carolina niño
Courtesy of Carolina Niño.
Art Sales

How One Graphic Designer Lands Gigs with the World’s Most Recognized Brands

Carolina Niño rummages through dozens of stock images of nature scenes on an enormous computer screen that sits to the side of her Buenos Aires home studio. The graphic designer flicks through crisp photographs of bright green mountainscapes and dreamy looking beaches. The latter, from a pristine section along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, quickly give way to a work-in-progress where the white beaches have been transformed into a kaleidoscope of bright neon color filled with unicorns and rainbows.

It is difficult to imagine how the conservative source material, many of which one might expect to find on the factory setting of a brand new computer desktop, are later transformed into the eye-catching imagery that characterizes much of graphic designer Niño’s body of work. “I wouldn’t say that I have a specific method for choosing an image. I’m always trying to see the magic in every image I find. Choosing can depend on simple things like a color or the quality of the picture itself, but ultimately, it’s usually based on intuition.”

graphic designer
Niño designed cover art for electronic music DJ Evan Rhodes’ Ep Blaze the Roof.

Niño’s colorful interpretations of the beauty and mystery of the natural world have caught the attention of big brands and allowed her to build a graphic design portfolio that includes work for the likes of Adidas, Wired Magazine, Adobe and Redbull Music Academy. They have also caught the attention of fellow artists, particularly musicians across Europe and her native South America, who consistently entrust Niño with the all-important task of visualizing their musical creations via album covers and poster art. Niño also sells a variety of products – framed art prints, t-shirts, mugs and more, on Society6.

Niño sat down with Artrepeneur to discuss the challenges of working as a freelance graphic designer, the intersection of work and art, and her recent set of collaborations with Colombian musicians Bomba Estereo.

Making It on Your Own as a Graphic Designer

KV: When you first began working as a freelance graphic designer and launched Buro, what were your strategies for finding work and new clients?

Carolina Niño: When I first started out, I would upload all of my work onto popular online portfolio platforms and was very active as a member of those communities, which allowed people from all over the world to find my work. Today, my work has become a bit more recognized in Latin America from exhibiting or participating on popular local platforms. I also work with an agency in London called POCKO – they have represented me in Europe and Asia for the last two years.

KV: What are the challenges of working as a freelance graphic designer?

Carolina Niño: I think that the biggest challenge lies in finding the balance between fulfilling the need of the client, which often is to create aesthetic content and fulfilling myself creatively. I don’t want to create work that just fulfills a content need. Rather, I want to make something conceptual that has something behind that produces emotion from the people who view the work.

KV: How have you overcome that art-work balance?

Carolina Niño: I spend a lot of time trying to understand the vision of the person I am working with and to find something within that idea that inspires something within me. And from there, the challenge is creating a work that represents us both. The best approach for me has just been being consistent with my work and being in constant contact with other artists to help advance my own creative exploration. I’ve overcome those creative challenges by always remaining open to working on projects where I’m not necessarily an expert, and pushing myself to constantly expand my knowledge and my capacity to create.

How One Graphic Designer Lands Gigs with the World's Most Recognized Brands 1
‘Olas,’ an art print used for a fashion campaign by Cameron Brujo.

KV: What have been the challenges of running your graphic designer business?

Carolina Niño: Figuring out how to structure my work hours was something that took me a long time to adjust to because a specific work hour just doesn’t exist. You find yourself making yourself available at all times and it was hard for me to find stability. I have since learned to take time for myself and my personal life and separate myself from my work.

KV: How important has marketing been for you and what are some tools you use as a graphic designer?

Carolina Niño: Today it is completely necessary to be active in some sort of social network. I am not extremely active but when I finish work I always upload it to a handful of different platforms which serves a dual purpose of showing my work and also receiving feedback. Something that is completely fundamental to my work is understanding the way that it is interpreted by people.

What kind of impact has selling on platforms like Society6 had on your work? Does it dilute the work from larger brands that may be looking for something a bit more exclusive?
Honestly, I think that Society6 is a really wonderful platform although it has been a while since I have uploaded new work. I did some designs with cats and they still sell. It does not really affect my current work because I am not extremely active. Also, the work on Society6 is only for Society6. I respect the exclusivity of the work I do for clients and would never put that work onto another platform. The style has slightly changed as well. You evolve and although the style continues to be significant throughout my work I think that I have evolved in terms of the quality and concept that doesn’t really compare with my older work you see on those platforms. Now I am a bit more selective and choose very carefully what sorts of prints I put out there and where. I work with another platform called Curioos which is much more exclusive.

Collaborating with Some of the Latin Music Scene’s Brightest Stars

KV: How did you begin working with Li Saumet of Bomba Estereo?

Carolina Niño: Li contacted me directly on Instagram. It was a strange coincidence because I was already working with her bandmate Simon Mejia on a different project. They are producing a music festival in Colombia and he had contacted me as well to develop all the branding for that. Simon had found me because of the relationship I have with ZZK Records, a music label I collaborate with here in Buenos Aires.

Bomba estereo
Niño’s design for music festival Estereo Beach, produced in collaboration with Bomba Estereo musicians.

KV: What was the design process like for those projects?

Carolina Niño: For the festival, Simon was the liaison for the project and sent me some basic ideas about the aesthetic that they were looking for and gave me a lot of freedom to re-interpret those ideas with my own personal aesthetic. We spent nearly eight months from beginning to end establishing the identity and then translating that into all of their branding materials from the Facebook banner down to the wristbands.

At the same time, Li was working on launching a bikini line and shop in Colombia called Banana Girl and Banana Life. That experience was very similar. She has a very clear idea of what her style is. It’s very tropical, psychedelic and full of lots of colors. It’s my job to translate that to a clear image. So we were in constant contact to transform these loose ideas and style references which could be something as simple as telling me to add some rainbows or sending me a picture of some shoes she’d painted. From all of that, we built the brand and the collection itself.

KV: Will you continue working with them?

Carolina Niño: Yes. The last eight months has been a really positive work experience. I think part of that is that we have similar aesthetics but also as Colombians I think that there is this common language that we have that created, an immediate sense of trust and understanding that made working with each other easier. We are now working on materials for their next album, which is going to be a new challenge for me as it is a global campaign and I am part of a big team of creative people.

To learn more about Carolina Niño, visit her website.

About the author

Kevin Vaughn

Kevin Vaughn is a writer and photographer focused on food and culture based out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. His freelance work has appeared in Munchies, New Worlder, Remezcla and Savoteur, and he pens a weekly restaurant column for the BA based news and lifestyle site The Bubble. When he is not writing he is giving customized food tours to hungry travelers via his company Devour Buenos Aires or is making tacos for his Mexican inspired traveling pop-up MASA.

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