HUGE I January 19, 2018
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Reach out to Pilar
One would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting location to start the story of Pilar Torcal than Pilar’s Clinic, the small Barcelona medical center in which she was born. Nevertheless, Pilar herself picks up the threads much earlier.
Pilar, her mother and her grandmother
Punto de partida: Pilar | Starting Point: Pilar
“Really, my story starts with my grandmother. She was born in a little village in Spain, but after the civil war she had to move to Barcelona. There was no future where she was. For me, she’s the key in the whole story. Despite never having an education, she was the one who put the most progressive ideas in me. She’s the reason I decided to explore.”
But the exploration didn’t start right away. In her early years, Pilar spent most of her life within a 20 minute walking radius in Barcelona, from primary school through college. Quickly, the crude outlines of a path to follow were strewn before her, but the wonder instilled by her grandmother’s word held strong.
“My father was a banker and I could tell he always wanted me to study economics, but I was just so bad in math. I just wanted to be an artist. But at the same time, I wanted to eat, so I thought maybe advertising was my thing.”
Olvídate de la boda. ¡Quiero un portfolio! | Forget the wedding, get me a portfolio!
After a brief stint as an account executive in the advertising world, Pilar immediately recognized that this was not her calling. Instead, she turned to design, seeking out a master’s degree at ELISAVA, the Barcelona School of Design and Engineering. From the start, the transition was a jarring one.
“They judged me a bit, saying ‘Oh you want to do design without having studied it for years.’ I think designers sometimes see advertising people and think ‘Ugh!’” It was painful, because I had to learn a lot very quickly and even afterwards I had a lot of self doubt, but I was able to meet really good designers and get good lessons.”
When she finally completed her education, arduous though it was, Pilar recalls one of the greatest lessons she learned. When presenting her final project, one of her professors said the next step was simply ‘Learning how to see,” an instruction meaning to take in as much as possible from artists all over the world. Pilar took the advice to heart, and set her sights worldwide. All she needed first was a stellar portfolio, but that would be pricey.
“In theory, I never wanted to marry. So I told my parents to take a small chunk of the money they would have spent on a wedding and invest it in helping me set up my portfolio.”
In the months following the completion of her degree, Pilar devoted herself to the meticulous preparation of a portfolio showcasing her work. In the end she sent out 12 copies to design studios she liked, each in a different corner of the globe. She heard back from a studio in New York City, and after freelancing long distance with them for a spell, she received an offer of visa sponsorship. Pilar was going stateside.
Las cosas pequeñas son las que cuentan | Little Things Add Up
“I had actually come to New York for the first time in 2011 with my parents; I crashed their wedding anniversary vacation. We went to visit Dumbo to enjoy the views from the other side of the river and I remember imagining how would it be like to work there. Turns out the studio that hired me—mgmt. design— was actually in that same place.”
Pilar was thrilled to be working in the very same place that she had once looked upon with marvel and wonder, but at the same time she wrestled with the same trials faced by every immigrant to a new country.
“They had me picking up the phone from the first day. It was a tiny office, so there’d be ten people who could all hear me when I answered and I was so embarrassed because of my accent. I have an accent still, but it was way stronger back then.”
For Pilar, the subtle cultural differences are the ones that have the biggest impact in the end. She knew there would be a barrier to cross going in, but the ways in which those differences permeate into everyday interactions can at times be tiresome.
“I was the only one saying hello or goodbye to the people in the studio. In Spain, if I left without saying goodbye that would be like a sign that I was angry and wanted the world to know. So I thought that everyone didn’t like me. It’s a little thing, but it’s the little things that add up.”
Aprendiendo a observar | Learning to See
Aprendiendo a observar | Learning to SIn spite of its challenges, coming to the United States has given Pilar the opportunity to hone her craft and find her voice. The receptiveness to her own creativity is something she identifies as one of the beauties of American culture.
“When I give my opinion here, people really take it into account. They really listen to what I have to say, and they want to help you move forward in your career. That’s something that in Spain, in my experience, you’ve got to prove yourself on another level. I feel like I get a lot more respect towards my profession.”
The encouragement of her peers has led Pilar to pursue a number of projects. 7, her main self-initiated project, was born in 2016 as a series of animations about random facts, with each set of 7 adhering to a particular theme. To date, the project has included several series on Pilar’s observations of New York from an outsider perspective, as well as reflections on her own Spanish heritage.
Surmounting accent anxieties and fears, Pilar now embraces her own vivid heritage and views it as a point of pride. She feels her experience as an immigrant has imbued her with a fresh perspective that contributes to her input both in the workplace and her social circles in New York City. Though she claims she was shy at first, she now eagerly shares that input every chance she gets.
“Now I always brag about being from Europe. We definitely have a design style there and I’m proud of that. I think we’re much more minimalist and honest in the way we design, so I’m always the one introducing that here at our studio. I recognize the value of the upbringing that I had. It’s shaped the way I see things.”
Para terminar, un poquito de sabiduría | Parting Wisdom
As always, we concluded our interview with Pilar by asking for any advice she had to offer to those who may be experiencing a similar struggle.
“Things that kept me sane when I first came here. First: music. I listened to a lot of Spanish music, even like flamenco music that I never listened to while I was back home. I’d never tell my friends that I do that. Second: don’t be afraid to meet new people. Third: relax. It’s all good.