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Art direction and mastering the freelance juggling act

Illustrator and Art Director Marina Esmeraldo knew she wanted to pursue art as a career - but didn't know how. Today she juggles commissions, personal work and co-directing In Shades Magazine.

As a freelance creative, what does a typical work day look like for you?

Both the beauty and the challenge of being a freelancer is the opportunity to mould your day as you see fit. I travel a lot, which can be disruptive, so I quite enjoy having a routine.

I’ve been making an effort not to use my phone as a way to wake up, and I like to start the day with a moment of mindfulness, which still sounds a bit cheesy to me, but I found it’s been really good for my mental health. In my case I just take a moment to make a cup of coffee and sit with it for a few minutes, looking out the window and being thankful for the present and my achievements. If I haven’t got any fires to put out, I’ll then take 30 minutes to an hour to do some sketching or reading, always related to personal projects, which is another thing I’ve found does wonders for my happiness levels. Then I do about an hour of exercise, have breakfast, and crack on with my working day. If I’m in Barcelona I’ll walk to my studio which is 15 minutes away from my flat in Poblenou. I aim to do creative work in the mornings and do admin and take meetings in the afternoons, but it’s not always possible.

Lunch break is essential for a respite and refresh, and I love the way they do it in Spain with the two-hour lunches. Most of the time I’ll come home and cook with my husband and collaborator James Vincent, the editor of In Shades Magazine, but sometimes if it’s a particularly lovely day we go out for a lunch deal in some sunny terrace. Then it’s back to work until 8pm, after which we cook dinner and watch something on TV (we’re making our way through Seinfeld, which I’ve never seen!) for a few hours, but there are also often gallery openings and events to hit with friends and peers. Then it’s bed and a book. I keep my phone in the room for white noise and the alarm clock, but I’ve been wanting to leave it outside altogether.

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Marina Esmeraldo: Women's March

You produce work for a huge and diverse client list as well as for your own ventures, as co-founder and art director of In Shades Magazine. How do you manage simultaneous projects and choose where to invest your time?

There are people who do far more with a lot more efficiency than I do; I always make to-do lists that are too long and I never go through all of the items, which can feel perpetually frustrating. But, ultimately, one needs discipline and good time management! In particularly busy times I’ll plan my day hour by hour and time working sessions, which helps. If necessary I’ll work late, or work weekends, although I always have one day off a week. There are no hard rules in this business though, so there can be insanely busy periods that rush in unexpectedly, and suddenly you have a drop that lasts for weeks, no matter how often you’re in touch with prospects about work. I usually take advantage of those lulls to work on personal projects, update my portfolio, etc.

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Marina Esmeraldo: Joao Gilberto

For someone who is so highly commissioned, how much importance do you place on personal projects?

Personal projects is where the magic happens. It’s where you experiment and make mistakes, and consequently where you make discoveries and grow in your craft. If you’re always rushing to fulfil tight deadlines, you will naturally resort to the same solutions again and again, and things can become mechanic and soulless. For me, personal projects have always led the evolution of my craft, attracted new commissions and, if nothing else, increased my levels of personal happiness.

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Marina Esmeraldo: New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down

What was your route into illustration?

Not straightforward at all. My parents are physicians and they come from the countryside in northeastern Brazil. Both came from humble origins but they were so cultured and passionate about art and jazz, so I grew up with that lovely influence. My father’s family is very artistic and we always had lots of art books and prints around, and my parents always encouraged me to draw and experiment. I loved drawing – I was a shy kid, so it was often a coping mechanism. I knew I wanted to pursue art as a career, but didn’t know how. Creative kids in my hometown either went to advertising school or architecture school in university, and I ended up in architecture school. I learned about graphic design once I was there, and that’s how it all started. However, it took me years (and a postgraduate and undergraduate degree in architecture) to understand illustration was a viable career.

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Marina Esmeraldo: Portrait of Liza Minelli for the cover of Issue C of Shelf Heroes

What is the best or worst piece of professional advice you have received?

Not to keep harping on the personal project theme, but that has proved to be unfailing. Another great piece of advice was to keep emails short and to the point. “Don’t be a dick” is something fundamental that, surprisingly, a lot of people still don’t understand. But I don’t think I’ve gotten bad advice, fortunately.

What upcoming projects are you excited about?

Currently I’m excited to go back to painting! It’s so wonderful to make things with your hands.

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Marina Esmeraldo: Power Ladies
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Marina Esmeraldo: Sound and Vision

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