Over the last eight years at Mad Engine, Itzel Islas has designed art and patterns that live on some of your favourite apparel. From Marvel characters to Disney favourites, her work can be seen on the racks of Target, Wal-Mart, and Urban Outfitters. For Islas though it’s been the process of creating these designs that have been her favourite part.
“I have never stopped learning or allowed myself to think that I’m at a point where I’m too good and there’s nothing anyone can teach me,” explains Islas. “I love learning and practising new skills. I’m proud of where I am now but believe I still have a lot of room to grow.”
Her fire to grow and continually challenge herself creatively has led Islas to take on her own clients independently and to lead the creative charge for San Diego’s biggest coffee festival, Cold Brew City Fest. As she’s built her career and expanded it, she prioritizes paying what’s she learned forward to encourage the next generation of Latinx creatives to continue to pursue their dreams — even when the process seems to move slower than desired.
“Learn to be patient because things take time,” shares Islas. “I like to remind people who are barely starting that it’s taken me almost a full decade to get to where I’m at now. Never stop learning and keep practising. Your skills and voice will come.”
Below Islas shares 3 habits that have helped her while building her career.
Weigh the benefits and drawbacks of diversifying your client portfolio
“Restrictions, creativity, and ownership,” notes Islas. “When you’re designing for larger brands, there are several people that have a say on what the final product needs to look like. Projects could go through several revisions and end up looking nothing like what you first intended or imagined. It can be fun and fulfilling to see the product you designed in stores but your name won’t be attached to it and people won’t know who made it, nor will there be that recognition.”
Knowing that both the good and the bad exist when working with large or noteworthy clients means you won’t be afraid to take on clients that let you own the process from start to finish.
“[With smaller scale clients] there is full control during projects, and creativity can run wild,” explains Islas. “Also, your name is usually attached to your product, which allows for your brand to get discovered and recognized.”
Don’t be afraid to bring yourself into your work
Islas is a Latina and she credits her roots and upbringing with helping pave the way for her passion and dedication to her work, especially once she started embracing it more intentionally.
“When I first started I was torn because I felt like I had to choose between English or Spanish,” explains Islas. “Until one day I decided that a bilingual voice would be 100% true to who I am as a person and just decided to run with it. People have connected with it and there’s been a great response even from non-Spanish speakers. As cheesy as it sounds, I am now confident that my Latinidad is one of my artist superpowers.”
“To be uniquely myself. Even if it seems different; I guarantee there will be others like you that will appreciate your voice being out there in the world and will connect with it. I’ve also learned that if you want to be noticed, you just have to keep showing up and let your work speak for itself.”
Seek balance in ways that fit into your life
Instead of forcing self-care or hustle to look like what it looks like for everyone else, Islas suggests taking a personalized approach to balance the same way you’ve done to the other aspects of your life and career.
“Listening to my body and creating little rituals that put me at ease throughout the day [help me find balance],” shares Islas. “Although to be really honest, there are still times when work can be a lot. If I need to handle several deadlines or go through a stressful week, I just make sure to reserve some time during the weekend to unwind. For example, going to a local coffee shop and do nothing else but enjoying my coffee.”
This content was originally published here.