Interview with American Airlines Graphic Designer, Julieta Felix from Mexico

Julieta Felix

Tell us about yourself, who you are, where you’re from, and what you do…
My name is Julieta Felix, I’m a designer from Mexico now living in the US. I work at American Airlines as a web designer, and I do lots of freelance fun projects with my boyfriend Ben Pelley, also a designer. Above all, I love my family, my friends, and animals. I’ve been vegan for 4 years so that’s a big part of who I am.

Tell us about your move from Mexico and what had prompted it… 
Growing up in Mexico was a bit rough for me. Money was an issue, our family always struggled. We had good years and very bad ones, I guess like most families. I was always easily bored with the lack of diversity in my hometown. Everyone looked and dressed the same, everyone knows each other, everyone has the same religion… you get the idea. I never felt like I belonged there if I’m being honest. I was more of an alternative, free-spirited girl in a sea of very catholic, conservative society that oddly enough is very into materialistic things. I started Architecture school in Mexico and on the second year, after being nearly broke from materials and art supplies, I came to America “for a summer” by myself when I was 21 as a way for me to make money for my studies and to help out my mom back in Mexico. “The summer” changed into indefinitely.

What was the greatest difficulties that you faced along the way?
How bad my English was, how I had no friends or family here. How different the cultures are… here, people are more cold, more kept to themselves. I had no car either, so after 3 days straight of walking around looking for jobs, I had to go to the hospital because (I later found out) my feet tendons had extended, and of course, I had to walk myself to the hospital in the worst pain I’ve ever felt, and I was crying the whole way. When I was walking, not one person pulled over or asked me what was wrong with me or if they could help. I realized I was completely alone. Shortly after, I got a waitress job at Floridino’s, an Italian restaurant in Gilbert. That meant a steady influx of cash every night, enough to start paying the hospital bill.

A month after being in America, my roommate decided to “sell his house” and told me I had to leave. I honestly think he said just to get rid of me because I was this Mexican sleeping in his house with no bed, no furniture, and no money. I told him I would go back to Mexico. But then, the best thing happened! I became friends with people from the restaurant I was working at and my manager Silvia was kind enough to offer a room in her home for me to live in, counting me, it was a house with 6 roommates. I moved in with Silvia (from Alaska), Visar, Burim (from Albania, a Republic in Europe), Paige (Arizona) and Joey (New York). All of them were so kind, and so different! I was so happy to have diversity in my life. I was fascinated by their lives and asked a lot of questions, they were so different from my Mexican friends. My roommates started to correct my English and I was speaking better. They all gave me rides if I ever needed any, helped me get the government papers I needed, etc. I am thankful to them that I am here now.

Julieta Felix

What helped you most to persevere?
Knowing that the money I was making was helping my mom and sister back home. My sister is 18 now, but when I left she was 9. We were (and are) super close and it broke my heart knowing they couldn’t afford the electricity bill, or enough food for them, so having them in mind motivated me to start school here in America and get a degree here. Architecture program is completely different here and none of my subjects were validated here, so I could start fresh in whatever career I wanted. I chose Graphic Design.

What made you decide to pursue the path you have taken?
One professor at University of Sonora, in Architecture (His name is Saul Esparza) told me my Architecture skills were bad, but as a graphic designer (presentations, color palettes, clean typography) were great. He told me I should consider switching. I never did, until I came here.

What’s the best and worst aspects about your job?
I’ve got the fortune of working for some amazing clients. Disney, Pepsi, Subway, Phoenix Design Week, Bucketfeet, and now I’m working on a full content redesign for American Airlines. Besides that, I do freelance work for smaller clients, personal projects or pro-bono. The best aspect of my job is that I love computers so I get to play with them all day long, and that with web design, there’s always going to be ways to learn and improve. The worst? I’m so lucky to have a job, to have my health, to live in America where its safe and peaceful and designers are well compensated and appreciated. I can’t say anything is the worst, I’m grateful and happy to be here.

Anything in particular that you think has really helped you along the way to becoming the professional you have became?
Honestly, staying out of trouble. I try to be as professional and respectful to everyone I work with. I try to stay out of heated emails, discussions, or defensiveness. I try to keep my personal life separate from work, and just be an asset to my team, be friendly and just get better and better at what I do.

