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Ten Years in Ten Minutes from an Independent Designer

Recently, I was invited to give a talk as part of Intentional’s 10th Birthday Celebration under the theme “What can you do in ten?”. Basically, I summarised my last ten years as an Independent designer in ten minutes, under the title “Good Shit Takes Time”.

If you have been traveling with me for a while, you’ll know that I spent two years working on a personal project called “The Shit Series”, so the topic is pretty familiar to me. I have decided to transcript my presentation, for anyone who’d find it useful.

As a disclaimer I must say that there is a lot of explicit language throughout my slides, and I explain why during the presentation. Enjoy!


My name is Maria Montes and my presentation is called “Good Shit Takes Time”, which is something rare in the times we are living. 



During the next 10 minutes I’m going to talk to you about three personal projects I have worked on for a very long time, let’s do it!



More than a decade ago, I moved to Melbourne. I am in love with letterforms, so it is no surprise that one of the first things I did in the city was signing up for a typographic tour where I met Adam and his sister.



I was new in town, didn’t have any friends or family, but I was determined to find a job as a typographer, but instead I found a job as a textile designer, which lead to illustrate more than 432 designs in two years.



The beginning of my career as an independent textile and graphic designer

At the beginning of 2014 I started my independent career designing for the fashion and the luxury market, teaching calligraphy as well as textile design, and creating my own artworks combining my passion for illustration and letterforms.



At the beginning of 2015, I was approached by a cocktail venue in Melbourne who offered me to host my first solo exhibition.



After the opening of my first show I felt stuck, and didn’t know how to keep pushing my career, so I emailed Adam  and asked him for advice. 



I remember him telling me “don’t show me your work, and don’t show me your website” but instead explain me what you do and why. At the end of our two hours together, Adam strongly suggested to start writing about my work.



My very first newsletter was exclusively focused on announcing my solo exhibition in Melbourne. Thanks to Adam’s advice, I decided to keep writing newsletters announcing my courses, and sharing experiences that were inspiring me at each moment.



Three years ago, I had a melanoma removed from my face and I wrote about how I felt before and after the surgery. The amount of responses I received from people sharing their experiences with cancer was incredible touching.



I have been writing for seven years now. As you can tell by my accent, English is not my first language, but writing has helped me in many ways by making me accountable, checking-in with myself and reflecting on my journey. 



My newsletters have also taught me to be vulnerable and they has helped me to be more articulate, so thank you very much Adam for that coffee a decade ago.

In 2016, I started a personal project called “The Shit Series”.



The project kick started by my fascination with language and all the colloquial ways Australian people use the word shit.



I started to write a list and told all my friends I was working on this project.



This shitty list built up very quickly and I decided to use these colloquialisms in a biographical way explaining situations or feelings I was having at each time.



My Shit Series have taught me a lot of Australian slang and after two years, I closed this project having completed 100 personal posts.



For my solo exhibition in Melbourne. I designed a series of illustrated cocktail artworks, including a French one called Absinthe.



Starting out as an independent typeface designer

The lettering “absinthe” got stuck on my mind and one year later, I went back to it and drew the rest of the twenty-six letters of the uppercase alphabet. And this is the beginning of my third and last story!



In 2017 a typographic publication based in Germany, invited me to be part of their type calendar Golden edition featuring my Green Fairy, and of course I said yes!



At that point, I had only designed A to Z in capital letters, so you are right, there were no numbers at all.



My page on the calendar was “Wednesday 5th of December”, so I started to design number 5 straight away. As you can imagine, it took me longer than I expected, so I submitted my page a couple of days after the submission deadline.



Typodarium came back to me saying “sorry Maria, we thought you couldn’t meet the deadline so we gave your date to another designer”. They also said “ but we really want to feature Green Fairy Font” so your new date is April 12”…



Sweat was coming down my back as I didn’t have any other numbers drawn at that point… So I convinced them I couldn’t invest more time working on the page layout and luckily, they agreed to proceed with my original date.



I asked when the calendar was going to be printed and sold, and they said by the end of 2017… And that was it! I set myself a deadline of 11 months to turn 27 drawings into a fully functioning font file containing more than 600 glyphs.



Green Fairy font started being one weight, but quickly turned into a multi layer font. Things were going more or less fine till I arrived to the Dots style.

I started drawing squares following a grid. 



Then, the squares turned into diamond shapes. 



Then, the grid was not working so well on the round letters so I tried randomising the position of the dots, but it didn’t work.



So, I went back to the grid and scaled down the diamonds creating a half-tone effect.



I spent over four weeks working on the Dots Style and as I mentioned to Adam recently, having many appointments with my osteopath! 

I encountered many other problems but I kept working, tweaking, re-drawing and re-adjusting.



Then the diacritics came on board…



And then the symbols, currencies…



Numbers, kerning…



After nine months full time and many crisis later, I could confidently share that Green Fairy Font was coming to live as a chromatic font family highly ornamented for display purposes. This means that every layer or style, is stack on top of each other to create multiple chromatic type styles.



Green Fairy has four chromatic weights:

1. Green Fairy Outline
2. Green Fairy Dots
3. Green Fairy Stencil
4. Green Fairy Full

Green Fairy has also three combined weights to simplify your work flow, for these occasions when you only want to use one single colour in your font.



In September 2017, I submitted my font files to one of the biggest font distributors. I felt I was doing really well in terms of timing, as the calendar was coming out in three months time…



Two months after my submission email, the font distributor emailed me back saying that the answer whether or not they will consider to publish my project will take at least another two months…



At this point, I lost faith on this project and all my hopes of releasing the font commercially by the end of 2017. The most challenging part was the internal dialogue with myself. Listening to my own inner voice telling me that I won’t be able to make it, that it is too hard, and that is a total waste of time. This time, I pushed through and stopped feeding the beast, but it is not always like that.

In March 2018, six months after my submission email, I was finally granted as an independent font foundry and recently, my Green Fairy font has turned 3 years old! Up to date, I have only found another Australian woman who has published a font.



To close this presentation, I would like to reflect on the theme of today’s event, which is “What are you going to do in ten (years)?”.

I am extremely passionate about the power of representation.



And I have recently written about finding your inner compass. I know there are a few brand and marketing managers with us today, and I would like to invite to reflect with me on the following questions, as I believe there are a lot of work to do on this matter during the next ten years.


What is the reason why you are designing?

What are the impacts of your work?

What is the legacy you want to leave behind in this visual culture?

What responsibilities do we, in the design sector, have?


I am privilege person who lives in a very fortunate island where more than the 28% of us were born overseas in over 200 countries; where a quarter of the population speak 260 languages other than English at home; and where over 50% of Australians follow more than 130 different faiths.



As a designer, independent artist and educator, I feel the responsibility of spreading this message across by celebrating cultural diversity, supporting women in the industry, highlighting the importance of gender equality and inclusion, and by making sure we ALL understand that bringing more voices, colours and under-represented groups up on the stage, can only open up our view of the world and make us better.



Values and principles of an independent graphic designer

I believe my purpose in life is teaching what I know, create emotion through my work, and helping others to question our social structures and to believe in themselves.

I also believe that some great things take a huge amount of time.



Happy 10th Anniversary Intentional, it is a truly remarkable achievement and I feel very proud to be a small part of it.



Much love to all of you, and thank you very much.


Access a free birthday giveaway pack I prepared for this presentation.
Watch my ten-minute talk here.