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125: How this self-taught artist travels the world as a remote graphic designer with Marco Vannini

In this week’s episode, I speak with Marco Vannini who is a digital collage artist & self-taught visual designer.

Although Marco did not have formal training in visual and graphic design he was able to create incredible works of art that have allowed him to travel the world and collaborate with diverse brands, proving that self-education can take you a long way.

Listen on to find out how Marco is able to travel the world as a successful remote graphic designer. 

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Feel Safe and Secure while Traveling Long-Term with Integra Global

This episode is sponsored by Integra Global.

As a digital nomad, it can be such a headache to find out what the different requirements are when it comes to Heath insurance. That’s why I’m so glad that I found Integra Global and their comprehensive plans! 

They don’t ask their members to build a plan, because how do we know what we’ll need? Their insurance covers it all and everything is built-in. 

If you want to know more, check out IntegraGlobal.com and see how they can give you the coverage you’ll need and maybe some you never knew you would! 


Show Notes:

Debbie: 

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us here today. I’m so excited to talk to Marco. Hey Marco, how are you?

Marco:

Hi Debbie. How are you? I’m great, thank you very much.

Debbie: 

He’s very happy to be here and we can tell that Marco is like me – he’s also very giggly. I love it.

Marco: 

Absolutely. Yes.

Debbie:  

So, Marco, before we get to your incredible job and your travel experiences, can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Marco:

Absolutely. Yes, I would love to and I would love to say also, that this is officially my first podcast appearance and my first interview for that matter and I’m so excited about that. So, I started off graphic design when I was, I think, in high school. I taught myself when I kind of stumble upon tools like Photoshop and Illustrator and I fell in love with both of them – I’ve started a daily practice. I, of course, was not paying attention to school and as I did, I felt kind of like an outcast or didn’t relate so much to subjects. So, I picked up graphic design and I’ve been traveling all over the place but I found a way of earning a living through several platforms using the skill set that I gained with Illustrator and Photoshop. Nowadays, I’m living “location free”, I’m still on an almost full-time job, but I have managed to build a client base that is keeping my head afloat and is constantly growing. This all came from my side projects. I could say that I’m three months, four months shy, and in December I officially quit my full-time job and I embarked on this journey – the offbeat life.

Debbie: 

That is a really exciting journey and I’m sure there’s a lot of things happening right now. In order for you to prepare to leave your nine to five, how are you doing that right now? How are you able to prepare for this journey before you make that huge change?

remote graphic designer

Marco:

That is a great question. I’m basically focusing on strengthening the relationships with my current clients as much as I can. And on the other side, I’m constantly pushing content. Just so you get some context, I make a living as a designer in my office job, but my side project is actually collage art which is what I’m living from right now or my second source of income that will eventually become my first in December when I move from my full-time/part-time job. So, I’m building this client base that I have, I am trying to set it up in a way that when I leave in December, my job is secure that I will have an income or a monthly income in which I can rely on. On the other hand, I kept pushing my content out on different platforms and landing other clients on top.

Debbie:  

Wow. Well, you have a lot of different things that you’re doing in order to create that income, right? And I think I tell people this a lot of times is that you can’t necessarily, in the beginning, just rely on one stream of income because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Life as a freelancer, as an entrepreneur is always up and down and it can get really scary if something happens to one of that income. And then, oh my goodness, you can’t pay the bills, which is really scary.

Marco: 

Yes, it absolutely is.

Debbie:

And you have something that’s really interesting. You’re going to be doing collage art as your main source of income. How did you find this new source of income from doing art? Because a lot of people tell us that if you’re an artist, you’re going to be starving and you’re doing it the opposite way. You’re like, “I’m leaving my nine to five, I’m going to do this and I’m actually going to money.” How were you able to do that, Marco?

Marco: 

I’m breaking the artist stigma, I’m shifting the world’s gravity. I’ve got that question asked before. So, I didn’t know that I was going to end up as an artist. If you would have asked Marco two years, three years ago, that this was eventually going to become my full-time job, there was no way that I would have said, “okay”, it’s possible I would have said, “No, you’re crazy.” So, what happened I have to leave Venezuela, right? ‘Cause as many may know or may not know my country’s situation overall was really bad. And I left for Europe with nothing and no belongings, I had under I think $500 in my account, no plans whatsoever. My cousins who live in Madrid, they took me in their house and they said, “Okay, you can stay here, we’ll try to help you find a job and try to fix you somewhere while you find your path”.

