"Where else can you ask your coworker to come look at something on your computer at midnight and give you feedback?"
Melissa and Kyle Sliney, the husband-and-wife duo of Pop Rocket Creations, share a workspace in their home studio where they collaborate, listen to music and dance, and learn from one another at all hours of the day and night.
Pop Rocket Creations is a photo and design team that specializes in helping new businesses and small businesses reach out to potential new customers with unique promotional materials (like glow-in-the-dark pins, retro stickers, buttons and other swag). They're even crafting a launch kit for new businesses soon!
I sat down with Melissa and Kyle to learn more about their business, the freelance life and where they got their name.
First of all, I love your name! What's the story behind it? Kyle: In college, I did an animation based on "The Rocket" by Ray Bradbury and was subsequently dubbed Rocketman by a friend. The nickname was perfect for me because I was really into sci-fi, super heroes and related genres. Plus my grandpa worked as a chemist for NASA. Melissa: So when we started dating, I became Lady Rocket, and together we were known as The Rockets. When we decided to combine our creative forces of photography and graphic design under one entity, we knew we wanted to incorporate the word "Rocket." We added "Pop" to pay homage to our love of pop art and pop culture...and "Creations" because we planned to make fun products. And Pop Rocket Creations was born!
What was your career like before freelance?
Kyle: Well, just to clarify, we are not full-time freelance yet. We're working toward that as our goal, but I'm currently still working at UC as a multimedia designer.
Melissa: After my formative years as a photojournalist, I couldn't find work any more at newspapers. I bounced around a few different jobs, but also branched out and did freelance work shooting events around town, portraits, photos for the Cincinnati Art Museum, and recently weddings. Pop Rocket has helped me to learn more about product photography now too!
Kyle's background as a designer (and his experience with Photoshop) has helped me with editing, and I've helped him learn a lot about photography. He's now my second shooter for weddings. For Pop Rocket Creations, we bring our design and photography skills together and learn from each other and benefit from our unique perspectives for a shared vision of where we want to go with our business.
How did you decide to start your own freelance business? How did you feel? What helped you along the way?
Melissa: Honestly, it was pretty scary at first. The initial first steps were our biggest hurdle.
Kyle: Yeah, we talked about it but didn't do anything to get there for a long time because we just couldn't take the first step. Neither of us have a business background, so we were intimidated by that. We really had no idea how to start our own business. Plus we'd need to pick a name and an identity. It was overwhelming.
Melissa: But we eventually figured it out. We just took one teensy baby step at a time toward our goal, and now we are almost there!
Kyle: One thing we did that really helped in the early days was joining Artworks Co.Starters, a business-development program for creatives, artisans and lifestyle entrepreneurs.
Oooh, tell me more! What's that all about?
Kyle: It's a 9-week program, and you meet once a week for classes with other creative entrepreneurs. Each week, they bring in a different guest speaker to share insights on various aspects of owning and growing a business.
Melissa: It was really neat because we met lots of cool people and built this network with people who were like us. We really felt like we were all in this creative, supportive thing together...and we're more connected to the local entrepreneur community now. We love learning about the different ways people work and how they run their business.
Are there any other tools or programs you recommend for freelancers or entrepreneurs?
Kyle:We love Skillshare (it's like Lynda.com for creatives), RetroSupply (their retro AI brushes and PS actions inspire me to experiment and try new things...I've even started making some of my own!) and Pinterest, of course! For practical stuff, we use the Adobe mobile apps (they're surprisingly robust), Google Sheets for time tracking, and Dropbox for sharing files.
DEVO Illustration by Mark Mothersbaugh, a huge influence on me, their music and visual artistry and I met Mark a few times and was totally starstruck; Aquabats Keychain - Another favorite band that speaks to me by creating an entire universe of their own (they’ve even created their own tv show in recent years); Fischer Space Pen (and BIC 4 color pen) - I keep these pens in my pocket at all times for sketching and notes; FujiFilm X100S - This is technically Melissa’s but I find myself using it a lot. It’s very simplistic and it's our go-to camera when we want to have one on us but don’t want to lug around a bunch of lenses; Drawing Pencil - My favorite drawing pencil that I’ve been using since my freshman year at DAAP; Batman pin - The 1960’s era Batman with Adam West has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid and I’m pretty sure all those POW’s have influenced some of my style; DisneyLand Buzz Lightyear Blaster keychain - Disney and Pixar have been a huge influence on the direction I took in pursuing art and design; Pop Rocket enamel pin - Our logo and our first enamel pin; Sketchbook - This sketchbook contains the original sketches when we started to brainstorm and design our logo (I’m also a huge Vans collector, hence the Vans sticker on the notebook); Admiral Akbar flash drive - I love Star Wars; Turquoise pocket knife - I found this on our travels out west at our favorite gift shop in Tucumcari, NM called Teepee Kurios; Ice Cream enamel pin - We’re ice cream fanatics and one of our very first ideas was that we needed to come up with an ice cream pin.
Melissa's flatlay: (clockwise from top left)
Top left: one of my contact sheets (oops, an underexposed one!) from the darkroom (although I am almost always digital these days, I started with film); my dad's camera strap from his old camera, the first 35mm SLR camera I used; "Awesome" notebook: fun and colorful, two of my fave qualities; Wonder Woman button (on "awesome" notebook): "girl-power"; Polaroid camera, represents my goal to go back to shooting more film; Photo of Kyle: taken with a Holga 120 film camera around when we started dating; Ceramic dish, something I made while taking a wheel-throwing class (tough but rewarding); Lydia from Beetlejuice pin - I loved this cartoon when I was a kid and liked how Lydia always had a camera.
And how do you like the freelance life? Has it lived up to your expectations?
Melissa: I like it a lot. I really enjoy the freedom of being able to work throughout the day, take breaks when I need to, and not feel like I'm on someone else's clock. It can be a lot of late nights, but we're night owls so it's ok. When you're working for yourself, working extra hours or at odd times doesn't feel so bad. And since we get to work together all the time, it's even better. We're basically getting paid to hang out and make cool stuff!
Kyle: Being able to make your own schedule, that's huge. It's freeing and at the same time stressful and scary because it's really up to you now to make the money and make sure you have everything covered.
Do you have any advice for someone who’s considering freelance?
Kyle: Always keep learning new things and challenging yourself (just like you said in your post last week). I set aside time to teach myself new skills every week. For example, I'm learning how to make patterns in Illustrator right now, which by the way, is way more fun than I thought it would be. And we both want to learn screenprinting!
Melissa: And I would just say to stop hesitating and just take one step to get you closer to your dream. I know it's scary, but you'll figure it out. Each step you take motivates you to keep going. And remember, even the people you admire who look like they have it all together are still figuring it out. You can do it!
So true! I echo those sentiments. Thanks so much to both of you for sharing your story! Keep up with Pop Rocket Creations: