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Creative Junkies S2 EP1: Mădălina Matache – Mantras thorugh Lettering

Cromatic Studios meets Creative Junkies is a series of interviews with cool & inspiring graphic artists. This is the second season. 

With a genuine approach, humour, mental health and an overall optimistic perspective, Mădălina Matache and her bold visuals are the drop of self-esteem boost you need through an endless Instagram scrolling, far away from the polished distorted online reality.

“Art that supports self‑love, self‑improvement, reading and joking about it all”

as she depicts her aesthetics, her colorful, geeky and realistic mantras are a perfect way to raise awareness on authenticity on social media and remind you to stay true to yourself and do your best.She extends her message further into the world via her online shop, with t-shirts and hoodies with “no bullshity” badass messages that bring back to your senses.

CS: Mădălina, you started your career as a graphic designer after a switch from communication & co and it seems like you found your path. Let’s dive a little into your story – how did you start and why did you make this shift?

M: Hello! It was actually more of an accidental lucky switch, rather than a planned one. After about 9 years of corporate jobs, I was actually fired from my last job, after the 2008 recession, on the “last one in, first one out” principle. But I did manage to get a nice compensational package from my employers, and this helped me spend about 6 wonderful months doing whatever I wanted, learning stuff and spending my time however I pleased. And while doing all that, I realised I never wanted to go back to a 9 to 5 job! So I started thinking about what kind of freelance job I would like to do.

And that’s when I remembered that whenever I had to work with a graphic designer for whatever project I was working on, I always loved to stress them and peak over their shoulders to see what they were doing and how they were doing it. So I decided to learn and do just that! A couple of Photoshop tutorials later (there was no Youtube back then, only blog articles!), I luckily landed my first client. And whenever people asked me: “Do you know how to do that?” or “Can you do that?” I always replied a confident “yes!”. Although I was totally clueless. But it forced me to look into the stuff, research and try things out and learn by doing! Best school in the world for me! This is also how I learned lettering, animation, video editing and all the things I know.

CS: Talking abut changes – how is it for you to be a freelancer mum during a pandemic?

M: Awful! Horrible! Hardest challenge I ever faced! The worst part of all are the never ending interruptions! Whenever I start working, whenever I get in the flow, I can be sure there’s a “moooom” coming up! Even now, while answering the first questions, I already got interrupted 3 times. There’s also a lot more cooking to do, a lot more cleaning, dishes, picking stuff up and “put your pants on!” shouting. So a lot less time for work… But the bright side is that this whole messed up situation forced me to organize myself a little bit better in order to get some work done! And I could really use some better organizing skills. There’s always a bright side!

CS: Your style is really cheerful, vibrant and optimistic, full of flowers and lettering – how did you find your signature?

M: Just like everybody else: through a lot of trial and error. I don’t think there’s another, easier way of finding your own style other than working a lot, trying different stuff and deciding which one suits you best. Before reaching this cheerful and colorful 3d lettering style, I tried elegant calligraphy with ink and nibs, street style brush lettering, dreamy watercolors, black & white line work. I still explore quite a lot and try out different new things.

CS: Your main theme revolves around self-love and slow living. We’re curious about the reasons behind raising awareness about this kind of topics.

M: I think everyone, not only the artists, should talk openly about the topics that matter most to them, the topics that can educate. Yes, self-love is a very important theme to me, and it was actually the theme of my first t-shirt collection, the one I launched my online shop with. I chose this theme because it was what I deliberately focused on for an entire year, and the only reason why I finally managed to launch my online shop, after postponing it for almost 2 years!

By learning to love myself, I managed to overcome all the self doubt, impostor syndrome and quiet the terrible negative voice inside my head. Self love is an ongoing process, I don’t believe you can achieve maximum levels of self-love. At least, not for long. There are times when things are going bad, like, let’s say, a global pandemic, and the negative voice feeds on the uncertainty, fear and all the cancelled plans and takes over again. And that’s ok. Life is filled with such up and down moments (hopefully, not all of them global pandemics!). But the important thing is to always come back to self love, to the kind, respectful, best-friend inner voice that can quiet the criticizing one. 

When I first considered talking publicly about self love, of course I had my doubts: who am I to tell people about such sensitive and important topics? I don’t have a degree in psychology or any social science or any degree at all! Why would people listen to me? But then I realized I don’t need to teach anyone anything. I just need to talk about my experience. Because I’ve lived with that negative, criticizing inner voice for a long time, and then I learned how to tame it. And I know the difference it makes! So I started sharing little things about my experience, about the books I read, and I realized there are a lot of people who found what I was saying very useful. And that gave me confidence to carry on! We usually feel that the things we know very well are common knowledge for everybody. But when we start sharing them, we realize how actually helpful people find them! So yes, I encourage everyone, not only artists, to share their most meaningful experiences, to talk about what is important to them! Especially today, when everybody has a voice, thanks to all the social media platforms. Let’s use it in a constructive, helpful way!

