Ani Monteleone has always been a creative person, working on art projects in high school and college. She wanted to do it all and worked in bartending, photography, printmaking, screen printing and playing in a band. She realized her passion for design and type after working at a screen printing company and wanted to take her work to the next level by becoming a designer.
Since graduating from Shillington New York two years ago, Ani has been working at The Wall Street Journal and producing music with her band, The Space Merchants. Read on to hear about her job, creatives she’s inspired by and her current project for a gender justice non-profit.
You studied jewelry making in Oregon. What made you go back to school 10 years later and study graphic design?
I’ve always sort of been a designer. In high school, I made tons of linoleum block prints, took life drawing classes, and made self-produced collage-style zines. In college when I was studying metals I was the token person who designed flyers for events, made illustrated calendars, and constantly drew in my sketchbook for fun. In retrospect, I probably should have studied design or illustration in undergrad, but one of my main problems in life is I want to do it all. Now that I’m a bit older and I actually have tried many of “the things” (studied photography, ceramics, metalsmithing, silkscreening, printmaking, writing, book arts, played multiple instruments, worked in television, music, fashion and service industries).
I’ve realized that design is my #1 true love.
To me, being a designer and art director is to have the ability to take all the things I love and skills I’ve picked up along the way and house them in one container, which is a pretty amazing feeling.
What were you up to before Shillington?
I was freelancing as a metalsmith and also working in TV doing art department stuff, and at some point, I started bartending to supplement my spotty freelance income. In the couple years before I went to Shillington, I had a pretty great system down: I was managing a small bar where I had creative control (I got to plan events for the bar like Drink & Draw and drag shows, which kept me entertained). I was making pretty good money while not working long hours and so my time was split evenly between working at the bar, playing in my band, and making art at a silkscreen shop called the Bushwick Print Lab. Honestly, at that time in my life, I felt very balanced and fulfilled. The metals work I had previously focused my creativity on had given way to a love of screen printing, and with that came an interest in type and design. I was designing things for print more and more often but was frustrated that I didn’t have the digital skills I needed to take my work to the next level. I wanted to further my education, but racking up more student loans was not an option, so I put the idea on the shelf. I wound up getting laid off from my cushy bar managing job, and that made me realize that I wanted to take design seriously and make it my career. Right around that time I stumbled across an article about Shillington; it was one of those moments in life where the stars align and the path before you becomes illuminated very clearly.
I knew immediately that going to Shillington was the right thing to do, and once I made that decision I never looked back.
What was your biggest challenge during the course? Why?
For me, the biggest challenge was a personal one. Being a bartender whose workday started at 10pm and ended at 6am most nights for several years completely shifted my internal clock. When I had to start turning up for class at 8am (when I normally would have been going to sleep), I wound up with some pretty gnarly insomnia. So trying to learn at such a fast pace and absorb all this new information while being creative on literally zero sleep for months on end was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The plus side to that is I now have a whole arsenal of holistic ways to combat insomnia and anxiety, so if anyone reading this is struggling with these things, feel free to hit me up for tips!
What would you say to someone skeptical about Shillington’s 3-month design course?
Why spend years of your life and probably at least 4x the amount of money when you can learn the same amount and get it over within three months? There have been times at my job when I’ve given Adobe tips to people with more formal education in design who have been in the industry much longer than me. The fact that Shillington is always updating their curriculum to be current with what is happening in the industry and the fact that it is set up like an agency really prepares you to transition seamlessly into a work environment.
If your goal is to get a job in graphic design, I highly recommend it.
That being said, you do have to be very dedicated and hard-working since the program is intense and wouldn’t be a good fit for people who aren’t sure if this is the right path for them.
You’re also a singer! How do you juggle your music with design work?
Right before I started at Shillington, my band The Space Merchants actually recorded our second album. So these past two years haven’t only been focused on my design career, but I’ve also spent a good amount of time and energy crafting this album and putting it out. The album finally got released in May 2018—the same week as The Future of Everything Festival (the biggest WSJ project I have worked on to date). I’ve made a mental note to try not to launch a huge personal project the same week as a massive work deadline in the future. Not sure if I can describe how I felt that week and immediately after… burnt out? Exhausted? Criminally insane? I’m lucky I was able to take a little time over the summer to slow down and I am definitely going to keep working on my time management skills and learning to only say yes to the really important shows and projects. A side note is that I am very privileged to have a loving and supportive partner, and since I don’t have any children, I am able to live the workaholic lifestyle.
