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Lena Vargas Afanasieva, freelance illustrator and designer.

Lena Vargas Afanasieva, freelance illustrator and designer.

Published by Leonardo Calcagno

Who are you : 

My name is Lena Vargas Afanasieva  also known as Lena la Ballena

Your current job : 

Freelance illustrator and designer.


In which city are you located? 

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic


A word to define what kind of worker you are : 


Since I became a freelance I always start a project with an optimistic disposition and try to come up with the best solution I can. 

 What tools are essential to your life (app, software, etc..) 

I always need to be close to a Typometer. I use it to measure everything, drawing straight lines and making grids. 

Also, a light tablet to refine my sketches before scanning comes in handy.

My dearest Wacom Intuos & Adobe Illustrator are a must in my book. (all other design programs and google docs too)

What does your office space look like? 

I work from home. My windows are usually open so my work space has a lot of light, plants around and my dogs close to my feet.

Although I try to keep the office nice and organized, when I have a lot of work, I must admit it can get pretty messy 🙂 

What kind of music do you listen when you are working ? 

My music choices always change. It depends on my mood, the kind of project I’m working on, and the rush I’m under. Some days I work in silence, other days it’s loud and I’m singing along. When I sketch I try to listen to music that I believe can help me think clearer, like classical music, or yoga music, background music that help my concentration. When I have the sketch scanned and my work is more technical than creative, I listen to trip hop, funk, reggae, raggamuffin, rock, hip hop…I sometimes listen to stand up comedy or just do the divided screen thing and binge watch series on Netflix while vectorising my (usually filled with elements) illustrations.

Do you have a way to organize your day to maximize your work ? 

I like waking up very early if I have a lot to do in a day. Although sometimes I unintentionally oversleep, early birding is crucial and it is the time when I can make the biggest progress in the day. The days that I usually get a lot done is when the deadline is near. I guess I work better under pressure. 

 What tips would you give to improve productivity ? 

I think it’s important to disconnect. I can concentrate better if I’m not checking my Instagram or chatting with friends. Airplane mode all the way.

I also think it’s important to take breaks and step away from the computer. It is almost a moment to regroup my thoughts. This way, when I come back to my work it’s easier to spot mistakes that I would have missed before.

You’re better than your colleagues to : 

Maybe at procrastinating. Oh man, when I can delay something, I really do.

What is the best advice anyone has given you ? 

Stay Humble. The moment you start thinking your are great or better than anyone, is the moment you stop growing. Practice to be your better self, forget about everything else and respect the work of other professionals.

What is your best tip for saving time ? 

Strategizing your workflow and your files. Let me explain. 

If I have a lot to do in a day, I’ll make a plan of what needs to be done first, until the last thing. It becomes a to do list and usually this way the work is not so overwhelming since I do one thing at a time, but in the correct order. 

I also optimise my files while I work. If I’m working with Photoshop, I will name and organize my layers right away in folders, this way when I have hundreds of layers I won’t get lost if I have to open the file weeks after, or if someone else needs to use it later on. 

I don’t like to rasterize unless it’s absolutely necessary. Keeping important layers in paths or smart objects is the best way to save time if you need to make the file much bigger than it originally was. For example if a client asked originally for an illustration poster size, and then needs it the size of a billboard, not rasterizing can save me hours this way and save me from probably re-working the whole thing. 

What is your routine start and end of the day ? 

I have a room where I grow and collect plants, it’s my apartment garden. It has become a place where I escape from the computer, the only spot in the house where I do yoga, the place where I begin all my projects and where I have the greatest conversations with my family and friends, It has also become the place where I begin my days. Most mornings I do a couple of sun salutations (yoga poses), stretch a bit, hug it out with my 2 doggies and then check on my plants. Then I usually share breakfast and/or coffee with my husband, or in my case jasmine tea, and in that spot is where we sit for a while and chill before its time to go to work and the day gets hectic. Sometimes after work we end up sitting there again, sharing awesome conversations. In the evenings we usually cook dinner together, and watch an episode of some series on Netflix, eventually ending up by by passing out in the sofa.

Aside from your computer and your phone, what gadget can you not you go without? 

My tablet. It is a must have for making illustrations. I use a Wacom Intuos Pro. I have used tablets for years and it is one of my main gadgets for my work. I have been wanting a Wacom Mobile Studio Pro and I know when I get it, it will also become essential in my work.