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Petra Iston is inspired by what’s around her. In fact, she gets so lost in her head thinking of an idea that sometimes she becomes a little clumsy. She trips over things, knocks stuff over.
“I find that endearing that she can be so balanced in her designs and also be a little unbalanced that she backs into something and causes a little mayhem,” said J.J. Graham, friend and curator of Hollingsworth Gallery.
Iston is a Slovakian-born graphic artist who moved to Palm Coast at 14 when her parents, Maria and Vincent, who both grew up under communism, followed through with their dream of moving to America. Iston graduated from Flagler Palm Coast High School in 2003 and then went on to study graphic design at Flagler College, in St. Augustine.
After graduation, Iston felt a need to go back to her home country.
“I had a hard time defining what was home, I had to go figure it out for myself,” she said, while sitting in a dim room in the back of Hollingsworth Gallery.
She moved to Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, where she almost immediately got commissioned to do a campaign for the whitewater canoeing and slalom European Championships. After the campaign, Iston got the opportunity to work with her dream agency: Saatchi & Saatchi.
“It was a big deal for me being a graduate,” Iston said. “It was funny that my first real job was for them.”
She took the job in a heartbeat, even though pay was bad and she was barely making a living, while paying back her student loans in the states.
After a year at the prestigious Slovakian ad agency, Iston got an offer to work at a smaller company at a higher rate. She made the switch.
Then the campaign of a lifetime came knocking. Because of the successful campaign with the European Championships, the young designer was commissioned to run the campaign for the World Championships. She quit her job and, for three months, Iston designed nonstop. She designed the arena, the stages and the clothing for athletes and staff. She designed billboards, flags and print ads. She created the branding. It was the biggest project she had ever worked on.
Then, in October 2011, although she was thriving in the environment of her home country, Iston had to move back to Palm Coast to help her parents.
“I wasn’t happy about coming back to Palm Coast,” she said. “It was very difficult for me to look for a job. I didn’t know many people here, I didn’t have the connections that I had in Slovakia.”
For six months, Iston struggled to find a job. The responses she received all required her to move again, but that was not an option.
In April, a friend brought Iston to Hollingsworth Gallery. She said she knew it was meant to be immeidately.
“When I was introduced to this gallery, it brought me back to life,” she said.
Since being in Flagler County, Iston has already impacted the community by redesigning Flagler Magazine and sprucing up Hollingsworth Gallery with her vision.
She still works with a few clients in Slovakia, but she also has a vision for Palm Coast.
“There are so many things that can be done here, it’s a very new town, and it can have a lot more to offer design-wise,” she said.
As a passionate designer, Iston believes that it doesn’t take much to boost the brand of a business. “A more aesthetic appeal could help them stay in business longer, get better business,” she said. “You want people to come in and feel good while they’re there.”
In the upcoming year, Iston plans to share her talents and knowledge with Flagler County’s youth by teaching a design basics class at the gallery, which would allow students to make their own brands, T-shirts and ad campaigns.
“She is the best around, in my opinion, when it comes to experience and taste; she is very creative,” Graham said. “She is an asset, not just to (the gallery), but to anyone who is looking to market or brand their business in a creative way.”