Miguel Figueira de Mello
is a freelance Art Director based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
He is obssesed with creating concepts and telling stories through his projects.
What he loves the most is seeing his ideas come to life.
Miguel and I met at the University of Hertfordshire while we were both studiying graphic design. We went to Brighton together for the first time, bonded over photography and tattoos and stayed in touch ever since.︎
Part of this interview was done on Instagram live, watch it here.
︎ So tell us a bit about yourself and how you decided to go into a creative profession?
Ever since I was a kid, when I was at school, I would be drawing all the time. Drawing was one of my biggest passions when I was young. When I had to decide what I wanted to study at university, the only thing that would come to mind would be drawing and painting. I decided to study design. The difficult choice was which area in design to focus in. I felt like graphic design was the most flexible, the one that was less squared to only one job.
Now I’m doing art direction which is very much related to design. It’s exactly the same thing. It’s about creating narratives visually by telling stories through images and through visual compositions. Everything that I learned at uni I still apply to my job.
︎I’m surprised you didn’t study art or illustration?
My parents always supported me in whatever I wanted to do. However, visual arts weren’t much of an option. I had to do something more concrete.
︎ While you were studying graphic design, you decided to study abroad right?
I've always wanted to travel to England. I don't know why. When I was choosing which place I wanted to go to do this semester abroad, the language was one of the things that helped me decide. The only other language I know is English.
I also felt like Europe in general is a place where creative jobs are more valued and recognised. England could open more doors for me; I could get in contact with people that will be more interesting for my career.
︎ Where did you work after you graduated? How did you jump from graphic designer to art director?
In Brazil, we tend to work somewhere while we study. At some point, I started doing graphic design for a fashion brand. When I was there, I started developing this ability to create content and thinking about how to photograph a product. I branched out of the graphic area and went into the photography production area.
When I graduated, I was promoted to a marketing coordinator role. It wasn't actually marketing though, it was more of a creative content manager. I had to create visual content for the brand. That was when I realised that art direction could be something more interesting for me.
Art direction for Três (Leblon Heights).
Could you explain a bit of what you do now as an art director?
Currently I’m a fashion art director. I do some jobs for publicity as well. Basically, if every brand has to create a photography campaign every time they release a new collection, they need to show it to the public somehow. These images have to be connected to the idea of the collection. They have to describe the concept behind the clothes. That’s when brands usually go to an art director. They will then think about an idea and concept to translate that collection into images. My job is basically creating concepts and stories for brands and then making it all happen.
There's this big part of my work which I do at home: designing the idea, researching, creating the whole concept and finding references. There's also this other huge part, which tends to be more in person and more photography focused. If we’re shooting outside, I have to choose the scenes that we're going to photograph at and direct the models. I have to be very close to the photographer.
︎ How did you decide to go freelance?
I was working for a fashion brand and I was responsible for the visual and creative content of that brand. I had to think about the fashion campaigns and about the marketing campaigns that were going through all our social media. While I was there I met many different independent professionals, photographers, makeup artists, models, etc. They would really value my work and say great things about the campaigns we were doing. They started asking me to join them in different jobs outside my job at the time. That's when I realised there was an opportunity for me in a different place. I started doing freelance jobs on the side of my regular job, until I couldn’t do everything anymore.
Do you love being a freelancer?
Yes! I can’t see myself working for a company anymore. I just love planning my time the way I want.
How do brands approach you? Do they normally have a team of people or would you usually bring the team with you?
It really depends on each client. Sometimes they have a photographer they love to work with. Other times they come to me first and ask if I have someone that I would like to be teaming with for this specific job. Because teams have to be aligned and be relevant to that concept or the specific style required for that photoshoot. We are all creatives and we all have our different visual languages.
I have no specific preference. It’s always nice to get to know and connect with new people. I believe that if I'm always with the same team, I'm never going to learn something new. I feel like it's better for me to get more experience working with other people. But also, I really like to choose a photographer who I really like to work with.
Creative and art direction for Bossa Swim (Shapes).
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to be an independent art director?
Start doing things by yourself with what you have in your hands. Start creating and put your work on the internet, where people can see it. People will recognise your work and start seeing what you're doing. They’ll start asking you to join them on different things.
︎ Which was the most important and significant job that you did up till now?
One of my first jobs actually. I was still working for this fashion brand. They were only local at that point but they wanted to expand to different cities, São Paulo being one of them. We started traveling there, looking for locations for the campaign. That was my first job away from home.
We spent three or four days, making these visits to the locations we wanted to choose and getting to know the professionals and the models. It was one of my first big jobs. The result was amazing because we really got involved in it, and I feel very proud of it.
What do you like the most about what you do?
I think it’s the opportunity to tell a story that was mainly created by me and people can relate to it somehow. I like to create narratives and stories visually through images. I like people to see those images and feel connected to them somehow, and if not feel connected, then just understand something from it, just through an image.
