How did you get started in the visual arts?
I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember. As my mother painted on and off throughout my childhood, I grew up in an art house where a wide variety of materials were available for exploration. I got my first taste of creating as a possible business when I was in the 7th grade and started selling the semi-precious jewelry I crafted at local bazaars. I've followed different creative pursuits since those days, but the excitement for ideating, constructing, and observing and engaging others remained. Though I enjoyed studying a variety of topics, it became clear that I had the most to contribute in the realm of creativity and I went on to pursue studies, and later work, in art and design.
How did you get to where you are now?
In my first year of college, I was introduced to the book studio, with its Vandercook presses and cases of old type and dingbats, and bookmaking and fell in love. This grew into a passion for producing various forms of visual communication and sequential narratives. Through my continued studies in design, illustration, culture, and visual narrative I focused my previous more general interest in creating and shaped my personal voice. Exchanges with peers and mentors along the way also introduced me to many new possibilities for my work.
How would you describe your work?
Who else’s work has influenced or inspired your work?
I often discover new work and creators that I’m inspired by though works by Maira Kalman and Marjane Satrapi have been an early and consistent source of inspiration. I’ve also been fortunate to work with wonderful mentors like D.B. Dowd and Andrea Dezsö who have contributed to some of my own intellectual and artistic pursuits and process.
Can you tell us about your creative process?
Though it ranges a bit for each project, my process generally begins with an initial concept or story and involves a good bit of research early on. This initial ideation stage is followed by a lot of creative generation (writing, sketches, material explorations) that fits a particular project. Then there's a continuous cycle of producing and editing until the work is complete.
What’s it like being a freelancer?
Freelance life is still something I’m constantly navigating. You have to get very comfortable with figuring things out as you go. At times it can be frustrating and isolating and others, particularly when I’m engaged in making or have the freedom to attend interesting creative gatherings, it’s quite energizing and empowering.
What advice have you got for other freelancers?
Get out (physically out of your home, office, or studio, even if just for a moment), attend the local events that speak to your interests and things you might want to learn, and foster a creative community, ideally both local and beyond, that’s right for you. This community will be your sounding board for feedback and other challenges down the line. There can be a lot of doubtful moments in the world of freelance so being able to reach out to those who have experienced similar tides is invaluable.
How do you promote and grow your business?
Maintaining authentic relationships by reaching out and keeping in touch with those I admire or have enjoyed working with has been one of the most effective ways I’ve grown. Though it’s not always so direct, you never know what kind of interesting opportunities and creative collaborations might come out of actively and earnestly engaging with others. I’ve also enjoyed the regular practice of sending actual mail and craft postcards or handmade cards, sharing recent work or just saying hey.
How did your style develop, and how do you tailor it for each client?
Much of the work I do, be it my own narratives or a response to an external need, involves understanding and translating through drawing, painting, and construction of all kinds. My style evolved from an early excitement for materials and continued discovery of how the properties of these materials and their manipulation could help tell a particular story. The more I learn and experiment, the more materials and tools become part of my preferred arsenal for storytelling and visual translation. Having a background in design, I’m used to working with briefs and tailoring my skillset to a particular client’s needs. The concept and story comes first for me, and the methods I use vary accordingly, though I do always jump at an opportunity for material play.
What interesting projects have you worked on?
Some more recent interesting projects include The Studiolo, a multimedia collaboration with the former Met MediaLab, Bruja, an illustrated book, and collaboration on a design pitch with work x work for a compelling client in the audio and podcasting space.
What areas of your work are you hoping to explore further?
I would love to work on additional longer form visual narrative projects, from illustrated books to short films, and experiment with new material and digital tools along the way. Getting further into filmmaking and writing, blending my interest in research and documentary and particular visual approach, is something I would like to expand on.
To see more of Michelle's work, visit: michellenahmad.com