IN SHADES: AN ONLINE MAGAZINE THAT WON'T INTIMIDATE YOUR ATTENTION SPAN
It's no secret that our attention spans have taken a hit in the Information Age. That's part of the reason why WNW Member #8598 Marina Esmeraldo and her husband James Vincent, a writer, created In Shades magazine. Born from their love of short fiction, In Shades is a weekly online magazine that celebrates short form writing and illustration, "The theme and mood of the writing are the first things that inform the visual element – after we decide on a story, I look for an artist whose style will be a great fit for the piece." It's a nice touch, to add a visual that is not only perfectly tailored to the writing, but also helps inform it.
Marina talked to us about her ocean-crossing journey from Brazil to London and Barcelona, and her discipline-crossing journey from architecture to illustration. We discussed the importance of minimalism and reduction in design and art, and Marina's goal in creating In Shades: "When we were kids people used to talk about the corrosive effect of video games and TV on people's attention spans – now that notion seems almost quaint. We all have computers in our pockets. In Shades magazine isn't trying to swim against the tide – we just want to make short form work which gets you thinking."
Check out our interview to find out how you can contribute to In Shades.
Tell us about your creative background. Who is Marina Esmeraldo and how did she get here?
I’m a freelance illustrator and image-maker from a coastal city in the northeast of Brazil called Fortaleza, now based between London and Barcelona. My path here was quite the winding one… I’m actually a fully trained architect and switched industries only a few years ago. I was a shy kid and loved to draw – it was my lifeblood all throughout my teens, until I got into university, and started drawing buildings instead. In my hometown there weren’t a lot of options for studying art or even graphic design and I couldn’t afford to study somewhere else back then. Yet by studying architecture I learned about the world of design and visual design at large, and I even worked for a few years with signage and wayfinding. Still, it took me a while to realize that illustration was actually a career option, and even longer to admit that it’s what I truly wanted for myself. It was only after I’d come to Barcelona and finished my Masters in Architecture that things became clear to me. Long story short, I had a sort of quarter life crisis and dropped everything to focus on illustration… it was hard, but I’ve never looked back.
Your newest project is In Shades magazine, co-founded with your husband, which champions short fiction while offsetting it with visual storytelling. How did this project come about?
We’d always wanted to collaborate on a project and had been looking for ways to combine our respective creative fortes. James is a writer and a musician, and very passionate about stories, be them movies, songs, books, comics, podcasts… he’d been observing for a while that short fiction has been going through a resurgence, especially in Britain, where the short story can often be seen as the underachieving runt sibling of the novel. It occurred to both of us to be a good fit for the attention-deficit age we live in and a great way to combine both disciplines.
What’s the process of pairing a piece of short fiction with an illustration? What do you look for in that perfect match?
The theme and mood of the writing are the first things that inform the visual element – after we decide on a story, I look for an artist whose style will be a great fit for the piece. But real life issues like time and the availability of contributors also plays a big part.
What has kept short fiction a perpetually underground medium. Why is it important to you that it gets its fair shake?
Perhaps it's because short fiction is less commercial in some ways. The stories are often more like mood pieces or fragments, leaving questions rather than answers. In a way this appeals to us, because much of life remains unresolved.
Who are some of your favorite short fiction writers?
I love the short stories of Brazilian writers Clarice Lispector and Lygia Fagundes Telles, both of whom we dissected during high school in Brazil. In my adult years I’ve fallen in love with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald… such luminous and subtle writing. Fitzgerald is also a favourite of James’, along with Don DeLillo, who is more famous for his long and dazzling novels. but also writes very fine short stories. Flannery O’Connor, Jorge Luis Borge’s Labyrinths and James Joyce’s Dubliners are also essential. With In Shades we’re both lucky enough to be discovering some brilliant new talent on a weekly basis.
I believe that good design and good art fundamentally means knowing how to edit.
In Shades doesn’t only celebrate short fiction, but the Hemingway-inspired six-word short story, in the form of your series “Six Words Written on a Napkin”. What do you see as the importance of concepts like concision, minimalism, and reduction in creativity and art?
You wouldn’t know it from glancing at my work, but in Architecture school I was incredibly passionate about minimalism and the form-follows-function philosophy of the modernists, and I also write bi-monthly for one of the biggest minimalist design publications online, Minimalissimo magazine. Yet when I was building a personal illustration portfolio to start seeking out commissions, I was shocked that all of these bright colours, patterns and bold shapes were coming out. But even within those elements, I was still considering what was superfluous and didn’t need to be in the composition. I believe that good design and good art fundamentally means knowing how to edit.
When we were kids people used to talk about the corrosive effect of video games and TV on people's attention spans – now that notion seems almost quaint. We all have computers in our pockets. In Shades magazine isn't trying to swim against the tide – we just want to make short form work which gets you thinking.
Do you think shorter art forms like short fiction, poetry, short films, and music EPs are ready for their shining moment as our attention spans continue to dwindle?
Yes, we do think there is something in that. All art forms are competing for the attention against short form video content like GIFs, which play their 6 second stories on infinite loops. When we were kids people used to talk about the corrosive effect of video games and TV on people's attention spans – now that notion seems almost quaint. We all have computers in our pockets. In Shades Magazine isn't trying to swim against the tide – we just want to make short form work which gets you thinking.
Speaking of music, is the title “In Shades” an ode to Tom Waits?
Glad you picked up on that! James is a big fan of Tom Waits and "In Shades" is the name of an instrumental piece from his album, Heartattack & Vine. The song is like the soundtrack to an imaginary film – the fact that it has no words means that you can project your own story into that space. We also liked the two words, and how “shades” can also relate to colour and composition.
What kind of contributors are you looking for? Where do you look for contributors? And how can WNW members contribute?
Writers and illustrators, yes please! We’re always interested in meeting new collaborators, which is another real aim of the project. We’re lucky to count acclaimed novelists and artists as contributors, but we’re always eager to meet new talent and offer a fresh perspective. Just email us at email@example.com – for writers send us your stories, and for illustrators examples of your work, as the illustration side is tailored to each story.
What’s next for In Shades?
We have many things in the works, but primarily a launch event for the print edition of the magazine, including an exhibition with our contributors. And also establishing sponsors and partnerships – if you, dear reader, are passionate about our cause and want to explore possibilities unique to your brand, drop us a line!
How did you break into the creative freelance market in the UK and Spain as a South American transplant with no contacts and experience?
By working my ass off and being consumed with this burning desire to succeed. I had already invested so much time and resources in another career, only to realise it wasn’t what I truly wanted – it was like having nothing and everything to lose at the same time, so I just threw myself into it. However I still didn’t know anyone in the industry, so I worked really hard to get a few internships in London. By that point I was also getting my work into international exhibitions, winning some competitions and also attending conferences and just chatting to anyone and everyone – I made lots of valuable contacts and friendships that way. Ironically, while I was trying really hard to break into the UK market, I started getting noticed by some companies in the US, like Refinery29, who became longtime collaborators. Eventually the ball started rolling, and I could finally call myself a freelance illustrator without feeling like an impostor (much).
What advice can you offer to creatives who are new to freelancing in a new environment?
An internet connection and design conferences are you best friends. There really is no substitute for meeting someone face to face – if you only chat with someone for ten seconds it’s still worth it. At the same time, if I hadn’t just started cold-emailing people with my portfolio I would never have gotten my first commission. I could go on and on about it, but the gist of it is that designers are generally a friendly bunch, albeit usually quite busy, so if you don’t act like a dick and are respectful of people’s time – yet persistent enough – you should be fine.
What advice can you offer to creatives working on projects with their significant others?
As for working with your significant other, we definitely strive for balance by having times to NOT talk about work as well as leaving each person to manage their own expertise and tasks. On the other hand, the close & 24/7 availability of a spouse is great for productivity and taking advantage of momentum, and you can definitely achieve more in less time.
Which illustration projects are you proudest of, and why?
That’s hard for me to answer as I’m very restless, self-critical and suffer from the “my best project is my next project” syndrome. That said, I’m very fond of the Grace Jones portrait I made for Irish studio Hen’s Teeth Prints – it definitely took my portraiture to a different level, apart from the sweet perks of winning awards and certain recognition. But I’m very proud of my work for In Shades as well – part of the reason I wanted to do it was to get out of this rut I’d find myself in, and it’s been really stimulating creatively.
Other people have called my work vibrant, tropical, and bursting with experimental shape, pattern and composition – I think I’ll take that! I’m fundamentally influenced by my native Brazil, by the sea and the arid landscape I grew up in.
How would you describe your illustrative style? Who are some of your biggest creative influences?
Other people have called my work vibrant, tropical, and bursting with experimental shape, pattern and composition – I think I’ll take that! I’m fundamentally influenced by my native Brazil, by the sea and the arid landscape I grew up in. I’m also a bit obsessed with modern art (Matisse, the Delaunays, the Arps, the Albers), modernist architects (Roberto Burle Marx, the Eames), early 20th century poster artists, and of course some postmodernism (Ettore Sottsass, Nathalie du Pasquier) too. There is also something to be said for human emotion as being a creative influence – love, fear, failure, competitiveness… I find the greatest evolution in my work has come from those kinds of feelings.
Who are some WNW members whose work you admire, and why?
I recently discovered the work of Gabriella Sanchez through Free Range and am really taken with her colourful, girl power-infused illustrations! Also a big fan of Kiki Ljung, who is now living in Barcelona too – we’ve been trying to get together for a drink! She does bold and graphic like I’ve never seen before. I must also mention Olimpia Zagnoli, who was one of the main influences in me taking the step to embrace illustration as a career. Grazie mille, Olimpia!