Illustrator Marianne Hernandez on freelancing and creating work inspired by her Filipina heritage
After graduating from UCA Farnham in 2020, Marianne Hernandez left uni feeling prepared, armed with a new portfolio and CV. Sending her work to as many people as she could, she started to land commissions and make connections with a variety of clients, including Filipina-owned coconut oil brand, Virginutty. However, it was through Instagram that Marianne was able to secure the majority of her freelance projects: “Most of my opportunities come from responding to posts or Stories, or reaching out to people myself” she tells us. Here, Marianne talks to us about creating work influenced by her Filipina heritage, experimenting with her illustration style and using social media to find new contacts.
Illustrator and Designer
Virginutty, Skin Deep Magazine, Spitfire Audio
Place of Study
BA Illustration, UCA Farnham (2017–2020)
What I do
How would you describe your job?
I work with clients to create visual concepts for projects, usually combining illustration and graphic design, and occasionally animation. So far, I’ve worked with a range of client types so I get to adapt my illustration style for very different brand identities.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Some of my main influences are my experiences and observations within the Asian diaspora. For example, for my final major project at university I designed a rebrand concept for the London East Asia Film Festival. This project explored the idea of overcoming Asian stereotypes, bridging cultural boundaries through film, and other ways that people of different backgrounds can come together.
My cultural heritage as a Filipina is also a big inspiration of mine, whether it be exploring the beauty of traditions, tackling the lingering colonial beauty standards, or simply supporting Filipino-owned businesses.
I’m also influenced by more personal experiences, such as my journey of overcoming body dysmorphia. In my most recent project, Beauty Spots, I will be creating a series of illustrations about how I’ve come to embrace my skin condition, keratosis pilaris.
What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
My favourite project this year has been a commission I worked on for Virginutty, a Filipina-owned coconut oil brand. For this project I was briefed to make illustrations and animations for Virginutty’s new candle range. Based on each candle’s scent, I constructed scenes inspired by the Filipino landscapes that the ingredients originated from.
I loved the freedom of the project and the concept of visualising a smell, imagining how each candle’s scent would transport you to a dream-like, tranquil paradise. This was also my first time making full animations in After Effects, so it’s a part of my career that makes me extra proud.
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
To create the illustrations and animations that I make, I would say you do need to have training in some form of digital art software. I specifically use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects, but I can attribute all my training to YouTube tutorials.
If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be and why?
[Below] I’ll often have ideas for projects which, visually, fit in exactly with a client’s branding, but these ideas don’t always align with my current illustration style. So I’m left torn between the designer side of my brain and the illustrator side. However, this does push me to think of ways I can combine the two, which I feel has made me a more creative designer and a more innovative illustrator.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you were first starting out, especially as a 2020 grad?
It was definitely daunting graduating into a pandemic, but thankfully my final project at university involved preparing my website, portfolio and CV. This way, I got straight to sending out my work to as many people as possible.
I was able to find my feet through getting commissions from those I’d reached out to or connections I had made through university. My working relationship with Virginutty actually came from an unsuccessful job application, but they liked my work enough to hire me freelance.
“My working relationship with Virginutty actually came from an unsuccessful job application, but they liked my work enough to hire me freelance.”
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
I’ve found Instagram account The Lakambini very inspiring to my work. It’s an organisation that shares Filipina stories and artwork. Their profile keeps me informed on topics of the Filipino community, inspiring me to stay in touch with my Filipina identity and to make art that reflects that. It’s also a great platform for finding other emerging Filipina artists and designers.
The second thing I’ve found useful to my work is gal-dem magazine. Their articles help me learn about interesting cultural topics and social observations that can inspire ideas for projects.
Lastly, the Instagram account for The New Yorker’s Art Department has been extremely useful for finding creative directors that I can send my work to, and has also been a great form of creative inspiration. Scrolling through their page, I find an array of clever ways that illustrators are able to translate complex topics into pieces of art.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
My biggest challenge has been finding my illustration style. I’ve always been drawn to so many contrasting styles of illustration that I could never really stick to the same style for too long. This would make me reluctant to start new projects at times, because I felt I needed to create a brand for myself as soon as possible – and if the next thing I made didn’t add to that brand, then what was the point?
But I’ve learnt that to keep myself moving, I just have to keep creating and focus on the art itself, rather than how I’m being perceived as an artist. And then hopefully in time, I can grow into my style.
“I just have to keep creating and focus on the art itself, rather than how I’m being perceived as an artist.”
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
The only social media platform I use for my work is Instagram, and it’s always going to be a very useful way to attract potential clients. But what makes it so important to me is that it’s a great way to find new freelance opportunities, as it’s where most people post about looking for creatives, or post open calls.
Because of this, most of my opportunities come from responding to these posts or reaching out to people myself and sending them my portfolio. This is how I was able to work with Skin Deep Magazine – by applying to their open call for editorial illustrators. I also got to create cover art for the band Riscas by responding to an Instagram story of theirs.
My advice would be not to worry too heavily about how “perfect” your social media profile looks. Put your time and effort into your portfolio, and tailor that portfolio to each person you’re sending it to – that way, you’re showing your dedication to working with that person or company.
“Ask clients what their budget is, and value your time and skills as highly as possible. It’s never worth underselling yourself.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I’ve always been a very non-confrontational person, so pricing my work and negotiating fees was something I had to toughen up for. To do this, an important thing I learnt was to not be afraid of asking a client what their budget is. Another thing would be to always value your time and skills as highly as possible. It’s never worth underselling yourself, so if you have to negotiate a fee for a client, start with a price that’s higher than what you’d be willing to settle for.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve received would probably be: don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, go and get them yourself.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Stay active with researching the industry and what gaps you could fill. If you’re passionate about something, think of how you could turn it into something tangible, and that you could market to an audience. For example, if you like to make food illustrations, think of how companies like restaurants, skincare brands, or magazines could use those illustrations for specific purposes. With that in mind, you can develop your artwork into more engaging projects that show potential employers or clients exactly what you can do for their brand.
Also, utilise social media and Instagram to research who to send your work to, by keeping track of other illustrators or designers. Look at who they tag as their creative or art directors, I definitely recommend The New Yorker’s Art Dept and the Association of Illustrators Instagram pages for this.
Mention Marianne Hernandez
Interview by Lyla Johnston