Being a foodie isn’t unique in this day and age, but one who blends their passion for art with their fondness of food? That’s a skill set few possess.
Born in Udine, Italy, and now living in Los Angeles, California, Marianna Fierro is an illustrator enthusiastic about designing food-based illustrations that will surely leave you drooling. Currently, she serves as an art director and designer at the design and technology studio Use All Five; she also freelances and has worked with clients ranging from Google and Spotify to the band Vampire Weekend.
However, despite being one of the top food illustrators in the industry and working with high-level clients, Marianna’s modest, humble, and entirely down-to-earth. Which, if you read the interview below, you’ll discover just that. Also, be sure to check out her Instagram account for a plethora of hunger-inducing illustrations.
When did you know that you’d lead a life full of creativity?
I think deep down I always wanted to do something creative, but I didn’t know it was a viable career until I came to the US as an exchange student in high school and realized I could go to college for photography or design and get a job that would pay the bills! Until then, I’d spend my time after school scheming photoshoots and picking up my camera on the weekend for fun, or spend hours on Flickr and Tumblr looking at photos, graphics, fonts, but planning on going to law school to become a soccer player agent. Quite the pivot!
Over time though, I think I learned that creativity could come through in different ways, at different times. If I feel uninspired by designing or drawing, there’s a good chance I’m more excited to be cooking that week and vice versa.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that your love of food comes from your Italian roots. Can you further explain how food played a role in your upbringing and how and why you translated that into art?
Short answer: I grew up in a pizza shop!
Long answer: I grew up in a pizza shop and was exposed to creativity in the kitchen since I was a baby. I think my family’s love language (and maybe it’s most Italians and people worldwide) was food and gathering people around it. Whether it meant going out for a fancy dinner or spending an afternoon in the countryside in the middle of nowhere with someone’s nonna eating salami and cheese, it always felt like an act of care, a way to improve someone’s day even just a little bit.
Fast forward to a few years ago. I was questioning my career in design, which I went to school for, and still is my 9-5, and I was also dealing with some health issues, which led to reassessing my eating habits. So I started getting more creative and having more fun in the kitchen, and as a way to combine what was bringing me joy (food) and my skillset (pixels), a friend encouraged me to join the 100 Days Project in which I drew food every day, and the rest is history.
Is it challenging to navigate the design process when a client comes to you with something particular in mind? Do you prefer to create with limited restrictions, or do you like the client’s guidance in a project?
In my experience so far, clients have approached me for exactly what I do, frequently with illustration samples from my portfolio at hand, so rarely, we don’t have a match. I also do a lot of research upfront, as my illustrations tend to be pretty detailed and can take a long time to execute. So I make sure I gather the correct information and photo references right from the get-go, which usually leads to a healthy balance of creating without limitations. I appreciate the trust and some guidance. I think the number one question I have is: do you have a color palette in mind? Especially when working with established brands.
Besides the aisle of the grocery store, where do you find inspiration?
When I lived in NYC, especially in winter, which is about nine months, it was definitely the grocery store! The produce aisles are the most colorful things you’ll see for months, a free serotonin booster! Now I am spoiled by the farmers market in Los Angeles, where it’s a party year-round.
But most of the time, the inspiration for my personal work comes from what I cook and eat. For years I couldn’t freelance for clients because of my immigration status; 90% of my illustrations were fruits and veggies, what I was honestly eating, and what I think needed and still needs more PR than a hamburger or ice cream! Now that I can do client work, I enjoy diversifying my portfolio. For example, when it comes to eating meat, it’s mostly chicken. But I got to work on some entertaining BBQ illustrations, and it was a blast! And it got me craving BBQ so much that I might need to head down to Texas soon.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to leap into the world of freelancing?
Well, I am double fisting myself! I am a full-time art director at a small agency called Use All Five, and I freelance as an illustrator. However, I am lucky to be surrounded by amazing friends that are freelancers, and we like to talk shop, so I’d say the number one advice I hear over and over again is to have some savings set aside for about four to six months before making the jump!
You’re part of a unique niche of illustrators as a food illustrator. Can you speak more about how one becomes involved in one specific field? Have you ever wanted to branch out from food illustrations?
It comes down to honesty, in my opinion. I wanted to draw something I was excited about, and it was and still is food. Food, beverage, and plants! That’s what I seek on the weekends, when I travel, and honestly, when I need a break from being at home on the computer. I walk a lot, and as part of that, I like to pay close attention to people’s front yards, what flowers they have, and if I can run into any fruit trees! I think anyone who feels like making art, whether it be visual, music, etc., should, if anything, start with what is near and dear to them. It doesn’t mean you have to stick to that forever; as long as you do what you feel is genuine and natural to you, you can dive into any niche and subject matter.
There is still so much to do with food illustration, especially when exploring different media and solutions. I love working on patterns just as much as still lives. I also like to get away from the screen as often as possible, so earlier this year, I started painting wooden cutouts, at times oversized, at times smaller than the original food item, and I hope to one day have a physical gallery show!
You’ve worked with some bigger brands like Taco Bell, Tumblr, Spotify, and Olipop. Can you describe what it’s like working with some of the most instantly recognizable brands?
It’s always different! Even though it may be a big, recognizable brand, you are working with a small team, and the process is straightforward; at times, it might involve many stakeholders and months. Either way, it’s exciting to have those opportunities, and I enjoy working with both small businesses and bigger names.
How hungry do you get when you’re working on your designs?
So hungry!! I recently worked on a few BBQ illustrations, and I was ready to book a flight to Texas just to have lunch and come back around. I definitely do find myself craving what I am drawing after a while!