Artist Profile: Cristina Vanko - Chicago


Hi Cristina! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a freelance art director, hand-letterer, illustrator, and author living in Chicago. 

What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I grew up with an art teacher dad that loves Spider-Man. The benefits ranged from an abundance of art supplies and yearly trips to comic conventions. The comic cons left a great impression on me. I walked around Artist Alley asking cartoonists to draw characters and the art would appear before my very eyes. It was magical. More importantly, it was great knowing that becoming an artist was a possible career choice. 

For education, I went to Indiana University–Bloomington and majored in BFA Graphic Design and Spanish. Reality set in, and I thought I wanted to go to law school initially, but thankfully a push from my sister lead me to keep chugging along this creative path. I almost pursued painting, but the challenge of trying something new enticed me into design. So although the Helvetica documentary ended up scaring me the first week of class, I landed in the design program.

As far as experience goes, I interned with the funny guys at MAD Magazine, jumped into in-house design at my Southwest Airlines internship, letterpressed my heart out at my Hamilton Wood Type Museum internship, dove into design thinking at IA Collaborative, designed apps and software at a small startup spot called DeveloperTown, started doing side projects, met my copywriter interviewing for Wieden + Kennedy’s 12 Program, worked at Y&R with said copywriter, left Y&R, and I have been a freelancer ever since. 

How did you become interested in hand lettering?
For our BFA thesis semester, we were given a lot of freedom to create whatever we wanted. I was interested in typography and letterpress, but I also missed drawing. At the time, the talks about taking cursive out of school were starting. So I combined my interests and hand-lettered a campaign for cursive handwriting. After graduation, I wasn’t exactly inspired by my 9-5 so I kept up with my passion of hand-lettering in my free time and drew projects to share in Instagram’s early days.

You have two books out! Did you anticipate writing books when you began your artwork? Could you walk us through the process of getting a book deal through the creation of a physical copy of your book?
My editor reached out after seeing my ‘Modern Day Snail Mail’ project, where I texted my friends in calligraphy for a week, and she asked if I was interested in creating a book on hand-lettering. I never thought I’d write book exactly, but I did have an interest in teaching so this opportunity was a great way to do just that. After replying with excitement to my editor, I developed a pitch and sent it over to my publisher. They reviewed it, and I got an offer. Then the fun began and I started working on my manuscript. I had about 6-7 months or so develop the words for the book. At the same time, I began working on my cover. After the edits were received and approved, I did all the illustration for the book. I drew my illustrations, scanned them in, and edited in Photoshop. Meanwhile, I compiled all the words and illustrations in the overall book file (aka the largest InDesign file ever) and spent a good deal of time pressing save and praying my computer wouldn’t crash. I like to create the book document as I go forward since it starts feeling more like a book vs a pile of unscanned drawings. I sent over the book to my editor and we worked back and forth cleaning up the final file until we submit it to the printer. Then, we take a look at the galley proof, or the preliminary version, before it goes to the printer to create the final copies. Then a few months later, books appear on shelves. It’s really surreal!

*Note: Don’t leave a pile of unscanned artwork in your car, because it might get stolen a few weeks before your final deadline. <insert a lot of crying emojis here>


What are some of your favorite projects that you have worked on? 
I have so many! Professionally, I really loved a project I recently did for Mc Donald’s introduction of their new sandwiches. I took ingredients and hand-lettered with them! I’m also a big fan of side projects and frequently take part in them with my copywriter, Eileen Matthews. From creating a vulval health awareness campaign for What’s in Your Box? to hand-lettering humorous graves with our @thingsthatshoulddie project for Elle Luna’s 100 Day Project, it’s always fun to partner up to create something you’re passionate about. On a related note, I love my @100daysofadulting project as well. It’s kinda getting me through this process of growing into a fully-fledged adult.

How do you connect with your supporters and community?
I try to go to as many networking events as I could get to; but also, connecting with people on the internet is a great way to support each other and learn about what everyone’s doing! It sounds silly, but I love commenting on people’s work or even emailing them telling them how much I love what they do. Sometimes relationships grow from there! Currently I’m in Buenos Aires for the month and a few people reached out so we’re trying to arrange a coffee/drawing meet up!

What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I love working on projects that are relatable and speak to human truths that we all experience. My work with my Adult-ish and @100daysofadulting has been incredibly cathartic in that sense. It's opened a lot of conversations up about growing older and has made the process much easier.

What are some of the setbacks or challenges you have faced in regards to your artwork, freelancing, working with clients, etc?
There’s always the problem of not knowing when you’ll be working on your next project. Here’s where having a side project is important for your down time. Then, on the flip side, when it rains, it pours with potential projects. Saying no is always tough, but it’s important to save your sanity for a healthy balance. Promoting my work is also a weird challenge. I feel like people are checking out work on Instagram rather than our personal portfolio sites these days. While I’d love to maintain my sense of self on Instagram, I feel the need to post work there now more than ever. It just doesn’t feel authentic; but that is a growing problem I’m finding with Instagram as a whole anyhow.


At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
It always puzzled me that there were so many women in my classes in art school, and then when you get out in the real world– it’s a mostly male dominated field. I think it’s important to support each other and lift each other up to make sure we not only have representation; but also, to use our creative voices and influence projects with a female perspective. 

What creative women do you find inspiring?
Jessica Hische, Marian Bantjes, Kelli Anderson, Cyla Costa, Kasi Turpin, Desiree De Leon, Eileen Matthews, Michelle Poler, Meera Lee Patel, Elaine Welteroth, Abbi Jacobson, Shakira, and my 3 year old niece, Addy! So, so many more! 

What tools or resources have been most helpful for you.
The random pens I order from Jet Pens and Paper & Ink Arts. Some are even in languages I don’t quite understand! They’ve been awesome for materials exploration. Libraries and books are excellent resources too. While the internet and targeted hashtag searches are great, one could easily fall into the rabbit hole of procrastination. Books are great for truly immersing yourself into the art. 

Photos by  Sandy Noto

Photos by Sandy Noto

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