Anna Shalima

Graphic designer and finished artist Anna Shalima at home1


“Remember, whatever you do, no matter how small it is, has your signature on it. Even if you do not physically sign it”

I am a graphic designer and finished artist, currently working for a signage company.

I was born in Belarus and was creative from an early age. My first art school was a Sunday drawing school in my home city of Minsk, when I was 6 years old. When I was a teenager, I went to an art college and upon graduating I was accepted in the Academy of Arts, where I did a Graphic Design bachelor degree. Despite the name, the course consisted of only about 60% graphic design, and the rest was lectures and traditional fine arts: we drew portraits, still-life and figure drawings.

When I started the degree, there were still no computers at the Academy. Everything was made by hand! We did graphic design using ink media, pencils and brushes.

The course was really intense, as Eastern European universities tend to be. There were a lot of assignments, a lot of work and preparation, sleepless nights and stress. I spent most my time either working at school or at home. I don’t remember having much of a social life!

Computers arrived somewhere half way through my degree, which allowed me to start specializing in photography and retouching. I actually found the switch from analogue to digital pretty hard, especially so far into my course. Plus, there weren’t a lot of computers to start with, and only a handful of hours available per student per day.

Graphic designer and finished artist Anna Shalima

It was a five year degree, and I was 23 when I finally graduated.

My first job was with a fashion designer, creating print designs for his collections. He was pretty famous Belarusian designer at the time, so it was a good experience. I was creating the artwork in Corel Draw, which was big then, and sending it to the screen printing department for printing.

I also spent some time in a company that specialized in doing graphic design for the medical industry.

The job that made a big difference to me was at a huge offset printing house with in-house cutting / finishing services.

After two and a half years there, I really found my passion in pre-press. First I was a senior graphic designer and then moved into finished art.

A finished artist is the person responsible for delivering digital files into production and print. We perform a print check, do retouching, and follow guidelines from the graphic designers to produce high quality files that are ready to be printed and published. This job requires excellent eye for detail and building good relationships with your printers.

There is a big variety of special printing requirements and special finishes, embossing and folding options that can be ordered. It’s your job to prepare files to go smoothly through these processes and come out looking exactly as the client imagined.

I was there for 4 years, and became a senior pre-press designer/artist by age 28. And based on this experience and knowledge, I found out I could apply for skilled migration visa to Australia.

It took me a year to organize it, and my husband and I arrived in Adelaide in 2008. Melbourne was always our first preference, however I found I did not have enough points required by my visa to move here straight away. We had to choose from the lower population cities – Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane and stay there 2 years at least. We went to Adelaide to be closer to Melbourne, knowing we will eventually move here.

My first job in Adelaide was not design related. I applied for over 200 graphic design jobs when I arrived in Adelaide, I’m not joking!

I looked for 5 months. In the end, we needed money, and a friend in the Russian community helped me find a job.

I became a mail machine operator, running a machine that automated mass mail-outs: folding letters, stuffing the envelopes, sealing and sorting them. My job was to set it up correctly, make sure it was running smoothly and didn’t jam etc. I worked hard, and focused on trying to fit in and improve my English and confidence in speaking it.

Graphic designer and finished artist Anna Shalima1

I did that for about a year and a bit, and then a junior graphic design position became available in that company’s design department, so I was transferred. I was thrilled. It started as a 3 months traineeship, and after that I was ready to start work.

But soon after that, my permanent visa got finalized and my husband and I were ready to move to Melbourne, as per our plan.

I felt a bit sad to leave that company, as I was enjoying their positive culture and I ended up getting really attached to my co-workers, who were lovely to me. They were like my first Australian work family.

In Melbourne, like in Adelaide, it took me about 5 months of applying for hundreds of jobs to find work. Perhaps it was my lack of experience in Australia, but I couldn’t even get through to interview stage for the jobs I applied for, despite having a great portfolio and website.

To make ends meet, I did some freelance design work while I searched. I also worked casually for an after school program, running crafts activities in different participating schools. I enjoyed playing with the younger kids, they loved the arts and crafts games. As they got older though, they weren’t into it so much anymore.

Finally, through word of mouth, I heard of a friend leaving his design job, and I took his position as a graphic designer in a real estate signage company.

At first, I did the most basic work – creating hundreds of different real estate boards from set templates and sending them to print. Everything was automated, streamlined. Not much difficulty or creativity! It was very fast paced though and I had to deal with meeting hundreds of deadlines throughout the week.

Graphic designer and finished artist Anna Shalima at home

But I continued to focus on doing my job to the highest standards, and blitzed production targets they set me. After three years, I was promoted to manage the Art Department there, which was a welcome challenge, as I got to do more custom work and complex designs, as well as overseeing others. Unfortunately, after 4 years there, I had to move on.

This time, rather than applying for advertised jobs and going through all that job seeking pain again, I targeted a company I wanted to work in – a more established, high-end signage company, and approached them directly.

I called and introduced myself to the manager, told them of my experiences. I am glad that after seven years in Australia I have the confidence to approach people and present myself and my work, because I know my worth now. And it is certainly much more effective in finding a job! – Even though they didn’t actually have a position, they were impressed with me and my experience enough to create a temporary role for me. It was supposed to be a four week contract, but four months later I am still there.

I like this company a lot better, it is very professional, with high calibre clients that require more interesting work – we do a lot of commercial projects that require custom design, all sorts of unique finishes and sizes. The internal processes are very polished too, and it’s the first time I’ve worked in a paperless office, which was an interesting adjustment.

I’m in the real estate signage department again. There are 6 of us in the art room, half doing real estate, half commercial projects. Because I am still on the temporary basis, I do the generic agency work, similar to what I did before. It’s pretty monotonous work, but the team of people I work with is a lot of fun, and I enjoy coming to work. I’d like to go permanent when the opportunity arises, and that would mean I could also move up to doing the more complex graphic design work on the commercial projects.

It makes a difference when you work with great people.

I am a mother to a two year old boy, and sometimes need a little flexibility to look after him. Everyone, including management, are really supportive and family friendly, so I don’t feel like juggling those responsibilities is a huge stress.

It is really important for me to be good at whatever I do. I also always try to be realistic when I promise to do something, so that I can deliver on my promises.

The workplace is filled with political agendas, delayed decisions and issues. Remember, whatever you do, no matter how small it is, has your signature on it. Even if you do not physically sign it. The work passes through your desk and your name gets stamped on it. If you care about your reputation, which I very much do, then you always have to do your best, on every job.

Right now, I just want some work stability, to look after my son and my family, and to be in a great team. I’m the kind of person that really loves working in a group, being part of a nice team. I believe in creating a supportive and fun work family around you, the kind of environment that makes you look forward to coming to work every day.

Down the track, in a few years, I am open to changing directions in my career and taking some risks. It would be great to stay in a creative field, but I’d love to do something with an element of helping people. I don’t have any concrete ideas, but it would be great if I could help others through my work – I’m on the lookout for the right opportunity or idea!