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Miguel Muelle

Graphics Design
Georgia, USA

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in San Isidro, a suburb of Lima, Peru.  Spanish is my mother tongue, but English was always the second language around the house — especially when my parents didn't want us kids to know what they were saying!  I also grew up hearing other languages as a matter of course: my mother's father was from Austria and had a circle of friends who spoke German, as well as other European languages.  He also had books in many foreign languages.  My older brother Manuel and I began learning English in Kindergarten at an American school.  By the time I was nine years old and we moved to the United States we could all speak English fluently.

After the semi-mandatory stay in Florida for Latin families, we settled in the Boston, Massachusetts area.  When I was fifteen, we moved again, this time to Spain, where I graduated high school.  I chose to return to the States for college and decided to stay.

After living in the Boston area for twenty years, and marrying my wife who comes from South Africa, we decided to accept an offer to move to Atlanta, Georgia.  Since the housing market there was much lower-priced than Massachusetts, and the weather was more amenable to my wife, we settled in Roswell, Georgia.

What were your favorite subjects in school?

Although from my earliest recollections I loved art, I can't really say that that was a "favorite" class until junior high school.  In grammar school I enjoyed reading and writing, and was somewhat interested in social studies.  Although I did not have any traumatic problems with it, math was never a favorite.

The first teacher that stands out in my memory as being some kind of inspiration was Sister Miriam Irene.  I believe she taught me in the first grade.  Perhaps it wasn't so much inspiration as much as fascination…  I think I was mildly in love with her, but, as a seven-year-old would not have admitted to such a thing — even if it had been in my vocabulary!  She was always very clean and smelled like lavender soap, and made me want to be "very holy"!  Earlier this year I was able to track her down to a convent in Pennsylvania, and we exchanged letters — and she remembered me well.  She was touched that I remembered her so well, and she told me that she had never heard from any of her students from her time in Peru and Chile.  The Internet can be a wonderful tool.

In junior high I had an art teacher, Ethan Berry, who saw my gift in art and encouraged me to nurture it as a vocation.  He helped me to realize that there was more to art than just drawing well.  He taught me to look and see and interpret.  Another art teacher that helped me in that way Lynn Philips -- who drove me just in the nick of time to enter my self-portrait in the Boston Globe scholastic art contest, and in which I won a blue ribbon (and a Gold Key!).

I also had an English teacher, Luana Schwartz, who encouraged my creative writing skills and didn't patronize me because I was 14, but pushed me to read beyond my supposed reading level, and thus to think for myself and soak in great writings.  This was continued later in high school by Loyal Isiminger at the American School of Madrid.  Although we were always at odds philosophically — he being a "pure" Existentialist and I being a Romantic (and still am!) — he pushed me to look beyond the edges of my "self" to join the ocean of human thought through art and literature.  He also re-kindled my childhood fascination with Classical music with his after-school music class, especially when he played the Moldau movement of Smetana's Ma Vlast for us one afternoon.

What were your most difficult or least favorite subjects?

I actually liked all the subjects I studied in school.  When I began having difficulty with Algebra II and other forms of advanced math, I got through by thinking of the subjects in a graphic sense.  I thought that even if I didn't fully understand these (to me, at least) esoteric subjects, if nothing else, I would have the best drawn notebooks in class.  This was also the case with Biology and Zoology, although I found them much more germane to my interests.

I think perhaps the only mathematics that influence my life to this day would be geometry.  As a graphic designer my vocabulary is shape, my grammar is composition and my syntax is the relationships among the shapes.  Even back in high school I could see that "parallel lines cut by a transversal" or lines being tangent to circles had a sort of "meaning"… they elicited a reaction.  That is graphic design.

How does being fluent in more than one language help you in your career or in your life?

Since Lynne and I live in the States, obviously English is our primary language.  But we often speak Spanish at home, as Lynne also speaks it fluently.  In Georgia, where we live, there are many people who speak Spanish.  In our town the majority of the manual laborers (gardening, construction, etc.) are from Latin America, primarily from Mexico and Guatemala, but also from all points of South and Central America.

It is always an advantage to speak another language.  Most of my work is for television, and there have been times when the fact that I could speak Spanish has been a major factor in awarding me a project.  Atlanta is becoming a U.S. focal point for the Hispanic market worldwide, right behind Miami and the Southern California area.

I also speak some French and a little German.  This is always an added incentive for clients to work with me, as they will often be dealing with an international audience, and being able to understand the languages and cultures of others gives them an edge.

In life, languages connect you to cultures and humanity — and individuals in that stream — in a way that music and plastic arts also do.  When reading the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, for instance, to be able to hear the rhythm and music of the original German communicates much more than simply reading the English translation — even if one relies on the translation for clarity.  I also find that when I am in another country I feel much more comfortable if I can say even some simple formalities in their language.  It allows people to open up and feel that they want to communicate with you more when they see that you respect them — and are interested enough in them — to make the effort.

As a child, what did you want be become when you grew up?  Did you realize any of those early dreams?

