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Meet Maria Vazquez, Shillington Graduate and Freelance Creative Director

Originally from Mexico, Maria Vazquez moved to London four years ago to do a Masters in Arts Management. Inspired by London and its creative scene, she decided to stay in the city after graduating—working as a content creator and photographer, curating her incredible Instagram account. Though, still not creatively fulfilled, she enrolled in Shillington to add graphic design to her repertoire. Graduating with an outstanding portfolio, she now freelances as a designer, photographer and art director—the creative world is her oyster!

We chatted with Maria about her experiences at Shillington, getting inspired by travelling the world and all things pastel. Read on to find out more!

Why did you choose to study at Shillington?

I had always wanted to become a designer, but I was never able to pursue a creative career. I did a Business Administration degree and a took a master in Culture and Arts Management, so even my education was towards managing the arts but not actually creating them. Then, when I discovered photography, everything changed for me as I was able to explore my creative side. After several years of working as a photographer and as a stylist, I still felt the need to study design but felt I was already “late” in career development to go back to school and invest another 4 years studying a degree. That is until I discovered Shillington and its accelerated program—it was exactly what I was looking for.

I found a way to immerse myself, for a three month period, in a creative environment and learn everything I need to know to incorporate graphic design into my life. This was the best decision I’ve ever made!

You’re originally from Mexico, why did you move to London? What is your story before studying at Shillington?

Yes! I’m originally from Mexico and moved to London 4 years ago. Back in Mexico I was working at a museum and a grant-making foundation. I’ve always wanted to do something creative with my life, because I was always managing the arts. I started to pursue a life with photography, first as a hobby and then luckily it became something more. I was working a full-time job in Mexico and during the weekend I was doing commissioned work for my clients. I was working very hard to try to find balance in everything I wanted to do. Then I was awarded a scholarship to study a master’s degree in Arts Management here in London. I was keen to know more about the subject and I’ve always wanted to move abroad, so I took the opportunity.

Once in London I was so inspired by this exciting city, it is very exhilarating with all its creative vibes.

So, when I finished my degree, I decided to stay here in London.

Before the course you were already a photographer, why did you want to add design to your repertoire?

After my master’s I started to work as a content creator for different brands. I was doing (and still am doing) photography, styling and stop motion videos for different brands and clients. I really enjoy doing this, but I wanted to offer a more complete service to my clients like branding and graphic design, so that the projects I work on could be much more holistic and coherent.

Talking of pastels, your Instagram is an absolute pastel dream! How do you go about curating it and finding all these incredible locations?

Ten years ago, I was living in Paris and met some wonderful friends there. When it was time for me to go back home, my friends were very concerned because they were hearing horrible things on the news about my country. That year, my home city became very insecure with a lot of organised crime, but Mexico has and will always have much more to offer than its violence!

I wanted to show everyone what a great country Mexico is, so I started to walk around with my camera taking pictures of the things I found to be beautiful.

I started to discover a lot of colourful buildings, textures and patterns, and I learned to see beauty in unexpected places.Then I started my Instagram, and at the beginning it was my visual journal, of the things that I loved the most. After a lot of experimentation and getting more comfortable with my camera, I felt that I could convey a message of peace, serenity and beauty using pastel colours.

You even put out a book called ‘Pastel Moods’, can you tell us about this?

Pastel Moods is an exploration of colour throughout my photography. It is divided in different chapters, and each chapter explores a colour in a pastel hue, about how that colour can make us feel emotions like serenity, calmness, peacefulness and enjoyment. Through these chapters you can also find colour palettes inspired by my photography with their CMYK values.

Can you tell us about any design projects you have been working on since you graduated?

Currently I’m working on an online campaign with Adobe called ‘Make it in a minute’. I partnered up with them to create a 1-minute basic tutorials for Photoshop and InDesign. The tutorial walks through how to create personalised templates for Instagram stories and editing photos with the RAW plug in. I also finished a campaign for Atelier Cologne. This was a very fun campaign because I was able to mix both of my passions, photography and design! I got to style some of their perfumes and then add some graphic elements in post production.

Also, I am launching an online course on visual storytelling on Instagram for creative entrepreneurs. I’m very excited about this because I will be teaching how to define a personal style for your brand, to find a common thread in your narrative and how to benefit from all the tools that Instagram has to offer to tell a visual story.

You’ve also been doing a LOT of travelling—where have you been so far? Do your travels help inspire your design?

Very much! I love traveling and discovering new cities. When I travel, I take many pictures for Instagram but also for future reference for my work.

I love exploring a city, walking around its streets and finding colours, patterns and interesting textures.

I take photos of all this, as well of printed menus, train tickets etc. to then create a travel visual diary for each city.

I’ve travelled to many places but the ones that have captivated me the most are Japan and its giant stationary stores (hello design lovers!), India and its beautiful and symmetrical architecture (like a Wes Anderson movie), Myanmar and its Pagodas and rawness, and lastly Georgia for its famous hallways that are beautifully decorated with carved ceilings and painted walls. All are authentic hidden gems!

What was your favourite project you worked on at Shillington?

My favourite project was the Campaign brief. It was my favourite because after learning so much during the entire course, we were free to apply all these new skills to our own interests.

This project challenged me in many ways because I had to learn how to have consistency through my entire work flow: from branding, creating a logo, designing the posters, creating illustrations and photography, coming up with a packaging, to finally creating a website and its content for social media.

What was your biggest challenge during the course? Why?

The biggest challenge was trying to find balance between work and social life. I felt very tempted to go out with friend and party, but I knew I had already invested time and money on this, so I tried to make the best out of my time in Shillington. Luckily my family and friends where very supportive, because they knew I was doing something I’ve always wanted to do.

Did you make any meaningful connections with your teachers or fellow students during the course? Are you still in touch?

Yes! I met too many talented and inspiring people at my course. We are all still in touch—we have a WhatsApp group where we all help each other out and ask questions about work, careers etc.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be?

I definitely have more than one:

  • Make the most out of your time. It’s going to be very hard and exhausting, but totally worth it. Be prepared to set aside your social life for 3 months, and dive into the world of design.
  • Listen to your teachers and ask for advice. They know the industry and can offer very helpful insights.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, this is your time to experiment to find what feels right for your “design style”.

  • Ask for feedback to your classmates, they might also be learning but they can offer new eyes to see your work. Sometimes we get so caught up in your design and having new fresh eyes can improve your design.
  • After finishing you will be amazed and proud by all you have accomplished.

Huge thanks to Maria for sharing her story with us—we can’t wait to see what the future holds. Make sure to follow her on Instagram and check out all her work on her website.

Want to study graphic design at Shillington? Learn more about our 3 month full-time and 9 month part-time course in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

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