We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Anna Rappazzo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mary Anna, can you tell us the story of how you started your business?
I was an in-house digital illustrator at Disney for 12 years when a slate of layoffs occurred. The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” applied. I wanted to continue doing the kind of work I loved to do, so I started my freelance business, 1 Eye Art & Design. The work I do is obtained mostly by word of mouth. I got my job at Disney through the recommendation of a friend who knew my work, and I started my business understanding that I must reach out and do consistent networking to land some initial opportunities. I was very fortunate that former colleagues from my time at Disney were supportive and helpful to me as I started on my own. I knew that once I got an opportunity to show my skills, it would lead to repeated business and referrals. Landing that first big client was a difficult challenge though. In starting up my business, I had to learn about all sorts of things that had nothing to do with art or design: Legal incorporation, paying quarterly taxes, billing, tracking my income, building a website and a personal brand. Up to that point, my personal brand was linked to my work as a fine art painter. I had an established reputation as a fine art painter, but it was not my main source of income. I had to integrate my two identities as an artist (fine art and digital illustration).
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I identify as a fine art painter and as a digital illustrator. I don’t know if that sets me apart from others, because there are countless wonderful painters. I usually paint on three common themes: One theme depicts outsiders looking in. It seems easy to see that in many of my paintings, someone or something seeks to be included. This element often relates to a second theme of social justice and injustice. A third common element is that the figures in my paintings are often missing a sensory organ (e.g., missing an eye, ears, or a mouth), but they are still connecting and engaging with the world around them. This aspect is probably my signature style as a painter: My brother named it my “one-eyed” style, but often my figures are missing a mouth or an ear. I know it seems obviously connected to my personal experience, but it actually took many years for me to recognize how my life journey as a Deaf artist came out in my work. As a digital illustrator I think what sets me apart is my high attention to details. I have a very keen eye for flaws and inconsistencies, and I have a strong ability to match branding guidelines for each company’s projects. I truly love the work of taking a rough sketch and bringing it to life with color and dimension. I believe my positive energy in doing the work infuses it with happy vibe. In terms of challenges in my art and professional development, I mentioned earlier that being Deaf has sometimes made it difficult to get some opportunities. People can feel awkward or fearful about what it would be like to communicate with a Deaf person. It sometimes makes a barrier to them reaching out to me professionally. The most important lesson is to believe in myself, to be persistent and disciplined. Having a freelance business means that you must weather ups and downs – periods of no work and periods when the work floods in. The down times require a lot of positive thinking and faith in the future, and it is also a good time to create paintings. The flooded times require a lot of… coffee.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would definitely take them to downtown LA. Most people are unaware of the special architecture and rich history of the downtown area. There’s a lot of Art Deco and Beaux Arts buildings. Walk through the famous Millennium Biltmore Hotel and see the pictures of the Old Hollywood days (the Oscars were held there). If you have a half day for a walking tour, L.A. Conservancy Walking Tour is very good. Be sure to include Pershing Square and the Jewelry District/Jewelry Mart (if you like jewelry). We would be sure to visit The Last Bookstore, and then have lunch and a macaron at Bottega Louie. I would save a whole day for the Art District downtown. That day, we would have lunch at Blossom restaurant (among best pho LA has to offer). Of course, if it was their first time in LA, a day for Hollywood site seeing, and a day at Venice Beach and Santa Monica’s Pier …. LACMA is my first choice for museums here (that’s an all-day adventure), although the Hammer, both Getty’s, and the Norton-Simon, also are must-see museums here. If the Skirball has a special exhibit, … they might have to stay in LA an extra day.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Like many people, my mother gets my main shout out: I am Deaf, and my mother was a strong advocate for my mainstream education, fighting for my right to attend regular public school. She pushed me to be a good lipreader and speak clearly so that I could succeed in the hearing world. During my school years (and now), there was lack of understanding and incidents of ignorance, where she fought to prove that I was capable to be included. I learned from her that I should approach the ignorance and work to dispel it, instead of walking away or giving up. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college.
Other: Fine Arts business page https://www.mar1eye.com/