Designer at Tag on coming from Cyprus to study in England, how she taught herself stop-motion animation to make a film that’s changed her life and channelling creativity into an Etsy candle shop
Although she was a shy kid, Eleana Michaelidou knew when she was growing up that Cyprus was too small to contain her ambitions. “It gave me the discipline and the patience to work harder and aim for my dreams. I always wanted to achieve something more than what my home country could offer me,” she says.
Eleana immersed herself in creativity as a young girl. “Creativity was always my safe place and a way of expression,” she says. She spent a lot of her time teaching herself to draw by copying drawings from books she liked, which led to her starting drawing lessons, where she got the opportunity to meet people like her, allowing her personality to flourish. As she grew older, her interests expanded to encompass computers and software and soon she decided she wanted to combine technical and artistic elements.
In 2015 she found an outlet for that impulse and came to the UK for the first time to start a course in Digital Media Arts at the University of Surrey. “I felt like I could pursue my dreams here rather than back home, as this industry is far more developed in the UK, especially London.”
Leaving home and coming to a different place, meeting people from different cultural backgrounds, helped broaden Eleana’s horizons and learn to be more independent. “Coming from a small country was not easy,” she says. “I would have never believed I would have achieved what I have so far, but the more time passes the more I’m realising my strengths and potential.”
At first, she found it quite hard to adjust to the different education system and ways of thinking in England, but she got into the rhythm after the first year. Also, her English improved throughout her time at university. Creatively, the course pushed her to try many more mediums and art styles. Learning so many different types of software helped her to pick up new software quite fast. “The most important thing for me is that I met some amazing people sharing the same passions as me and made friends for life,” she says.
In the last year of her course, Eleana directed an animated short film. Still the work that makes her proudest, it’s called ‘Love is Flor-all’, an adorable 2D frame-by-frame hand-drawn animation that explores self-acceptance and love overcoming all obstacles – through the story of a lonely cactus meeting a flower. It was a big undertaking for Eleana but she learnt an immense amount in the process. “Making it was a huge challenge for me, as at that point I didn’t know how to create hand-drawn animation. I put the time in to learn the technique, tricks and principles while simultaneously creating the actual work. I had so much determination, putting so many hours and sleepless nights on this project. At the same time, it was so much fun to watch it all come together.”
All her hard work paid off in the end since Eleana won the Best Final Year Project Award 2019 on the audience vote during her course’s showcase at the BFI. She’s since entered it in a few festivals and was even officially selected for the Paris Lift-Off Film Festival 2019 and to be a finalist in the Florence Film Awards 2019. This animation was also one of the reasons that got her head-hunted to land her first job in the industry, freelancing for a post-production agency for a year and a half, doing illustration and motion graphics.
Throughout her time in that role she worked with a number of clients companies which she’s very proud of, creating visuals for the likes of Google, Discovery Education, M&S, Philip Kingsley, Octo and Pronovias.
Having relocated to London, Eleana was still freelancing when the 2020 pandemic hit. It affected the amount of work she was getting as projects stopped happening. The need for freelancers decreased therefore. She remembers this troubling time: “Living in London became a bit of a challenge causing anxiety to become a real thing to me.”
So it was a relief when Eleana found herself her current full-time job as a designer at Tag. The role has allowed her some welcome stability. “I felt like I gained a bit more control of my life,” she says. “Now I find that I’m much more productive working from home and while saving the commuting time, I can focus on myself. I have added some exercise in my schedule and have a more organised routine, eating habits and sleeping patterns, while also spending time on my side projects.”
As someone who loves being surrounded by other creative people, it’s an ideal environment. “I have met so many awesome and positive people that challenge and inspire me every day to be better,” she says.
Though still in the very early days of her career, one of the most valuable lessons she’s learned so far is not to be afraid to ask questions or help. “I feel this is how you learn and progress. Try to absorb as much knowledge and information you can from others and use them to become an expert in your field. But also, just be yourself, and everyone will love you for it!”
Eleana’s professional aspirations are to become an expert at motion and design and, she says, “be in a position to help and inspire others looking to follow the same career path.”
She tries to soak up as much art and illustration as she can and of course social media is a great way to do that. A particular favourite of hers is Laia Lopez (@Itslopez on Instagram). “I absolutely love her art style and cute character designs,” says Eleana.
Through the UK’s various lockdowns spent at home, what’s helped her relax is working on a small Etsy shop with a housemate – Candle Me a Dream – making vegan-friendly candles. “I love that I get to be creative and run something of my own. The process of making the actual candles calms me down and helps me decompress. I love the process of designing the labels and enjoy product photography and running our social media accounts on Instagram and TikTok.”
Apart from this, Eleana’s also involved in a network called Until Proven Otherwise, created by one of her good friends Danielle Monaco, who she met while freelancing. She started this network to empower and support women in the marketing and creative industry. Eleana initially got on board for redesigning the brand, logos and social media presence. “We loved working together, so I am now responsible for creating all the illustrations that go on all the social media and website. I am proud to be part of this, even if it is making a small impact at the moment, we are looking to grow it and make it bigger.”
Everything Eleana does is driven by her passion for design and she’ll no doubt continue to be propelled by that feeling. “I’m very lucky to have my passion as my job. I love designing and working on different creative projects and I’m so happy to be able to do it for a living.”