I also like exploring new creative processes. Experimenting with new techniques to do what I do. When I have to do a different job, I always think about what I can do that I haven't done before.
Where do you get inspiration from? Especially if you want to do different things every time?
That's a hard thing to answer because I get inspiration from everywhere. But I am really, really into fashion. I like watching amazing fashion shows from European brands. They inspire me very much, but as I work with fashion it can be hard to get inspiration from fashion and apply it to fashion.
I get inspiration from music videos and movies. I watch a lot of movies; I love them. I also use Instagram a lot because it gives you the opportunity to be connected to people from everywhere. It’s easy to find who took the photo, who was the stylist and the director. To someone who's starting though, I would recommend them to try to get inspiration from somewhere different and apply it to whatever they’re doing. That way it won’t be similar to what everyone else is doing.
I’m really into that approach. It’s so easy to get caught up in Pinterest sometimes.
I actually hate Pinterest. I do use it sometimes because it's good to a certain degree. It just presents you certain images, and then it shows you something else immediately. It doesn't give you the opportunity to look at it and think about something else. Before you know it, you’re following this trail that Pinterest gave you instead of letting you do something with that first reference. It can be good when you're looking for something very specific, but when you're just doing research, I feel like it's a bit too narrow.
Creative direction and styling for Genese.
What do you normally do when you’re stuck and can’t find inspiration?
That's something I struggle with a lot. In my day to day work life, I get into this formula of doing what I do. Go to the same places for inspiration, then do the same creative process. That way, I end up with a similar project that I’ve done before. What I try to do is try to explore new techniques. If I'm going to do a scenario and I've worked with huge printed photography, next time I’ll do something related to sculpture in a different material. I always try to think about what I've done and think about what I could do differently.
︎ What do you feel like is your biggest fear?
My biggest fear in terms of work is to be a student, doing what people are doing. I always like to be doing something different, something with a real value. It's hard to do something valuable when you're working with fashion, sometimes. My aim is to create something that won’t be just a post on Instagram. I fear that I’ll make something disposable.
Art Direction for Três (São Paulo x Japan)
︎ Is there anything in particular that you struggle with or would like to improve on?
Definitely, I feel like I have to improve so much. There's still so much for me to learn. It's hard to think about one specific thing.
There is this part of my work that includes timelines and schedules, especially when you're a freelancer. You have to be very organised and very careful with everything you accept to do. I'm not as good creatively as with the practical parts. I really need to learn how to say no. I'm always saying yes to everything. There's a lot to learn.
︎ 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 lose 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?
I totally get what you're saying. It’s a very interesting subject. I can totally understand that when this fight for equal rights started, instead of enhancing what women had – which is the most beautiful part, in my opinion, the sensitivity and creative side – they started comparing that with what society sees as the best. I don't blame anyone for that. I just blame society, in general.
I heard somebody saying something related to that the other day. Gender barriers make everything less nice. If there were no gender barriers, everything would be a lot better. When you say something is more masculine or more feminine, you get stuck into what you can and can’t do. We should stop looking into those barriers and follow our instincts and our heart. We should do whatever we want without getting this idea that something is not for you or for her. It's just fear.
︎ That would make a much freer world for sure. We’ve also become obsessed on capitalising every idea and hobby we have. Is there anything you do just for the experience, and not for the result?
There's almost nothing because every time I'm doing something that I like, it could be an inspiration for work. Even when I’m watching TV I always wonder, what can I get from this to put into my work? Probably when I'm just talking to friends about random things. Even then, I feel like I learn so much from different people. It feels like that could also be viable to some of my jobs.
︎ Are there any women or non binary creative you look up to?
Loads. My family really comes to mind. I'm very close to both of my grandmothers. They are both very intelligent women that taught me so much. They watch everything on TV and they read about everything. They know a lot about different subjects. That was something that inspired me very much. I’ve always looked up to them.
Solange is definitely a huge reference for me. I’m always fascinated about everything she does, musically and visually. There's this Spanish photographer called Carlota Guerrero. She's amazing. Petra Collins, who is also a photographer, is amazing too. In terms of non binary creatives, there’s Hunter Schafer, who’s incredible. I’m very much inspired by women.
︎ What’s your dream?
I'm a Gemini so I’m always changing my mind. I would like to be in a place where money is not the main thing about the work I do. I don't know where that place is, but just somewhere where I can explore my creative side a bit more without thinking about money.
Usually in all my jobs, there's this huge barrier in that it has to be commercial. People have to shop from the campaign, it has to be shoppable somehow. I would like to be able to do something, maybe in a magazine, where things could be less commercial.
︎ What would you tell your younger self?
I love this question, I feel like I’m in Rupaul’s Drag Race when they ask the contestants to say something to their younger self.
I would tell myself to stop thinking about what people might think of you and your work. Feel free to explore and do different things. Don't be afraid. At the same time, I really do respect my path. I understand that it took me a while to understand that I could be myself. People have different paces.