As a child I wanted to be everything from priest to soccer star to super hero…  The only constant desire for how I would spend my life was using the gift of Art that God gave me.  I have been drawing since I was 3, and I grew up looking at and losing myself in paintings from the great masters.  I always assumed that I, too, would end up being written about in the same way as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and my paintings would be in books.  Now I'm not so sure...

When did you decide to become a graphics artist?  What inspired you to enter the field?

There was never any question that my career would involve Art.  I originally wanted to study Fine Art in Madrid, but since I needed to pay my way through college, I decided to return to the United States.  After one year of Fine Art at Boston University, I realized that four years there would bankrupt me for years to come — grants and all!  So I decided to regroup and study Illustration at Massachusetts College of Art, a state school.  Illustration would allow me to paint and draw but hopefully would give me a commercial outlet rather than painting and exhibiting and hoping to sell.  The summer of my Junior year I did an internship at Channel 7 in Boston, doing graphics for the TV station.  Not only was this a lot of fun, it led into a freelance job that by itself paid my entire living expenses for the first semester of my Senior year.  Upon graduation, they offered me a permanent job, and that was the beginning of my career in design for TV.

How have the "tools of the trade" changed over the years?

When I was in college there was no Computer Arts department or even a computer class.  Large mainframe computers were just beginning to be used for 3-dimensional animation, but projects were very expensive and time-consuming, as well as programming-intensive.  I learned graphic design using the tools of the trade at the time, which were still very "analog"!  We cut photographs using X-acto knives and used rubber cement to "cut-and-paste".  We still designed on paper and using pencils and pens.  Now-a-days many designers don't use much paper anymore... which is tragic.  To me, the connection between the heart and brain is parallel to that between the pencil and the paper!  I always recommend to young designers that they never stop sketching out their initial ideas FIRST, and once they have a REAL IDEA, then they can begin to see how it can take shape using their computers to make the work easier and open up the avenues of exploration.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I enjoy most about my job is that I make pictures for a living!  Many people out there have to do things they don't enjoy in order to provide for their families.  I, on the other hand, have the privilege of doing something I have loved since childhood — making pictures — and provide for my family by doing so.  I am grateful to God every day!  I also enjoy working from my home for the most part, waking up when I want and working when I want.  As long as I respect my clients' deadlines, I can schedule my work as I see fit.  That is another privilege I enjoy as a freelance designer.  The flip side is that I don't know if and what I'll be working on in two weeks... but I trust in God to provide the work — and He always does!

What do you like the least about your job?

What I like least about my work is that much of design for television is is about banal and pretty stupid stuff and sometimes promotes subject matter with which I may not agree...  When a TV network asks me to promote a show, I have to do it whether I think it is a great show or whether I think it might be beneficial, fun, or just plain stupid!  Of course, if I think it is immoral or unethical, I do have the right to say "no, thanks".

The other negative, as I mentioned above, is that as a freelancer I cannot project my time and budget my income, as I'm never really sure what the future holds.  But as I also wrote above, my trust is in God who always provides.

If you could change careers, what do you think you might like to do?

I would love to be a veterinarian — not just because my father is, but because I love animals and think it would be rewarding to work with them.  Someone once said, "the more I get to know people, the more I love my dog."  It may not be quite that bad, but there are times when that surely applies!  I would also love to study linguistics and languages, and to some degree anthropology and phiolosophy.

What were some of the things you enjoyed about the different places you lived in the world?

I believe that the experience of living in a "foreign" land is invaluable in and of itself.  It forces one to get a better perspective on people — that all over the world are people who also want to live in peace, get married, earn a living, write a book, paint a picture….  I love food, and always try to eat the food that the "locals" eat.  The richness of the history of food alone is amazing!  It is exciting to realize that the flavors and spices you are tasting were handed down from other cultures which have come and gone — as in the Moorish influence in Spain, or the Ottoman influence in Austria!

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (From the Book of Proverbs in the Bible's Old Testament, Chapter 3 Verses 5 & 6).   Too often things aren't what they seem, and it is easy to get scared, angry, or frustrated.  Time and again I have seen God work things out in ways that have astonished me, yet it is always hard for me to have the faith to KNOW that He will do it again.  This passage reminds me of this on a daily basis.

What words of advice do you have for students reading this interview?

Find out what it is that you are passionate about, what really makes you tick, and follow a career path in which you can do this.  There are too many people who hate getting up in the morning, and I truly think that their lives are lived in what Thoreau called "quiet desperation".  Do not accept less than what your gift affords you.  To Shakespeare's "to thine own self be true", I would only add also be true to the talents God has given you and don't waste them.

I would also add that you should travel as much as you can and get to know other people and cultures, and even live among them for some time.  Know their art, their history and their language.  Remember that you are one individual among billions in the world, all of who have dreams and goals, joys and despairs, good points and not-so-good points.  Don't paint other people with a broad brush, but look at them as a person and treat them as you would like to be treated.  If every single person did this we would not have wars and famines... but that seems to be a great, big "if".  Enjoy your life!

- 10 May 2005


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Last Updated:
10 May 2005

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