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Even though working in the creative industries is always related to collaborating, being a set designer is inevitably chained to other people’s visions. While painting or song writing is something you can do by yourself, staging a set for an editorial or a catalogue means that the final result depends on the vision of someone else. But Amanda Rodriguez is not afraid of that; on the contrary, she loves to meet several people and know their points of view, interests and backgrounds. We speak to this brave freelance to get to know a profession that not many take into account when looking at pictures.
Who is Amanda Rodriguez?
I’m a freelance concept stylist. I work on the borderline between reality and illusion where the materials, shapes and hidden details are in great focus. Regardless if it’s a commercial or an editorial challenge, my work is all about creating that timeless image enhanced with a strong sense for light, shadows and composition. For me the concept, the underlying idea, is just as important as the completed work of art.
How and when did you end up being a concept stylist? What’s your background?
Everything started when I was a little girl. I have always been drawn to photography and form, details that only I see. I grew up with a father who is a photographer and a mother who is a creative director, so it came quite naturally. I studied Textile Fashion in college and Art History at university before I knew exactly where it would take me. My fashion studies were more practical and I learned a lot about working with different people with different skills and to collaborate. The art history course was a theoretical education and it taught me the process of interpreting an image, it forced me to really look deep into myself and into the art objects. This has been, and is, an important part of the way I work today. After studying I continued by assisting various interesting stylists and set designers until I was ready to start on my own in 2013.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being freelance? Would you like to continue as so in the future?
I have been freelancing for six years. The first three years I assisted various stylists and set designers. Working for different stylists with completely different orientations and sense of style gave me a lot of knowledge and experience. But it was also a time when I was building my own network of contacts, which is very important in the freelance business. During this period I also took a class in interior design at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm.
I can’t really see myself as employed; freelancing has become a lifestyle to me. The most important thing to me is having a balance between different projects, ranging from large companies like IKEA, for example, to working directly with a designer and also with editorial assignments. The disadvantage of being freelance is that it can be difficult to go home at 6pm. I have a huge ambition and put a lot of love and soul into what I do. Separating my private life and my job is a challenge because they often merge together. The only thing I can say about the future is that I will always work with image and shape in one way or another.
What and who are your influences or sources of inspiration?
I’m inspired by all sorts of creative people who are really passionate about what they do. There are so many interesting creatives out there in the world. It's changing all the time; new talents pop up and people who have worked for a long time suddenly appear with a new way of working or new interesting projects. I find inspiration in so many different things, like the shifts of light, documentary films, nature with its own design, the choice of materials in old architecture, or just some junk on the street.

Your work often spotlights minimalism and elegance through numerous shapes, shadows and lights. Could you speak about your creative process? What are the steps you follow while conceiving a new project?
An important note in my work is the attention to details and the spotlight on surrealistic elements. I love materials and shapes – something fragile that tells a story. Usually I begin from the idea (the brief) and the feeling I’d like to have in the story, and then I start to sketch and create moodboards and concepts, either by myself or with an art director, depending on the kind of project it is. During my sketching process I usually find inspiration in an interesting light in one picture, a mood in another, a composition in a third, and so on. From that I create my own interpretation and moodboard.
Regarding props it depends on what kind I’m searching for, but my all-time favourites are different material shops and 99 cent stores where you can find a lot of junk (which I love). Others could be just stuff I find on the streets or out in the nature. But of course I find beautiful and interesting props in different furniture and design stores as well. I also love to have a close collaboration with different designers; sometimes I just contact craft and design schools where you can find a lot of interesting people in one building with different expressions and competences.
With that said, my role as a concept stylist means to work with an idea and turn it into something visually beautiful and interesting, whether it’s interior design, fashion, set design or a still life image.
By the way, how would you describe your work of art?
The final work of art is all about the collaboration between the client, the art director, the photographer and myself. To me the collaboration is the most important thing in a project. It’s the teamwork that creates magic.
You mentioned Ikea before, and we see that you’ve done several collaborations with the Swedish company. How is it to team up with someone as big as them? Do these types of companies have a lot of requirements?
Working with Ikea is very exciting given their huge resources and hundreds of projects going on at the same time. Like most big companies, it has requirements and rules that must be followed such as sustainability issues, but I have always felt a lot of creative freedom. In Älmhult (a small town in Sweden), Ikea has its giant creative factory where there is a mix of people and cultures. Because the projects are often long and intense, the freelance creatives stay together in the town. During that period I usually feel disconnected from my usual life, which is intensive but also very refreshing.

Tell us about the two works you’ve realised for Hafa Design. What kind of atmosphere did you want to create through these works?
Hafa had assigned an advertising agency named House of Radon to help them launch a new way of presenting their products. So again, it was a strong collaboration between the vision from the agency’s creatives and myself. There were two different feelings that we were aiming to achieve for the two different lines of products: an elegant feeling and a more playful one.
I developed the idea that the agency had started by the choice of colours, shapes and living materials, but also by the set design, which had the feeling of a scenography scene. A lot of things added to the end result, from the colours to the light, to the materials, the actual products and what we wanted to express. The challenge was to find a balance between an interesting story and make the products really pop out in a playful yet sophisticated world. I think the end result expressed exactly that.

Could you speak about your personal projects? Do you have enough time to focus on them?
At the moment I don’t have time for big personal projects together with photographer friends – instead Instagram is my personal rescue. That’s where I really can show who I am in my emotional expression. There are no frames or rules, it's a breathing space only for my moments.
Your work can’t be done alone; you always need a photographer is in line with what you do. How do you find them? Is it difficult to collaborate in every work you do? Have you ever thought of becoming the photographer of your own settings?
That’s true, choosing the ‘right’ photographer is crucial depending on what kind of feeling the idea wants to convey. Either I suggest a photographer that I have worked with before or someone that I see has the perfect expression for that particular project, or it’s the agency / client who books the photographer. It is obvious that it becomes difficult to collaborate if I feel that there is no ‘click’ between us, since it’s all about understanding each other’s expression and expertise.
Since I’m incredibly interested and passionate about the art of photography it can sometimes itch in my fingers and I would like to take over and take pictures myself. I have an eye for the light, composition and feeling, but I’m too restless to learn the technical aspect of it. But who knows, maybe that day will come in the future.
According to you, what is the most interesting part of your work? And what are the topics that you prefer to work on?
Meeting all these interesting people with different visions and expressions, the inspiration and collaboration. Knowing that it never ends; the dream, the inspiration, the meetings, the experiences, that’s so nice in my profession. To never stop dreaming and get inspired and dare to challenge myself. For me it's not about a specific subject; if the passion and drive are there, it can be basically anything.
Are you currently working on new projects that you would like to share with us?
Right now I’m working on some different exciting projects. One is a collaboration with an interesting designer whose expression is completely different from my own, but the interesting part is to find the balance between mine, the designer’s and the photographer’s. And I love it!

Erwan Filidori
Mikael Lundblad

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