I first got to know Melanie on New Years Eve 2009 in Vancouver, BC. She and her husband lived in the same apartment building as Jeff and I and we all attended a neighbor’s New Years’ party. We shared a mutual laugh when we were discussing the rather odd decorating style of our newly single male neighbor. The decor included a large wood working bench in the middle of the living room, complete with a variety of tools, as well as a large drill press- which ironically, was used to make mixed drinks for the evening’s festivities. I have followed Melanie’s work, as a graphic designer, since meeting her. I am constantly impressed and inspired by her creative talent and her recent success of diving into the freelance world.
I know, after reading Mel’s responses you TOO will be inspired and probably want to dive immediately into a creative space.
Can you share a bit about yourself?
I’m a happy designer and illustrator originally from Toronto, Canada with a penchant for the cute, the colourful and modern things. My husband and I moved to Vancouver in 2006 when I was offered an amazing designer role with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Working with VANOC was certainly an incredible opportunity but the very best part was having the honour of working under my mentor Leo Obstbaum’s creative wisdom and leadership for 3 years. Sadly, Leo passed away 6 months prior to the Olympic’s opening ceremonies. His unwavering determination and passion when he was alive, despite whatever challenges, was and still is my biggest take-away from that experience. I miss him everyday but his teachings will never be forgotten.
How do you define authenticity?
Authenticity for me is embracing the ‘now’, being open to change, accepting your insecurities and realizing there is always another lesson to learn.
Can you describe the path you took to get to the place where you are today? As in, how did you find your calling?
I’ve learned over the years that it really all comes down to following passions and lots of hard work. Always the dreamer, I’ve imagined myself living all sorts of realities but the ones I was most passionate about, in one way or another, lead me to where I am now. I have many “for instance” examples but the one that I would say has best characterized me finding my creative calling would be the following:
Growing up, we always had music playing through the house. I have fond memories of thumbing through my father’s record collection, choosing an album and then sitting on the floor hugging that particular record sleeve while being transported to another world. Sometimes for hours. I loved music and still do. I can’t work without having it in the background somewhere.
Being artistic and creative is very much a large part of those childhood memories too. I loved to draw, to paint, playing with scraps of coloured paper, some glue and pipe cleaners and letting my imagination take hold. Often with music in the background. I was a good student in all subjects but I excelled most in art. When it came time to choosing a career path (probably the most intimidating, overwhelming decision to make as a student) I decided art would be a natural direction to follow. But what area of art studies would I focus on? I started looking at course catalogues and every other course seemed exciting, but there was a particular program I felt spoke to ME.
‘Graphic Design’ was the name of that program. They explained my future career would allow me to play, that I could think creatively everyday and that there may be potential work opportunities in the music industry with the design of album covers or concert posters. Excuse the pun, but this was music to my ears! My dream job! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? I enrolled, got accepted and haven’t looked back since.
I do have to say that I have yet to design an album cover or concert poster BUT my first job out of school was working as an in-house designer for MuchMusic in Toronto (only THE epicentre of what was cool and my music-haven happy-place at the time). I’m proud of this path and “follow your passions” is the most authentic thing I can say. If you do this, everything else will fall into place. With a bit of hard work, of course.
How does your current career and creative journey reflect your authentic self?
Overall, I would say my career has been a natural progression fuelled by my passions. I’m very hopeful and curious to know what lies ahead for me but I try not to think about that too much and just enjoy the challenges and charms of ‘now’. Although, I’m always looking for a few clues here or there. Ha!
How do you ensure that you maintain your own authenticity, when often it can be a struggle?
Over the years I’ve learned to trust my gut. We need to learn to trust our own intuition more. There are a lot of things in life you can’t control and it’s not always going to be a smooth ride but listening to our own inner rhythms can sometimes help with how we deal with something.
For people struggling to find their own authenticity, what advice can you offer?
I think it all comes back to ‘passions’. We all have them. What excites you? What motivates you? Find your passion and you might find your own authenticity. Seek mentors for a bit of guidance and/or clarity as well.
If you had to use one word to sum up your year, what word would that be and why?
Leap. My word is leap because I’ve taken several over the last year.
My plan after finishing the Vancouver 2010 contract was to find more full-time work but given the economic down-turn everywhere, this seemed almost impossible. Nobody was hiring, at least not full-time. The thought of freelancing full-time had come to mind (and I liked the idea) but I had never personally done it and was nervous of making a serious go of it. Was I the type of person to take this on and be successful at it? There have been many bumps along the way. Lots of fumbling. Many hard lessons learned but I’m so appreciative of every single one. I may have been nervous at the beginning but that’s only natural with change. The important thing was that I made a personal leap based on gut instinct (and part circumstance) that has lead to where I’m headed now – a successful freelance design and illustration career and a personal line of greeting and custom stationery. Another passion realized.
Lastly, where can we find you in the web-o-sphere?
Personal blog about what keeps me inspired: