Artist Feature: Mel Cerri
In the year Mel Cerri has been with Closer&Closer we have seen her grow and evolve, not only in her style and career - gaining clarity and definition- but as a person as well. Her attention to and pursuit of mindfulness in her life has translated seamlessly to her work as a hand letterer. Earlier this Fall we had the pleasure of meeting Mel for breakfast at All-Time in LA, 6,152 miles away from her home in São Paulo, Brazil. We talked about intension, vision, dream clients, her life in Brazil (how much we need to come visit!) and how family plays such a major role in her life.
Today, we bring you a colorful, creative slice of her story. Enjoy!
Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I’m a lettering artist, born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. I got my college degree in advertising in 2008, but never really worked as an art director. Instead, I started doing a lot of freelance design while I was still in college and that was my path for the following years. In the end of 2014, however, I decided to take a closer look at my career and evaluate if it was going in the direction I wanted. Up until that point I had just been going with the flow, never really taking the time to think strategically about it. That’s when I realized how much of my spare time I spent drawing letters, and just how much I loved it! So by early 2015 I decided to make a career out of lettering and that was the beginning of the second season of my professional life. The past 4 years have been years of extreme growth, of finding my voice and my place in the creative world and of believing that I can get paid to do something I absolutely love, serving clients and brands in the best way I can.
I believe my lettering work is very decorative, bold, colorful and loud. I always thought I didn’t have any Brazilian influences in my work, but lately it’s become pretty clear to me that was I totally wrong. The more I let go of what I think others want me to do and the more I listen to my own voice, the more Brazilian my work becomes. That means patterns, bright warm colors, loud design, – that’s where I’m most comfortable. I truly believe that that is the best I can bring into the world: the perspective of a 32 year old Brazilian woman, who is proud of her heritage and wants to translate into her work her own set of values and beliefs.
Describe a typical work day for you.
I start my day rather late, waking up around 8am. I work from home so there’s almost no time lost between waking up and starting work.
Mornings are when I feel freshest with my sketches, so I try to use the first couple of hours of the day to sketch for clients and for myself. This is the part of the process that I find most challenging (concepts, initial sketches, etc), so I try to give my best possible self to it. After that, I try to focus on everything that is urgent, so finishing up something that needs to be delivered soon, answering emails, scheduling calls, etc. Something I’m trying to implement recently is to only have 3 items on my to-do-list each day. So I look at everything that needs to be done and only pick the 3 most important ones that day. At the end of the work day, it is much easier to feel accomplished if you managed to check those 3 items from your list instead of always falling short of a mile long to-do-list.
I have been working like crazy lately, but usually I like to wrap up my work day at around 7PM so I can (try my best to) go to the gym and get some exercise. After that, I have dinner with my husband and dog in front of the TV and catch up on shows and news before going to bed, usually at around midnight.
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy most?
My favorite parts are definitely the final stages of the process. When the client says the words “this is approved to go to final”, that’s when I feel most relaxed to just listen to a podcast or music and get completely lost in the process. I feel like that’s when I have most fun, when I can let my hands do the work almost instinctively.
I always wondered how and why my peers loved working on initial sketches and concepts. To me that’s when I struggle most, my brain going at 100mph trying to solve all the problems. In the final steps of the process I can just relax and enjoy drawing for 5 hours straight, so to me that’s a lot more fun, it’s just like being a kid again.
Was there a striking moment in your life where you knew you had to become an Illustrator?
Not really. Illustration was always a part of my life, from a very young age, so I know that no matter what my career is at the moment, I’ll keep doing it for fun. I remember how much I loved art class in school. No matter what we were doing that day, working with clay, painting, drawing… It was the best class of the week.
I recently asked my mom what she thought I’d be doing for work when I was a kid, and she said “exactly what you’re doing right now”. I don’t think she meant lettering work (LOL), but I know that this need to create beautiful images with my hands has always been a part of me. That has translated into many things, from design work, to stationary (I had a brand of notebooks and greeting cards for a while) and now lettering.