Marco: 

Unfortunately, they could not get me into anything as I don’t have a degree, I should’ve said that earlier. I don’t have a degree, I didn’t have any past work experience, nothing, nada. But like what I’ve mentioned before, I had been experimenting a lot with graphic design. I hadn’t found art yet at that moment, I had experimented a little bit but not found my creative voice yet. So, one morning I just woke up and I recalled a couple of conversations that I had with my event ex-girlfriend telling me, “Marco, I like what you make. These creations you are making, you just put them on Instagram. You should show it to the world.” And I said, “You know what… I’m going to do this just for the sake of it, but I don’t have a plan yet”.

Marco: 

I actually had no clue what I was doing. And this is where my artist persona came to life. I went on posting on a daily basis. Every single morning, I wake up, I post, and I was working as a delivery man on the side, in the afternoons. Circling back, what was your question? Sorry, I got lost a little bit. How did I find my artistic persona, right? How did I find out? Yeah. Okay. So, there’s the moment where I found it and two years consistently, putting myself out there, as I said, I think I created some traction and I gained enough exposure for people to start noticing my art especially on Instagram and Behance, which we can get on afterward. This is how I got known as an artist using social media basically.

Debbie: 

That’s the beauty of the internet and social media now is because you can put out the type of work that you want to put out and what you’re passionate about. But it’s also great because you will know if you do have an audience and a paying client to want to buy what it is that you’re putting out there before you’re kind of just shooting in the dark and whatever it is that you’re passionate about, you put it out there. But then, sometimes you can’t really reach them because the world was a lot smaller, you didn’t have that sort of exposure that you have right now. So, having social media and using it the right way, a lot of these different platforms for artists now is such an amazing tool to use for yourself.

Marco: 

For sure. Social media has been revolutionary for artists as I see it. This is our new playground. And if you’re an artist and if you’re not putting your work out there, and I could not encourage enough. People that I meet, I’d say that “you have to show your work, you have to put yourself out there and make yourself known.” So yes, social media has completely changed the game, I would say especially for artists. We cannot make excuses anymore, we’re enabled to live from our art. Yes! Of course, you can live from your art. You just have to put yourself out there and be committed to it.

Debbie:

Absolutely. There is no excuse right now there’s little and little so, you can’t be sitting on your couch and watch Netflix. I mean look at what Marco did; he left the country that was in turmoil, worked as a delivery boy, didn’t even have a degree. And look where he is now, he’s making money from what he’s passionate about. So listen, a lot of you listening to this has more things going for you than what Marco did in the beginning. And you can do it too and Marco is definitely someone to look out for is really because of everything that you’ve done and now you’re really embarking on this journey that you really wanted with your life. Marco your story is amazing. Now looking back at everything that you have gone through, what has been the biggest setback that you have encountered as an artist or as an entrepreneur and how did you handle it?

Marco: 

I think gaining the confidence that it takes to show your work and trust the process in a way and know that this will take you somewhere. Because in my case, as I said before, I was kind of blindfolded at the beginning. I said, “Okay, I’m very scared to do this. And I don’t know if it will take me anywhere, but anyways, I did it.” So, the biggest setback is my own mind or I see our own mind just pushing through every single day, like waking up and making that clash, posting it on Instagram. And just trusting myself and knowing that this value that I’m putting out there will eventually retribute me in a way or the other. So like I said, yeah, my mind has been probably the biggest setback, once you get over that hurdle, once you trust the process, once you know what you’re doing and you master the systems, there is nothing that can stop you.

Debbie:  

Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the biggest setbacks that most of us will encounter before, during, and after you’re going through this journey and it just keeps happening, right? It’s that self-doubt that you have within yourself. Even when you’re actually making it, you’re making money from it. You’re doing something that you love and sometimes you just wake up and say, “do I deserve this?” or “what if all of this is taken away?” And even after you’ve accomplished the things that you wanted to do, there’s still gonna be those things that are going to go into your mind. And I think you’re right. It’s just believing in yourself, in your process, and what you’re doing is what you set out to do and just need to keep believing in yourself in order to do that.

