VM Creativ started with two photographers meeting at the right moment—Viv Delgadillo and Matt Mateiescu. The duo behind VM Creativ combines their passion for self-expression with visual art to explore their growing curiosities + interests, create works of art they can be proud of, and inspire others while doing so. Currently based in Chicago, Viv and Matt are constantly on the lookout for new ideas, technologies, and creative challenges to undertake. During our conversation, they discuss what it’s like to run a business with a romantic partner, why burn out almost always poses a threat (even while doing something you love), and how they turn daydreaming into actionable to-do’s.
Tell me where you grew up and how your childhood influenced your thoughts about creativity.
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. When I was a little girl my neighborhood was experiencing the very last few cases of White flight. Most of my community were White Lutheran senior citizens and long time residents who realized the area was slowly becoming dominated by Hispanics. Instead of integrating, most White community members kept migrating away from the South Side. The house my parents bought was in a nice family-friendly area and over the years it became plagued with gang activity and violence.
Luckily my prime childhood years were hardly affected by the shifting demographic. Instead, I spent a lot of time with my dad as he was launching his business from home. We spent a lot of time outside and playing sports. Shortly after that my mom quit her job and stayed home. My life as a little girl consisted of activities like gymnastics and piano lessons. Even though my dad is a very talented musician and singer, my parents did not view creativity as a potential path and instead used it to supplement my childhood. Education was prioritized. Despite that I was given a lot of opportunities to explore what I liked. I think the combination of prioritizing education and the freedom to explore interests as a child has a lot to do with my personality now. I love to constantly be learning and continuously exploring and pushing the boundaries of my established interests.
"We’re extremely compatible and never get tired of each other so working together is really special … It might be high stress at times but together we always make it through."
I grew up in South Brunswick, New Jersey in a lower middle class neighborhood then moved to an upper middle class area in a suburb outside of Princeton when I was 13. My father is Cezar Mateus, a luthier who studied violin making at an apprenticeship in southern France and who’s made lutes for notable figures including Sting. My mother is Carmen Mateiescu, a PhD music theory professor and ethnomusicologist, who teaches at university, has traveled Romania documenting ethnic music, and just recently created an opera. My grandfather is Patriciu Mateescu, a ceramic sculptor from Romania who is credited as heavily influencing ceramic sculpture in Romania and has exhibited around the world. Given that background, one can assume that I was exposed to art and creativity from a very young age.
I’ve always had a little bit of creative A.D.D. or maybe just a restlessness in general and when I was younger it was more intensified than now. This resulted in me studying and practicing a little bit of everything from drawing to painting, playing different musical instruments, doing different martial arts but I could never really stick to something for long.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an appreciation for nature and when I wasn’t getting into trouble in my neighborhood, I spent much of my early childhood exploring forests and seeking out nature. This fascination with nature can be seen in my love for wildlife and landscape photography.
Tell me about your individual paths to becoming photographers.
My senior year of high school I had to choose a creative elective course. I was interested in photography and for some reason I never pursued it. That year I decided to take the Black and White film photography course where we learned to shoot, process and develop our film in the darkroom. When I graduated I wanted to continue so I became involved in darkrooms throughout the city. I would take classes with older adults and use community darkrooms to continue practicing chemistry and printing. I always enjoyed the process of film and viewed it as a very personal form of documenting and reflecting. It was until years later that I decided to take on digital photography and pursue it a serious career choice.
My father had a couple stints with analog photography when I was young but I never got into it as I absolutely hated posing for his photo experiments and it turned me off of the craft altogether. Fast forward until the end of 2011, I was 24 and had just been hired for a temp graphic design gig, something I was reasonably comfortable with, however there was a caveat to the position, product photography was also required and while I had basically no understanding of photography whatsoever, I needed the money and accepted. I’ve done this more times than I care to admit in my life—accept a position with little to no understanding of the subject matter then cram and try to learn it before showing up. Shooting product was fun, I borrowed my brother’s DSLR and just experimented with it until things sort of made sense. Fortunately within the visual creative fields each craft generally informs another in some way, for example understanding composition in drawing or design is directly applicable to photography.
After a few months of shooting product and shooting around in my free time I was officially hooked and I haven’t really been without a camera since.
"Trying to make time to enjoy life in the midst of all that was pretty tough and I learned that even if you’re doing something you love you can get burnt out."
How [and why] did VM Creativ come to be?
VM Creativ is a joint effort to create visual art by Viv Delgadillo and Matt Mateiescu. It came together because we had a shared passion—photography—which we thought we could explore together. At the start we didn’t have any major aspirations for the collaboration but since then we’ve decided to combine our passion for travel and creative work.
Can you shed light on some of the struggles and joys of running a creative business with your significant other?
