interviews February 27, 2020

Ágatha Kretli on how to have a career in illustration & design

I met Ágatha last year when I decided to enroll in a master’s degree.
You already know how that turned out, and as I’ve said before, the people I was lucky enough to meet, are the most precious gain from that experience. One such person is Ágatha Kretli, a badass freelancer who does illustration and design.
I decided to interview her to know her opinion, not only on design, but also about illustration, formal education, freelance life, and a couple of other things.

Tell me about your journey and why did you decide to come to Portugal.

I’m Brazilian from the state of Minas Gerais, and I’ve always been into creating things in all possible forms.
In school, since very early, I was the girl that was always drawing. Then, when I had to choose my profession, Graphic Design seemed like the perfect choice. 
I graduated from a College, in the interior of my state, and right after that, I went to look for work in the capital. 
Now I realize how unprepared I was for the market, even though I got an amazing theoretical education.
I had little knowledge of software and never worked with a Mac. But the willingness to thrive was immense. I took every chance I was given, learned a lot, cried, and got desperate a lot. 

I was lucky and honored to meet amazing people who kept me motivated, and I managed to get in one of the best companies in my state. It was there that my real training started. I worked in that place for four years, but personal reasons made me change cities and start over as a freelancer. 

Portugal happened in a very unexpected way. 
I used to live with my husband in a small city, where he was doing his master’s degree.
It was a very productive period because I came in contact with artisanal work – such as embroidering. Yet, I reached a point where I felt anxious to experience something new. I think it was the 30’s year-old crisis (smiles).

Meanwhile, since he was already looking into his Ph.D., we started looking at several places in the world, because we wanted to have an experience abroad. We end up coming here.

When and why did you realize that you wanted to have a career in design?

I ask myself that question every day (smile). I’ve tried to keep my distance from design. I’ve wanted to migrate towards a more artistic and authorial life, so I believed that illustration was going to replace graphic design in my heart.
But I enjoy the project, planning, and goals in design projects. When I wasn’t doing those things in illustration, I felt a sense of loss in my journey. It was then that I realized it’s a universe of opportunities, and I understood that is possible to be whatever I want inside this profession. 

In your opinion, studying design in College is important to be a good designer?

Yes and no. To me, it was important because it gave me a direction. It has shown me a way that maybe would take me a lot to find. But, at the same time, it’s not even 30% of what you’re going to need to become a good designer.

Is there any ingredient or pack of ingredients that help someone to become a great designer?

It’s hard to mention that. Design has a lot of solid technical concepts. However, the subjectivity component is hard to pass on to a professional, it’s almost like a gut feeling.
Of course, you can train that too, but some people do it in such a natural way that I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s an easy process.
So maybe, a great designer is someone with a lot of visual repertoires, who knows how to organize everything intelligently. 

You work as a designer for many years now. Why did you decide to enroll in a master’s in this area, even though you have so much experience?

Although I gained a lot of practical knowledge over the last few years, other things were happening in design unknown to me. 
Because of that, I felt a really big urge to go back to school and rethink my career. The master has been for that, to raise question, and make me go after the answers. 

In the future, our profession shouldn’t exist just to make everything a bit prettier, but to rethink basic concepts and practices which involve the environment, society, lifestyle, to name a few. I only realized that once I went back to school.

How was the transition from agency work to freelancing, and why did you decide to take that jump?

It was liberating at first, nerve-racking in the middle, and unpredictable every day. What made me do it was moving into a new city.
I had to adapt to an entirely different dynamic, be more proactive, and be especially patient during harsh times.
I think that the biggest lesson I got from that period, was the understanding of my routine and possibilities.
From that point on, I started to experiment with a lot of things just for the fact that I had more time. It’s when you realize that everything contributes to making you a better professional.

What advice would you give to someone that wants to make that same transition but doesn’t know where to start?

Start by showing yourself, expose your work. A portfolio is very important, and it’s incredible how some designers don’t even have a PDF version of it.
Opportunities appear on the horizon, some will work out, and many others won’t, but, if you’re ready to show professional projects, chances are much higher. 
If you think you don’t have enough projects, create fictional ones.
After taking care of the portfolio, you have to reach after contacts. Establish partnerships with other professionals, send emails to interesting companies to introduce yourself, and keep an eye on everything that shows up. 

You work as much with illustration as you do with graphic design. In which way do these two areas complement each other in the work that you do? 

Both of them complement each other due to the primordial principles of visual communication. Composition, color study, proportion, readability. All of that universe is developed in both areas. 
As an illustrator/designer, I have a hard time working with text and typography. I get attached and spend a lot of time on images. But it’s a weak spot that I already know of, and need to pay more attention to it.
I always end up thinking design through forms, and every time I can, incorporate an image.

If you couldn’t, in any way, be an illustrator and a designer at the same time, and had to choose just one of the areas, which one would you choose and why?

I think illustration because it gives me more pleasure. Even though the creation is not entirely loose – and you still need to follow a client briefing – it gives me more freedom. 
As an illustrator, it’s easier to position myself with a personal style, so clients already hire me because they want the work that I offer.
Design, on the other hand, is predominantly technical, it’s a bit more bureaucratic and anguishing. 

Do you have any favorite project (personal or professional) that you can share and explain a little bit?

Maybe what I enjoyed the most was the discovery of linocut. During that period, I produced a lot. I enter head first and got results that I still find interesting to this day. 
It was the year that I came to Portugal and was passing through a difficult adaptation period, with lots of questions regarding my career.
I did a linocut workshop and discovered this material called Adigraf, – which is a soft plaque imported from Italy – way easier to work with than the linoleum. I felt in love with the results, and the next day I bought all of the materials. 
Then I reflected on whether this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I started participating in local fairs, with the products that I was creating, and that changed my year. 
However, after some time, I exhausted all possibilities and felt the need to learn other things. I turned the page again. But the number of things that I’ve learned will stay. Sometimes I still feel the need to carve.

Any advice for someone who wants to pursue a career in this area?

Be aware that nothing is sure and permanent. When I started college, I used to believe that I would work in a company for the rest of my life. In the past ten years, I changed that mentality and let myself try new things without big expectations. 
The creative professional nowadays suffers a certain pressure to climb up the ladder too fast. Of course, it can happen, but the great majority will take a couple of good years to understand their direction, and that’s ok.

If you want to work with something that challenges you and makes you learn every day, then the creative world is the right choice.

Ágatha taught me a lot, not only about illustration but also about humility, patience and being a good professional.

For more of her illustration work, go check out her website, and also follow her on Instagram.

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