Designer Spotlight: Melanie Luther

My next Designer Spotlight features another uber-talented local designer, Melanie Luther, a fellow SAIT classmate, freelance illustrator, and all-around awesome human (because dog lovers automatically gain mega points in awesomeness).

I admired her work from afar – literally – seeing as I sat in the back of the classroom and she was right at the front. Even spending all that time in the same space didn’t guarantee instant connection.

But we eventually connected over lunch conversations about farting and poop and I’m thankful to have gotten to know Melanie in those few short weeks. I’m in awe of her artistic talent and maybe a wee bit jealous, but in a “this inspires me to work harder” type of way and not the crazy alternative “I will murder you in your sleep”.

I hope that one day soon we can collaborate on a project together (hint hint, Mel, heh).

Let’s get to know more about Melanie, her philosophy, and what she’s working on next.


1. What made you decide to take the SAIT program?

When I was in art school for illustration, we had a mandatory Graphic Design class taught by the amazing Jill Dallas. That class sparked an interest for me that I’ve always wanted to develop further. I loved the way design was like a challenging puzzle that could be solved in a multitude of ways. My Illustrator files were (okay, they still are) a giant mess of options expanding way beyond the actual artboard. Colour options, different layouts for text, and other alternative solutions jumble all my documents. I really wanted to expand my technical knowledge (especially the dreaded InDesign, which I’m now quite fond of), and the SAIT program was a fast paced way to experiment with design.

2. You were already working as a freelance illustrator at the time. Did you have a vision in mind for what kind of design you would do after the program, or was it a complement to what you were already doing as an illustrator?

I love working as a freelancer, although the biggest draw back at this point in time is a lack of steady work. I wanted to work on my design skills to give myself another creative outlet to make work and hopefully get paid for it! I find design to be a refreshing change from my illustration style which is quite loose and carefree, and getting the chance to do both professionally was very appealing.

3. Did you always know you would pursue art as a career?

I kind of did, yeah! As a kid I constantly would talk about how one day I was going to write books and illustrate them. I drew and wrote stories for years, and while my writing sort of fizzled out, I’m very glad I never stopped drawing. It’s a satisfying and infuriatingly challenging career path to choose, but I can’t imagine my life without it.


4. Do you have a creative process? If so, what does it look like?

My work often stems from crappy pen drawings in my sketchbook. I like to work out concepts in messy thumbnail drawings that eventually grow into slightly larger and still messy roughs. Ara Shimoon, an excellent design instructor at SAIT stressed the importance of drawing out a design first, and it’s something I absolutely use in my work. Sometimes I get so excited by a tiny thumbnail that I have to walk away from my sketchbook for a while to calm down before I can start to translate the rough idea into digital form. I think that counts as creative process, as it happens pretty much every time I hash out a design or illustration problem in my sketchbook.

5. Your illustrations have a distinctive flair that I really love – it’s somewhat whimsical! How has your own personal stylistic choices influenced the type of artwork you produce?

Thank you! Creating a unique illustration style is an interesting concept. On the one hand you want your “style” to form naturally, to be something that only you could come up with straight from your brain. There’s always a challenge to grow, learn and improve your work in a way that’s not contrived or too trendy that won’t separate you from all the other creatives out there. I try to look at other work and be inspired in a way that doesn’t drag me down (“why didn’t I think of that?”) and won’t influence my work too heavily. It’s an ongoing challenge, and I don’t know that I have a specific style even now.


6. As a fellow designer, I often have days where I’m unable to find the right creative “flow”. Do you ever experience days like this and if so, how do you overcome them?

You bet I do!! It’s incredibly hard not to just turn off the computer and go cuddle my dogs and watch some soothing Netflix when it hits. If I have deadlines to meet, that’s not even an option. One of my professors at Sheridan, Clemente Botelho, said something that I still think of each time I work. He said he loved seeing students terrible drawings in their sketchbooks, because he knew that they had to get the bad drawings and ideas out first before finding the good stuff. I try to push through those struggles of having no inspiration or drive, and remind myself that the bad stuff I’m getting out is just making way for better and more successful work. I still have my days where I give in to the allure of Netflix, but that doesn’t generally help my art block, unfortunately.


7. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your design journey? What has been your biggest accomplishment?

The biggest challenge as a designer and illustrator is a lack of solid work. Because of this, I have a full time job unrelated to anything creative that sucks out a lot of my energy that I would love to put into creative endeavors. I’ve learned that freelance can be incredibly painful as you reach out and face rejection on a daily basis. It’s also totally fulfilling to get to work on exciting projects, and get paid with real money! Accomplishments will come in time, after all the agony.

8. Who and/or what inspires you?

Local Calgary designers and creatives blow my mind. I follow some amazing people on Instagram that fill me with excitement every time I see the collections of other artists in this city. I love going to Market Collective to meet other local creatives and see their unbelievable work. I also have had the pleasure of attending Sheridan College’s Illustration program and SAIT’s summer Graphic Design course that introduced me to some incredible people that make awesome work. Some of my Sheridan classmates are hugely successful illustrators and designers, and I’m in awe that I got to learn alongside such incredible artists. Lately I’ve been really into tattoo design, and there are so many amazing artists out there with mind-blowing work. It’s such a different medium than what I’m used to, and so much of the designs are edgy and super weird. It’s important to let art push your boundaries and maybe even make you uncomfortable sometimes. That’s the best way to grow.

9. Do you have any cool projects you’re working on that we can look forward to seeing soon?

I’m doing some small volunteer projects with the local Humane Society which I am excited about!

10. What’s one piece of advice that you’d like to share with aspiring designers?

Don’t give up, and never ever stop creating!! I can’t stress this enough! You will be disappointed, you may be crushed and ready to put your creative aspirations to bed for good. But don’t do it. I’ve learned that things may not turn out exactly as you hoped and dreamed, but to stop creating will break your heart more than any work related disappointments will. Keep going, keep pushing, and open yourself up to all the opportunities around you. Also, don’t work for free, please! You deserve to be paid for your awesome work, and when we start undercutting each other in the art and design industry, we all lose.


Get in touch with Melanie: