Cristina © Ioana Bîrdu

Cristina is a Bucharest based art director and illustrator. She’s been working in advertising for several years and when the job hours are over she goes home and puts on the freelancer cape. She has worked with big brands, like Martini and Philip Morris International, but also for magazines, non-profit organisations and small start-ups.

Chris is one of my closest and dearest friends. We have very different personalities but we’ve clicked from the very first days we met. I asked her to give me this interview because I respect and admire her deeply and I think she’s a perfect fit for the Lifelong learners interview series.

Enjoy!

Do you prefer working alone or in a team?

It really depends on the work I’m doing. If it’s a graphic design or illustration project, I prefer working alone. In art direction matters, I feel it’s truly important to be part of a team and I enjoy this side of my job very much. Honestly, I find it easier. Also, brainstorming-wise, when searching for ideas, being part of a team can prove to be of great value in any kind of project.

What’s the best work related advice you received?

My ex-boss taught me how to choose my clients. He called it the rule of the 3Ps: Profit, Portfolio, People. If you can check two out of three Ps, you’ve got yourself a client worth taking.

For example, a client can be a great person, with a really cool project, but low on cash. You take that shit. Because it’s good work for self-promotion. On the other hand, another client can have loads of cash and a nice big brand but he’s an extremely difficult person. You take that as well, cause you’re not marrying the client.

© Cristina Cazacu

What have you learnt about yourself and other people from your advertising jobs?

Two people will never see things exactly the same. Both sides need to negotiate and find the compromise that works best for all parties. Also, trust is one of the most important values in such projects, and trust should always go both ways – client-agency and vice-versa.

You studied law and afterwards turned towards a more creative and artistic career. What generated that shift in your life?

Well, the law part of it. I really didn’t see myself doing that, didn’t feel like I belonged there. So I moved on, but really, everything I learned in law school has been of great value in my work both as an art director and a freelancer. I find it very easy to persuade people, to negotiate, to express my point of view and to keep a proper appearance.

I really get lost in my work, it’s the only time I can stop speaking for a few hours and be totally immersed there.

When working as a freelancer, what’s the most difficult or uncomfortable part for you?

The managing part. Exchanging e-mails with the client, receiving feedback firsthand, being graceful about it, negotiating the terms of the contract and meeting deadlines. I mean, this part of the job takes 1/3 of the time.

Of course, it’s not always bad. Sometimes you have these great, amazing clients and a streamlined process. But sometimes you don’t and you have to be ready for that part as well.

What do you enjoy most in your work?

Wow, I enjoy so many things in this work it’s really hard to pin it down to one. It would be the calming and soothing effect it has on me, I enjoy making things happen. I really get lost in my work, it’s the only time I can stop speaking for a few hours and be totally immersed there and maybe in the background music, just a bit.

Tell me about your work process. How do you approach a new illustration project?

With a pencil and a paper, most of the time. I like doodling until I get an image or at least a vibe of what I want to do. Sometimes, when I’m in a rush, I skip this part and get directly to it, in Photoshop or Illustrator. But it always comes out better with a sketch. The lines are more fluid and everything looks nicer and more natural.

© Cristina Cazacu

How does it feel when you’re drawing?

It’s a constant thought flow. You see the work in progress, you can make predictions as to how the final result will look like and you can easily change things, make improvements on the spot and what I love the most – the small accidents that happen and make the work a lot better. It feels awesome, you have this weird sense of control and no control at the same time.

What drives you to do the things you do?

I think it’s the will to make things happen. The motivation changes from project to project – if it’s branding, it’s creating a new and exciting visual identity, if it’s illustration, maybe making something awesome.

© Cristina Cazacu

How do you overcome self doubt?

I don’t. I think it’s an important part of the process, helps me improve myself and my work. ☺

Once the project is finished, well, that’s the hard part, when you actually have to overcome any doubt and tell yourself: you did the best you could, worked hard, had your doubts, now it’s time to put it out there and enjoy the ride.

How important is discipline in your work?

Very, extremely important. I think discipline makes the difference between a good [insert your job here] and an excellent one. I mean, it’s that little element that actually makes things happen.

You have a personal project running on Instagram consisting of illustrations for every letter of the alphabet. Why did you start working on it and what’s a good thing from doing something like that everyday for a certain period of time?

It’s my first year to try the #36daysoftype challenge. I thought it to be a nice exercise of discipline and high-speed sketching. I decided to go with a naïve, illustrated approach and even so, it was way more difficult than I expected. Some days I just couldn’t find the time and then the next day I had to catch up with two letters and no time. All in all it was a cool experience, I’ll do it again next year. And better.

© Cristina Cazacu

Are there any other projects you are working on right now and you want to talk about?

I’m working on a personal project, a children’s book, with some good friends and colleagues. It’s kind of secret now, so I can’t really give you any details, except it’s going to be amazing and it’s so much fun to work on. It’s also a big challenge for me, since I’m not only illustrating some parts of the book, but also art directing and managing things.

What’s your biggest challenge at the moment?

Finding the time for random drawings, personal illustrations and painting. They’re always last on my list and that’s a shame.

What’s something you want to learn or get better at right now?

Illustration. I really need to improve my skills and also I feel I didn’t find my signature style. I just can’t settle on something just yet.

© Cristina Cazacu

How do you promote yourself as an illustrator?

I mostly use the Behance platform for uploading my work. Sometimes, I share the projects on facebook too. Instagram I keep for doodles only. But really, the best promotion comes from people you worked with. I received plenty of recommendations for new projects from old clients that were satisfied with my work.

What do you think a starting illustrator should develop or focus on?

Well, patience, for starters. It’s a job that takes time to perfect. I think illustration comes naturally once you’ve developed a good chunk of visual culture. By this I mean draw every day. Look around every day. Keep your mind open, play with ideas. And follow artists you like, and even those you don’t like, but respect their style. Don’t judge their work, try and deconstruct it. Try to understand why they chose a specific style, colors and their altogether approach. Last, but not least, do tutorials, go to workshops.

And get yourself a Behance account.

You can follow Cristina’s work on Behance or on her Instagram account.

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The Lifelong Learners are conversations with people regarding their work experiences, what keeps them going, how they deal with failure and self doubt and the things they learn along the journey.

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