There weren’t so many struggles that relate to the fact that the business is run with a significant other, however, when I (Matt) was working full-time, we were trying to build a portfolio together, had deadlines, and had just adopted a puppy, the stress was at an all-time high. Trying to make time to enjoy life in the midst of all that was pretty tough and I learned that even if you’re doing something you love you can get burnt out.
We’re extremely compatible and never get tired of each other so working together is really special. On a shoot we seamlessly shift responsibilities and flow really well together. It might be high stress at times but together we always make it through.
You’ve recently relocated from the New York area to Chicago. What’s the intention behind this move?
A change of scenery to some extent but mainly a lower cost of living that will give us the opportunity to develop our business further and plan our adventure without the high cost that New York and the surrounding areas demand. Additionally, we want to practice taking our business to a new location where we have less connections and test how we can adapt to it.
What about long-term goals and plans?
For VM Creativ, we’d like to be mobile, travel, and create content that we’re proud of. The paths to achieve that are a little unclear at the moment but to begin, we’re working on determining how to take our business to any city in the country by booking gigs in advance then traveling there and staying for a certain period of time. Whether this means considering van life or some type of mobile home or just renting space somewhere is unclear but we plan on defining the plan further over these next few months.
"Throughout all the different subcultures we’ve explored the constant seems to be that people just long for a sense of community."
Where do you draw inspiration from?
We draw inspiration from our friends, other creatives online and nature! We tend to be our most motivated selves when we are outdoors taking in landscapes. Another source of inspiration is the future. We daydream a lot and when we start to talk about our aspirations and goals and all the little things we want we start to plan with action items.
What influences your work?
Availability of time and location has a lot of influence on our work. With all of our commitments we have been primarily shooting for gigs and finding time for our own creative interests outside of that. Because of that we often end up shooting impromptu on the street or during our adventures.
What themes do you explore in your work, both jointly and individually?
Together, we explore subcultures in our work. It’s fascinating to see what draws people to certain niches and how they develop over time. It’s also interesting to note that throughout all the different subcultures we’ve explored the constant seems to be that people just long for a sense of community.
What is your creative process like?
It generally depends on the project and medium, if it’s personal or commissioned work. In the case of personal work, one of us may have an idea we’d like to explore so we discuss its value, how to execute it, then enact a plan. With commissioned work our level of creative freedom varies from client to client.
We nearly always have a pretty well defined treatment or plan in mind for each project that we can have signed and agreed upon with the client prior to executing. We always make room for improvisation but having a structure in place prior to any project is essential for both the client and our satisfaction.
"The best piece of advice we’ve ever been given was to reflect daily via writing. It’s important to take note of how you feel even if it’s the most trivial thing. It’s a good way to document growth and to keep a gauge on mental health."
Do you have any thoughts on the role of discipline in a creative life?
Being a creative does not mean laying around fantasizing waiting for inspiration to strike as many people seem to believe. Nearly every client wants their project completed yesterday and many times you may become involved later on in the creative process. As such, understanding how to communicate with a client effectively and how to spark creativity on-demand are crucial to delivering quality work that satisfies the client and ourselves.
What makes Viv and Matt happy?
I have a long list of interests and hobbies, but I feel the happiest when I’m not actively thinking about my goals. Right now my happiest distraction is our puppy Anu.
Too many things and not enough time to do them all! Spending time with Viv of course, breakdancing, jiu jitsu, DJing, producing music, of course photography and videography, hiking, exploring urban and natural landscapes, discovering new things and ideas and getting to know interesting people.
What does success mean for VM Creativ?
Working to sustain the lifestyle that we envision for ourselves without sacrificing our integrity as people.
What about for Viv and Matt?
Success for me means living comfortably; eating well, having a daily regimen, minimal stress, unrestricted creativity all while helping other people.
The same as above, being able to make a living doing exactly what I enjoy and nothing less of that. Creating purely and without the restraints of any entity controlling my output while benefiting mankind, ideally.
"Being a creative does not mean laying around fantasizing waiting for inspiration to strike as many people seem to believe."
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
The best piece of advice we’ve ever been given was to reflect daily via writing. It’s important to take note of how you feel even if it’s the most trivial thing. It’s a good way to document growth and to keep a gauge on mental health.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Whatever the gig, get a contract signed! Define your deliverables clearly. Being a good judge of character can help you avoid nightmare clients to some extent but after a while you’re nearly guaranteed to encounter a few. Having a well written contract signed no matter how small the project or for who it is—whether a friend or family or stranger—will save your ass, trust us!
Would you take the plunge to build a creative biz à la VM? Why or why not?! / If you enjoyed this interview, pass it on! / Don’t forget to subscribe below for bi-monthly updates!