We chatted to him about his life as a freelancer, how his style evolved from creating collages and why he chose to make the switch to Affinity Designer, Photo and Publisher.
Maciek, tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background.
I live in Warsaw, Poland, and I’m very lucky to draw pictures for a living. After graduating from the Academy of Film, Art and Design in Lodz, I worked for a couple of years as an art director in an advertising agency before awarding myself the dream job of being a freelance illustrator.
Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator? What set you on your chosen career path?
I’ve always loved drawing, so I was hoping my future job would involve that. I wanted to be a comic book artist, but it wasn’t a feasible career option in Poland at the time, so I went on to study design. I did an illustration course, which I enjoyed, but I didn’t really fall in love with the medium until much later. After working as an art director for some time, I had an epiphany: I didn’t want to work as an art director, but I’d love to make illustrations.
“After working as an art director for some time, I had an epiphany: I didn’t want to work as an art director, but I’d love to make illustrations.”
What led you to go freelance?
I felt trapped in my day job, so I needed to devise an escape plan, Michael Scofield style. I learned as much as I could about the illustration industry. I did a few online courses to polish my skills. After hours, I’d only take illustration gigs to build a portfolio. That helped me land the first regular client. For a few trying months, I balanced my 9 to 5 work with freelance jobs in the evening. When I couldn’t fit any more illustration jobs in that schedule, I decided to quit my art director job. I felt both excited and terrified. After a month, when I realised that I had earned more money as a freelancer than I had at the agency, a calming thought struck my mind: Okay, maybe I won’t starve to death.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
My dog wakes me up before the alarm clock, and he’s very pleased with himself. It’s my wife who takes him for morning walks, so I assume he does it out of spite. I take like 10 different pills because of my recent health issues, eat something, have a coffee and a cigarette. This is an important part of my morning ritual that powers me up for the rest of the day. I start work at 9:00 AM by answering emails, reading contracts etc. Then I focus on sketching and brainstorming ideas. After a lunch break, I draw, vectorize sketches and add colours. I clock out at 5:00 PM when it’s my turn to take the dog out.
What’s your usual process when responding to a brief?
I usually make notes while reading a text I’m supposed to illustrate, highlighting the important bits. I think about the message. Then I create a mind map in my sketchbook, which is a mix of words and doodles associated with the subject. I figure out the tone—is this a serious matter, or can I go a little bit crazy? Hopefully, at this point, I’m able to generate ideas that I like enough to share with a client.
Could you talk us through your workflow? How do you turn initial ideas into finished illustrations?
Ideas start as simple doodles in my sketchbook. I like to sketch out different versions and composition variants. Then I pick the one I like most. The lucky winner gets turned into a refined sketch on an iPad Pro and sent to a client for acceptance. If it’s given the green light, I put the drawing into Affinity Designer on my Mac, and the rest of the work happens there. First, I build vector shapes in grayscale—I like to make sure I’m happy with the composition before I add colours. After colouring the piece, I switch to Pixel Persona, where I put the finishing touches like shading and textures with an Apple Pencil using my iPad Pro as a second display.
What made you switch to the Affinity suite, and what are your thoughts about it? Do you have any favourite features?
I’m the opposite of an early adopter when it comes to software. I had been using the same applications basically for my entire life, and I wasn’t really looking for an alternative. But a fellow illustrator was going on about how great Affinity was, so I thought I’d give Designer ago on my iPad. When I saw how switching between Vector and Pixel Personas worked, I was blown away. It was perfect for my workflow, which is based on mixing vector drawings with pixel shading, but now I could do it in one app and go back and forth without any hiccups. It was a true game-changer for me. So I downloaded the desktop trial versions of Designer, Photo and Publisher and quickly realised they provided everything I needed for my professional work and more—I was sold!
“When I saw how switching between Vector and Pixel Personas worked, I was blown away. It was perfect for my workflow, which is based on mixing vector drawings with pixel shading, but now I could do it in one app and go back and forth without any hiccups. It was a true game-changer for me. ”
I’ve been using Affinity for almost two years now, and I’m happy as a clam. I love how all three apps cooperate with each other. If I need a bit of layout and copy added alongside illustrations, I can create everything from scratch using only Publisher, thanks to its Designer and Photo Personas. It’s like magic!
“I love how all three apps cooperate with each other. If I need a bit of layout and copy added alongside illustrations, I can create everything from scratch using only Publisher, thanks to its Designer and Photo Personas. It’s like magic!”
What drew you to work in a bold geometric style?
I started with a very loose, doodly style, which my wife always likes to remind me she was not a fan of. Then I started making collages and found lots of joy in cutting basic shapes and arranging them in different ways. I found a digital equivalent of this process in playing around with basic vector shapes. The more I did that, the more I moved from chaos to order. Now it takes me twice as long to finish an illustration, but I’m more satisfied with the outcome.
Could you tell us about your artistic influences? What artists, illustrators or designers have had the greatest impact on you?
Oh, there’s a ton of artists that have influenced me over the years. But for what I’m doing right now, I think I owe the most to Picasso (always), Paul Rand, mid-century modern illustration and the Polish School of Posters, to name a few.
What would you say is the most interesting project you have worked on? Could you tell us about it?
Right now, I’m working on a series of children’s educational books with little windows that allow you to open parts of the illustrations and peek inside. I’ve never done anything like this before, and it comes with some challenges, but I’m very curious about the outcome. They should come out sometime this year.
If you could have your work published anywhere, where would it be?
It would be amazing to create editorial illustrations for The New York Times.
Do you have any advice for illustrators who are just starting out and looking to go freelance?
Have a lot of patience and perseverance, don’t be afraid of changes and most importantly, enjoy the process of creating your work. You’ll be making a lot of illustrations before your smaller or bigger break, so you’d better get a kick out of it.