Illustrator, artist, mother, entrepreneur, mental health fighter, light chaser.
photography by TIFANI LYN
written by KIM CONWAY
This story was originally published in Issue Two.
Molly’s work is the kind you might wish you could be friends with. It’s inspiring, full of life, and vibrant—it’s got its own personality and it’s really cool.
Artist Molly Jacques is a lone, creative wolf. A wildly talented freelance letterer and type designer. A wife, mother, business owner, and depression fighter. A fabulous, passionate, and bright woman. She’s best known for her incredible lettering work and Procreate brush designs, but over the last year, she has also played an important part in the creation and development of Terra Firma, the climbing facility she opened with her husband. Most recently, Molly has become a voice in the movement to normalize and heal through conversations about mental health.
Regardless of what’s on her plate professionally, Molly makes it a priority to start every day with her daughter, Juniper, and end every day with climbing and family time. In between, the flexibility of her various roles allows her to choose how to spend each workday and what projects to pour her energy into. A typical day is “all over the place,” as she tackles a combination of Terra Firma, freelance, and personal projects. In other words, she’s doing a lot—but she’s doing it well, because “some things make you tick and you enjoy it and you’re good at it.” For Molly, lettering and illustration are two art forms that not only make her tick, but also have made her a successful, sought-after freelance artist.
NAVIGATING THE LETTERING INDUSTRY
Molly’s journey into freelance work began soon after graduating from Detroit’s College for Creative Studies in 2010, when she and her classmate-turned-husband, Cody, moved out to Los Angeles. There, she took her first professional step into commercial calligraphy: a job with Sugar Paper, “I worked in-house with them in the actual store. And they commissioned me for freelance work, so I would create calligraphy and lettering designs for their cards and things like that.” One year later, Molly and her husband returned to Michigan, where she started doing wedding calligraphy right as it was making a huge comeback, “People were obsessed with it! Everybody was going bonkers over modern calligraphy.”
As much as she enjoyed the final outcome and beauty of wedding calligraphy projects, Molly acknowledged that she wasn’t getting the feedback she desired because of how emotionally-fueled the industry and its clients could be, “It’s good to be emotional—there’s totally a place for that! But I was finding that my personality got very worked up. I would tend to overwork or overextend myself.” Between the long work hours and the not-so-great pay, it was time for Molly to leave the wedding industry and set her sights on projects that would leave her more excited and energized.
One year into full-time commercial-based work, Molly was approached by Art Rep Joanie Bernstein. The two have worked together since, building an impressive portfolio of clients for Molly and a personable “friendship-slash-business” relationship along the way, “She’s helped me grow and make sure that I’m pricing my work correctly and that we’re working with clients in a professional way.” Without Joanie, Molly believes she would likely still be working on smaller projects with less creative freedom.
The lettering industry is more saturated these days, but that’s not to say aspiring creatives shouldn’t strive to find a place within it. Molly explains that, while it’s harder to stand out, you can still take initiative to drive your career forward. There’s always room to improve your craft and figure out what having a ‘cohesive look’ means to you and your art, “Work on your portfolio, make sure that it’s solid and you’re super proud of it and you feel like it has a voice or tone.” If you want to catch the eye of an Art Director, Molly says the key is to create a body of work that “shows you actually can execute projects from start to finish.”
“Right after I graduated art school, I was pretty desperate. I was reaching out to so many different agencies, like please rep me, I need work! And of course, crickets. It’s funny, once you start building a name for yourself and building an aesthetic—that’s when reps start becoming interested in you.” Molly points out that she thinks the process of breaking into commercial calligraphy/lettering is different for every artist and that those who might want a career similar to hers should know that their approach will likely differ from hers when she started.
MOLLY’S CREATIVE & LETTERING STYLE
Packed with stunning designs and awesome clients, one of the best resources to get lost in a burst of colors and lively letters is Molly’s Instagram, “Back when I first started, I had a little bit more of a contemplative tone. But I think right now, I still have this happy, whimsical, fun vibe. I like to use bright colors and create really graphic lettering so when you look at it, you can see what it is super quickly. The stylization of the lettering I work in is pretty distinctive. I would love to have artwork that speaks in a tone that is a little bit more serious, makes you think, and is more conceptual.”
