We talk to Marina Muun an up and coming illustrator with a bucket list of clients including Grazia Italia, Wired Magazine, The Washington Post and Vegetarian TImes. We're curious to know what her days look like, how does she organise her workspace and what are her secrets to building and maintaining client relationships? Lastly, what does she do when inspiration abandons her?
We like knowing rather random facts about people - be it their pet preferences, the places they grew up or their first days of facing life and all that comes with it. What should we know about you?
I grew up in Bulgaria in the seaside town of Varna and later moved to Cyprus where I also lived by the sea. I always went to various art classes after school throughout my childhood and teenage years and had amazing support from my parents. I did my fair share of drawing still life's and portraits of wrinkly old ladies.
My first day as a grown up was when I had to confront the idea that I have to make a living from the career path I had chosen. Seems obvious, I know, but that one took a while to sink in.
Lastly, I’ve had a dog in the past and I loved him to bits, but I’ve always been a cat person.
Can you describe your studio and your desk?
My desk ….is never big enough because somehow I manage to occupy as much space as people will let me. I’m currently working from our lovely home and our living-room is my studio. No one is around during the day and I have the whole place all to myself!
What’s on your playlist when you’re drawing?
That depends - I have two modes of working - concept mode and execution mode. They are very different but both are essential and enjoyable in different ways.
The concept stage is often the more challenging and in my opinion more important part of the process. During this stage I tend to need silence because I am trying to come up with a creative idea or visual solution to a problem and I tend to be able to concentrate and think more clearly. I have a very single-track mind in that way and too many sensory stimulations throw my concentration out of whack. It’s taught me to be almost strangely comfortable with silence. Sometimes I would only notice I’ve been sitting in silence the whole day when my boyfriend comes home and puts some music on.
Execution mode - this is when I’ve already figured out what I am doing for a particular piece and the work is a bit more technical. During this time my mind is more free and that’s where I really need to occupy my attention with something. I used to listen to music but eventually that stopped being engaging enough and now during the long hours working I’m mostly listening to podcasts and occasionally documentaries. I go through them way too quickly so I’m always on the hunt for new ones.
What is the funniest and happiest project you've done so far?
I don’t think my work is especially funny. I get a good variety of different projects so in a way it’s always something new and exciting for me. The happiest projects for me are always the ones where I think I’ve really managed to express myself and come closest to what I had pictured in my head or have surprised myself.
Oh, and what do you think are the biggest fears when leaving education or starting a freelance career and what do you think are the best ways to overcome it?
The biggest fears… Illustration is a commercial art and commercial artist are very dependent on people liking their work - so fear of failing to please your audience can be a great source of self doubt and anxiety. I think fear is ever present in the life of any creative and the degree to which you get comfortable with that feeling will determine how successful you will be. Is this good work? Does this matter? The more you confront it the more capable you will feel in overcoming it.
Another thing I fear is complacency. Getting too comfortable, not learning new things.
Can you describe your illustrations?
Colourful constructions of shapes, colours and concepts.
This is a cheeky one, but how do you find clients?
I don’t spend too much time thinking about that.
My advice is to spend less time worrying about clients and more time developing your work because it's your work that will bring the clients. This approach does require some sacrifices especially in the beginning but not only works in the long run it’s the only sustainable way to work as a freelancer. The goal is for the clients to come to you not the other way around!
But how did you build that network? How did you reach a stage when clients came to you?
Online presence is obviously the number one thing - sharing your work with people, maintaining your channels, staying present and engaged with the community. It doesn't happen overnight - maybe it does for some people, but that wasn't the case with me - but slowly people start picking it up, talking about it and you gain more and more momentum. I maintained a personal blog for a long time during university, which eventually got picked up by tumblr as one of the top suggested people to follow and that way I gained quite a substantial following. Like anything else worth doing you have to put in the hours first and then one thing leads to the next. Another thing is making sure your portfolio represents the kind of projects you want to do. If you aren't getting any client work just yet and you don't want to work for free come up with your own self initiated work etc., take part in fairs, go to events, talk to people, be nice - it's all common sense things.
More and more people choose to work form home - amazing lunch, free coffee, a cheeky run at 4pm, no transport expenses... But it can get very lonely. What do you do to fight it of?
You pretty much described my day here and the main reasons why I love working at home. In a way it's a throw back to an earlier period in history when craftsmen's studios were also their homes. But you are right, freelancing can be lonely if working at home and it's definitely not for everyone but that's how I started so in a way I don't know any different and so I've adapted quite well over time coming up with my own rhythm for the day. It takes a little bit more discipline perhaps in the beginning. There are so many distractions, you really need to learn how to prioritise and how to mentally separate that work space and the personal leisure time / space. It's just a matter of practice and training your willpower. Even though I work from home and thoughts about illustration dominate my day I don't feel like I'm chained to the desk 24/7. If I feel like I need to get some air I meet up with a friend for a coffee or sometimes invite some of my illustrator friends over and we work together bouncing ideas off of one another, making food, talking and often planning future collaborations together.
Do you have a ritual before you start working on a big assignment, which will take a lot of creativity and time?
I don’t have a particular ritual before I start working but I always start the day the same way - with breakfast (currently obsessed with banana pancakes and french toast ), a cup of coffee and I read through a few articles bookmarked the previous day.
What do you do when you lose your MOJO and feel like watching Netflix all day?
Two things - exercise and work on side projects.
When I feel like I’m in a slump it’s usually because I’ve been in the house for too long so I go out for a run or go to a yoga class and that helps a lot. It also counteracts my strange postures while working. 2 birds with one stone.
Another thing that helps me stay interested and excited about my own work is having side projects. I work on a lot of editorial illustrations for journals and magazines which tend to have quite a short turnover and sometimes crazy deadlines so I find having a side project really helpful and relaxing. This way if I lose motivation or get frustrated I always have something to go back to take the pressure off or just to experiment and do something for fun. Right now that project is putting together a picture book based on a true story I heard funnily enough at Creative Mornings a few months back!
I also like going to Central St Martin’s College Library and leafing through all the art books and discovering new artists!
I just remembered, the below is a good quote to illustrate the process:
" Artists don't get down to work
until the pain of working is exceeded
by the pain of not working."
Can you remember a piece of writing, a movie, TV show, a play that changed the way you think?
The one thing that stands out recently is a little book I read called ‘Seven brief lessons in physics’ by Carlo Rovelli, which lays out in simple language the inner workings of the universe and our place in it looking out trying to make sense of the world.
Where can we find you on a Saturday brunch time?
In the Barbican - I love the atmosphere. I often just hang out there drawing. It’s like a peaceful concrete giant in the middle of the city but there is also so much going on. I love how even though it’s so vast and has quite a severe, brutalist exterior it also feels very cosy inside. I once read that the entire texture of the concrete facade was hammered out by hand, I’m not sure if it’s true but I like to think so!