Marco: 

I heard John Mayer said it once, “some foolish, heroicness”. I think those are the words that he used and making a hero out of yourself and you’re the hero of your own story. Heroes, help other people but they have to exude a lot of confidence and this is what you have to become, no matter what your creative pursuit is. So, believing in yourself is definitely the strongest weapon.

Debbie: 

Now, Marco, what about when you are working on your projects, when you’re a graphic designer and also your collages, what happens when you are unmotivated or you’re blocked? What is it that you do to take yourself out of that and keep that motivation again to do your work?

Marco: 

I think as designers, artists or creatives, we need to constantly be reinventing ourselves. In my case, what I do is that I try to practice or I tried to dabble… Say I’m working on a project right now and I’m hitting the creative block and I can’t come up with ideas and the deadline is coming closer, anxiety’s building up, I leave everything. And the first thing that I would do is definitely go for a walk, meditate or exercise. Those are my go-to places every time that I feel that I’m overwhelmed. On the second hand, I would say, “don’t stall and try to experiment with other art forms.” In my case, I do a lot of collage and I love to write. So, if I’m having a creative block and as I said, I have to meet the deadline and hand in this collage project. I would leave it on the table and I would switch. I would say, “okay, now I’m going to write”, or “now I’m going to do a different kind of illustration”, or “now I’m going to do logo design.” From my perspective, it’s all about experimenting because we can find creative. I think we can reef, we find other creative juices that we need in other disciplines, in other ways where we’re not staring or looking at our computer just being frustrated and angry at ourselves for not coming up with a solution at the moment.

Debbie: 

Yeah, absolutely. It’s so many things that can block you and you just kind of have to figure out what works for you. And taking a step back is definitely a great way to do that because sometimes if you’re forcing it too much, it actually derails you even more from creating and you’re just giving yourself so much pressure that it just becomes too much and it doesn’t help at all.

Marco:  

Exactly. Yeah. Anxiety is the biggest enemy. In my case, I have to deal with it constantly and I kind of finally found my own ways of dealing with it. And that’s what I just said. It is definitely one of them – stepping back. You put it beautifully.

Debbie:

Absolutely. Now, I know that you are in Munich right now and once you dive into your location independent lifestyle, you have chosen Italy as your main location to go to first, how do you decide which country or which location to go to and what are the factors that kind of relevant when you’re searching for the new place as a digital nomad?

Marco: 

Is pasta a good enough of a factor?

Debbie: 

For me it is.

Marco:

Okay then, that is it. In all seriousness, I would say Italy chose me. I was raised by an immigrant Italian family who moved to Venezuela and it’s been a dream for me to live in Italy. A couple of friends of mine moved into Italy a year ago and they just loved it and they sold it to me in a way that I said, “I have to leave Munich now and I have to experience the Italian life for at least a year or two.” I don’t have any time frames like we were talking before. I don’t know exactly when I will leave, but now that I’m on bound to a place, I would say that Italy felt right.

Debbie:

Yeah. I mean it’s such a beautiful country and the background that you have in there, the family that raised you is also Italian and you have friends there. I mean, that’s a perfect place to start with. And who knows, maybe he’ll stay there, you never know Marco.

Marco:

You will never know. I live on this thought that you should flow… Oriental philosophies talk a lot about this – flow like the water. This is my philosophy – has always been. So, I never see myself living in Munich if I can be honest. And I never saw myself living in Madrid before. Life has taken me to interesting places and I’ve gained so much perspective. I’ve learned so much from every place that I’ve lived in. I don’t know if it’ll be a month or three or six months or a year, but I think I’ll spend some time there. I want to enjoy the pasture, the olives and the weather.

Debbie: 

I think that’s a really great motto to have in your life. I think if you just let it go and let the universe kind of take you where you need to be and just trust in that. I think you’ll be surprised where life can take you. Not to say that you’re just going to be very passive, but very open to opportunities and where that’s going to take you and not block it from whatever the universe do I think is a really good place to be in.

Marco:

Exactly. And you should just let it be and let it go. As long as you’re not putting resistance, it will take you to good places, I believe. And you’ve been, I dunno for how long, living this offbeat life and I bet that a lot of your experiences and you would not be present “Hey Debbie” if you have not lived in all these places that you’ve been in.

