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Conversations with Michelle Grepo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Grepo.

Hi Michelle, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Hi there! My name’s Michelle Grepo, and I’m a Cali-born second-generation immigrant. I’ve always been an artist at heart. We all make art when we’re younger, but it’s sort of been my constant companion. Growing up, I was really close to my brother. He was really into computers, technology, video games, and anime, so naturally, I came to love those things, in addition to my own interests. While most teens were partying in high school, I was at home clacking away at a keyboard, playing with Photoshop and Flash, building web pages, making crappy art to post on Myspace, or drawing in my sketchbook, things like that.

I was put into an AP art program my sophomore year of high school all the way to my senior year, and towards the end, my art teacher urged me to apply to a traditional art school. However, my interests were more aligned with digital art, so I pursued a degree in graphic design and interactive media. After college, my career was pretty explorative within the industry. I began as a graphic designer, moved on to work as a front-end programmer, and then shifted into web design.

Working as a web designer was really interesting because I was making digital experiences for feature films. The work required a vast knowledge of different applications and skills, from typography to graphic design to 2D animation to user experience design to web programming. I was mostly following my curiosity early in my career, but I gained a wide range of experience during that period. I loved exploring the different ways to create art, especially when it involved technology.

As the market shifted into more social media, my career and curiosity led me to learn 3D. Now I’m working as an Art Director at a great studio, creating work that reflects the culmination of skillsets I’ve acquired throughout my diverse career.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Of course not, haha, the road has been rocky, and sometimes there’s been a gap in the road, but that’s life. It comes at you at its own pace, whether you are prepared or not. I’m not going to detail every struggle of my life, but one of the important ones where I experienced significant growth would be when my step-father passed away when I was in college.

I was living in Colorado at the time, and somehow I managed to finish up my semester, but I needed to take a break to process everything. I ended up leaving Colorado and stayed with one of my sisters in California for a while. Going through that during a period of my life when I was trying to discover who I wanted to be as an adult was difficult. I prioritized family, and when it came to my career choices, I reached for practicality than the stars. It took a long time for me to think about what I wanted out of my career seriously. I was successful as a professional, but because I never truly took a step back to develop a bigger picture for myself as a creative, I think exploring my curiosity was my mind’s way of subconsciously developing that side I was neglecting. I may have taken the longer, albeit harder, path, but I gained so much life experience and incredible connections along the way.

I also feel that period of my life helped me gain a significant amount of emotional intelligence. I developed a deeper understanding of people; I felt more conscientious about my work and more compassionate and patient towards others. Objectively, a lot of personal growth from that time in my life helped me develop soft skills as a young adult, which are pretty valuable, regardless if it’s a professional situation or not.

I learned from those moments in my life that everyone has their private struggles and reasons for why they are. That life can derail you, and it can certainly move on without you, but you don’t have to match pace with anyone else; you just gotta keep moving forward in life to the best of your ability, and that’s perfectly okay. Keeping an open mind when interacting with others can open up opportunities, widen your understanding of how the world works, and shift negative situations to positive ones. I’ve learned that the concept of the rat race is an antiquated mindset and that you can find success at any period in your life, no matter how windy your journey may seem. That success is much more rewarding when you collaborate with people and build something extraordinary together. Community is a powerful and wonderful thing to have in your life, and if you can’t find one, you can create one in earnest by just being kind, genuine, curious, and respectful of the people you choose to build connections with.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Professionally, I am an art director in the motion graphics industry. I can be storyboarding for a commercial one day, or animating a trippy illustrated world in After Effects the next, and then suddenly be making 3D sushi fall charmingly into a bento box. Mostly, I’m working with teams of incredibly talented artists who make the projects I lead exciting, visually and intellectually stimulating, and a lot of the time fun.

The variety of skills I have makes me a multidisciplinary artist or generalist, which implies I can illustrate, design, animate, and composite. I think being a generalist helps me tremendously as an art director. Because I have a wide range of knowledge/experience with various applications, workflows, mediums, etc., I can better lead and understand my team through an empathetic lens. It also helps me anticipate and strategize for a project and set up systems for my team to do their best without micromanaging them (which I intensely dislike).

Beyond my professional career, I like to create illustrations, paint, and experiment with my skillsets, “sharpening my blade,” so to speak.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
I really don’t know how luck has played a role in my life; it’s not something I think about much, to be honest, haha. But in truth, I don’t really see good luck or bad luck in my life, but rather gifts and lessons. Looking back, I like to think of the good things as fleeting gifts that I should appreciate at that moment and be grateful for in memory. When I think of the bad moments, as difficult as they may have been or how significant they’ve impacted my life, I like to view them as lessons that I must learn from and reflect on how I’ve grown from them.

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