When Yolka Juzyk (aka Yokaona) graduated university with an architecture degree, she knew she didn’t want to jump straight into an office job. She began searching for remote freelance work that would give her more freedom and flexibility—and that’s when she stumbled upon 99designs.
After quickly winning her first contest, Yokaona realized the freehand drawing skills she’d developed during her studies translated beautifully into illustrative brand identities, packaging and labels. Since then, she’s built a graphic design career focused around detailed, technical drawings and vintage typography that clients adore.
These days, she’s selective with the projects she takes on and only chooses work where her signature cross-hatching style will thrive—vintage styles, boutique shops and vineyard labels are just some of the areas she specializes in.
We spoke with Yokaona about how architecture influences her work, how she developed her noteworthy style and her tips for finding success in the graphic design industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from
I’m Yolka Juzyk (aka Yokaona). I was born in Poland in the ’80s and I have lived in Spain for 12 years now.
I’m an architect and I graduated from the School of Architecture at the Technical University of Valencia, although I began my architecture studies at the West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin, Poland.
How did you build your design skills?
I’ve been interested in art and drawing since I was just a child. I have been fascinated by the Rembrandt etchings ever since my grandfather gave me a large album with Rembrandt’s artwork when I was just a girl.
However, my focus on cross-hatching was a kind of accident. I failed a drawing course at Uni and in order to start the next course, I had to make around 40 art pieces in different techniques during the summer holidays. It was then that I discovered “pen & ink” and cross-hatching.
Don’t be afraid to value your effort and skills. You are the one who decides how much is your work worth.
Did you study design or were you self-taught?
I have not received a specialized college education in graphic design but, undoubtedly, I have built important design skills while I was studying and working in architecture.
My relationship to architecture has had a major influence on many aspects of my life. It took many years to earn my degree in architecture—probably much more time than planned. This might be due to the fact that I was studying and working at the same time while living in a foreign country.
Has your background in architecture influenced your design work at all?
Architecture projects are much more than a building. It’s linked to many other fields and activities, among them graphic design.
When I began studying architecture, it wasn’t common yet to bring your own laptop to class. The only way to express your ideas was through freehand drawing and real models, so sketching was an important communication tool for me from the beginning and still is today.
The process of creating an architectural design is often through numerous lines and diagrams that define forms and space, from the loose concepting stage to the highly detailed and technical finish.
I believe that my architectural background is reflected through my illustrative style and my use of cross-hatching techniques. Perspective drawing is essential to create realistic architectural drawings.
Why did you join 99designs?
I joined 99designs shortly after I graduated from university. I remember I was still recovering after the intensive, long months of work on my end-of-career project. It was time for me to make important job-related decisions for the future… To be honest, I never saw myself working full time in an office, so I started to search for remote job opportunities for freelancers. That’s how I originally came across 99designs.
Shortly after joining the platform I won a contest and it was like a breath of fresh air for me. That was four years ago. Today, I feel truly lucky to be able to earn good money working in the field that I’m passionate about. It’s something I wish for everyone!
It’s such a great feeling to see my designs become a reality and to realize that the results are better I’d imagined!
Has anything changed since you first started on 99designs?
I’ve grown a lot—especially as a designer—since my first days in 99designs. When I started, I was focused on art and illustration contests. Later, I expanded my scope to new categories. Today I work mainly on logo, brand identity, packaging and label projects where a hand-drawn style is required.
Since my earliest days here, I have tried to learn and improve my skills by following the work of the very best designers who have illustrative and vintage styles.
Do you have any favorite designers within the 99designs community?
What’s one of your most memorable projects?
It’s hard to point to only one, but there are two projects that have a special place in my heart and on the shelf—Loacker Tenute’s Valdifalco wine labels and Giacomo e Figli’s Sicilian olive oil label for Olio Vitale.
In both projects, I designed labels with highly detailed illustrations with my cross-hatching technique. The projects were quite time-consuming and clients were (thankfully!) very patient people.
The most satisfying part of the process was receiving sample products from the clients. It’s such a great feeling to see my designs become a reality and to realize that the result is better I’d imagined!
Any tips for developing a signature style?
First of all, find a style that you enjoy working in. If you already have one, be consistent in your work, enjoy what you do and always try to do your best!
When you join contests, try to be selective. Set your preferences and enter contests that require the style you enjoy working on.
Be critical with yourself, but always remember that not everyone has to like your work. If your design has been declined or you lost—even though you were at the point of winning—don’t be upset. Just forget about that and move on to a new task.
Be confident in yourself and in your work. Don’t be afraid to value your effort and skills. You are the one who decides how much is your work worth.
What kind of work do you prefer to do?
To be honest, I have no clear preferences set on the type of work or projects I take. I choose work based on whether my style fits well with the client’s direction or preference.
What inspires you?
It might sound hokey, but everything that surrounds me inspires me! From nature and people to food and music. I think I’m quite an observant person… I keep my eyes and mind open by default.