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Ashley Vargas

Professor Amy Lemmon

Creative Imagination Theory and Process

May 15, 2018

“Please don’t call me professor.” This was a phrase I hadn’t expected to hear within the

walls of my college. “It makes me feel old.” Was the quickly followed explanation from Monika

Maniecki. My professor adorned with trendy bangs, and the signature glasses any illustrator

who does digital art is forced to wear.

I found my way into the comic book store suggestion of Monika on accident. My phone died

on the way home from dinner with friends and before I got on the train I walked into the first

place with a seating area and a visible outlet. Ever since, I go to the store purposefully. Desert

Island in Brooklyn is dawned with Marvel and DC symbols on its glass door, but if you walk

deeper into the shag carpeted building you’ll find the small number of indie comics in the rear

of the store. The section, though small, stands out among the laminated ten by six and a half

inch books that dominate the store.

There is less space in physical comic shops or book stores for freelancers to sell their work.

Therefore, they often find alternative ways to fund their projects with the help of social media.

One of the flannel adorned employees within Desert Island told me that they chose what indie

comics they want to sell by “how many followers the artist has on Instagram” or simply “if the

cover looks cool”. Thor and Captain America from larger companies will always sell, but when
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selling lesser known names research and risk come into play is the vibe I was receiving from this

conversation. Also, many of the names that fronted these comics were male. This always

boggled my mind because this doesn’t represent the majority female students who fill art

schools but are underrepresented on shelves. Though this is discouraging to look at, artists like

Maniecki work towards equal representation undauntedly.

The domain of Illustration with the introduction of technology had undergone drastic

evolutions within the last few decades. Though it’s always been a large component in

advertising and entertainment, the fast-paced demand of social media has allowed the field to

become more diverse. Social media has given the power of “gate keeping” to anyone with a

phone and wifi access. This allows all types of Illustration receive social validation

(Csikszentmihalyi 7). The idea of “anybody can become an artist today” has started relying less

on skill level, but rather follower counts and retweets. With an over saturated market it is hard

for artists to stand out or can be defined for their work. Monika Maniecki, on the other hand,

has went against the grain of this change and has been able to stand out and receive work

despite all this. As a New York native, she went to FIT. Monika chose to attend a SUNY art

school compared to the many artists who go into debt paying for private art educations. She

now teaches within the MFA and BFA programs at FIT while maintaining a successful

freelancing career with clients such as Adult Swim, Bath and Body Works, and receiving

recognition from the Society of Illustrators in NYC.

Maniecki came from an artistic family. While her parents weren’t professional

Illustrators they had introduced her to art at a young age and draw together as a family. Though

this just seems as fun family pastime, Monika shared that this was a way for her parents to use
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art to help her understand art to “understand history and human nature”. This allowed her

from an early age to view art as not just visuals but a way to share stories and ideas. “My

parents were very supportive of my pursuit of an illustration career. This surprised me a little

because most of my friends’ parents couldn’t wait to have a doctor-lawyer-accountant in the

family.” This is often the story I hear from other art students, who go to art school despite their

parental protests. However, in the same breath these rebellious students complain about not

having their parents support. “My parents wanted me to do what made me happy and I think

they trusted that I was going to work at it and figure out a way to support myself with it. They

were excited by the prospect of earning a living drawing pictures. I think they were open to the

idea, too, because they are both artistic but never had the opportunity to pursue anything

creative beyond a hobby.” Monika could pursue the dream her parents were unable to and this

support served as a tool to help her succeed. They nurtured her creative mind in her youth and

surrounded her with creative ways of thinking.

“Growing up, I was always taught by my parents and teachers alike that if I worked hard and

maintained focus, I could do what I set out to do.” Illustration, until recently has been a male

dominated field. Maniecki for example is one of the few female professors in the Illustration

department of FIT. However, this is another place where her parents influenced her creative

outlook. She explains, “I feel fortunate that there was never a moment in my youth where I

allowed someone with influence to disparage me for being female. As a result, I never felt

inferior to boys in school and I don’t feel inferior to men now. One of my favorite quotes comes

from Eleonor Roosevelt. She said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Simply affirming that she aware of her role as a woman providing representation in the field of
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Illustration; however, it never directly affects her work. She states, “… I see myself as a person

who likes to draw pictures and teach and who is lucky enough to get to do both.” Maniecki also

diverges from the thought that you must have a job you don’t love to support your creative

work. She instead can excel in two fields that allow her to express her creativity. “I try to work

hard, do work that I’m proud of and hopefully inspire the young women that I teach to work

hard and follow their ambitions.” While doing this interview, as her student I can back her up

and say she is succeeding in this hope.

