Interview by Sarah Kilcoyne
Photo credit: Sarah Kilcoyne
María is a graphic designer and visual artist from Madrid, who also happens to be the founder of ESDIP Berlin! We sat down for a coffee and a chat, to talk about the secrets of owning a coworking space, the art of paper-cutting and Bloody Marys.
Sarah: Hi María! So tell us, what do you do?
Maria: Hola Sarah! I do graphic design and paper cuts. I am also founder and CEO at ESDIP Berlin.
S: ESDIP Berlin! Wow! Sounds like a cool place. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea?
M: It was more like a necessity, since I was working from home as a freelancer and it was kind of depressing. At that time, there were only 3 coworking spaces in Berlin that I knew of, and none of them really suited me so I thought I would build up my dream-working space – a place that I can share with my friends, and where we could make projects together. It turned out better than I expected, and now we have this! :)
Ghettoblaster by Bartek Elsner (left). Beatrice David live painting (right). Photo credit: ESDIP Berlin
ESDIP Berlin Connect event (left). Anti-Christmas Market (right). Photo credit: ESDIP Berlin
S: The idea of a creative-based coworking space is quite unique in Berlin – what made you choose coworking over say, a basic shared-studio space?
M: A shared studio sounds great too, but I feel like in a creative coworking space you have more opportunities. There are way more people coming and going, so networking is very easy – you meet new people every day that are professionals and that are also looking to meet other creatives. We can transform the space easily into anything we want: art gallery, Christmas market, seminar room, workshop room, we even had a wedding party! This would be difficult to realise in a shared studio. Having the chance to make so many things apart from coworking helps us to encourage our members to stay active and creative, giving them the opportunity to show their art at the space, present their book, join creative events and workshops, etc. And at the same time it helps to maintain the space, since (despite what many people think), owning a coworking space is not a great business! It’s actually very expensive and difficult to keep for long time. The more coworkers you have, the more expenses you have as well – you will never get rich :D You can see spaces popping up in Berlin constantly and disappearing for this same reason.
I feel like our coworking space is special because our community is special. It is formed mainly by creatives in fields like illustration, animation, design, etc., and that makes coworking here very interesting and inspiring. I wouldn’t be able to be in a coworking space that feels like an office.
S: Tell us more about your paper crafts! What’s your favourite subject when it comes to paper-cutting?
M: My favourite are dark or dramatic subjects, that once you turn into paper become funny and ridiculous. Like this giant knife stabbing me in the stairway, or the paper barbed-wire.
‘The Knife’. María Luján and Wolfgang Krug. Photo credit: María Luján
S: Is there somewhere we could see some of your work on display?
M: I’ve been part of collective exhibitions here and there over the past few years. I’ve also been thinking of making my own solo exhibition, and I’ve got a few offers, but it never really happened. Maybe I’m too shy.
But if you want to see my work you will find some pieces at ESDIP, as it’s here where I mostly make them, and the rest are hanging in my friend’s apartments and at my own. You are welcome to come to see them anytime and drink a coffee with me!
Paper cuts by María Luján. Photo credit: María Luján
S: The question I get asked a million times – what does ‘ESDIP’ mean?
M: ESDIP is an acronym that stands for Professional Drawing School (Escuela Superior de Dibujo Profesional in Spanish). Originally ESDIP was an Art School in Madrid that my parents, both cartoonists, founded in 1983. I grew up in that school (literally! The school was our home until we could afford a second location), and I helped to run it for many years until 2010 when I moved to Berlin.
S: How does it feel to win the esteemed Coworker of the Month award?
M: I definitely would have never expected it! I thought I would be the last person you’d choose for this award for obvious reasons. Being the Coworker of the Month of my own coworking space sounds kind of suspicious :D But I’m flattered.
S: Who’s your favourite Coworker?!
M: Depends on the day. Justin, when he sits outside with me to drink tomato juice* and talk about goth parties. You, when you cook those amazing meals for all of us. Definitely any coworker that brings a dog to the space is my favourite too. Rafa when he comes to my desk to talk about deep things and we end up laughing. The Alex-es when they work with their t-shirts off when it’s too hot. Micha for bringing his handmade Kicker table… I can’t pick one!
S: Now, let’s get real for a moment – how does it feel to be a female independent business owner in this day and age? Do you ever have to deal with ‘mansplaining’ or the like?
M: It’s definitely not easy, but feels really great. Running a business in a society that constantly questions you and anything you do just for being a woman, and that provides so many obstacles towards becoming successful professionally can be challenging, but it is really satisfying achieving and becoming everything that you are not supposed to. Feels like giving them a big slap in the face!
Very often men that come to the space seem to feel the need to give me (extremely patronising) ‘advice’ on how to successfully run my own company, and try to teach me all kinds of things about running a business that they assume I don’t know because of … vagina? Something that hurts me the most is when people tell me that I am ‘lucky’ to have a business like this, as if it magically appeared in my hands one day, seemingly ignorant of the fact that I have worked hard to build it from the ground up. Unfortunately, if you are a successful woman many people assume that you are just lucky, and if you are a successful man it’s because you are strong, and ambitious, and you work hard. Obviously all this sexism makes me very angry and sad, but somehow also stronger.
S: Since you opened ESDIP in 2012, do you find that that attitude has changed at all?
M: Not really. It will probably take a few more generations to finally recognise women and men as equals at work.
Life Drawing session at ESDIP Berlin. Photo credit: ESDIP Berlin
S: And in other news! The Life Drawing Sessions are another great example of ESDIP’s various creative contributions – how did you come up with the idea?
M: I thought that creating an event were people could meet regularly to draw would be a nice way to get artists together, share knowledge, ideas, make new friends… and it turned better than I expected! The people attending are awesome artists, and the sessions are really entertaining. But you should take all the credit for that, because you’re doing a great job booking the best models and organising everything.
S: For those sweaty summer days, you so very generously got us a paddling pool to cool off in! What can we get for winter??
M: What if we fill up the pool with pillows and blankets and watch movies? We could get a popcorn machine.
ESDIP’s pool! Photo credit: ESDIP Berlin
S: What’s the one question you get asked the most?
M: Are you Sarah?
S: And finally! Any advice for aspiring small business owners?
M: Don’t let others to discourage you with things like “Don’t do it, it won’t work”. That is just a reflection of their own fears and limitations, but not yours. Just go for it and do it!
Are you also interested in coworking? Then check out our pricing plans here, or just drop by the space any day within the opening hours, Mon-Fri 10-19h, and we’ll show you around.