I value most is my freedom. Plus I get to be my own boss.