Molly’s work is the kind you might wish you could be friends with. It’s inspiring, full of life, and vibrant—it’s got its own personality and it’s really cool. “I do like to create work that is pretty motivational, something that you feel stoked to look at. And I think that it’s pretty organic—there’s a lot of movement. It’s not something you see a lot of.” What she envisions and what she actually produces lies in a sort-of middle ground between the two, “The way that I wish my art was versus the way that my art turns out when I actually create it are two different things.”
Looking back, Molly recalls her love of letters beginning with her attraction to gig posters. She even included some of her own gig poster designs in her portfolio before working at Sugar Paper, which didn’t go unnoticed, “It’s funny, they were looking at some of my punk rock gig posters and they were like, ‘Oh! Could you put this on Sugar Paper products?’ Their brand is very preppy and clean and beautiful, so that was an interesting juxtaposition!”
To this day, clients often reference pieces from Molly’s portfolio as a source of inspiration when they approach her for their own projects. One benefit of working with creatives is their straightforward nature, “They’ll pull a piece and say this is the inspiration, this is the criteria we need for this piece that we’re working on.” New projects begin with Molly sketching the ‘bones,’ before determining some of the nitty gritty creative aspects—like composition and colors. From there, it’s a loop of client feedback and revisions.
CREATING AND CLIMBING AT TERRA FIRMA
In September 2017, Molly and her husband took on a new project together: a bouldering facility called Terra Firma. They’ve since opened their doors to climbing members and are in the process of designing climbing products. As Creative Director, Molly covers all things creative—from events and website design to printables and social media posts. While she loves contributing to the business, she explains that the facility is really her husband’s baby, as he had been wanting to open it ever since he fell in love with climbing a few years back.
With her freelance work in one hand and Terra Firma in the other, Molly has found the contrast of solo work and team work to serve as a good counterbalance, “I’ve been flexing new skills that I wasn’t familiar with before, like understanding more about graphic design—it’s been very cool and exciting! And I’ve been learning about video and photography.” She goes on to explain, “The freelance work I like best is when I get to work collaboratively.” Acting as a Creative Director allows her to dip into collaboration more frequently, rather than waiting for those opportunities to cross her freelance path.
While Pinterest provides a space for Molly to actively sort and compile aesthetic inspiration, her content creation for Terra Firma provides an outlet to actively explore creative practices beyond lettering. She’s finding inspiration in simply trying new things and applying what she’s learned to the lettering she’s producing. A self-described outdoor enthusiast, she finds space in nature to contemplate motherhood and other life experiences in order to find ways to apply her ideas, intuitions, and reflections in her work.
Terra Firma has not only played a significant role in Molly’s professional life, but it has also led her to explore climbing as a means of personal growth. She hasn’t climbed for very long, but she loves it—and that’s what matters most, “It helps you build confidence, it helps you face your fears, and it’s good for your general health. I compare it to yoga a lot, because you connect breath and movement and you have to be present when you’re there.” All of those lessons have helped Molly in feeling more brave in other aspects of her life as well, “I take whatever I learn in climbing and apply it as a metaphor to life.”
MENTAL HEALTH CONVERSATIONS AND THE PATH TO HEALING
In her on-and-off struggles with depression and postpartum depression over the years, Molly’s creativity and productivity—and so too her business—have taken a hit, “I experienced a lot of feeling disenchanted with the work that I was creating—not caring very much, feeling bored with what I was doing, thinking does this even matter? What am I saying? What am I doing with my life?” When you’re stuck in that cycle, it’s hard to pull yourself out and up to seek healing.
Molly never felt inspired to speak openly about her own mental health battles, because to some extent, it was something she was embarrassed about. But after seeing fellow creatives on Instagram talk about their respective struggles with anxiety, depression, and postpartum depression, Molly realized: Maybe I don’t need to be as embarrassed as I feel. Maybe I can share this! And if they’re dealing with it, then Lord knows so many other people are probably dealing with this too!
