Margot Harrington, Graphic Designer
Coming to us all the way from Chicago, Margot essentially does it all, as a designer, printmaker, illustrator, teacher and (evidently) kind and beautiful person in the world. Her responses here are full of honest and inspiring insights and we're so happy she's part of what we do. Thanks Margot!
What do you do?
I’m a graphic designer, focusing mainly on branding and web, but I love print and book design. I’m also an adjunct professor teaching web design, a printmaker, and a mixed media and installation artist.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
Mostly I just aim to be fair, kind, and helpful to myself and others. The rest takes care of itself from there.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
After graduating from University, a friend offered to let me stay at her place for free so I could move to Chicago. It was a tiny studio apartment, it didn’t even have enough room for a couch so I slept on the floor. I took this plunge with $500 to my name, two suitcases, no job, and no parental safety net.
Secondly, being laid off in 2008 during the height of the housing recession is what caused me to start working for myself and my art practice. It made me realize I couldn't rely on anyone else but myself for financial stability and career trajectory, and have been a independent worker ever since.
More recently, the death of my dad in 2016. We were quite close. Losing a parent or someone close is axis-shifting for anyone, and my case is no different. It caused reevaluation of myself, my work, my relationships, and what it means to truly live to one’s fullest. It’s back-breaking work, but it has yielded so much and has brought increased meaning to everything in my life. I’m more sure of myself and my work than before and I imagine his loss will continue to influence and affect my choices in the years to come.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
While I knew I could always technically say no to opportunities, I realized way too late I didn’t actually know HOW to say no, and when to do so. Like how to even have priorities for myself. It wasn’t until I came down with shingles from stress and overwork that I realized I had this block, though to be honest this is an ongoing thing that returns with every stage of life. I think it's a classic trap we all fall into at some point, but it’s especially true for women. We often have just totally bananas expectations for ourselves (via society or by our own hands), and that comes with fearing loss of status, credibility, or letting people down.
For me being able to know what and how to say no lies in vigilant, constant re-evaluation of my priorities, sometimes on the daily. Am I in good shape? How do I want to feel in any given situation? Is this activity truly something I need to improve my life or self, or am I simply doing it because I think I “should”. This also includes an eagle eye on my calendar and commitments. I am fiercely protective of my downtime, and my health. Regular yoga and therapy practice have hugely helped. It took awhile to see the benefits of it, and for me to get over the stigma that therapy is a thing that only certain types of people need or get to do. Now I don’t know how I got by so long without out it, especially during some peak hot mess stress times.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
Yes. This, is critical, non-negotiable, and needs to be as intersectional as humanly possible with women from all backgrounds, walks of life, skill levels, ages, abilities. I’ve got online groups through Slack, Facebook, as well as local meet-ups and biz lady hangouts which I go to as much as I can. I’m excited to include Make Nice in this category now too!
It wasn’t always this way. There were times when I was the only woman among a team of guys, and it never work well. Looking back, I was deeply lonely, never felt good enough, outright ignored in some case, as well as a few situations with obvious and shocking sexism. Like the time when I was fired from an internship after being falsely accused of sleeping with a boss because no one believe I was actually talented enough to land the job in the first place. In the last few years I've since refuse to be the “only one” of any thing on a team ever again.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
This week I'm reading Phoebe Robinson’s Don’t Touch My Hair and watching old episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?
I love wacky unusual questions, in general. Most things are more interesting than the standard “what inspires you” query. Or when someone asks something that clearly shows another level of interest, or they've researched my posts online, or really listened to something I said, that makes me feel so, so special. Like I have a friend who asked me recently what I thought about the aesthetics of Shintoism from a design perspective. That’s like, such an amazing query. I think we can all improve at asking better questions!
How can we find our more about your work?
Who would you most like to answer these questions next?
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
I recently launched a line of gift wrap, the first item in a line of related paper products. In the works are prints, cards, and origami influenced paper goods for the home.
I’m also working on branding and website design for the Tremaine Foundation here in the States, which is a big arts organization that gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to artists and curators every year.
Teaching is an ongoing challenge as well, it’s humbling and real, and comes with endless growth. I could spend a lifetime practicing and still never master the art of it all. I love my students though because they drive me to be a better at everything I do.
What is your dream project?
I like to work for people who are mission-driven or are improving the lives of others somehow. If I can make a way to incorporate some type of artfulness in the process or end result that’s a bonus. Lately anything that has really pushed me to explore a new medium, or allows me to do something off the computer has been a godsend. Of course money’s key and a dream project always gonna involve that too.
What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?
I was in a sorority in college! Most people who know me IRL are SHOCKED by this admission because I’m pretty much the opposite of that wealthy party girl stereotype now. Even then I didn’t exactly fit in, but playing the part allowed the stability and structure that got me through school, so that counts for something. How how complex life is, y’know?! This college experience also helped lead me to be stridently feminist and taught me that I like to rebel against traditional gender norms.
Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?
One of my university professors, curator Michelle Grabner, totally changed my perspective on contemporary art. My school required both art history and contemporary art culture in equal measure, and I remember dreading the contemporary classes at first. I thought modern art was all total nonsense, navel-gazing BS. But Michelle literally changed my life and contemporary art is everything to me now. I will be forever grateful her and every other amazing teacher I’ve had in life.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change (for example, female leadership in the field, pay rates, working for 'exposure', workplace culture, diversity in the field etc)?
All of these things, definitely, for sure. One underlying cause that connects them all are insecurity and a scarcity mindset. That there somehow aren’t enough jobs, money, and that those tend go to people who look a certain way, or have certain credentials or privileges. If we can all see every opportunity and potential in ourselves and others, and recognize each other's hard work without comparison or jealousy, it would make it easier to fix our systemic cultural issues.
If you could choose to hear from any female contemporary at a Make Nice event, who would it be and why?
Jia Tolentino, Aminatou Sow, Jenna Wortham, Veronica Corzo-Duchardt, Kenesha Sneed, Adrienne Raquel, Ping Zhu, Jenny Kee, Mae Engelgeer. All amazing talents that I would love to get to know more behind-the-scenes details on how they make it all happen.