A few years ago, designer and illustrator Maria Fabrizio was struggling to find her purpose. She’d always been artistic and had earned a BFA at the University of South Carolina and an MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University, then started her own studio. But she was feeling stuck. Then the pope resigned and everything changed.
“I drew a simple vector image of the pope hat on a hat rack and I stuck it up on my blog,” she says. “It seemed like a really big deal since it hadn’t happened in centuries, and I thought the idea of ‘hanging up the hat’ was a quiet way to convey the news. A few people noticed [the drawing], and told me to keep doing it.”
She didn’t realize it at the time, but Wordless News had been born.
Maria soon started a blog for her new project of making daily drawings inspired by current events, then opened a MailChimp account to send them straight to her followers’ mailboxes. She got a few subscribers at first, then got a whole bunch more when NPR featured Wordless News on Morning Edition in early 2014.
“It really became a big thing for my career,” Maria says. She had been doing mostly design work before, but now splits her time almost equally between design and illustration; she even started doing some editorial work for NPR, too.
“It’s been a crazy, stressful couple of years, but I’m so happy and thankful for the vision I’ve found in the project.”
Maria doesn’t include advertising in her emails because, she says, “I believe the white space around the images allows room for thought.” She makes a little money from prints she sells on her personal website, but raking in the bucks has never been part of her objective, especially since the emails keep leading her to other paid work.
“I’ve had so many people suggest I try to generate income from Wordless News, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the clarity of the site for income,” Maria says. “It’s my passion project and my creative habit. It teaches me about my visual process, forces me to flex my conceptual muscles and allows me to experiment, fail, and learn.”
Using MailChimp has completely altered Maria’s career trajectory by helping get her work in front of new audiences and clients. But most of all it has allowed her to communicate: to connect with her fans, get feedback about what works and doesn’t in her art, and encourage higher-level thinking about the world around us all.
“Email is a way to start a conversation,” Maria says. “I’m not sure I have an answer to how others should use email, but opening up a channel for conversation, criticism, encouragement, and dialogue in general allows for a more connected community.”