Maria Amelia Randall

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Maria Amelia Randall, 28
Lives in: St Andrews, Scotland
Hometown: Seattle, U.S.A.
Nominated by: Roisin Connolly

It was Maria Amelia Randall’s perfectly crafted lattes that first caught the attention of fellow Friday Bester, Roisin Connolly, but it was her lively, outgoing personality and love of illustrating that cemented their friendship and led to her nomination.

At 28 years of age, Maria seems to be in a place where her life’s passion (coffee and art chief amongst them) are morphing into her professions. After moving from Seattle with her partner, Maria completed a Master of Divinity in the town of St Andrews in Scotland. She’s still there now supporting her partner, Leonard, through his PhD, illustrating children’s books, raising her young son (also Leonard!) and working as a barista…and she loves it.

It’s all a little bit unexpected and it certainly wasn’t an easy ride but Maria has arrived in a place where she understands her roots, she’s comfortable with her future and feels as though she is finally a ‘grown-up.’

If you’re charmed by any of her work below, or curious to see more, please visit her website here.


You did your undergraduate and your masters in divinity. What drew you to that?

Well, I grew up religious and I wanted to understand it more really. Now that I’m older I can see just how impractical that was financially!

I got a full scholarship for the undergraduate so I wasn’t worried about that then. I just wanted to learn what I wanted learn and I really wasn’t thinking in practical terms. It’s only later in my twenties that I have realised, ‘Oh it would be so nice to have more money than I have and not be broke all the time!’ But you know, we’ll get there!

And what did you take away from it? It’s interesting that you chose something just that you were interested in and didn’t think ahead to how you would monetise it.

For me, it’s been really personal, it’s been about seeing what from my background I want to take with me into my life and what I want to leave behind and feeling like I have reasons for both.

American Christian culture tends to be so conservative, it’s got a lot of weird stuff in it, and now I can see where it comes from. So it’s made it easier to step back from religion without being upset about it or think it’s so crazy. I can see where it comes from now, I understand it but I know that’s not the culture that I want be in.

Maria and her son Leo

Maria, her son Leonard and a whole lot of pumpkins

I think it’s also made me feel like I can keep things from Christianity or take them forward with me because Christianity is such a huge tradition, there’s so much variety in it, there’s so much space. I know now that I don’t have to feel that I need to be one particular way. There’s room for me to take what I want to take from it, such as an emphasis on cultivating supportive communities and serving other people, and leave the things that I don’t think are healthy. So that’s cool. I gained a lot from that, for me it was really important.

Would you describe yourself as religious now?

Yeah, I think I would. I would say that I am religious but still full of questions and committed to openness and independence of thought.


It’s just a tiny little thing, it’s not changing the world, but it gives me pleasure. 


And so what about a PhD? I know your partner is currently doing a PhD, did you also consider following in those footsteps?

Well, after I finished my masters I wasn’t sure…so I didn’t apply right away and then I only applied here (in St Andrews) because that’s where my partner was, and I didn’t get in. So if I wanted to do it I would’ve had to apply elsewhere and I didn’t.

Part of that was taking rejection badly, to be honest, and part of it I’m happy about because I think it probably wasn’t the path for me. A PhD is an insane project. It’s so, so, so hard and you’re by yourself for years and it’s an emotional rollercoaster and then you might never get a job anyway because there’s far too many people with PhDs!

One of Maria's illustrations in progress

One of Maria’s pieces of work: ‘Tea Party Mural Illustration of Women around the world’

Fair enough! So now that your study is done then…what are you excited about?

I feel really excited about getting some paid work as an artist! That’s really what I want to do more of.

I’m also really excited about coffee. I am a barista at a company called Mitchell’s and I am hoping to do more training and have a bigger role there. I think that training staff about coffee is really stimulating and fascinating, and I like the whole subtle art of trying to get someone enthusiastic about something that maybe they weren’t before.

Roisin says you have the best coffee in St Andrews…

I like to say that I think there should only be good and beautiful lattes in the world, but you can say that of basically anything. It just so happens that I really like making lattes!

I like the whole path the bean takes, the farming, the process of how it comes here, how it’s blended, how it’s roasted and then what happens in the cafe on the machine on the day to make it be as lovely as it can be.

It’s fun because it’s so hands-on, and I really value hands-on creation of anything good. That’s part of how my parents are and I think I took that from them. It only takes 30 seconds and I’ve made a little attempt at perfection, made something beautiful.

It’s just a tiny little thing, it’s not changing the world, but it gives me pleasure.

Absolutely and it starts people off on their day on the right foot…if you have a good coffee, it’s gonna be an okay day. 

Right! Even the interaction of it. To me, whether or not I’m going to see a particular person in the café again doesn’t mean that I can’t have a positive experience with them.


It’s okay being a girl, but being a woman is better, I would say. 


Do you take that attitude into your interactions with everybody?

I try to. I’ve just recently started thinking that maybe I’m an extrovert. I’ve always thought I was an introvert because I’ve always been shy, but it really does give me energy to be in that social environment, in a café. I like to be speaking to people and meeting people.

You previously considered yourself to be shy?

I’ve definitely been shy! I think that’s something cool about getting older. I feel like I’m so much more confident than I was as a younger woman. I was just speaking about this the other day. I got a haircut and it was quite short and I was a little uncertain about it, and I said, ‘Oh, I look like a grown woman!’ The hairdresser replied, ‘Is that what you want? I thought we were trying to look younger!’ But I like being a grown woman, I’m so much more confident!

It’s okay being a girl, but being a woman is better, I would say.

That’s a great line. Do you think of yourself as a grown-up now?

