Michelle Tran is an illustrator and the creator of Neato Bonito, a newly landed brand offering illustrated products for parents and little ones. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and two-year-old son, Grey. Her drawings have a whimsical feel to them, and bring a sense of wonder to children and adults alike. Discover more about her imaginative illustrations, creative process, and staying organized as a working mom.
Hey Michelle! Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background. Have you been illustrating for a long time?
I’ve always loved drawing and painting but didn’t start illustrating regularly until a couple of years ago after Grey was born. It became my creative outlet and my way of de-stressing from corporate life and caring for a new baby at the time.
I also love creating in other forms including crafting and cooking. I have an unhealthy obsession with coffee, stationary, art supplies and reality TV shows. I enjoy reading in my free time, and one of my favorite things to do is browse bookstores and libraries.
Neato Bonito is such a fun name! Tell us what inspired you to start Neato Bonito and what you hope your customers & followers takeaway from your work.
I was inspired to start Neato Bonito because I’m a kid at heart and have always been obsessed with kids’ illustration – it’s fun, imaginative and there are no rules! I wanted to create products to help spark that wonderment and discovery that children experience as the world unfolds for them. It’s such a fantastic time in their lives and so rewarding to create something that can add some extra joy and magic for kids and their parents.
What was your toughest challenge when first starting off, and how did you overcome it?
My toughest challenge when I committed to launching Neato Bonito was getting over the fear of failure. I was worried people wouldn’t like my work and that it would quickly fail. I had to truly learn to focus on the positive and believe in my skills and talent. I’m a big believer in the effects of surrounding yourself with positive people and consuming content that is motivational such as books and podcasts. Some of the podcasts that I listen to daily are Oprah, Tony Robbins, and Gary Vee. I’ll frequently replay their episodes that are especially inspiring for me. It’s (always) a work in progress, and of course, I have days where I don’t think I can do it or am completely overwhelmed. Luckily I have my husband, family, and friends who are incredibly supportive and are always there to talk me through it and remind me that I actually can do this and that if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay, too.
What are your top 3 tips when it comes to curating content and posting on Instagram?
- Use natural lighting for your photos! It can make a big difference from using artificial lighting.
- Keep your style consistent. This makes for a more attractive feed and helps to build a cohesive visual story.
- If it’s not perfect, get rid of it. Don’t be afraid to get rid of photos or posts you don’t like – it can make a big difference with the look of your account.
How do you stay organized and on top of everything as a mom while illustrating/managing Neato Bonito?
Any parent can vouch for how challenging it can be to keep up with life in general while caring for a child. It took me a long time to re-discover my balance after having Grey. I’m a pretty organized person in general and rely heavily on calendars and to do lists to stay on top of things.
I’m an old school pen and paper gal and keep a moleskin monthly calendar and a ton of other stationary on hand for my daily to-do lists. When I have days where I have too much on my plate, I’ll sit down first thing in the morning to prioritize the day and work my way down. If I can’t get to everything I try not to sweat it – I’ll push it over to the next day if possible. Above all, my family comes first, and when I’m with them, I try to be as present as possible and bring my best self for them.
Your illustrations are so beautiful, especially with all of the botanicals and cityscapes. How do you come up with ideas to create your illustrations, and how do you stay inspired?
Many of the ideas for my illustrations come from everyday life. Things like having my morning coffee, picnics in the park or trips to the zoo can inspire me. I love nature and being outdoors when I can, so that also plays a big role in why I love drawing leaves, flowers, trees, and mountains. I also enjoy traveling for a change of scenery and a fresh perspective on things. If I need some quick inspo, I’ll hop on Pinterest and browse around.
As a member of our #PlanolyFAM, how has Planoly helped you up your Instagram game, and what’s a feature that you find most useful?
I use Planoly daily! It has really helped me build a more consistent and cohesive visual story for my Instagram account. The analytics are super helpful, and I use it frequently to check week over week activity. The feature I find the most useful is the grid which I use to plan and save posts throughout the week. It helps me see beforehand how a photo will look on my grid and if the look and feel of it is consistent with my feed. Before I was using Planoly, I’d often delete a photo right after posting it because it didn’t go with the look of my account. It’s saved me so much time and helped shape my IG account into a more aesthetically pleasing one.
It can be tough trying to establish your presence and make it in the world as a creative. If you had one piece of advice to share with an aspiring illustrator or creative, what would it be?
Be authentic! Staying true to yourself shows through in your work and what you put out into the world. People have a way of sensing authenticity in others, and they’re attracted to it.