Julieta Felix

How did you get started doing what you do?
My mom always says how I could stay in a corner somewhere drawing for hours when I was a baby. Later as a kid I was obsessed with Bob Ross, a painter I would see on TV back in Mexico. I even wrote letters to him (in Spanish) haha. I would always ask for Christmas anything related to drawing, calligraphy, painting… I got in trouble SO many times for drawing/decorating my school’s planners and backpacks. Mexican schools are super strict regarding neat and clean notebooks. I was always getting yelled at for drawing in class. In high school I started skipping class and going to the computer room where I would stay most of the day drawing in MS Paint, Corel Draw, looking at websites, and chatting online. I eventually flunked 4 subjects and was a high school dropout. Eventually I finished high school, started Architecture, then switched to Graphic Design, and focused on getting my degree.

What’s your inspiration?
My mom worked every single day of her life, so she inspired me greatly. Never complained, and was always warm and made our childhood magical. Besides her, I guess my inspiration is personal, comes from music, movies, literature, poetry, or it can be inspired by geometry, a shape, a color, a pattern. Changes every day! I have a pet peeve of cheesy posters, or generic trendy designs. I try at least to provoke a feeling or make someone smile. I love clever, well thought concepts that are timeless.

How do you keep motivated?
I try to stay away as much as I can from design blogs, Behance, lettering blogs, etc. I keep comparing myself to them and it can be soul-crushing. Yes, I do stay active in the community and keep up with latest design/web advancements but I find that looking at other people’s art and amazing designs that take weeks/months/years to make in a 5 second scrolling page puts a heavy burden on me that I have to keep up and do greater things than them. So I stay away, do what makes me or my clients happy and go from there!

What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
I would say: every phase that you’re struggling with right now is meant to shape who you are, so keep moving forward. Also, maybe don’t eat so many donuts.

Julieta FelixJulieta Felix

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
I read somewhere once that “One day you’ll be dead and you’ll be real mad you sold all your time” and it has stayed with me! Meaning that yes, design is important, my job is important, but having balance in my life that allows me to travel, see my friends, help others, spend time with family, my relationship, my hobbies, are just as important. I want to enjoy every single day I live and inspire others to do the same. Just forget the pressure of expectation and enjoy life!

Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Yes. People will always remember designers with good attitudes. No matter how talented you are, if you’re an a-hole, people will remember. In school, I can count with my hand the people with bad attitudes, and we all remember who they were. Being nice to others, being humble and a team player is something that others will always remember, no matter how many years go by.

What are your thoughts on art school?
I didn’t attend an art school, I went to The Design School at Arizona State University and it was life-changing for me. The difference is that Design School focuses more on a Swiss-based approach to visual communication: typography, composition, contrast, hierarchy, branding, and information design. We don’t get any computer classes or Adobe Suite classes, we learn that in our own time. I met some of my best friends there, and I received so much knowledge and was always inspired by my fellow students and professors who loved design as much as I do. It was only 44 of us that got accepted so the 2012 class was very competitive and expensive for a waitress like me to afford, but it was all the way worth it. I was able to get a job right out of school and stop working at the restaurant (yay!) and I carry the design principles I learned there every day to American Airlines. I will always be thankful to my professors and classmates who lend me their art materials, their computer knowledge and (to sound super corny) their hearts.

Julieta Felix

What’s your dream project?
Some sort of branding project with all the works (logo, website, collateral, posters) that will help raise money for charities or adoption center for homeless pets. Anything that I can do to make donating more appealing.

What art supplies do you use?
I’ve done pieces that range from just paper/pencil to pieces made with fireworks, ketchup, matches, fake blood, fake fur, plastic wrap, anything goes! Whatever I’m excited about. Probably the funnest was fake blood, haha! A poster Ben (my boyfriend) and I made for a Battle Royale poster, a Japanese horror film.

How could the art industry become better in your opinion?
More women designers! Ladies, stop making getting married and having babies your goal in life! hahaha. Just kidding but really, there’s some crazy good women designers out there that are criminally unknown. Nothing wrong with wanting marriage and making a family (I’m sure most ladies can do both!) but it would be cool if more women started embracing their creative side and experiment with art/design in their free time. We have so many things to say, so many experiences, that the art community would benefit so much from our rich personalities and different perspectives. At least I think so.

Any other artists that you would like to recommend for others to check out as well?
YES! Here are a few of my favorites I admire:

Monica Ramos – Illustration
Sasha Katz – Pixel Artist
Cheese NYC – Painter
Lydia Nichols – Illustration
and of course, my boyfriend Ben Pelley – Designer

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