Summarize your life in a few sentences

I am definitely a person who happily juggles a lot of art and dance related projects. I work primarily in social media creative strategy while illustrating and hand-lettering for freelance projects on the side. Aside from working as an “art-treprenuer,” I’m studying to get into grad school so I may obtain my masters in Art Therapy. To do so, I volunteer as an art teacher a Chicago homeless shelters and am training to be a Crisis Text Line counselor. I love traveling to different cities, especially to view their art museum exhibits and meeting new people at networking events. You’ll typically find me hopping around different coffee shops throughout Chicago or just unapologetically dance swaying to music while commuting on the L trains.

Tell us about your education background.

I have a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts degree in Visual Communications with a background in studio arts (painting and illustration). I’ve been in the advertising/marketing field from a design/art direction role for the last 8 years and have focused my work more so on creative strategy in social media content creation. I’m currently studying psychology to get into grad school and become a licensed art therapist.

How did you get started as a Lead Content Creator?

It honestly kind of happened without me realizing it was happening, especially with how much the social media landscape has been changing and innovating. I’ve been very much involved with social media strategy and creating unique content pieces when I started my first design studio business, Appleavocado, back in 2011. I had been involved with other local, small businesses in Chicago, helping out with their brand and how they were represented in digital. When I worked as a Digital Art Director at a social media agency, I learned a lot of new tricks for engagement and applied it to my own personal typography/travel project, This Type Love, and applied my learnings in building a community based art project. Through freelance, I was able to work on projects that focused on content creation: from making lettering with foods to creating custom animated GIFs for brands. Because of these past work life experiences, I was able to join my current social media agency as their Lead Content Creator. I never realized how much I could infuse things I love to do on the side (lettering) with a legitimate job in social media.

What inspired you as a creative woman?

I give my thanks to my neighbor/babysitter who always brought me to the Art Institute of Chicago and exposed me to operas and ballet performances. Because of her, I was able to take summer classes at the Art Institute studying master pieces and practicing my skills as an illustrator. To this day, I try my best to complete my personal art bucket list where I visit each city’s art museum at least once. Whenever I view a masterpiece from artists like Picasso or Degas, I get pretty emotional because I’m viewing something that is so close to my heart. It’s that “Ah!” moment when you finally see up close and personal a piece of work that has influenced the way you’ve learned to view the world. Artists from back in the day have definitely sparked my creativity, but as a woman, I would have to say my mother. She has inspired me to be independent, empathetic and know my true self which I feel aligns with how I create. How can you fully express yourself in your artwork if you don’t 100% understand who you are as a person?

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made on your job or on your business, and how did you get through it?

I think a big mistake I’ve made multiple times in my early years as a graphic designer was essentially not learning how to say “no.” I was so geared up to take on so many projects all at once to build my portfolio and reputation as a credible designer in the city, I got caught up in becoming this workaholic who didn’t know how to have fun or take the time to take a mental break. There was finally a point where I broke down and had to opt out of projects because I felt so overwhelmed.

I had to send out those “break-up” emails to clients which are never fun, but needs to be done! Since then, I’ve learned while working in a management position on how to delegate better and be mindful of my timeline. Also, being back in school to get into the mental health care field has taught me multiple tools to take care of myself. Self-care is so very important and keeping up with your relationships and connections is probably the biggest lesson I learned from my past mistakes. We all live and work hard to create this persona, especially on social media, that showcases that we have our life put together, but that’s not always the case. I’ve learned that not only do we need to check-in with ourselves, we should also be checking in with our friends and family. Before, I rarely ever did, and it got pretty lonely trying to be at the top of my game and accomplish so many things.

If you can build a million dollar company, what would it be?

This is something that has always been on my mind! But it would be building an organization that facilitates and cultivates relationships between artists and those in need, such as the homeless, those affected with disabilities and so forth. I want to create a place where we build a community of volunteer artists, no matter what form of media they work in, to build an ongoing relationship with a person who just needs a couple hours a day or week to get their mind off of their stressors and just create. I know there are homeless shelters and other organizations that separately you can donate your time to, but if there was just one hub of a place where we merge these organizations to artists (even dancers), that’s the foundation I’d want to build. Art/Dance/Movement therapy is such an ideal form of therapy that we should all be practicing to get that peace of mind in our chaotic lives.

Walk us through your day as Lead Content Creator.

I work remotely so my day truly does vary on what meetings I have to call in. And what I mean by vary is really the environment and my mood for that day too! I’m not one to stay in one spot for several hours. I absolutely love coffee shop hopping. Surrounding myself with different visual/auditory stimuli like the typography signs at Goddess and the Baker or the cool jazz background music at Starbucks feeds into my work flow.

Typically I start off my day in a status call with my team. Because we all work remotely and in different time zones, it’s imperative to keep each other up to date on what’s been happening with our clients and in our agency. Then I will work closely with my immediate team which consists of my Director of Strategy and Community Manager to brainstorm future content pieces for our client’s social pages, reviewing analytics that will influence our brainstorms, find trending topics and neat graphics to inspire us. It’s always important to stay on top of the game, especially when working in social media because the digital landscape can change so quickly. Although the day-to-day responsibilities vary, ultimately we’re working for towards one goal: always creating content for our clients that stand out and stay true to their brand.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

The people I have met throughout it! They’ve all influenced me in particular ways that fit appropriately with the mindset I had at each level in my career. The advice and collaborations I’ve been involved in have helped me understand my strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and have fine-tuned what my exact “art style” as well as “business style” is like. Although majority of my career has been involved in advertising life, meeting people outside of it has also influenced me to pivot and transform my art creation from advertising to helping those cope with mental illnesses. I’ve only been studying psychology for the last year now, but, I’m looking forward to seeing who else I’ll meet and how they’ll help shape me for my future as an art therapist.

Where or what do you think you will be/do in the next 5 years?

If all goes well, I’m hoping to already be settled into my job as an art therapist, working at schools or even continuing my work with homeless shelters. I’m hoping by this time, I will garner enough knowledge about the industry to start thinking about opening a practice. I also still see myself running This Type Love, perhaps tapping into some new technology that enhances the way the hand-lettering artists I work with create pieces for our traveling contributors. By then, I also see my art bucket list having much more museums in different countries crossed off!

Share a quote/advice that you’d like to tell the 25-year-old you.

I wish I could’ve told myself this: Aspire to fail and make mistakes because you’re not solely defined on your achievements. The amount of awards, good grades, features or even in these days Instagram regrams of your work by a brand you love, is wonderful, but doesn’t define the true you. It’s really how you appreciate each of these blessings. And how you spread that good energy. I used to think it was all about doing what you love to do. But now I’ve found that the first step is to find what you love to do, and once you have, help others to discover what their true purpose and passion is. It’s an endless cycle.

Photo credit:
Portraits – Christoper Mariano
Illustration – LightNMotion

Elisha-Rio’s website | Instagram