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Stella Grabarić
– 8 January 2020 in Blog

Sometimes, you have to let them go to let them grow. Our former designer looks back at her time with us, the joys and sorrows of facing a blank sheet of paper, and the perks of getting yourself out of your own way.

Stella Grabarić was our visual communications designer during her time at the University of design. As the last step of her formal education, she decided to swap Zagreb for more northern destination – a job in Momkai, a Dutch design studio.
To give her the send-off she deserves, we sat down and pressed rewind.

“Before u šumi, I didn’t have a clear picture just how complex the illustration process is. I’ve always done it more by ear.

Now, I know it by heart.“

So, Stella. It’s weird to think it’s only been a year. What was your main motivation, the main thing that drew you to u šumi?

Well, drawing drew me here. I’ve always had a great interest for illustration, and used it in my projects often. I really wanted to grow as an illustrator, and I figured – this here is a great chance to upgrade myself.

And once you figure out how to compose an illustration, it gets in your hand and in your head, you start to think in layers, textures, combinations… Once you get it, you can do amazing things. It starts to come natural – if you bite down hard enough to master it and if you have the right people to guide you.

Tell me a bit about your job interview, what was it like?

I talked to Stjepan, Martin and Luka, we had a lot of laughs, it was relaxed – as far as a job interview can be relaxed, of course.

We went through my portfolio in detail, but it didn’t feel like grilling. You could really see the guys were genuinely interested in what I do, and how I want to develop as a designer. I also gave my opinions on the Studio’s work, so the flow of feedback felt mutual. I just felt a click.

“In my free time, when I’m on a bus or train, I sketch people, movement, nature, anything I see. I put it away in my memory this way – sort of like keeping a visual diary.”

And the click was mutual. But what was your first impression of the agency?

When I first came here, I was surprised – in a good way, I mean.

Everything in the agency was first-rate, both in the office and the production studio downstairs. From all the filming and audio equipment, software, the huge Cintiqs to, I don’t know, things like watercolors, acrylic, clay, and other art supplies.

Here, it’s never “manage with what you’ve got”. It’s the complete opposite. You’ve got everything at hand, and the only thing stopping you is, well – you.

And even when you get stuck or lost, you’ve got a whole library of books and e-books and tutorials you can dig through for inspiration or to fill in a blank. I used them both for work, and for classes. You’re never left hanging.

How did you adjust to life in the Studio?

I expected a homey atmosphere, and got that exactly. We all worked closely as a team, and I loved that group dynamic.

But the best thing, for me, was that I had mentors. I always knew I could ask Luka or Stjepan for an opinion or direction. You have a pair of fresh eyes around that could get you over a wall, instead of banging your head on it.

“I never skip that first step now. I
define everything on paper first.”

What would you say, what was your biggest takeaway from your time here?

One thing I really appreciate was that I was constantly bumped out of my comfort zone. I had to face my one big fear – paper and pencil.

We’ve all grown so used to taking everything immediately into digital. You start believing it’s the easy way out – just jump over that first step of sketching on paper and right into the screen. And yes, it’s quicker to do it in a program. Yes, it’s easier to erase mistakes. But… Having a pencil in your hand and putting a sketch on paper is just so… honest. Genuine. It’s more direct.

Stjepan used to send me back from the tablet to hand sketches over and over again. And again. It was so frustrating at first. You feel you’re doing it wrong, you see only the mistakes you’ve made, you’re messy and awkward.

But as you storm through your own blockades, you realize it’s all a part of a process to get something really awesome in the end. Returning to that first paper step really defined me, both as a designer and an illustrator.

For me, interaction with people is the very base of design. It’s for people, so its form has to follow function. A bit Bauhaus-y.

Describe your normal day in u šumi

A normal day in u šumi… well, it would be boring if it was a normal day, wouldn’t it? And I like that dynamic.

For example – before Orbico, I’ve never thought about the scope of producing a rich, luxurious-looking video like that. We had tinker and experiment with all kinds of props and media to figure out the best way to do a scene. That lead us
into really uncharted territory for me.

We doubled down on books and tutorials about scenery and model making, we were pouring nail polish and faking it with materials like wax and plaster, we mixed everything from flour to powder to get the right airy make-up texture for
closeups… It was all very interesting, unexpected, and never monotonous.

Working here was definitely never monotonous, I can say that.

“Everything I learned here at work, I used at home, at classes. I even got to turn my own illustrations into animation.”

Did your work here impact your studies?

I was working on my thesis when I started the job. And bit by bit, it helped me define the medium through which my final project communicates and solves the problem I tackled. Spoilers – it’s illustration, of course. With a little pinch of animation.

My starting idea was to form an interactive app that helps doctors, educators, parents and their kids handle dyslexia. And from project to project, I took little bits and pieces of what I learned, and tried them out in my final project. Almost like a small exercise to see what works and what doesn’t.

I also picked up skills that helped me get my final project into motion. Now, I can make my own storyboards, along with animating the visuals I design.

Where did you get your inspiration?

Definitely from Luka and Stjepan. I’ve worked with them the most here, and every time we got a new project, they would pull out a whole list of artists I can use as reference and insipration.

And not only for work, for my own personal projects too. I get home, dissect the references, and try to figure out a way to use them in my work. And that’s the best thing here, that the guys are so immersed in art and design that
they can instantly list a bunch of really great references for any project.

“I really enjoyed illustration projects. It’s a skill I wanted to grow but didn’t have a chance to do so before.”

And what comes next?

I already mentioned that I’m drawn to interaction design, so that’s my next stop. Web design, app design, UX and UI. It’s a booming area. Everything is interactive today. You just have to find the best way to create that synergy between the two.

But my interests are really broad – from logo design, print, packaging, illustration, typography, all to digital design. I already expanded a lot on that knowledge right here, so I have a great headstart.

Let’s wrap it up with a round of quick fire questions. Ready?

Current designer crush?

Roman Muradov – although he’s more of an illustrator.

Any books to recommend?

I love more speculative reads, like Speculative Everything by Dunne and Raby. I believe every designer should read it

What brings you most joy, as a designer?


What’s the best piece of designer (or life) advice you’ve heard?

“Go back to paper“.
+385 91 2431844 / +385 95 9981209

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