The most important thing is to live according to conscience. The rest will follow.
The world in the pictures of Margarita Mikhalevich is the cozy streets of Riga, atmospheric Viennese cafes, festive Paris, the quaint architecture of Barcelona, the uniqueness of small towns in Germany. A talented artist, Margarita is also a successful businesswoman: she is engaged in branding and packaging design. She loves traveling very much, from where she always brings a lot of sketches. And Margarita is also a whole, harmonious person and a most interesting interlocutor, which we offer readers to make sure of.
Working on packaging design is an opportunity to bring beauty into our everyday life. How did it happen that you set exactly on that?
Branding and packaging design is, first of all, the creation of the right image of the company or product. Studying the market, developing a marketing strategy taking into account the characteristics of a particular target audience is a big responsibility, because the future of the company or the success of the product in the market depends on these aspects. First – analytics and research, then – the development of brand and trademark and packaging design. This is a rather narrow niche in our country. I plunged into the field of branding while still a student: I passed a competitive selection to work in a brand communication company. I didn’t quite understand what I was going to do, but I really liked the energy and the people I met at the interview, and intuitively I felt: “This is mine.” So it turned out that branding and packaging design are very interesting, it’s a huge world of high speeds and bold ideas, you need to act quickly, come up with ideas, take into account a lot of nuances, constantly learn new things and develop as a professional. I like it. . In addition, it is always nice to meet your completed projects on supermarket shelves, to observe the reaction of customers. Yes, I understand perfectly well that most of them hardly think about the fact that the packaging was created for a reason, taking into account many factors, that a lot of work was done before the product appears on the shelf. It’s not just “drawing a picture”. Behind this is a thorough, serious, meticulous and consistent work. And the quality of its execution depends on how exactly the product will be accepted by the buyer, how the brand will be perceived.
You are a member of the European Branding and Packaging Design Association and the International Union of Designers. How is the approach to business abroad fundamentally different from the same in Russia?
Packaging design in Russia is developing cautiously and slowly: when I first started my journey in this field, this direction was a novelty in our country. No one from my circle really understood what I was doing, because most of the designers then worked in printing houses or advertising agencies. I didn’t want this at all, and it turned out so well that I immediately found myself in the field of branding. It really was something new and interesting. Development every day. Now this topic is already widely known, competitive design is emerging in Russia, and this is great. I am closely following the changes. They are there. However, to a greater extent I prefer to rely on the experience of European countries: membership in associations helps a lot in this. It’s great to be able to exchange knowledge and information between specialists from several countries: they are interesting and versatile people. My colleagues and I are always in touch, we hold joint online sessions: we discuss the latest trends in the design world, create presentations and just chat. The Association respects every member of the community, carefully considers every opinion, encourages new ideas: there is an atmosphere of friendliness and support, everyone acts as a single cohesive team. On every trip I visit specialized exhibitions and other events dedicated to design. This broadens the horizons, allows you to learn new techniques. And, of course, where else can you see all the packaging trends at once, like in European supermarkets! I always find time for this, I share my knowledge and recommendations on Instagram @margaritamikhalevich, show interesting product samples, give illustrative examples, and advise students. Often projects echo the theme of illustrations, this can be seen on my second page @mm33_art. Now I see more and more interest in creativity and living drawings: artistic illustration organically combines with modern design. I’m enjoying it.
