Margarita Bernal Arango pictured above at Kaleidoscope, a Limerick Pride Exhibition with her piece ‘The Act of Popping Bubbles’. Picture: Ken Coleman
Margarita Bernal Arango has been living in Limerick for the past 11 years
By I Love Limerick correspondent Ellie McCarthy
Margarita Bernal Arango is a graphic designer, illustrator, and artist originally from Colombia. Margarita has been living in Limerick for the past 11 years. After originally coming to Ireland to learn English, Margarita became an Au Pair and through that a life for herself in Limerick. She has a degree in Visual Arts Advertising and Graphic Design from Art and Design School in Sant Cugat del Valles in Barcelona, Spain. Margarita Bernal Arango also has a Bachelors in Marketing and Advertising in University Politécnico in Grancolombiano, Bogotá, Colombia. Margarita has been working as a graphic designer for almost 20 years. Margarita Bernal Arango is passionate about design, learning new skills and creating beautiful things that make people feel inspired and happy.
When and why did you decide to come to Limerick?
In 2011, I came to Ireland with the hope to learn English for 6 months. I don’t know what I was thinking. To be honest, I was a bit lost in what to do with my life at that stage. Coming to Ireland and working as an Au Pair brought so many good things to my life. I had a brilliant Irish host family; I embraced new adventures by myself, and I was able to learn and adapt to a new culture. Learning and practising a new language was challenging at 27 years of age but at the same time, I was able to make long-lasting friendships from different parts of the world and I had the opportunity to travel around the island with my Au Pair friends. Around that time, I also found a new job as a graphic designer in McNamara Printers in Shannon. I was still working as Au Pair until I decided to move out with a couple of friends and in the middle of that I met Ken, and we have been together since, we have a son, Luke and Ken & I got married last year.
Have you always worked in graphic design?
Not really, I lived in Spain before coming to Ireland. I had worked in Sant Cugat, a city close to Barcelona as a cleaning lady in a couple of houses and offices, as a waitress in a local restaurant and as a babysitter. From time to time, I also did some freelance work as a graphic designer. Before that, in Bogota, Colombia I worked mostly as a graphic designer. I did some work as an Executive Producer of a Children’s animated series for television (Planeta Cao). In Ireland, I worked as an Au Pair. I also did create the layout and design of The Fusion Magazine by Michelle Costello for the first couple of editions. Coming to Ireland gave me the opportunity to work as an Au Pair and be able to study English at The Limerick Language School. When I felt I was able to maintain conversations and write better I started to look for job opportunities and one of my Spanish friends sent me a graphic designer job. I did the interview and they called me. This October I will be with them for 10 years. In the last couple of years since the pandemic, aside from my graphic design work, I also started to do some commissioned illustration artwork for a Colombian Recipe Book for a friend in California. I have been included in a few art exhibitions in Limerick city this year, The Utility Boxes Project, SVITLO/ LIGHT Art exhibition/ Auction and the Limerick Pride Exhibition – Kaleidoscope. I am in the first stages of working on a pattern design collection too.
What do you love most about your job?
Working as a Graphic designer for almost 20 years now has given me the ability to always work on multiple projects and in different industries. It also has given me the ability to constantly learn new software/apps, create in different ways and produce a design tailored to the client, either working as an employee or as a freelancer. At this moment in my career, I am embracing my ability to work more as a digital illustrator and to design digital and printed resources for companies or individuals. In my day job as a graphic designer in a printing company, I love creating wedding stationery. I love to put in little details for our couples on their special day, and I also love to create new logos and branding for companies. It is also fun to create promotional material and put together a beautiful and functional piece for our customers. From my digital illustrations, which I create mostly on Procreate or Adobe Illustrator, I love the process, of observing flowers, organic shapes, nature in general, and different elements. I also like to paint food, so I take a lot of photos when I go for walks or when cooking or searching online. Then I choose what I want to challenge myself to paint. I take my time in the evenings. I play with the different selections of brushes I have on my apps; I start sketching, creating the composition, giving them volume, light and shadows, and trying to make the objects semi-realistic. For some pieces, I like to work with fun and strong colours. What I love most is having time to create my own concepts and ideas so I can express myself. I like to be able to immerse myself and have no rush while I am creating. I enjoy living in the process, having the right shape, colours, and texture. Once you overcome your barriers and fears, you accomplish something in the end. It’s an exercise that helps me push my boundaries and makes me a better illustrator every day. So, to answer, what I love about my job is being able to create different pieces every day, from observation, conversations, meetings, emails, notes, or briefs and bring to life my clients’ ideas or my own ideas, that translates to a beautiful piece that will serve a purpose. Painting, crafting, illustrating, designing, whatever the medium is, it is the creative process of building new pieces that serves a purpose.
What have been the greatest challenges in your career?
Even though I love learning new software and creating pieces with them, it’s very challenging as there are so many new apps available and keeping updated is hard. It’s amazing how quick my industry changes and the many ways you can approach design. Sometimes it gets a little crazy. So, it’s hard to keep up with the speed of new technologies, learn it, and then have the time to apply it to your work. Working as a graphic designer is very challenging as people assume that you can do many other tasks and roles such as illustrator, website developer, content creator, social media manager, and so on. Every graphic designer has different strengths and skills but because the industry wants us to be all of the above, there is a lot to learn. It’s hard to find your niche and keep up with the demand in the industry, especially if they don’t pay you accordingly for the requests above.
