Culture Trip's Global Art Director, Michaela Pointon, is moving into the world of freelancing. Here, she shares her journey, and the valuable lessons learned along the way.

After completing the Visual Communication course at GSA, was there a particular step that helped you at the start of your career?

Finishing art school was a bit of a shock to the system. Looking back, it didn’t really prepare me for real life on the outside, and it did take a little while to adjust when I first graduated — it was quite an unsettling time.

There wasn’t really anything in particular that happened soon after, but I think that probably pushed me even harder, and made me appreciate what I’d been doing so much more. 

I was fortunate to meet some really special people during school and we formed a very tight network. One by one, we all went on to secure jobs in areas that were really creative, or semi-creative. I think that was all the encouragement it took to realise that there were jobs out there where you could put your skills to good use in some shape or form; that was really essential in keeping motivation and ambition high. 

"It’s important to be able to push and challenge the things you wouldn’t usually do"

The Kiss
'The Kiss'

Today, you work as Culture Trip’s Global Art Director. What skills are essential to your job?

With my job in particular, patience and understanding is really important, especially when working with such a varied team in such a diverse company. The creative department is still quite a small sector compared to the rest of the business, so being able to educate those around you in other departments is crucial when it comes to collaborating and getting the best out of the content we publish.

We all share the same vision but our creative strengths and processes are very different, so to really champion that and get the best out of it you need to be understanding of how people work. It’s much more manageable to do that with the in-house creatives because we’re face to face, and I’ve spent a lot of time working really closely with them. With our freelance illustrators, you don’t always get the pleasure of meeting or being able to talk through briefs in the same way, so communication is vital in making sure everyone’s on the same page, especially when deadlines are tight and different time zones are involved. 

We have offices in New York and Tel Aviv and I’ve been really fortunate in being able to travel for work, so whenever I’m away I make sure to spend some down time with our freelancers or touch base with creatives in those locations. 

It can be really nerve-wracking to put yourself out there in front of people and ask for their time and insight, especially when you’re in awe of what they do! But it’s amazing what a difference it makes, and I’ve certainly learned a lot and made some friends for life in doing that, so it’s important to be able to push and challenge the things you wouldn’t usually do. I always come away feeling really refreshed and inspired, which has a big knock on effect with other projects back in the office. It really helps to be able to share that insight with those around you. I’m always spamming people's inbox with the most random things that I think will inspire or make a mark.

Problem solving is another big part of my job. Projects don’t always run the way you imagine, and you have to be able to adapt well in those situations and give honest and constructive feedback in a way that gives people confidence in what they’re working on. Looking at things in a different way always helps, so it’s good to mix things up a bit to find a healthy solution to those challenges. For people to be able trust and respect you with their work, time or money, you have to really commit and show that you know your onions. 

Code Switching Language Affects How We Think Time Is Passing By
'Code Switching'

You plan on moving back to the world of freelancing to become a full-time practising creative. What is the main reason for this change?

A lot of my journey so far has been about planting seeds and watching them grow in a really busy startup environment. It’s been a really amazing journey and working with such a talented team has inspired me so much. 

I really love making things and I’m always pushing to be more creative, so it feels like the right time to step out for a while and turn to learning and growing again, where I can be more active as a creative within someone else's team. Spreadsheets and emails can sometimes get the better of me, so I’m taking a leaf out of my own book and striving for a healthier balance. 

Are there any projects over the years that have been particularly significant for you? Why and what did you learn from them?

I actually joined Culture Trip in early 2017 where I was one of two in-house illustrators. It’s crazy to look back now because so much has changed over that period. When I joined, it was a company mostly made up of writers, commissioners and developers with an intrigue about visual content. They didn’t necessarily know how or why illustration would work for them, so I helped turn it into a tool for storytelling and producing memorable content for the platform.

It was quite a nerve-wracking challenge because I was pretty much invisible when I started, and had to really push to persuade people to see it for more than just words and pictures. Lots went on behind the scenes to turn our team of two into a department that could run on it’s own legs — and that’s what really got me into art direction. 

It’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me because it’s taught me everything from running a department, to being able to influence a company with the things I love most. There was no colour when I joined, and now it’s everywhere in just the right amounts, which makes me very happy! I’ve also had the joy of interviewing and bringing people in to do what they were made to do on a full-time basis. Watching them develop as a result of me pushing for more creative opportunities is something I’m really proud of. 

"I grew up in an environment where being creative wasn’t a supported career option, and I think it made me want it even more"

Language Affects How We Think Time Is Passing By
"Language Affects How We Think Time Is Passing By"

Who or what inspires and influences your work, and your professional decisions? Are there any people who’ve played a particularly influential role through your career?

I grew up in an environment where being creative wasn’t a supported career option, and I think that made me want it even more, and to seek inspiration from people who had done it really well. I’m a sucker for a success story, and really admire people who take their pleasures seriously — in and outside of the creative industry. 

Moving out of a small town and into the city also played a huge part, and all the people along the way who encouraged me to stick at it have had more influence than they probably realise.

And for those hoping to follow in your footsteps, what’s the best piece of advice you can offer?

Don’t be afraid to aim high or ask questions — even if they seem really obvious! It can be a bit scary when you first step out into the creative world, especially if you’re not entirely sure what it is you should be doing, but I think it’s important to just get yourself out there and put yourself in front of the things you love. We all have our own ways of working and being creative, so it’s good to channel that in a way you feel comfortable and confident.

It’s also good to reach out to people in the industry, you’ll be amazed what an email or a conversation can do. Ask for help, and learn as much as you can — that can be just as valuable as time spent designing or being creative. If there’s something you want, explore the possibilities and don’t wait for things to come to you, if you want it and you stick at it, eventually it will happen — sometimes sooner than you think!

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'La Bella Figura'
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