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Marisol Ortega on the importance of collaboration and the ups and downs of being freelance


Marisol Ortega is a first-generation Mexican-American designer, illustrator, and letterer living and working in Seattle, Washington. She is best known for her vibrant flora and fauna illustrations that play with texture, linework, bold colour palettes, and organic shapes. She pulls inspiration from childhood memories of visiting her abuela’s home in Michoacán, Mexico, and the hikes she’s always grateful her well-meaning husband Rob makes her take. She’s also been known to “borrow” colour palettes from the afternoon art dates with her seven-year-old daughter and art director, Ellie.

We caught up with Marisol to talk about her career so far, and how she’s been navigating lockdown.

Did you always want to be a designer and illustrator?
Sort of! I’ve always loved coloring in my notebooks from a very young age but I didn’t get into graphic design until high school when my art teacher gave us a project with pen and ink. I loved everything graphic and then decided to attend art school for graphic design. The illustrator part didn’t happen until my 3rd design job. I worked as a designer for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and we had a lot of posters to design for each concert, not to mention special events like the galas and their educational program as well. I’ve been hooked ever since!

Have you always worked for yourself?
No, I actually had my year anniversary of being my own boss in April. Prior to that I have always worked a 9-5 job while freelancing. My last full time job was a senior designer for Amazon.

Do you enjoy being freelance?
Yes and no. I love the flexibility it allows me and I’m getting to learn about what it takes to run a business. Not to mention learning how to keep a schedule and stay on top of my home life. The only aspect I miss about working in-house are the creatives! I miss having other creative people around to bounce ideas off of or just having a chat.

Can you describe your style?
I would describe my work as colourful, full of texture and bold. I love working with textures & colours so by default I draw a lot of nature inspired work. Nature is definitely a big influence in my work. I would also say that a lot of my happy memories of my late grandmother, Ines, influence me a lot as does my Mexican-American heritage.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Working with a lot of clients in different industries. I also really enjoy working with clients that share the same passions I do.

And what’s the most challenging thing?
The most challenging has been the growing pains of owning my own business and making sure I block out time for my projects at the same time. It’s a lot of organizing on top of organizing and I think people definitely underestimate it, I know I did. A year in and I’m happy to report that I’ve finally got a system down and things seem to be going rather smoothly.

How are you coping with the current lockdown situation?
When the lockdown first started I had several jobs cancel/postpone and it got quiet for a while. But after a month or so I started getting more requests. I think once people figured out how to work remotely and work in new ways, more digital work was requested. It’s been interesting, to say the least. I think the hardest part about lockdown was attempting to homeschool our 7 year old.

How do you stay productive?
Oh man, haha. I’m always working on something so it feels like I’m productive most days. If I’m really struggling to focus I usually put on some ambient music and set a timer for myself to do a specific task. I usually do this when I’m first doing research work or doing production work. I also set the same timers for “me time”. It helps me take a break from the screen and often times I come back to my desk looking at my work in a different perspective. 

What’s worked for you in terms of getting your name out there?
I’ve learned to keep a digital sketchbook via instagram and post pretty frequently. I show a lot of process work as well as finished projects. That’s honestly all I have done, most of my work is from word of mouth, collaborations with other designers or instagram.

What advice would you give to other creatives?
Do personal work! Collaborate! I love doing personal work and collaborating with other designers/artists. I get to experiment and give yourself permission to play when I do personal work. I often refer back to some of it when I’m thinking about working in a different style. Collaborating with other creatives is also super important, especially since I no longer go into an office and work with other creatives. I think collaborating is also important for personal growth, you definitely learn something new!

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