CS: What advice would you give to your younger self? Let’s say Mădălina from 10 years ago.

M: I actually don’t believe in regrets and doing things differently. Because if I were to do things differently, I wouldn’t be exactly here right now. All the mistakes and all the wrong choices I made helped me grow and led me here! And I love where I am! So my advice to my younger self would be just: “keep on, you’re doing great!”

CS: We know that for an artist it is really hard choosing between her babies, but what’s your fave t-shirt you ever designed?

M: I have several favorites, for various reasons. The one I love most for what it represents is “Eu sunt ok, tu ești ok” (I’m OK, you’re OK). In January 2019 I started group therapy with some awesome ladies and it was in this group therapy that I discovered self love and learned how to achieve it. The group leader was mostly using the psychotherapy method of Transactional Analysis to guide us in our discussions and “I’m OK, you’re OK” is one of the key positions in this therapy method. So after summer vacation, I returned to the group with a little surprise gift for every one of the ladies in the group, a T-shirt with this lettering that I made specially for them. So this t-shirt for me represents that group and all the gratitude I have for it!

Another t-shirt I love for what it means to me is “Tricou de stat în casă” (t-shirt for staying at home). I came up with this t-shirt in March 2020, at the beginning of the first lock down. At that point, all our family’s income was suddenly cut to almost zero and I was really scared. So I sat down and tried to think of something that could generate some income and take us out of that mess. I loved the idea of a multiple meaning t-shirt, sending a message of responsibility during the lock-down, while also being a cool t-shirt for wearing at home (instead of old, damaged tees). So I lettered and illustrated the message quickly, put it online, and today it’s my best selling t-shirt ever! No, it didn’t pay for all the due invoices, but it gave me the awesome confidence that in times of crisis, I can count on myself to come up with good solutions!

And the t-shirt I love most for both it’s message, but also for how the lettering & illustration turned out is my latest one, “there’s always a bright side” (launching soon 😀 )

M: I have several favorites, for various reasons. The one I love most for what it represents is “Eu sunt ok, tu ești ok” (I’m OK, you’re OK). In January 2019 I started group therapy with some awesome ladies and it was in this group therapy that I discovered self love and learned how to achieve it. The group leader was mostly using the psychotherapy method of Transactional Analysis to guide us in our discussions and “I’m OK, you’re OK” is one of the key positions in this therapy method. So after summer vacation, I returned to the group with a little surprise gift for every one of the ladies in the group, a T-shirt with this lettering that I made specially for them. So this t-shirt for me represents that group and all the gratitude I have for it!

CS: So, we did a little stalking and discovered that you’re quite a book geek. Any recommendations for the readers?

M: Uh, books! It’s gonna be tough to stay on point on this topic, I could talk about it for weeks! But I’ll try to stick only to the most important ones for me. The first book I always recommend to anyone that gets me started is “Mindest”, by Carol Dweck. It’s the book that helped me most get unstuck and start the online shop. Another important read for me is “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It talks about happiness, meaning of life and how to find them in everyday life, even in the most tedious moments. Then, there’s “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman, who explains how the mind works and how we’re all prone to all sorts of cognitive biases. “I’m OK, you’re OK”, by Thomas Harris is also the title of a very interesting book that explains the principles of Transactional Analysis and helps you look into your childhood to find most of the reasons for why you behave in certain ways today. “The obstacle is the way” by Ryan Holiday is wonderfully using the Stoic philosophy to show you how you can turn any obstacle into an advantage by changing your mindset, the way you look at obstacles. “Atomic Habits” by James Clear is an awesome practical guide into forming daily good habits and losing the bad ones. Aaaaand I’ll try to stop here. 🙂 

CS: We’re sure that you had at least one funny or interesting encounter with a client. Anything that comes in your mind right now?