Debbie: 

Yeah, absolutely. Now Marco, let’s talk about travel and international insurance because this is one thing that we don’t normally think or even talk about as digital nomads, especially when you’re really young, you don’t think about it, right?

Marco: 

You’re foolish, naive and unconscious.

Debbie:

Yes. Just kind of click “yes” when you book that flight for your plane tickets – but that’s very minuscule compared to having insurance when you were living somewhere in the long term. Have you ever used any type of insurance when you are traveling around the world, when you were in Munich, in Madrid, and even in Venezuela and what do you think of your choices in that matter?

Marco:  

I haven’t had the opportunity of opting for insurance because I lived or when I came to Munich, you are, by law, obliged to have insurance here. So, you cannot have travel insurance, you have to apply for proper insurance in the state that you’re in. When I have traveled, I have been covered by that insurance and now that I’m moving to Italy and I mean I’m an Italian citizen, I’m covered by the Italian government. To be honest, I haven’t had much experience with insurance, but I would love to know more about the topic.

remote graphic designer

Debbie: 

Yeah. I mean for me, I didn’t know this topic at all until I became a digital nomad because whenever you’re in a different country, it can be really difficult to get sick, right? And then, on top of that, if you’re not covered by anything and it’s not a comprehensive plan, then you are pretty much screwed. So, I really had to think about that specially outside of the United States where I have no idea, especially in places where you don’t know the language. Oh my goodness! That’s such a scary thing.

Marco: 

Tell me about it. I’m in Germany.

Debbie:

It’s like I don’t want to be stuck in different country and I have to worry about what kind of insurance coverage I need. So, that’s why I’m really glad that I found Integra Global who is actually one of our partners who has comprehensive plans for their clients and they don’t ask their members to build a plan because we don’t know what we’re going to need, right? So, we don’t know what’s going to happen when we’re out there and their insurance really covers everything and everything is built-in. So, if you all want to know more about it, Marco, you can check it out at IntegraGlobal.com and see how they can give you the coverage that you’ll need. And maybe with some that you don’t know either because that’s like my biggest fear.

Marco:  

This is definitely valuable to know and I’ll share the information for sure.

Debbie:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think we don’t talk about that enough because we just talk about, “Where are we gonna live, how are we going to make money?” But then it’s like we all get sick and then, we look at each other like, “Oh my gosh, I should’ve gotten something. Oh no. What’s gonna happen?”

Marco:

Yeah. When it hits the fan you’re thrown off completely. Like, “Oh, I should have thought about this before. I don’t know why I didn’t”.

Debbie: 

Yes. Before it happened.

Marco:

Yeah. It turns out that health insurance is important.

Debbie: 

It’s like, “Yeah, when I need it.” So, let’s not get to that point, everybody. Make sure you have it before it happens.

Marco: 

Yeah. It’s very important.

Debbie:  

When you were setting off to be location independent, well, right now you’re actually doing that, how much money are you actually saving and how much are you planning to budget your money so that you can make it last?

Marco: 

Oh, Debbie, I’m an obsessive saver. I think I saved every single penny that lands on my account. I put it onto another account and I say, “I do not touch this.” I do not see the balance I have. I don’t know anything about that account. I just know that as soon as I get the money, I transferred there and I don’t touch it. So, I have a pretty interesting approach on savings. But I would say that if you’re planning to take the leap and going onto living in lifestyle like this, you do have to save. You have to have a mattress to fall onto in case anything happens. Especially as you build up your client base, as you learn the ins and outs of freelance work, you must have a backup that will keep your head afloat, so to speak. So, I’m trying to save as much as I can basically, from my job that I have right now to my client work, I always put something aside. I have not made any investments yet, but I’m planning to put that money on my living and also back in my business when the time comes.

Debbie:  

That’s a really good thing to think about and have as a mindset because remember, we don’t have any guarantees. Especially if you’re just starting out your business. So, having savings to fall back on, like you said, Marco is going to be a lifesaver so, make sure that you do that. And I tell people all the time, yes, we all want to leave our nine to five, that’s not like a revelation anymore. Everybody wants to do that. Well, not everybody, but most people that I’ve spoken to, and it’s gonna be harder for you if you just leave and you have no backup plans when it comes to income. You’re either going to be living in somebody’s couch or going back home to your parents. So, if you don’t want to do that, definitely make sure that you’re well prepared before you take that leap.

