An illustration series created for a personal project around location based nail wraps. This illustrated location is Vancouver, Canada.

Maria Centola is a hybrid designer/illustrator originally from Vancouver, Canada. She works as a digital designer at Sennep in London, while also taking on freelance illustration projects and running her very own podcast called Working Title.

Maria and I met the first day of our final year at the University of Hertfordshire. We instantly bonded over moving to the UK. We’ve been flatmates for a couple years now and still counting︎ 

︎ How did you know you wanted to pursue a creative career?

My entire life I drew, I read fiction novels, built objects, took my camera everywhere and I sewed my own clothes. I never hid my creativity. For quite a while I was just trying to replicate things I saw in the most realistic form. I never really saw that as a career – I wanted to be a business woman. That evolved into a desire to be own a retail store and produce my own clothing line. I realised very quickly after visiting a uni open day in graphic design and illustration that design brought all my passions together.

︎What was your first creative job and how did you get it?

I worked at an Arts Centre in the town next to mine. I did everything from answering calls to planning art courses for the students to curating the gallery collections and even having my work in the gallery and teaching my very own nail art workshop. I was a volunteer for a year or so before applying, I got to know the volunteer coordinator and asked if they were hiring one day.

UI designs built for a multi-player mobile game called OLO, created while working at Sennep.

︎ Where do you work now and what kind of work do you do?

I currently work at a digital design agency called Sennep (Norwegian for mustard!) As a digital designer I spend the majority of my time in a program called Sketch building interfaces, digital products, websites and apps. I tend to make prototypes in Invision, or After Effects or there’s this great tool called Principle too. My briefs are usually given verbally and work out the tasks as a team. I then get inspiration and start sketching. I will put together mood boards and start designing within a couple hours. My role is varied and in my time at Sennep I've worked on the UI for our mobile game OLO, built identities for start-ups and designed and prototyped a group running app that supports group-focused running over individual competitive-focused running.

︎  What do you like most about what you do?

I'm most happy when I'm challenged, when I'm learning something or when I'm pushed out of my comfort zone. I most enjoy building tools that people enjoy using. Things that help people or make them smile. User testing is always a fun part of my job as well, because I'm able to put the tools I design into the hands of people who will be using it. A very rewarding part of the process.

︎ How do you stay inspired, in such a creatively demanding job?

Surrounding myself with other amazingly inspiring people; my coworkers, my flatmates, my friends. I mentor to stay inspired, I have to be on the ball so I can be the best mentor for them. I go to talks and workshops whenever I can. And lastly I am inspired by doing things outside of the creative industry. I climb and run, I love going to gigs, I do stand-up comedy – all of these things influence me and my work in some way.

Made as a personal project, this illustration echoes the gesture of a smoker.

︎   How do you deal with money, as a business woman?

This is a big question. I deal with money in the most balanced way I can. I try to save 20%, I try to enjoy my money by going to see live comedy and music and eating good food. I also know when I need to invest in myself or my career. I think a way of justifying spending money is sometimes knowing how those purchases can create opportunities for me somehow. Will it put me infront of new people, will it push me to be a better leader or will it be a great chance to forget about my work so I can come back with fresh eyes?

︎ What is your biggest fear as a woman or woman creative?

That I will never live up to all the men that I admire who are in positions of power. That I won't be able to reach all those young women trying to get into the industry. That I can't be enough of a success to help propel more women into the tech and design industry. That I might let my fears dictate my desire to be a leader and be an inspiration for women who don't know if they can make it in this industry.

︎ Feminism has achieved great things on the emancipation of women, but it focused on the masculine qualities in women (competition, ambition, logical thinking, clear results) so they could be seen as equal to men in this patriarchal society. Leaving women and men, orphans to their feminine side (passion, sensitivity, beauty, creativity) because feminine people are treated as lazy, irresponsible, indulgent.

In our obsession with results we’ve detached so much from experience that we’ve started to loose our morals and meaning replacing it with anxiety, anger and fears. Ideally both genders would balance femininity and masculinity, harmonizing between the two. How do you think we can implement more of our feminine side into our practice and our daily life?

By being kind to others. This will only develop with inclusion of all genders, and discussions around what it means to be a man and a women in a position of power. What if we decide to stop associating qualities in people to female and male? What if we decide that human traits are human, and not gendered? I don't think they are gendered, I think we make them gendered by living in the past. It's up to women to get in positions of power and just be themselves and society will see them as successful people, not women or men.

An illustration created for the lovely company Mary Young. This image was made for breast cancer awareness month.

An illustration for the cover of the Capilano Courier to accompany an article on why corporations don’t act ethically in business.

︎ Is there a specific thing you do just for the experience, the feeling, rather than the result?

I do most things for the experience. I joke that when I write my book (because one day I will write a book – mark my words!) that book will be called 'Here for the experience'. I do everything for the experience. Maybe it's to learn something new about myself, or to relax, or to feel uncomfortable and grow, or to not miss out, or to see things from a different perspective. This may be controversial, but those 'experiences' I have often also tend to be for a result. The feeling is the result.

︎ Harvard published a study in 2015 (link) where they showed different pieces of creative expressions, designs, paintings, etc, to a group of subjects, both male and female. These were shown to the subjects individually, changing the gender of the creator. Both genders rated the work as more creative when they knew a man had done it. What do you think of it, or why do you think that is?  

For a long time, men were the only ones allowed to be painters. They were seen as the creative ones, the technically skilled ones, as the trained ones. Perhaps we still hold that in the back of our minds? I think things are changing for the better but right now I can see society doesn't value women's voices or opinions as much, but as I said – it's changing. Think about Siri – a woman's voice. It tells you what to do. It's a voice of reason and knowledge. That has to be doing something for our psyche.

︎ Are there any women/non-binary creatives you look up to?

Malika Favre, Es Devlin, Jessica Hische, Paula Scher, Jessica Walsh, Debbie Millman, Annie Atkins.

︎ Is there anything specific that you struggle with/want to improve in your practice?

Just creating more. That's the only way to get better is get out there more!

A digital fitness tracker designed to bring together runners around a unified goal to create community and encourage positive sport.

︎ What would you want to improve about how you work or your workplace?

I want to work faster, I think I have a really fast internal clock and it feels like it's ticking all the time. I just want to do more and do it faster.

︎ What’s your dream situation in terms of work?

I would LOOVVVEE to have my work on the cover of the New York Times one day. I would also really love to build a tool that helps people, that I feel like really makes a difference.

︎ What would you tell your younger self, knowing what you know now?

Don't focus on the opportunities you miss, focus on the ones you've yet to find. Also it's great to have a plan (keep planning) but know that it's going to change and fall into that. Learning to fall and not bruise yourself is something you can take with you everywhere. Oh also on that note, for fuck's sake wear a helmet when you cycle.

A hand-painted piece of public art which adorns 1 of 12 salmon sculptures representing ‘Stories told, stories to be created’ in celebration of the 125 anniversary of the City of Coquitlam.

More of Maria here:

by Luthiem Escalona