Rhea Leibel

Creative Specialist, Graphic Designer

18 years Experience

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Rhea Leibel is a graphic designer and art director living in Regina, Saskatchewan. She currently works as a designer in brand at Farm Credit Canada and illustrates on the side.

At what point in your life did you learn about design, and what drew you to it?

My first graphic design job was at a small firm working under well known designer. I was there for nearly two years and was given the opportunity to build brands, design art catalogues and even worked on some stamps for Canada Post. Those two years were some of the most difficult times in my life. The hours were very long and the work was very challenging.

What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day?

My best mornings are started with a 6 am spin class. Physical activity has been a huge factor in my mental health these past few years. It keeps my thoughts positive and my mind open for creativity. Then I take a cold shower, buy a latte (or an Americano) and look online at some of my favourite websites for inspiration / motivation.

Who do you consider to be an inspiring woman (alive or otherwise)?

Lisa Congdon. I don’t consider myself an illustrator, but I love to follow her story and process. She is a leader, true to her values and willing to share her craft with others.

What inspires your work (professional or personal)?

Since I was young, I’ve had a strong urge to create with my hands. Drawing is how I like to process information. My personal work is inspired by experiences from when I was young - things that changed me and how I’ve grown from them. The majority of my personal work is illustrations and line drawings. I enjoy tight restrictions on mediums, such as using only black and white / pen to paper. I may evolve from that sooner or later, but for now this is keeping me content.

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What project are you most proud of?

Any work that I’ve been involved in from start to finish. Fairly recently I redesigned the Regina Public Library member cards and I’m pretty proud to say they were completed with zero revisions.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a female designer?

The assumption that I’m unable to speak for myself. I’ve worked in this industry for close to 20 years and I’m finally finding space for my voice to be heard. Some of that comes from learning about who I am as a person. Age and experience also play a huge role in this for me. I’m finally confident in what I do and what I know.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in this business?

When I started in design, it was dominated by males. By no means do I feel as though I’m a trail blazer, but I think my approach to projects and clients is different than some of my male colleagues.

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What was your educational experience like?

When I was in highschool, I loved art and wanted to pursue a career doing something with my hands. One afternoon during my art class, a recruiter from Medicine Hat College came to talk with us about the Visual Communications program. This was 1995, so at that point, I had no idea what graphic design even was but I knew I wanted to find out more. My amazing teacher, Joan Robertson, based the following years curriculum on building my portfolio so I could get into college. She will always mean the world to me because she set me on a career path I had no idea I’d love so much.

I truly enjoyed college. There were some aspects that made me feel ill equipped for the real world, but it opened my eyes to critical thinking and seeing things from the perspective of others.

If you weren’t a designer, what career would you pursue?

I would have become a grade 1 or 2 teacher. I’ve always wanted to teach.

Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night.

I’ve been consciously trying to get over the imposter syndrome that nags on my soul daily. “When are these people going to find out that I don’t know what I’m doing?” I’ve been doing this long enough to know that I do know what I’m talking about 🙂

As a woman, what sacrifices have you had to make in your professional life?

My husband is a designer who graduated from the same school as me, and he was offered positions before he completed school. When I graduated, I sent out my resume and portfolio to dozens of places across Canada, but I wasn’t even considered for a rejection letter.

Even to this day, I feel I had a solid amount of work for someone just starting out. After two straight years of trying, I finally got my first job at a well known design firm in Regina. The trade off was that it was emotionally and physically draining, but I had my pick of jobs after I left and found a wonderful network of colleagues and friends as a result.

What advice would you give to a young female designer?

Set your boundaries before you begin a job. So often I hear young designers asking me if they should do a job to help a friend out to build their portfolio. Young designers need to know that their time is valuable and they should be getting paid no matter their experience. In my opinion, some of the most brilliant design minds are ones that haven’t been jaded yet. They’re a goldmine of ideas.

What’s your favourite thing to do when you come home?

I love hugs and snuggles from my two boys, I enjoy baking and cooking for my family and I love a good, sweaty cardio class after work.

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Which of your traits are you most proud of?

Nothing makes me more proud or happy than to build other people up and to offer them advice about their work. I also love to encourage others ideas and see their visions come to life.

Who are your design heroes?

Paula Scher -  She started out designing album covers (which was my dream job at one point) and has almost single handedly created a beautiful visual landscape for New York. She’s amazing!

Gemma O’brien - She’s brilliant! Her typography is mind bending and stunning.

Who was/is your greatest mentor and why?

I’m fortunate enough to have a few, but one that stands out is Erik Norbraten. I used to work with him at an advertising agency and I’d consider him a good friend today. He taught me patience and how to see things at a different angle. That your first go at something shouldn’t be your last. He always wants people to do and be their best - like an amazing big brother. I look up to him. Also, he’s 6’5, so I have to look up high.

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What about the current state of graphic design could you do without?

I’m not a fan of how disposable design seem these days. Someone put thought and energy, sometimes hours, into a piece of creative, and then it’s gone in one swipe of a finger.

Is it possible to be unique or original in the Internet age?

I think Aaron Draplin once said “vectors are free.” I love having digital graphics at my finger tips but when I’m at home, I draw to relax. I have a huge soft spot for analogue. When you work with paper and pen, you really have to think about the marks you’re making and each thing you create will be different.

What was the worst trend in the history of design?

Nothing in particular comes to mind, but it makes me flinch when people ask me to “jazz it up.”

What are your plans for the future?

Complete the illustrations for a children’s book I’m working on with my writer friend, Stephanie Tingley. Continue to work on my alphabet illustrations and complete it by the end of the year. I’m hoping to put together an alphabet book eventually.