︎ Is there anything that you would like to know from other creative women?
There's definitely a lot to learn from women. A lot, a lot. In my teams, I usually like to have only women or mostly women every time I can. Most of the work I do is specifically for women’s clothing. How am I gonna be able to communicate to them from a man’s perspective? Today I can say I'm not afraid of being in touch with my feminine side. Not at all. But at the same time, there's just some stuff that I just can’t understand. There's so much to learn. I love having women around me; I always did.
Creative and art direction for Três (Like father like son).
︎ As of today, May 24th, the whole world is facing a pandemic. Forcing us to stay in our homes more than we used to. How has your work changed?
It's changed a lot for me. Part of my work is from home, doing research and creating different stories. There's also the other side, where I'm on a photography set, producing and directing the photographer, making my idea come together. Now that we’re in quarantine, I can't do that. Those jobs are not happening anymore. Some photographers are doing photoshoots through video calls, directing models, and taking screenshots. I haven't done that.
I had to adapt my work being at home. I graduated in graphic design so thankfully I can do graphic work from home. That's basically what I've been doing.
︎ Did you get more clients now, asking for graphics?
Definitely. People had to adapt as well. Nobody can do things physically right now. People are trying to create campaigns with illustration, or directing through video calls, like I mentioned, or just doing graphic content.
Creative and art direction for Ahka (Bloom)
︎ How are things in Brazil right now?
Things are crazy in here. Our president doesn't take this disease seriously. Creative independent people are going crazy because they can't do what they used to do. We don't have any support from the government. They give some support to certain people, but it’s a very small amount of money.
︎︎︎ Tell us a bit about the new project Araca you started with your friends, while in quarantine?
I created a project with two of my friends, who are photographers. They live very close to me. We were partying and talking a lot about how we could adapt our work to this new scenario. We started thinking about how to create campaigns away from our clients and from the products that we had to shoot. The idea of our project, called Araca, is basically to give the client the opportunity to send their projects to us. We can make a photography editorial from home and then send back the material to them.
The special thing about the project is having this very personalised conversation with the client to create a very special narrative, something that's really meaningful for them. That's what we're offering as a new solution for this crazy scenario.
I've never done anything like this before. Usually, when we're creating a campaign for a fashion brand, the client is always participating. Even if the client is not there, there's always someone representing them. It has been hard to explain how this is gonna be a new solution because we're finding it a little bit strange.
︎︎︎ I remember when you guys launched it, it looked incredible. I love the initiative. Has anyone been in contact?
The project takes place in this farm, pretty far from the city where we are currently. The plan is to receive the products in our houses and then we’ll travel to this place to create everything. We’ve been waiting for brands to get in contact and make requests before we go, so that we won’t go more than necessary. We currently have three jobs and we want to have at least five before we travel there.
︎︎︎ Are there any specific problems that have come up now during Covid-19?
When we first started quarantine, I was very stuck creatively. I couldn't start doing anything. I decided to go back to when I was 15 and draw and paint. I even started sculpting whatever came to mind. I was also feeling very anxious about being creatively blocked.
I know it’s a privilege that I didn't have to think about my finances during this time. I had the opportunity to come to my parents house and not think about money, for a while. The opportunity to do what I wanted without thinking of the results opened my mind and helped me to start being creative again.
︎︎︎ In what way do you find creative projects help to boost your mental health in lockdown?
I think just creating and experimenting without thinking about the results really helps. Doing whatever comes to mind and not thinking about what's gonna come after. I’ve found this really helps me with anxiety.
︎︎︎ People in the comments are asking, what’s the biggest challenge you faced in your career up to now?
I think it has to be when I decided to be a freelancer. It was very hard because when you have a permanent job, you'll know exactly the amount of money you’ll get at the end of the month. When I had to make this choice, it was very difficult for me. I was afraid of how things would unfold.
︎︎︎ Do you think that we can learn something from this virus/quarantine life?
I feel like I've learned so much so far. It's been only two months and I'm a totally different person right now because I had to adapt completely. I've been doing the same thing for three or four years. All of a sudden I had to start adapting to a whole new way of working. We’ve all felt a bit more free to step away from what we usually do and experiment. I think that’s a lesson all of us quarantiners had to go through.
︎︎︎ Quarantiners, I love that so much, it sounds like a boy band. How do you think the world will change after this slows down?
I'm very optimistic about things changing. People are gonna be more conscious about what they consume, whether it's something physical or content they consume. People will be filtering more of what they see and what they want to buy. I don’t know though, we're seeing people in China, going straight to shops to buy things, just like they were before. I really don't know.
︎︎︎ Have you done anything fun during quarantine?
I did a little editorial photoshoot with my brother. He’s 12. I dressed him up in my clothes and photographed him as a model. It was quite fun actually. He didn’t think it was that fun though.
That’s the best thing I’ve heard! Thank you so much Miguel, you were and always are the absolute best.
More of Miguel:
by Luthiem Escalona