Margarita, how did you start drawing? Tell us a little about yourself, about your family…
It happened that my parents and I often moved to different cities: I spent my childhood in Siberia and the Far North – for example, we lived on Taimyr for about ten years. My favorite activity since childhood was drawing, although at some point I dreamed of connecting my life with figure skating. There were no artists in the family before me. I think absolutely all children draw, express their emotions through visual images. All that was in my life before art school was amateur drawing: princesses, queens, fairies in long dresses. Many of my childhood drawings are supplemented with texts – I learned to read and write early. But after entering art school, a new world opened up to me! This is a complete immersion into the creative environment of like-minded people, an atmosphere of joy and boundless creativity. The art school became everything to me: at every opportunity, I stayed there two shifts, till late at night. Everything became orderly, the necessary foundation appeared, creativity began to play with new facets, everything worked out. At the age of 12, I decided to make drawing my profession. All further actions were aimed at achieving this goal: additional classes with different teachers, diligent study of the necessary disciplines. Right after school, I entered the Art Collage, the Department of Painting. After the College – to the Academy of Architecture, Design and Arts. Then – to the British Higher School of Design. At the same time as I did studies, I worked as a designer and art director in branding agencies.
Sometimes you can hear the opinion that an academic school can harm, kill identity, freedom in the artist’s work. Do you agree with this?
On the contrary, an artist needs to go through an academic school, study all the subtleties and canons of drawing, painting and composition, plastic anatomy. Without this, there can be no real professionalism. Moreover, the acquired knowledge constantly helps in the work. Even if an artist has been creating in the style of abstractionism all his life, even if he goes into the field of design, academic school should still be under their belt. This is an experience. This is knowledge. This is information. How can one harmoniously place objects in a sheet? This requires knowledge of the composition. This is the bedrock. How to correctly combine colors and rhythmically alternate objects in perspective, etc., etc. This is only a small part of what the academic school teaches. But this is a base that one can’t do without.
Is there any style that is closer to you, in which it is most comfortable for you to work?
If we talk about design, then my favorite is minimalism. And if about drawing: I love graphics, but at the same time I try to create in a completely different style and not get hung up on one thing. I usually have several projects in my work that are completely different in terms of tasks and style: it’s interesting to switch between them. This allows me to be in good shape.
Is there a favorite color scheme?
Harmony lies in living in synergy with the whole spectrum of colors, so I don’t stick to a single color scheme in my work. And in day-to-day life I really like white.
What do you see as the purpose of art? Can it change a person, make them better or worse?
You know, artist Vasily Polenov said: “Art should give happiness and joy, otherwise it is worthless.” I completely agree with this statement.
I am sure that real art changes a person and their environment only for the better. If the opposite happens, then it’s not art. Creativity must carry a certain mission. When creating something, I always ask myself: “For what? What do I mean by that?”. I am not a supporter of creativity just for the sake of a beautiful picture. There must be some meaning in everything. Plastic idea. Life.
Is talent a gift or a responsibility?
Both. But more of a responsibility. For how to use it and what to bring to the outside world.
What is most important for an artist – imagination, a good eye, technique? How much free flight is there in creativity and how much work, effort?
Self-discipline, accuracy, courage and organization. And, as I said above, academic school is the bedrock. In my view, an artist should know mathematics and geometry well, write competently, and at the same time be creative, thinking outside the box.
If the direction of activity is chosen correctly, then everything is in balance: both work and free flight. There is no everyday overcoming, efforts, there is a favorite thing and a desire to ensure that it brings joy and benefit not only to the author, but also to others.
How important is it that children are surrounded by beautiful things? How to cultivate taste from childhood? Is it possible to cultivate taste in everyone?
This is very important, and from very early childhood. If you look at something beautiful, you will become better and more beautiful yourself. I think that you need to be selective in what to fill yourself with, this applies to communication, and the choice of music, literature… Listen to classical music, watch paintings by great masters, read books… Filter information. Surround yourself with beautiful, harmonious things. All this forms the taste.
Do you ever have a creative crisis when you are not in the mood to draw?
No, it doesn’t happen. I don’t need to wait for inspiration, there is a task – there will be a solution. In fact, this is what the academic school teaches: there is a schedule – for example, you come by 8 in the morning and have to paint a portrait from nature in a few academic hours. This is a responsibility not only for yourself, you also think about others – about your colleagues who also came at the specified time, about the model who poses for you for a certain number of hours, about the teacher who invests their time and soul into the educational process. You can’t just put down the canvas and say, “I’m not in the mood for something, let’s take a raincheck.” It just can’t be. It’s disrespectful to others. And this behavior is unprofessional. Over time, this approach to business becomes a habit and it helps a lot in the work.