Marco:  

Yeah, and I would say a smart decision that you could also take besides saving, yes, absolutely, save as much as you can especially if you’re going into this kind of lifestyle, is choosing a place, at least, to settle at the beginning that as not as expensive. So for instance, if you’re going to be living an offbeat lifestyle, do not come to Munich.

Debbie:

Or New York City.

Marco:

Exactly. Do not by any means don’t make that mistake. But Italy, on another hand, is a good option, as living expenses are not as high and you can kind of make your way through it while not burning all your expenses and still working on your part or get a part-time job if you want while working on your own project and lifting it up without worrying about your money being burned off your account into ashes.

Debbie:

Yeah. And those types of places, your money definitely goes a lot further. So, that’s such a great tip to give, Marco, that’s so smart to do before you dive into this is to really think where you’re going to be in, how your money is going to go. So, let’s fast forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy you would want leave and what do you want to be remembered for?

Marco:

That’s a deep question. Okay. So I would say, I would like to be remembered as somebody that that inspired other people. I think my life’s mission is to demonstrate that you can, with a lot of discipline and hard work, achieve whatever you set your mind onto. And it sounds so cliche and I know that, but I’m such a fan of cliches, I think that there is a massive truth underlying all of those cliches that we see in this fancy Instagram posts. So, I just want to be remembered as somebody who harnessed the strength to manifest whatever that came to his mind and inspired a lot of people in the process. ‘Cause in the end, as I see it, it’s all about giving. It is all about the people. One of the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned in the past couple of years is that the more you give, the more it comes back, you get back the most valuable things. So, I just read that nothing compounds more interest than giving. And that hit me, I want to be remembered as a giver.

Debbie:

Yeah. That’s a really great life lesson I think because in a world where I think a lot of us just want to take, I think if you give, like you said, you’re going to get back so much more because people will really remember that and remember you as that type of person who gives and who just doesn’t take – that’s amazing. That’s going to be an amazing legacy that you’re going to have, Marco, for sure.

Marco:   

Thank you so much. I hope that it comes across this way.

Debbie:

Yeah. Well, you’re already giving us a lot of lessons today, so that’s really good.

Marco:

I hope so. Somebody takes some key takeaways from it.

Debbie: 

What are you working on currently that is really exciting to you?

Marco:

Well, I think my day to day collage project is always exciting for me. I am lucky enough to say that what I am living off now is my passion and I enjoy every single minute and every single second I spent on it. I’ve been working with some amazing clients in the past three months from the New York times through ebook to currently BMW. Illustrating their campaigns or a couple of campaigns that they have or they’re going to launch in the next month. So, that has been, one hell of a roller coaster ride. And in December as I depart from Munich to Italy and living abroad or another country, again. I’m starting a small agency. I’m really excited about this project. Again, I’m joining forces with a couple of friends of mine, their super talented and this is what my 2020 is going to be all about. So, that has gotten me super excited.

Debbie:

That is so exciting and I can’t imagine what the next few years are going to lead for you. I’m also excited to talk to you more about how someone can get to the point where you are, Marco, for the extended interview. I mean, you’re working with such amazing and incredible brands. So, if you can give us some tips on that later on and you guys should look into our extended interview with Marco, where he’s going to share with us how to start becoming a graphic designer and artist and make money from that. I mean come on! That’s like the dream, right?

Marco:

It is possible. Of course. I’ll spill all the beans. I missed the one in my 10.

Debbie:

Our listeners want to know more about you. Where can they find you?

Marco:

They can find me on Instagram. My handle is @mavantri think I got that right, and my website, which is mavantri.com, those are my two main channels.

Debbie: 

Perfect. Thank you so much, Marco, for joining us today. I really appreciate all the knowledge that you gave us.

Marco: 

Thank you, Debbie, for having me here. I’m so happy. I had a blast.

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WHERE MARCO SHARES HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL REMOTE GRAPHIC DESIGNER. 


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Show Credits

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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