Spotlight on Gabi Zuniga, Illustrator + Designer + Art Director
Tell us about yourself.
I’m an artist, illustrator, designer, and art director. I create some designs for AAGD the agency and the community, I interview the Spotlighted members (it’s so funny to be on this side of the mike!), and I tell everyone I can about AAGD.
I grew up in rural Central Florida and graduated from Ringling College of Art + Design in 2017 with a BFA in Illustration. After having a hard time getting my foot in the door, I pivoted and got a graphic design internship in 2020. I learned as much as I could and got great practice working with clients and an art director. Eventually, I left that job and started freelancing seriously. Now, I do overflow design work for two great Black-owned agencies (one being AAGD!) and I have my own clients. I get to do what I love (illustration) and what I have grown to love (design) and help brands tell their unique story visually. I thank God for that everyday.
What are some of your favorite tools or applications you use? Or can’t do without?
I love digital tools – Photoshop, Procreate + iPad, Illustrator, and Premiere Pro. I also love the traditional mediums that I used until I was midway through my degree – gouache, ink, and pencil. I still sketch out my designs using ole paper and pencil before turning to digital tools. In my spare time, I create and display fine art in galleries around Central Florida using gouache and colored pencil.
I also use some apps to make running my business easier – Asana for project management, and Calendly for scheduling meetings. Could not live without those!
What type of work do you enjoy most?
Oooh, what a hard question! You’d think I’d have a ready answer since I ask people this all the time and I came up with these questions!
I love creating logos or icons or illustrations that tell a certain story for my client. For example, when I create editorial illustrations (like this one for Intercom’s blog) I create an eye-catching illustration that tells the reader about the article without giving too much away. I use wacky drawings to catch their eye and come up with visual metaphors to help get the writer’s idea across. I usually have a fair bit of freedom in these projects to get as zany as I want.
I love when a client trusts me to take their project to the next level with an out-of-the-box solution – I created illustrations and short tutorials for Adobe’s Fresco team a few years ago. I had total control to create whatever illustration I wanted and was able to create short mini-tutorials showcasing the features of the app, and it was a ton of fun creating what I wanted that still served the client.
For the record: I would love to work with modern, fresh, quirky, and bold brands who want a mix of retro and modern design work for their brands! I’d especially love working with Black-owned beauty brands, and I’ve done some work for a few beauty brands taht are gonna debut next year!
Which project left the biggest impact on you as a designer/creative?
That’s another hard one and I have two projects tied for this!
One is the promo poster/image for the Gullah Geechee Heritage Festival in Elkton Florida this past year! Terrence had the St John’s Cultural Council as a client for the 2022 GCHFestival and brought me on to work on this poster. We worked on an idea and I created this illustration – a scene of Gullah Geechee community members gathered around a hog pot boil for Sunday dinner. I got to attend the festival and see the community in Elkton showcase their heritage – song, dance, basket weaving, food, and history. I walked up to the festival entrance and saw my illustration on a large banner, and later got to see the famous Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters taking pictures in front of it. For such a historic and resilient community, it was an honor to be a part of their showcase.
The other is the Haitian Creative Digital Awards which are currently still in the voting stage!
I’m half Haitian, and I’m only now starting to meet other Haitian creatives. Shirley Dor (haitianswhoblog.com) reached out to me a few months ago and asked me to create the social media images for the Haitian Creatives Digital Awards. I was super excited to be a part of this showcase of Haitian creativity, and have been creating a storm of graphics for the Award’s IG (@haitianswhoblog on Insta). The Awards are still in the voting stage and I’m not done creating graphics yet, but I’m excited to be a part of this.
What advice do you have for younger or less experienced Black/AA designers?
Have a goal for where you want to be in your career, but don’t be afraid to embrace the twists and turns of careers nowadays. I never expected to become a designer, but once I started doing it, I realized I loved it. That allowed me to add another skill to my resume and opened doors that weren’t going to open if I had remained stubborn and didn’t embrace it. Now, I do both illustration and design, and it’s given me insight into both processes and strengthened my skills as a creative overall. Trust me – you will have unexpected twists and turns in this creative career path journey.
Also, never stop learning – we’re all students and we’re all learning new things as time goes on. Embrace that.
What would you say is the best way to take advantage of the AAGD network?
MEET PEOPLE. There’s a huge amount of diversity in this community – newbies and old cats and everyone in between. There’s a wealth of knowledge here that has been invaluable for me to tap into. I found AAGD when I was reaching out to creatives to connect and chat with over Zoom (pandemic) and meeting Black creatives in this community has truly opened doors for me. I’ve met my current design mentor and met other young designers like me. Find designers who will relate to this crazy career we’ve chosen for the rough times (because they will come), and make connections who can become a referral to a client or even a client later on down the road. You never know who knows the decision maker for a great opportunity and it’s all right there for you to access.
How do you deal with creative block?
I have to set my pen or my stylus or my mouse down and walk away from the project. I am guilty of focusing so hard on my projects that I will sometimes forget to eat or take a break, so 9 times out of 10 I get creative block from needing to eat or rest my creative brain. If I have time, I will do something completely unrelated to the project – doodle random things, take a walk, stretch, go walk around Target. I usually come back refreshed after that.
For a personal project, I randomly started to create graphics based on song lyrics that were stuck in my head. The first was a lyric from a Tobe Nwigwe song. It was so much fun to match the transition timing to the beats, and to create graphics and find stock photos and textures and fonts and effects that match the vibe of the song itself. These were a great break from client work and I need to get back to making them…
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in what you do?
Embrace whatever skills you have when you are creating for a client. Good at multitasking or handling customers from working a retail job? Use that. I used to be ashamed of not knowing a certain program, but now I focus on what I have learned from my years working in retail. Also, never stop trying to be the best artist you can be if you want to pursue design or illustration – you will never not be able to learn something new. If you are struggling with an aspect of your career, reach out to artists or designers who know more than you – chances are they have been there and done that and then done it again. We can help and support each other and don’t have to do this creative game alone.
If you had a message on your wrist, what would it be?
I would have “Be strong and courageous. for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
It’s a shortened version of: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Connect with Gabi:
Check out the Haitian Creative Digital Awards: instagram.com/haitianswhoblog