You are doing business. How does this combine with creativity? Does a lot of time and effort go into figures, contracts, etc.?
I try to keep a balance. Business is impossible without documents, contracts and legal subtleties, it is necessary to delve into the nuances in a variety of areas. It’s time. And when you combine several activities, you can forget about free time. At some point I understood it was a sure way to undermine my health. Delegation of authority, routine work and rest – that’s the way out. I believe that it is necessary to divide time for life and personal projects, and time for work and commercial design. Like many people, I was going through a stage when I could work day and night, I was leading an unimaginable number of projects at the same time… Now – no: you need to sleep at night, and on vacation you need to rest and devote time to yourself and your loved ones, do what you like, get enough sleep. This will allow your creative juice to flow.
You have to deal with different organizations, people. What is the most important thing in a partnership?
Responsibility, punctuality and goodwill. The desire to help sincerely. It is important to treat people the way you would like to be treated. I try to respect the time of others, and I am pleased when they respond in kind.
Has the pandemic affected your work? What can you be inspired by in quarantine conditions?
I cannot say that the pandemic has negatively affected my activities. Fortunately, I didn’t have to sit idle. Overall, everything is fine. What to be inspired by? Traveling, and while there is none, to get out of memory moments from trips, to review photos and videos from places you have visited. Very charging!
Unfortunately, now people trust each other and the authorities less and less, and especially advertising. How can one increase trust? The inscription on the label, on the product – how true is it? Will you do the packaging design if there are suspicions that there is not the whole truth on it?
As a rule, powerful brands try to be honest and avoid controversial information. After all, this is a reputation. Initially, I try not to work with questionable clients. With experience, I began to understand immediately, at the first contact, what and from whom I can expect. I do not cooperate with manufacturers of alcohol and tobacco products. This is my personal choice and fundamental position.
A constant motif in your work is a still life or a landscape with a cup of coffee. Are you a big coffee lover?
It’s funny because I don’t drink coffee at all, as, by the way, alcohol. It’s just that coffee turns out very picturesquely in photos and drawings: while traveling, I often leave still lifes from cafes I visit in my phone or notebook. More often than not, I travel not alone, hence the coffee on the table
You travel a lot. And is there a favorite country, a favorite city, where you want to return endlessly?
Of course, this is Austria. Vienna. It’s almost my second home!
And what other types of arts are close to your heart – cinema, music, theater, literature? What do you do in your free time, how do you relax?
I love music, theater and figure skating. Films based on real events. Poems and prose. There’s a lot to talk about… This year, rest is just a change of activity. In general, I will not be original if I say that I rest on travel: I especially like car trips with movements from city to city, from country to country: you stay in each location for 2-3 days, and at the end of the trip you get an incredible baggage of emotions, impressions and knowledge. As a student, I was a real extrovert: I liked to spend time in big companies, communicate a lot. Now I prefer to spend more time in silence, alone with thoughts, nature and loved ones
Are you an emotional person, do you show your feelings openly? What upsets you the most in life?
In general, yes, I am. But I try to keep everything under control and quickly adapt to various life situations, only the closest people know the real me.
What upsets me is when people cheat, don’t keep their word. When animals are offended and betrayed.
Is there something that you don’t have enough time for yet, what are you dreaming about?
You know, for everything that is really important to us, we always find time even in the busiest schedule. At the moment I would like more free movement around the world. However, I understand that the current situation is temporary and you should not get fixate on it. As they say, and it will pass. I think that in the end everything is always for the best. On the global scale, I wish everyone good health. I try not to talk about dreams and plans until they are realized.
I promise to tell you about them the moment I bring them to life.
What does one need to become successful in life?
I think the most important thing is to live according to conscience. The rest will follow.