The freelancing adventures of Designer and Illustrator Iván Santiago in magical Mérida

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Iván Santiago is a Venezuelan-Italian illustrator and graphic designer based in Mérida, a Venezuelan city located in the Andean highlands. He joined jovoto in 2011 and has been involved in 55 projects since then! As a freelancer, he has art directed an animated series, done storyboarding and illustration commissions. He is also a comic artist and created the web comic series “Weird Wide World Adventures of Miss Hellothere”.

Iván and his character Miss Hellothere

Following on from Ibrahim Ahmad and Fulya Kuzu this is the third and final Creative Spotlight that resulted from the Community Connect project back in May. Three designers were selected whom we were interested to get to know more about and share their stories with you. Iván said the pandemic and quarantine measures didn’t impact him much – he is used to working from home – but it has limited his outdoor activities. He also talked about the socioeconomic troubles in Venezuela and how that has affected him – having to deal with power outages, hyperinflation, and, sometimes, lack of basic amenities. He has had to learn to be resilient, more organised, and very patient to schedule his activities without stressing out. He remains positive and is happy when he gets to have time to be creative and reflect. The statement on his jovoto profile is “Working is a hobby!” – so let’s talk work… and some other topics:

jovoto: You’ve been part of jovoto’s creative community for almost 10 years, what have been some of your highlights?

Iván: Mainly the projects I have been involved in, especially ones that have been most relevant for my skills and interests – like when they focus on illustration and graphic narrative. Regardless of whether it is a single illustration or a sequence of them, I have usually tried to make the content tell a story where the approach to the demand or problem is shown along with the path that leads to the proposed solution.

On the other hand, I have an affinity with merging artistic concepts and the functionality of design, so I seek to give an aesthetic contribution to the functional solution to each project. Depending on the requirements of each project, I often study the possibilities of reinterpreting contemporary art, current trends in illustration and design, classical styles, or even comics.

With regard to my own projects, most of them are stories that I want to tell that I try to capture in comics. I enjoy the production process – writing, documentation, character/stage design, and storytelling. The comic that I am currently working on – called “Weird Wide World Adventure: Crocodilopolis” – is characterized by being an adventure comedy set in Egypt, where a peculiar girl, together with her parents, try to help an Egyptian goddess recover her powers in order to face another god that is causing problems. 

I am into enriching concepts through creativity, and specifically illustration and the possibilities it offers as a powerful communication tool. Comics and character design is one of my greatest passions.

“The Nano-Firefly Project” – Iván collaborated with Gusmery Paredes on this submission for the “Think off the Grid” project for innogy. They made it onto the client’s shortlist and received the best collaboration award – which earned them €1100.

What first attracted you to jovoto and what has kept you coming back? 

I was introduced to jovoto for the first time, by a friend of mine telling me they enjoyed working internationally and that they had success in several projects. I was intrigued. The experience of connecting with designers from all over the world and working for prestigious brands from your home studio and having the freedom to manage your time is fantastic. This way of working, the innovative vision of the future of work, and community engagement have kept me coming back to jovoto over and over again. I have also had the opportunity to collaborate with other creatives from several countries and have connected with them outside the platform.

‘Magical Herbs’ – Iván’s submission in the Ricola Limited Edition 2015 project, which caught the eye of his fellow creatives and earned him a €750 community award.

If you had the chance to start your career over again, is there anything you would do differently?

The only thing I would do differently is have a little more self-confidence and not get carried away by the immediate cycle of circumstances. With this in mind, I could have perhaps got more opportunities. When an opportunity comes your way, I think that having excessive modesty or believing you need more preparation to deserve it is as bad as the opposite – being too confident. I have corrected this over time by keeping modesty on an appropriate level. After all, a reflection usually comes at the right time, neither before nor after, so I still consider myself fortunate with what I have experienced and been able to learn.

When did you first get interested in comics and when did you start creating them?

I got interested in comics and also animation as a child – I was influenced by the Japanese animated series of that time and the printed comics that were in newspapers and magazines. I remember feeling very excited when I first realized how the characters in a printed cartoon were able to talk by means of speech bubbles. I then began drawing stories and full series in the remaining pages of my school notebooks and really enjoyed being able to take them anywhere I went. That seemed like magic to me.

Iván Santiago the cartoonist at work

What advice would you give to people wanting to go freelance?

First of all, I would advise them to reflect deeply on why they want to become freelancers and be clear about their motives. This will be the compass that will lead them to fulfill that goal and take it seriously at any moment. Once done, they can start by promoting their work through an online portfolio, their own website, and social media. At the same time, they can participate in crowd design platforms, such as jovoto and other freelance sites. The thing is to make themselves known and start interacting with a community. Do not be shy to talk about the work you do and share it with people.

It’s also important to be clear about your key skills: the things you do best and passionately. That way, you will be able to offer quality services associated with your specialty. Along the way, it is vital to cultivate self-discipline, time management, patience, and learn how to deal with potential customers; it is also a good idea to do teamwork with other freelancers. Overall, I insist on taking it seriously and setting your goals clearly because as a freelancer you depend on yourself; I occasionally have to remind myself of this.

‘Act now’ – Iván’s submission in the Power to the People for a campaigning group looking to increase indirect democracy in Austria. The client shortlisted the idea, which earnt Iván €200.

You described the people in your town as “imaginative people” – sounds intriguing! Can you tell us a bit about where you live and how you came to live there?

When I referred to the imaginative qualities of the inhabitants of the city where I live, I was trying to add a touch of fun to my statement, but there is truth to it! Mérida has been characterized as a university city where students from different regions of Venezuela and from other countries in Latin America converge. There is even a popular motto saying that Mérida is a university with a city inside. This peculiarity allows it to be a cultural city but also have the profile of a provincial town – it is a picturesque place, positioned among snowy peaks and the popular local legends often feature elves and sorcerers.

I came to Mérida as a student. I initially left after graduating as a graphic designer but then I came back again. It is a city that allows the development of different fields of creativity and art. I really enjoy its charming environment and interacting with the very creative people – artists, filmmakers and writers – that call it home. Many have unfortunately been emigrating due to the difficult situation in the country in the last few years. Although Mérida is not what it used to be, its essence struggles to persist. Let’s hope that something more than the spell of its legendary sorceresses will restore its old charm.

Yes, let’s hope that. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Iván!

Iván showing us a few sights of Mérida

Connect with Iván on his jovoto profile, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Patreon – or maybe go visit him in magical Mérida (when the coronavirus travel restrictions are a thing of the past), I’m sure he’d be happy to show you around…

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Helen Gimber

Helen is into creativity, collaboration & collectivity! She joined jovoto in 2015 as a guide for Textile Design projects and has been a regular fixture of the community marketing and management team since.


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