Before she took that leap of faith, she read two books by Brené Brown, in which she found the courage to be vulnerable—it was then that she raised her voice, “I went for it. I started sharing and I realized, with all of the comments coming in, it was such a testament to how common mental health issues are—how I am so not alone.” The ongoing, open mental health discussion on her Instagram story highlight continues to positively impact her own path to healing. And seeing others embrace transparency by chiming in and discussing their own battles is, in a way, healing as well, “People are feeling less ashamed about it, which is what we need. So many people struggle and hide it because they’re embarrassed.”
Molly describes her mental health as “ebbing and flowing.” She doesn’t push herself to share the experience with her followers in the moment, but rather, she waits until she can talk about it in retrospect. On days that are harder to get through than others, she focuses on caring for herself and connecting with her close community of friends and family. Even with her husband, it has taken time to feel comfortable with asking for help, “It’s been a huge step in growth for me—asking for what I need. I just say I’m feeling really low today, I need this help. That’s a vulnerable thing to do, but I’ve been trying to do it.”
Designed to cover the mind, body, and heart, Molly’s holistic approach to healing has taken on many forms—including making time to have fun and laughing even when it feels hard to do. Therapy, in particular, has been a good, yet challenging experience, “It’s been very positive just to be able to sit down and share and be seen. Because in the past, I’ve always felt like a burden.” Antidepressants have been helpful as well, “For me personally, it gave me that little oomph I needed to get out of the darkest part and start taking small steps. Because when you’re in that dark part, even taking the smallest steps—like calling a doctor—is so difficult to do.” All the while, Molly has made a conscious effort to take better care of her body as well, whether that’s remembering to stay hydrated or finding the energy to exercise.
“I define self-care by taking time out of my day to either mentally or physically do things to show myself that I am worthy of that time. And that can be a lot of different things—exercising, taking my medicine, going to therapy, doing my makeup, doing my hair, or having a conversation with a friend that I feel deeply connected with.” More recently, Molly has been trying to meditate and practice “noting,” which involves observing when certain thoughts and feelings arise without judging them.
“It’s been a huge step in growth for me—asking for what I need. I just say I’m feeling really low today, I need this help. That’s a vulnerable thing to do, but I’ve been trying to do it.”
CHASING THE LIGHT
There isn’t necessarily an “other side,” when it comes to life with depression, but Molly is looking forward, seeking out coping skills she can apply when needed, prioritizing self-care, and focusing on evolving through her experiences, “It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. It’s never too late to try something new. It really isn’t! Most people, if they feel like it is too late, it’s because they’re putting those limitations on themselves.” Similarly, those self-imposed limitations mislead us into caring too much about the wrong things, “Something I’ve realized—and I totally need to work on it—is how important it is to care less about what other people think of you. That’s been really hard for me. And this year, I feel like I’ve been coming to terms with how much I actually care about the image that I put out into the world.”
With that in mind, Molly dreams of one day creating a typeface or custom lettering for a feature film. In the meantime, she’s excited about where she’s at in the moment—most notably, the new stylization of lettering she’s been doing as a direct result of Terra Firma. On the freelance front, she’s been working closely with Papyrus and is busy getting hands-on with card designs. Her personal plate has been full as of late too, with brush designs in the works for the Procreate app. Molly says it’s especially rewarding to see how people receive her brush designs and use them in different, often unexpected, ways.
Much like with her mental health struggles and creative professional endeavors, Molly excels at working through experiences that are challenging in the midst, but provide room for reflection and growth in hindsight. In an effort to find balance, time spent away from work is typically filled with some combination of family and the outdoors—and even then, Molly seeks out activities that require patience and encourage development, “Cody and I make it a point to plan at least one, usually a couple, climbing trips a year. When Juniper was really little, we took her to Bishop with us and that was a great learning experience—bringing a baby bouldering—I don’t know what we were thinking! We’re sort of masochists in the sense that we do things that are really uncomfortable, but also very rewarding.”
Molly Jacques might be chasing the light, but as an artist, a mother, an entrepreneur, and a mental health fighter, she is a source of brightness all her own.