If there were a poster child for hard work, her name would be Argentina Flores. Raised in Queens, NY, the graffiti artist turned graphic designer, whose creative journey began as a patent illustrator at the tender age of 16, is wholly self-made. It was out of those humble beginnings of cutting and pasting at a clothing company in the garment district that Flores’ passion for art emerged. Now, the Dominicana has illustrated and web designed for major clients across the globe including ones in China, Mexico, South Africa and India to name a few. Not too shabby for someone who started out meticulously drawing everything by hand before teaching herself how to illustrate on her Mac computer!
The designer has worked with brands like Trump, L'Oréal, Shady Records’ Slaughterhouse, international art gallery AJ Japour and renowned hairstylist Ramona Azcona to name a few. And as the art director for PT1 (America's first phone card company), roughly 70 percent of top-selling phone cards on bodega shelves have been designed by her. How cool is that?
But the 38-year-old is far from feeling like she’s arrived. After years of being a successful art director and creative thinker in the realm of freelancing, Flores decided to pull up her boot straps and, with the help of a few esteemed financial backers, open the first ever co-working space in her native borough. Get to know more about Flores below!
What got you into graphic designing?
I actually started out as a graffiti artist at 13. I’ve always loved art, always loved to illustrate. My brother, also a graffiti artist, had a huge influence on me. My first job, at 16, was as a patent illustrator at a clothing company in the garment district. I would literally draw their jean designs before sending them off to the manufacturer. Everything was done by hand.
Around that same time is when Mac really started to push the PowerPC. So I went from hand illustration to designing everything graphically. I’m self-taught, for the record. When I took on computers, I completely fell in love with the Mac.
How different was it to design when you were coming up compared to how it is now?
Well, like I mentioned, I was cutting and pasting then. Today, we have computers. Technology plays a huge role, one that has completely changed the game. The internet plays a big part in the evolution as well. The web has changed every industry and the way we do things. Graphic designing, especially, falls right into that. From work to promotion to communication to branding, it’s a whole different ball game from when I was coming up.
Who have been some of your favorite clients?
Latitude PR. It’s a board of tourism around the world. It allowed me to learn about many different cultures. China, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Mexico, South Africa, you name it. I’ve done a lot of work with a lot of different countries, and even if I didn’t travel there, which I did often, it was having to learn about the actual culture and its people that was truly life-altering.
What was it like being an artist growing up in a Dominican household?
My mom was a total hippie, so I don’t know if I grew up in a real Dominican household. She was all about being free and doing what you love and living your life. So, [traditional] Dominican household? I might not know too much. But growing up with my mom? That, I know a lot of [laughs].
So you grew up in single-parent household?
Yep. Just my mom, and my grandmother was around too.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
There’s a lot and it varies, believe it or not. Today? It’s a podcast [laughs], called Design Matters. The podcast features interviews with some of the biggest names in the art world. I learn a lot from tuning in, it’s super inspiring.
What (or who) else inspires you?
My mom. She’s freaking awesome.
And what keeps you motivated?
Meeting a challenge and seeing it all the way through. That’s what drives me.
From what I understand, you’ve opened up the first ever co-working space in Queens, NY, is that right? Talk a little bit about that.
Yes. QNS Collective. It’s the first official co-working space in Queens, NY. The area in which we opened it is now labeled an art district, actually.
So, it’s the first official co-working space in the borough and it’s a place where I will be hosting tech and lifestyle workshops. Everything from yoga all the way to mixologies. The goal is to create a community in Queens where people can come and work, make connections and learn something new.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve had to make as an entrepreneur?
We can only understand the things that we are shown, right? So there’s only so much I knew growing up the way I did. That said, there has been a process of learning that I’ve been humbled by. It’s just been a journey of letting go, and making the effort to stop pretending like I know it all. I ask more questions now… How can I get this done? How do you do this? Where do I go from here? Where can I get this or that? Again, releasing, letting go. I try not to control the outcome of things anymore. I’m pretty neurotic, I write all my goals down expecting to check them all off one by one. But as an entrepreneur, sometimes, the outcome isn’t what I expected. I’ve learned not to expect anything. I “do my best and forget the rest.”
What advice would you lend to someone who is trying to follow in your footsteps, create a business of their own?
It’s going to be corny, but it really is, “never falter, follow your goal.” You have to be relentless. This is what has gotten me this far. I am relentless. I do not stop. There are hurdles, yes, but it doesn’t end. There are days that you get knocked down, but you have to get back up and keep going. Just keep going. There’s action and then there’s relentlessness.
Describe your day-to-day routine. What is a day in the life of Argentina look like?
Ah [laughs], not fun. I wake up at 5 o’ clock in the morning. I am in the office by 7 a.m. and I don’t leave ‘til around 9 in the evening. I go home, have dinner (maybe a glass of wine or two) and then I go to bed. The next morning, I do it all over again.
What is your life mantra?
What you believe you achieve. Your thoughts become things.
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