Melanie Reim is the chairperson of FIT’s Illustration MFA program and served as a mentor

to Monika. “Melanie Reim gave me my first teaching job. She believed in me when I didn’t

quite believe in myself.” she tells me. As a professor Monika is very supportive and open. Like in

the way she answered my interview questions, she’s comfortable, quirky, and funny. Some

might view her thoroughness of the material to be overbearing; however, the attention to

detail to me is easily seen as the care she has for her students to succeed. Maniecki only shows

frustration in the classroom when students don’t show they care. Nevertheless, when there is

effort on the student’s part, it’s easy to see that like Reim, she’s willing to believe in any

student who puts forth effort.

Why did she study as FIT? “Great teachers! It’s in Manhattan and close to everything –

museums, galleries, etc. It’s everything I wanted in an art school.” The location of NYC is a

creative hub that can easily inform its residents of what is trending in the “real” world with a

simple walk downtown. Within the classroom Monika also shares her experiences with the

“real” world of Illustration. No professors, no group critiques, and yes getting paid. She talks

about the types of work she’s getting, and though the we lost a class due to her outside
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animation work, she makes up for it my sharing how she completes what she’s commissioned

to do. Between teaching, freelancing, and finding time to do work for herself, I’d gained a quick

appreciation of how she balances it all. “I think that my personal work informs my professional

work. I try to make personal work that gets me the professional work that I want to do. So,

even if I’m doing professional work I try to carve out time to work on personal work, even if it’s

a small sketch at the end of a long day.” As an illustrator, you must learn that balancing it all

doesn’t mean reserving equal time for each aspect of your creative work. Though her personal

art may have to take a back seat she still forces time for it. “Personal work is my connection to

why I wanted to become an illustrator in the first place – for the love of drawing and seeing

where a drawing can take me.”

Monika’s Instagram feed is filled with pastel colors, and varying mediums from post to post.

Her style is simple; however, I could easily pick out a portrait she did from a lineup of artists.

The simplicity allows consistency with the voice of her personal work. Not only each post

exemplifies her work well, but her profile as a whole has a cohesive aesthetic. “Instagram has

been wonderful for my career! It’s a joy to get hired based on what I make and post.” She

states. When talking about what she struggles with in art she says “I try to overcome it in

different ways, depending on what I’m working on. If it’s a professional project, I try a few

different thumbnails and sometimes walk away from it for a few minutes so that I can return to

it with fresh eyes.” On the other hand, for personal work she uses the spontaneous pathway of

the creative process. “If it’s personal work, I do a lot of messy drawings or quick gouache

paintings to loosen up.” Instead of looking for a specific way to solve a problem, she creates

without any specific problem in mind (Shelly 62). “I think it’s all about warming up and not
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feeling self-conscious about what you’re putting down on paper or on screen if you’re working

digitally. I’m still working on it. “

Rather than fight against the change of Illustration, Maniecki displays a more optimistic

mind set and decides to view technology as an advantage. When comparing the artists, she

teaches now in comparison to the students she graduated with in 2011 she states, “Some of the

students that I teach are more sophisticated than the class of students I studied with in some

ways, particularly because they have more access to information than I did when I was a

student. The internet existed, but it was still rough around the edges in a lot of ways. We didn’t

have Facebook or Instagram yet. And YouTube was a few years away, so there was no way of

watching the drawing and painting process videos that I love to watch now.” Now anyone has

quick access to information illustrators only had access to through overpriced seats inside

classrooms. Due to apps such a YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter there is such a large

community of creatives can share their processes with one another. Its easy to find an artist

you identify with. She states, “You had to work a bit harder to discover art and culture. Now my

students can go on Instagram and discover new art. They can learn a new skill on

or watch their favorite illustrator do a drawing demo on YouTube.” However, students aren’t

the only people who are using these sites as tools. Art directors, editors, and studios use social

media to find new talents they’d like to hire. Maniecki states, “Social media has become vital to

me in terms of getting my work out there and getting hired.”

“I actually have to run now to a meeting in Brooklyn for a meeting for an animation job I’m

doing.” Maniecki states to the class fifteen minutes before my Friday photoshop class is

scheduled to end. She’s carrying multiple bags and is adorned with a few bags under her eyes.
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She has just taught my class for three hours immediately after teaching for three hours prior,

and she briskly walks out of the classroom like her day has just begun.
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Works Cited

Carson, Shelley. Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imaginations, Productivity, and

Innovations in Your Life. Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. “A Systems Perspective on Creativity.” Handbook of Creativity. Ed. R.

Sternberg. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 313-35.

Maniecki, Monika. “About.” Monika Maniecki,