Ivan | From advertising to interactive artist and filmmaker

By ELeni Meraki

Just because there is a conventional way of doing things doesn’t mean it’s right for you.


My mantra for the last year has been not knowing.

I studied Communications at a traditional state school in New York. Part of me wanted to go to Art School but I thought it would be impractical. You see, my father is a fine artist and had on-and-off success through his career, lots of ups and downs. I grew up feeling like that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. Besides, growing up in a small, conservative town with unconventional parents made me feel like an outsider. So there were many factors that influenced my decision to not study art but choose something more practical instead.



Question Everything  |  Embrace Not Knowing  |  No TV growing up  |  Meditation  |  Celebrate Human Connection

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Growing up I was deprived media.

I grew up without TV and video games.

So, of course, when you grow up not having something, you want it even more.  The world of pop culture has always fascinated me because I didn’t know anything about it. I was drawn to advertising to explore and infiltrate pop culture, human connection, and get paid for it. I did a 6-month Art Direction course in Cape Town to develop a portfolio to get a foot in the door. I made my own fake ads and did a couple of personal projects to build my portfolio.

I hassled my ass off to get a job in Advertising.


There’s a lot of ego and prestige in working for a renowned creative company. And there’s a shit ton of fear in quitting your job there.

Soon after my studies I started as a Jr. Art Director at a San Francisco-based advertising agency, working around the clock. In my off time I created my own passion projects that aimed to infiltrate culture. I ended up getting a lot of media attention for these little projects and this personal work ended up being the only work I showed when applying for new gigs. I left my first job after a year and started freelancing but then couldn’t resist the opportunity to apply to one of the most prestigious ad agencies in the world, in Amsterdam. I got the job and made the huge move to Amsterdam! However I ended up resigning after just 6 months because I missed the freedom of working on my own ideas and projects.

A mentor at the time told me something that just pushed me over the edge to quit that job. She said: “It’s your life and you can do whatever you want. Just because you signed a contract doesn’t mean you can’t get out of it.”

"Quitting my job was the scariest thing I’ve done as an adult."

I practiced what I was going to tell my managers endless times. It felt like I was about to commit career suicide, leaving one of the most prestigious advertising agencies in the world. I was jumping into the deep end and might perhaps end up in my parents’ attic for a year…

There’s a lot of ego and prestige in working for a renowned creative company. And there’s a shit ton of fear in quitting your job there.
Photography by Adria Lo

Photography by Adria Lo



One of my first big personal project was called Snail Mail My Email, handwriting peoples’ emails into letters. I love letter writing, as it’s such an easy way to show people that you care about them. Snail Mail My Email has since sent over 29,000 letters and has 2000 volunteers worldwide. People email us and a volunteer letter artist handwrites the letter and sends it out.

The project got picked up by a heap of big media outlets including CNN and The Wall Street Journal. That was the start of me being an independent artist and this project validated my decision to leave my job. Ever since I’ve been doing a variety of projects across a wide range of mediums (digital, film, experiential, etc), but my main focus is inspiring cultural change.




My very last project is a film I made about a subway station agent who goes out of his way to greet commuters. It was made with a lot of heart and it’s been great to see the video get recognition in the film community (Vimeo Staff Pick) and beyond (exhibiting at San Francsico International Airport and The Exploritorium in SF).

Photography by Adria Lo

Photography by Adria Lo



When I left my full-time job and went back to the US I had about $2.000. I went back and lived with my parents for a short while. It was a tough hit.

For me it wasn’t really a choice anymore whether to leave or stay working for a company. I had come to a point where I would rather to live with my parents for the rest of my life than work for someone else.

I felt like my soul was lost.


Having no idea and doing it anyway.

The hardest thing was to believe in myself and not know what was going to happen. It takes so much time and effort to do your own thing. When you work for a company you have a set number of responsibilities. When you work for yourself you have to do everything!  The main difference, however, is that all the hours you put in are an investment in your work.

When things dry up and I don’t have work for a month or two, I start questioning myself. Those times can be hard.

Photography by Ashleigh Amoroso

Photography by Ashleigh Amoroso



1.     Do a lot of research and reach out to people that inspire you or do what you want to do.

2.     Journalling is a really powerful tool, especially when you’re in a time of transition.

3.     Know what you are getting into as best as possible before taking the plunge. But you’ll never be able to know fully.

4.     Create an emotional support group and preferably include some older, more experienced people in this group.

5.     Be smart with your finances and always have a back-up plan.


6.     Meditation has helped me tremendously. Here’s an article I recently wrote called, “100 Days of Silence: How Doing Nothing Enriched My Life (and Creative Career)”



Header photo by Ashleigh Amoroso


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Written by Eleni Meraki

Eleni is the founder of Guts & Tales. She is a hypnotherapist, mind-trainer, coach and creator of the women’s coaching program Be Your Own Muse. She helps women become clear, confident and courageous to be and live true to themselves.