What work achievements are you most proud of?
Working as a graphic designer with all the staff in McNamara Printers, we have succeeded in being a multi-award-winning company. We have won awards such as “Best Wedding Invite/Stationery Supplier” of the year 2015, “Best Wedding Invitation Designer” of the year 2017, and “Winner for Invitation Supplier” of the Year 2018 and 2019. My most recent achievements as an Artist / Illustrator are the Limerick Pride exhibition ‘Kaleidoscope’, a digital Illustration that I created specifically for the exhibition called “The Act of Popping Bubbles” was part of an amazing group of artists curated by visual arts artist Moya Ni Cheallaigh. It brought together a diverse collection of artists as part of the Limerick Pride Festival 2022. My piece was sold. I was also part of SVITLO/ LIGHT Art exhibition and auction.I donated my artwork “Sew the Remnants”, a digital illustration that was printed and framed for the event. After the launch, my piece was sold and 100% of the sales and auction from the event went to support The Irish Refugee Council which works with Ukrainian refugees. Over €50,000 was raised and donated to The Irish Refugee Council. My digital illustration “Limerick is Flourishing” participated in Limerick’s Urban Exhibition, The Utility Boxes Project by Draw Out Limerick. In The Utility Boxes Project, my piece was chosen and displayed in Limerick City Centre.
Who are your greatest inspirations both in work and life?
My biggest inspiration is my son Luke, how freely he acts and how he observes life. We forget the most simple things as we grow. My husband Ken has been pursuing his career as a Digital Artist, he has done so many brilliant things locally and internationally as an artist and educator. You can feel how passionate he is about his work and how far he has gone. I admire how supportive and kind he is and how he loves to help people and share his knowledge. He has been a great inspiration to follow. I think we always can be inspired by our close ones. For international inspiration, Bonnie Christine, Lisa Bardot, Carrie Green, Liza Glanz, Peggy Dean, Silvia Ospina, Catalina Strada, Lisa Congdon, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Simon Sinek are some to name a few. For more local inspiration, Saara McLoughlin for her kindness, friendship, and fun interior design skills. Shelly O’Halloran, for bringing me back the capacity to empower myself as a woman, through pregnancy and postpartum yoga, she showed me all the options we can have and the capacity of our bodies to birth, she also helped me know more about my body and strength. I follow all the above, have done courses with and have been part of their memberships, listened to their podcasts, and audiobooks, followed tutorials, learned different skills, learned about life, design, and style, overcome fears, work in our mindset, believe in our capabilities, keep going with our dreams and much more. These have added to my life and made me more skilled and strong. My favourite artists are Gaudi, Dalí and Miró. I admire their capacity and vision in their work. They are fun and unconventional.
Do you think Limerick is a good city to pursue a career in art and design?
Definitely. I think Limerick has improved in a really good way, with more spaces and opportunities for artists and designers since I first arrived here in Limerick 11 years ago. There was very little knowledge or advertisement to find out what was going on in the city. Since I met my husband, I was aware of more gigs and events happening in the city and because some of the posters were designed by him or simply people were telling others, but when you are not from here it was hard to know what was going on. My friends and I thought the only activities available were going to the pub, going to the gym, and going to Thomond Park for matches. But a lot has changed since then. Most of the coffee shops and restaurants have improved their look and interior design. They renewed their outside signage and printed new menus and posters. Social media has also improved the promotion and knowledge of the business and events happening in town. It is noticeable, that there are more art exhibitions, more youth involved in different events, inclusion is growing, more concerts are happening in town, and there are new artists and crafters selling their work in the Milk Market and Wickham Way Market. After the pandemic, they know there is more room to improve in more niche types of design.
What advice would you give to people wanting to pursue a career in art and design?
I believe that experience and practice help you to fulfil your knowledge and guide your path. It’s important to find your own opportunities, observe what’s happening in your work, life and around the world and see where you can help with your art or design skills, working from home or at companies. Explore and grow your style. Practising with different mediums will help you to improve on your own. Travelling is also good to open your mind and see other cultures. Meet with people, collaborate and find your purpose, show up every day for yourself, improve your social skills, learn from others, listen to others, and be flexible.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
In my own studio either at home or in town where I can have my own space to create my illustrations, meet with clients and be able to showcase my artwork. I would love to get involved in more local art and design events and be able to do more collaborations. I would love to be able to have an online community where I can share my knowledge and serve them as inspiration to keep their dreams going and their work progressing.
Lastly, what’s your favourite thing about Limerick?
This is hard to answer, but if I had to pick, I love the Shannon River and the way the city is intertwined. You can walk different paths and enjoy the animals and vegetation that comes with it. That works for me to clear my mind. I do some walking and observe all the life and activities that come with it. Although I would love to see more integration in the community with the river.
To view Margarita Bernal Arango Etsy shop, go HERE
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