You did the art direction and produced the video for your band, The Space Merchants. Tell us about this project, the concept and how it all came together.
The song is called “Transcendentalsuperconsciousstate” and the concept behind the video is that we are trying to access a higher plane through meditation and magical rituals with the help of some witchy spirit guides.
In terms of band member roles, I’m the visuals person and Mike Guggino (our intrepid bandleader/guitarist/songwriter) is the ideas guy. He and I have always worked really well together. He had this idea for the video and I took it upon myself to make sure everything would look good by making mood boards, storyboards and sourcing props. My co-worker Christabelle, a project manager at WSJ who used to work in TV helped by making the costumes and writing a production schedule. Mike also works in TV (as a sound guy on Ghost Adventures) and he got the prop stylist from the Ghost show to do the witches’ makeup. Mike’s brother Dave is a dancer/choreographer, and he cast the witches and directed the whole thing. We shot it at Johnathan Swafford’s house (the owner of our label, Aqualamb records). The director of photography/video editor was Jon Foy, an old friend of mine who previously won a Sundance award for a documentary he directed. Mike and I sat with Jon as he edited the video and wove in some of those kaleidoscope effects. The shoot day was very professional and the whole project turned out to be a really great collaborative effort.
Tell us about your freelance work and the clients you worked with.
I’m actually working on a really fun project right now with a great client. This company Third Wave Fund, a gender justice non-profit, brought me on to design the look for this big fundraiser called Gender Bash that they throw every year. This is the third year I’ve worked with them to create the flyers and promotional materials for the event and this is going to be the best year yet.
They are a dream to work with and the themes they choose, their style and mission are very aligned with my own style and beliefs so it’s really nice to get to work on a project like this. Conversely, I had one freelance project with a very difficult client that wound up going belly-up halfway through the process. I won’t get into details, but I had a feeling I didn’t have the bandwidth to do the project at the start but allowed myself to be pressured into it anyway.
You learn more from your “failures” than from “successes” and that project taught me a lot about what kind of jobs I want to take on and setting boundaries when something doesn’t feel right.
What’s your typical day like at The Wall Street Journal?
In the morning we usually have a quick meeting called a stand-up where everyone gathers to go over the priority projects of the day. Then we all go back to our desks and basically put our heads down and work work work! We use a project management software called Jira where all our jobs are organized and assigned, and we use it to communicate with the WSJ marketing team who create the tickets and write briefs. We are super busy and I’m always juggling 5-15 projects with different deadlines and moving parts at a time. We have meetings with the client to kick off new projects, and when there’s a bigger campaign we are all working on, our team will get together and have brainstorming sessions with the designers, art directors, and copywriters. But for the most part, we are designing and communicating on Jira non-stop.
Could you share a few recent projects at The Wall Street Journal? Walk us through your approach and the result.
Our team is a combination of a creative agency and a production house, so a good amount of time is spent doing pretty non-glamorous, nuts-and-bolts type work like resizing ads for various WSJ conferences, designing engagement emails and rolling out acquisition banner ads. When we are working on a larger campaign, everyone puts their heads together and comes up with a couple of concepts each. We compile these and put them in a pitch deck to present to marketing. The person whose concept gets chosen stays in charge of that project through to its completion. One example of a time where my concept got chosen was for the first annual Future of Everything Festival.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out as a designer?
Go out into the world and meet people. Surround yourself with people who are better than you, who are doing things that you want to be a part of, even if it’s not exactly what you think you want to be doing. If you don’t have your own project going on, get involved in someone else’s project to stay busy and inspired.
Work really hard but be nice, be humble and be able to take criticism and embrace rejection.
What other designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Right now I’m obsessed with lots of illustrators, chain stitchers, indie clothing designers, tattoo artists and my own damn friends:
Fort Lonesome, Megan McAleavy, David Cook, Braulio Amado, Jimmy Turrell, Tuesday Bassen, Roxanne Jackson, Ruth Mora, Egle Zvirblyte, Loveis Wise, Bijou Karman, Essy May, David Scheid, Jen Shepherd, Nichole Van Beek, Stephanie Nicora, Cloey Zikmund, Pony Reinhardt, Dan Bones, Kimberly Hutsal, Steve Espo Powers, Andrew Strasser, Chris Held, Kembra Pfahler, and Ray Cross are all artists and designers who are big inspirations to me. Some are friends, some are strangers, a few I’ve just met along the way.