Sara Schipani

Sara Schipani

Sara Schipani is a prop stylist, set designer, and art director who currently resides in Greenpoint. Sara creates visual narratives and stylized mini-worlds through art direction, prop styling, and set design. Her work is being featured in everything from traditional and digital media – from Man Repeller to The New York Times. She also likes corn dogs.

Do you consider yourself a freelancer or a founder?

I consider myself a freelancer (maybe one day I'll be a founder though!)

What made you make the leap to freelancing full-time?

In all honesty I had a full-time job prior to freelancing where I felt like none of my skills applied, and it crushed me. I felt totally useless and it made me motivated to figure out my next step– which soon became a huge leap into the freelance world. I'm still shocked and beyond grateful that this risk worked out.

You've worked with some incredible clients – THINX and The New York Times. How do you find and maintain your clients?

Most of my clients find me through word of mouth actually! I'm always honored that these amazing companies reach out to me, and I assume that the more clients I work for, the more people see my work and hire me. I also have befriended an incredible network of creatives (photographers, art directors, stylists) who often bring me into awesome jobs because we've had a great time working together in the past. I try to maintain my clients by just bringing a lot of positivity to each photoshoot I work on and keeping in touch!

“I try to maintain my clients by just bringing a lot of positivity to each photoshoot I work on and keeping in touch!” – Sara Schipani

You specialize in prop style, set design, and art direction. Can you tell us about your process?

The process starts with me thinking about what I can bring to this project using my skills in prop styling, set design, and art direction – those three things all go hand in hand when it comes to every shoot that I work on! Most people hire me for my style and allow me to have creative freedom. In that case, I'll send over a prop list to the client, which is a PDF including the props/set that I'm thinking will work to fit the brief. I often get really inspired and photoshop mockups of the set to really sell in an idea! Once approved, I'll start sourcing (a fancy word for shopping) and I'll head over to prop houses and other stores where I rent and buy props, fabrics, and other materials. Then comes my favorite part – the actual shoot day when I get to physically build out the idea. The shoot is so quick compared to the amount of prep time, but it's so satisfying seeing everything come together and makes me love my job the most!

How do you maintain your creative freedom while working within a brand's guidelines?

It seems trickier than it actually is – I like to push the client a little bit out of their comfort zone when I'm suggesting an idea, and people are usually open! And even if they're set on their initial creative, that's super fun to execute as well because it will always have my twist on their concept, which is likely why they hired me in the first place. It always comes down to a collaborative effort between me and the client to get the best results.

How do you manage the business side of being self-employed?

Managing my business is definitely time-consuming and takes a lot of hard work to stay organized. I'm not a naturally organized person – I'd always been fine living in my "organized chaos" up until I went freelance. It can be overwhelming chasing down paychecks and making sure you're paid fairly, but it soon becomes a routine and it gets easier the more you do it. Also, I'm so grateful to say that the industry I'm in is a very helpful and inclusive community rather than competitive, and I've had a lot of amazing advice from friends.

Are you set up as a sole proprietor, LLC, or S Corp?

I'm set up as an LLC – Sara Banana LLC to be exact. :)

Any advice for aspiring freelancers?

Meet the people who you find inspiring! We're all a community, so talk to more people in it and you'll have your foot in the door. Someone told me to do this before I went freelance, so I got coffee with at least two people a week and it's the reason I was able to leave my job. We all want to help each other out and are happy to share advice, as well as refer each other!