Anthony Basile

On Brafton’s team of skilled in-house graphic designers and illustrators, you’ll find Senior Designer Mara Sahleanu. The career path that brought Mara to Brafton went from fine art school to the culinary world and back to the visual side of things.

Along the way she’s picked up the knowledge and skill needed to steer major, high-profile projects while never losing the curiosity that keeps a designer’s craft growing and evolving.

Origins: From the restaurant world to graphic design

Mara’s previous full-time roles before Brafton all tended to follow a theme – but that theme was culinary rather than design-oriented. Jobs including cooking in restaurants, cooking class instruction, baking and catering, and eventually a position as an assistant chef in the pastry department of a local farm.

While all of that cooking and baking was going on, however, Mara was taking on design work as a freelancer. This sideline built on her illustration training, and when a big opportunity came along to join the Brafton team, Mara took it. And here she is over a year later as a senior designer.

A day in the life of a senior designer

Success in a contract-driven but creative field such as content marketing means finding a work rhythm that works for you. Embracing the flexibility of the Brafton office schedule, Mara begins her days early, commuting before rush hour, when many of the downtown workers are still thinking about brewing or ordering their first coffees of the day.

This quiet early-morning time is perfect for checking email and preparing for the day, including inspecting work that has just come in from clients based in Australia. If there’s something that needs urgent attention, this is when it gets done. From there, it’s time to pick the day’s soundtrack and get to work on major projects. When inspiration doesn’t strike immediately, Mara doesn’t panic – a quick browse through online portfolios or Pinterest can fire up the thought processes.

The way the day unfolds depends on whether everything is quiet or there’s a drop-everything deadline or revision. Either kind of schedule is fine by Mara. The slow days allow her to get into a groove with her own work, but what about the chaotic ones? “That’s kind of great too because I love problem-solving and can appreciate a challenge,” she offers.

The team aspect of working at Brafton helps the days go smoothly. Mara appreciates the way her fellow designers can chat in their downtime, turning to “grade-A goofs” and keeping the mood light. And when it’s time to get down to business and work closely with the rest of the company, everyone pitches in to get projects done.

In this environment, Mara has been responsible for some major accomplishments, winning the trust of tough clients by exceeding their expectations with graphic work and improving workflows behind the scenes. Coordinating processes between Boston and Australia has been a particularly satisfying win for Mara, who embraced her role as a senior designer and bringing the distant offices in sync.

Curiosity and persistence fuel design success

Commercial graphic design is a fast-moving business, and it can be tough to find the time to push personal artistic development forward. This is why Mara and her fellow designers value clients who propose innovative and interesting projects. These are the assignments that drive designers to new heights and leave the clients delighted with their compelling work.

This concept of pushing oneself and always advancing fits in with Mara’s overall philosophy about graphic design excellence, with a focus on “innovation and creative solutions.” Her greatest interest in present-day design involves the combination of historical elements in the context of modern technology. Mastering this hybrid style means remaining grounded in what’s come before while never losing curiosity about what’s next.

Mara holds to values she learned when studying illustration when describing how aspiring designers can better themselves. These up-and-coming professionals should ask questions frequently, study the innovative work of others constantly and keep up their own work, getting more natural at translating intention into art quicky – essential for a production artist.

Life outside of Brafton: From a chef who designs to a designer who bakes

Now that Mara has fully embraced graphic design, her two passions – design and cooking – have flipped roles. Undaunted by her 15-hour days in professional kitchens, she still loves cooking and baking, and she has seen major breakthroughs in her sourdough quality.

When neither designing nor baking, she reads constantly, currently focusing on crime novels and magical realist fiction. With family in Romania, she travels often – but she’s got her sights set even further from the States, hoping to see Vietnam sometime soon.

It should be noted that Mara’s design sense doesn’t switch off when she leaves the office at the end of the day – she paints and sketches, she still freelances and she volunteers designs for a community farm in Newton. Friends’ holiday and birthday gifts often involve crafts and handmade elements. A recent project involved a customized champagne label at a friend’s wedding.

From a fun sideline gig to an exciting career, Mara’s design sense has led her to some interesting places.