I think my path as a designer has led me to combine the 2 things I always loved most in my career: typography, which was my #1 favorite thing when I was a designer, and drawing / painting, making cool stuff with my hands.
What mediums do you enjoy working with most?
I honestly love drawing on paper, but lately I’ve been doing a lot of work on my iPad just because it’s so much faster and frankly, a lot of fun. My absolute love, however, is working on murals. Something about the big scale makes my heart sing and hopefully I’ll be able to work on more murals in the near future.
If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream project look like?
What I’d love is to be shipped all over the world to work on large scale murals. I also want to have creative freedom to give my own style and interpretation to client work, and of course, working with clients that see value in what I do and have respect for my time.
Outside of your work, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
Spending time with my family is the #1 priority in my life, and honestly, I’ve been focusing so much on work right now that it makes me treasure even more the little time I have with them. I also love going to the movies, playing board games with my friends (my husband is a board-game-hoarder, no joke) and going for long walks with my dog. I’m trying to turn exercising into a hobby, but no luck yet!
What is your favorite show you’re watching right now?
I just finished season 1 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and I absolutely loved it! Rachel Brosnahan is superb in the role of a lady comedian in the late 50s and the show is just perfect in every way: costumes, script, production… I can’t wait for season 2 to come out.
I also just finished the latest season of Peaky Blinders. I think this show deserves more praise, I don’t get why it’s so underrated. Personally I just love all the gore, blood and drama.
What was the last book you read that you really enjoyed?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë! I was seriously NOT expecting to like this book and honestly had no idea what it was about. I downloaded it with zero expectations because I had finished up all Agatha Christie novels (love me a good detective book) and wanted something to read before bed. This book is so wonderful! I loved how Jane is strong but delicate, caring, but with unshakable morals. It gave me so much perspective on doing what is right out of a sense of duty and caring way less about what “I want”, rather prioritizing what “I must”. Highly recommend it, and it’s free (public domain) in Project Gutenberg.
What is a common creative block for you and how do you get unstuck?
My main creative block and something that has set me back in my career is constantly comparing myself (and my work) to others. Yes, that was a great way of learning new things and perfecting my craft, but at some point I just needed to stop comparing myself to others and start trusting that I had all the tools I need to do something great. I’m gonna be honest, this is something that I have struggled with on and off for most of my career, but only now I’m learning that the best thing I can do for the client and for myself is to bring my very own perspective to the work.
I think coming from design has done a disservice to me in a particular way. I always saw design as having to fit and highlight the content’s needs, not the other way around. So for me it was important that I didn’t have the same style over and over again, and for each work and each client, I’d let their needs guide the design.
But the thing is that in illustration, you MUST have a style, and I had a really difficult time understanding that. With lettering, the client hires me for my perspective, my visual interpretation of the theme, and so I struggled way too much to find who I was in this new scenario.
Whenever I’m feeling stuck in the comparison spiral, that’s what I try to remind myself of. Illustration is NOT design, you don’t have to do what’s “best" (whatever that is), you have to do what’s YOU, and you are not that other illustrator. You’re Mel, and you got this.
Outside of design, what do you do that inspires your creative pursuit?
I have been really into meditation and mindfulness for the past 2 years, and I believe that learning more about these practices has helped me so much in my creative pursuit. Firstly because it gave me practical tools to deal with so many things I struggled with, like anxiety, fear of not being good enough or feeling alone in the world, like I was the only one who didn’t have it together.
Also, it gave me a lot of stuff to talk about in my personal work, since what I love most is connecting with other people who might be going through some of these struggles. So I use my lettering work to talk to others about things like finding contentment in chaos, about perfectionism and how that can hurt you, about how we’re all imperfect and how that’s our main source of creative juices, etc. I just love talking about big picture ideas… it’s not the small stuff that moves me, it’s the big questions of the universe that make me feel alive and connected to others.
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
100% night owl! I’m trying to get better at waking up early though, but man it’s so hard! I guess I’ll just wait till I have a baby, then I’ll have no option but to wake up at 6AM!