Petra Zeiler, Designer & Illustrator
Art Director at Outside Magazine / Freelance Designer and Illustrator
Skiing, climbing, cooking, creating, collecting
Santa Fe, New Mexico
How did you first get into graphic design/illustration?
From an early age, I always loved creating; spending hours designing Powerpoint presentations in elementary school (my first intro, if you’d call it that, to design), drawing relentlessly, and playing with Photoshop to make a cool Myspace background.
I consumed my surroundings growing up, fascinated by the illustrations in my children's books or media nearby—Ezra Keats, Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Mary Blaire, and Milton Glaser were some of my initial illustration influences. That, mixed with my love of nature, shaped my creativity. From an early age, I competed in skiing and was always checking out each year’s ski graphics, ski posters, and so on. After graduating, I went to art school, and all of my interests overlapped.
I remember seeing the work of Guy Billout, Davide Bonazzi, and of course Banksy in college, and I loved the surrealism and underlying conceptual elements within their work. These got me to the point of thinking more critically and beginning my first stint of illustrations based on environmental issues.
What was your professional journey to get to where you are today?
Since the age of seven, art became one of my ways of self-expression, something I was good at, and that I thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn’t always my plan to go to art school; I vividly remember when a scientific illustrator gave a presentation to my high school class about how she spent months traveling around the world in a submarine drawing every organism she saw. Her presentation opened my eyes to the possibility of illustrating for a living. The next year, I taught myself Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and conceived my whole senior project around creating ski graphics. From there, I grew my portfolio and decided to make the move to attend art school.
Emily Carr University for Art and Design, in Canada, was based a lot on the process and thinking behind why we make art and what messages each detail can convey. My first love was my illustration class, where we’d receive a concept and would have to illustrate all the ways we visualize that conceit. I figured out fast that I enjoyed breaking down elements in a story and brainstorming keywords, phrases, and visual elements that could play into that piece. I then took a design class and discovered how typography and design can also inform your audience on the feeling, tone, or message you want to convey—type, form, composition, color, and contrast are something I seek and love to play within my designs.
After graduating and taking on freelance work and internships, I nailed down an agency to rep my illustrations to further my career, as well as a job designing for Outside. Later on, I stepped into the art director role at Outside and haven’t looked back since.
What do your days look like?
Wake up, make some coffee, bike to the Outside office right downtown, and get crankin’ on work. Depending on the day, I start with a few meetings in the morning, checking and cleaning out my inbox, and beginning to work on our monthly issue. Along with the creative director, Hannah McCaughey, we divvy up the work and get down to designing, assigning, photographing, creating, whatever it is that day. It’s always different and everchanging with a new issue each month, which keeps it all very exciting and enjoyable.
Do you do any freelance design work? How can people hire you?
Yes, I do a bit of both freelance design and illustration work if I can find the time. I am always happy to chat or collaborate, so don’t hesitate to reach out! (www.petrazeiler.com)
What's your favorite thing about your work?
I enjoy the creative liberty and the feeling that I have the freedom to experiment. Once you’re not restricted to a set of rules, the whole world opens up; I don’t feel confined to stick to one medium, one look, one color palette in my design. There are so many factors to balance in the magazine world, but it’s an excellent opportunity to constantly problem solve. I also enjoy collaborating with my peers and hearing their thoughts on how we can tell their story in a layout or what have you. I feel honored to be able to aid the text with design, photography, and illustration to benefit and best represent that piece visually.
What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
The trickiest bit to navigate for me as a designer or illustrator is knowing when a piece is finished. If I didn’t have a deadline, I’m not sure I would ever stop making changes to a work, which can be both a curse and a blessing. I currently strive to get my work finished early, so I have time to reflect on whether my design or illustration is doing its proper job.
What advice can you give to budding artists and designers in Santa Fe?
Keep creating, collaborating, and being open to all opportunities. Make sure you instill the desire and care for the work you are doing, otherwise you won’t see it through for its or your potential.
For artists in Santa Fe particularly, find your niche—where you fit in, why you’re different, be confident in your work, and don’t be afraid to share.
What makes Santa Fe special to you? What is/are your favorite thing(s) about this place?
I’m originally from Santa Fe and just came back about three years ago. It’s always been a special place to grow up as a kid and even grow now as an adult. I feel it’s one of the places I feel most comfortable and supported; the community, culture, diversity, and nearby nature and mountains culminate in this unique, radiant town that I am so proud to be from.
If you could change one thing about Santa Fe, what would it be?
To touch on Jade Begay’s interview, I think this fascination and romanticism of the West, it’s history, and it’s aesthetic is always something I would hope newcomers and tourists realize and open their eyes to. Keeping the conversation going, educating yourself, and being aware of appropriation in your surroundings are vital to do as Santa Fe keeps evolving.
What are you passionate about outside of art and design?
My other love, besides art, is skiing. I started at the age of four and haven’t gone a winter without it. Skiing has become a part of my identity, and it’s a huge part of where I find my creativity and passion as a maker. To be free on the mountain as a kid unlocks your independence and mind to trying new things. The outdoors fuels my passions creatively, and my best ideas tend to come from being outside. I’ve found that once you get outside, you can breathe in the bigger picture of your surroundings, giving you reasons and intention for what you do.
At the end of the day, why do you do what you do?
I do what I do because the possibilities continually excite me. I can get behind my work and thoroughly relish and thrive on what I do; it makes me use my brain, and I get to learn new skills all the time. I try to live to create freely, without feeling the pressure of society, work, etc.