M: I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m quite lucky when it comes to clients, I’ve only had really good experiences. Even when working as a freelance graphic designer, I’ve only had one client in almost 10 years that gave me trouble with paying the invoice. All the others were super nice, on time and on point! And now, with the shop, I sometimes can’t believe how lucky I am: I’ve had no complaints, no returns, no unsatisfied people. It’s true, the shop is still quite young and small and I have enough time to patiently talk to each and every client or prospect client, to be nice to them and offer all the info they need. Things will probably change a little as the shop and the community grows, but I hope I’ll be able to somehow keep this friendly and helpful attitude with everybody (or hire the right people to do it!) So if I were to talk about an encounter with a client, I would like to mention the best of them all, the Archangel of Clients, coming down straight from the Paradise of Clients! A guy asked me for 2 custom hoodies, gave me the text he wants designed and the instructions: full creative freedom (I love these 3 words), 1 month deadline and advance full payment! There’s nothing more in the world I could ask for!

CS: Keeping a clear mind may be challenging at times. What keeps you grounded in terms of spirituality, mantras and/or words of wisdom to live by?

M: Most of the words of wisdom I live by I’ve already lettered and you can find their full meaning on my Instagram account. They’re stuff like “Embrace the suck” – it’s about keeping on, even when the going gets tough, “Self Love is the shit” – self explanatory, “Amor Fati” – about loving fate, with all the good and the bad just the same, “Aici și acum” (Here and Now) – a great reminder to enjoy every moment of life as it comes, or “There’s always a bright side” – about finding at least one positive side in every negative experience that you encounter. There’s also a powerful affirmation I’ve never posted online, but I have it lettered nicely right in front of my eyes, at my desk, and it’s one of my most important reminders: “Merit să fiu iubită” (I’m worthy of being loved).  

CS: Taking into account that you’re a self-taught artist, do you think it would have been easier to be schooled by an institution? Where do you see yourself in this dichotomy?

M: For me, school didn’t work, I found most of it a major waste of time. Everything I know today and use for making a living, I’ve learned by myself, outside of school. Even reading and writing, I’ve learned by myself, before going to school. But that’s probably because of how I’m built, the way I operate. I’m a self learner, I learn by watching others and by doing, not by being taught. I’m sure there are different people out there who need the structure and guidance of schools for learning. And that’s ok! But there’s also a problem with the educational system, the current model is outdated and flawed (it was actually designed to educate factory workers, who needed standardized knowledge). In my opinion, schools should encourage and help children discover and understand themselves, and then guide them into growth according to what they discovered. Not impose a standard knowledge to everybody, no matter what. That’s a complete waste of time and resources for both schools and children! If the school would’ve picked up my abilities for self-learning and my passion for art early on, then it would’ve probably been a lot easier to be schooled by an institution. But I’m happy I managed all that even without the help.

CS:  So, as social media is your main medium to showcase your art, how do you see the struggle between being active online and the digital detox?

M: It’s really tough, I admit it! I try to set-up rules like no social media after 6PM or during the weekend, but it’s super tough to stick to them. I’m always tempted to reply instantly to every message I receive, because I want to be nice and helpful to people. Or after posting a new artwork, I’m always spending a lot of time anxiously refreshing and checking for feedback. What worked well for me was turning off the notifications, this reduces the urgency and the time spent on social media a lot! And sometimes, during vacations for example, I even delete the applications completely from my phone. But there’s still a lot more room for improvement in this area for me.

CS: Where do you find inspiration?

M: For the lettering part, I get inspired for most of the texts I letter from the books I read, or the podcasts I listen to. Or sometimes, when I’m planning new collections for example, I draw mind maps. These are extremely helpful for coming up with multiple ideas on a given theme. The illustration part is mostly inspired by nature. My phone is full of photos of branches, leaves and flowers I stumbled upon in my walks. I love walking a lot, it’s my favorite sport! And, of course, there’s also Pinterest and Instagram full of wonderful ideas I try to get inspired from. Also, Skillshare and Youtube help a lot. I’ve found these classes most useful in times when I get stuck and have no idea what to create next. I just take on tutorials that teach me new styles and that gets me inspired to try new stuff and get back to work.

CS:We’re curious about your dream collaboration. What would that be?

M: I would love to letter a book cover! And a big ass mural right in the city center! 

CS: Let’s wrap this up with a song that puts you instantly in a good working mood.

M: I can’t listen to anything while I work, not music, not podcasts, not anything. I fully immerse into whatever I’m doing and the outside world just shuts down for me. That’s why it’s been especially painful with my kid’s interruptions during the pandemic, because I can’t shut down my kid. But I can give you a song that puts me instantly in a good mood.

That’s a wrap! This is the first episode of our second ‘’season’’ of interviews with Romanian Creatives. Stick around for the next one!

Our goal is to create a map of Artists and Designers, from various fields, that are all connected by a common thread: challenging the traditional way of being creative.