Yes I do think of myself as a grown up. I didn’t for a long time. I definitely think there are things on the list that I had thought I would have accomplished—maybe be making a certain amount of money, be somewhere in a career, whatever. But I still feel like a grown woman. I see it when I meet younger women now. I know myself, where I want to go, how to interact with people, I can feel a big difference compared to when I was 21 or even 25.

Maria in the cafe she co-founded with a friend in St Andrew's

Maria in one of the cafes she has worked at in St Andrews called Our Story

And so that list that you mentioned…why do you think women create lists?

Don’t you think men do that also?

I don’t know. I don’t know if they’re as specific?

We do tend to take on pressure, don’t we? We grab out of the ether some kind of social expectations that maybe aren’t even a real thing and we put them on ourselves very heavily. I think that’s true.

I read an op-ed recently about men being really driven to succeed at one or a small number of things, often their career, while women feel they need to succeed, basically with perfection, at their career, being a wife/partner, being a mother, looking young and beautiful, etcetera!

Yes it’s interesting isn’t it? Success definitely has a different meaning for different people, we’ve spoken about that a lot in our Friday Best interviews. So speaking of success, let’s talk about Maria the illustrator…you didn’t go to art school and yet here you are illustrating children’s books?

I considered going to art school but I thought it would be too impractical career wise, looks like the joke’s on me! I thought if I was an artist I would have to be a business person, sell myself, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that because I was shy, or that it would take away from the beauty of the making…I don’t know.

It seems different now. I always thought that networking was one of those things that I could never do, that only those business-y people do. But now, especially because I work in a café café, I’ll just be speaking to people about what I’m doing and they’ll be excited about it and maybe…want to know more!

Networking is such an intimidating concept but is actually just about having conversations and being open isn’t it?

That’s right! You tell someone what you do and they’re interested. That’s all it is. Shocking!


I had always thought of art as expression and didn’t feel I had a lot to say.


Sounds like you’ve been doing art on the side for some time though?

I’ve always done a lot of art from the time I was a tiny child. I kind of took a break from it after uni, I think maybe because of not being in as inspired or healthy place emotionally. I didn’t have very much direction after my masters, and had a couple of fairly depressing jobs. I had always thought of art as expression and didn’t feel I had a lot to say.

I had some ‘making’ outlets in that I learned a lot of sewing, bread making, and gardening in those years with my friends, but I didn’t feel that I had a lot to add to the conversation at the time. But art has always been part of my life and it’s amazing now that I’m illustrating specifically. I just thought I was wasting time doodling my whole life, I never thought someone could give me a job based on that! But it’s so awesome. Awesome!

Maria with her husband, Leo, and her son, Leo

Maria with her husband, Leo, and her son, Leo

And this children’s book you’re working on? What was the beginning of this project?

Well I’m working on a couple but I got connected to the first through the friend. She is pretty established as a photographer and illustrator and has too much work, so she passed some on to me!

So you’re not doing the writing?

Someone else does that hard part, and I just do the fun part.

Do you think that you are approaching your illustrations in a different way than you would have before you had your son? 

That’s interesting. I hadn’t considered that. I mean I do think I have a better idea of what it’s like to read a book with a small child so I can see the things that interest him, or what interests a three year old.

For instance, I can see he loves patterns and repetition but also he really loves the little extras in an image. Say it’s an image of a sheep and a shepherd, he would really like for there to be a certain number of different coloured flowers or some other animals because he wants to talk about everything in an image. He loves to be able to find something or name something.


Part of my journey, especially this past year, has been to approach relationships with really radical honesty.


This seems like a good segue. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience of motherhood?

Motherhood is awesome! [Laughs]

Full stop! Next question!

Well, here’s what I actually say to people about it, take it for what you will.

I like to say that men may still rule the world, but they will never know what it’s like to grow another human being inside them, a whole new person that starts out literally as part of your body, and because of what you’re body does and the strength that you give it, it can become a human being. The bond that you have with that person is like nothing else.

I’m not saying that dads can’t have great bonds with their children, but it is so powerful, and the idea of nursing as well is so, so powerful. Just to see your child get stronger and healthier because you have literally given it your energy, flesh and blood, it’s just so rewarding, it really is.

It’s so challenging as well. I would say maybe I had mild post-partum depression. I found it really hard to be at home, I was at home for eighteen months and not around people enough and I found that very difficult.

When your baby is tiny, if you’re nursing, and your baby’s awake in the night, you feel like, Wow I thought I was going to do so many things in my life, but all of my time and energy are taken up by this one tiny, tiny human being. It really brings you down to a smaller size.

But then of course they get bigger, and you have more energy and more time and you can do things. It’s been an incredible experience that’s brought a lot of joy and meaning into my life and my partner’s. It’s also made me into a grown woman, and made me not waste time…

Maria has been commissioned to illustrate two children's book. Here is a teaser of what she is working on

Maria has been commissioned to illustrate two children’s book. Here is a teaser of what she is working on

Speaking of your partner, want to tell us a bit about him before we run out of time?

To be honest I am not sure what to say about Leonard!

That has been the hardest part of my last five years. Five years of working long hours on a really stressful project has been trying for him and for me. His PhD has been a massive part of my life, and especially earlier in our marriage I felt I needed to support him in any way I could. I see now that the way I tried then wasn’t helpful for either of us—I didn’t have enough of my own life, and even though I was taking care of our domestic life, I added stress by wanting him to meet so many of my emotional and social needs.

Now, I am more independent, am putting more energy into my own career and the things I enjoy, but that shift wasn’t an easy transition. I grew up with a total June Cleaver for a mother, and while my Mom is an amazing woman, her idea of wife-hood just didn’t work for my marriage.

And for your final question, what do you think we should talk more about?

I guess one thing I would say is honesty. I think that it is so easy for us to be branding ourselves in every situation and for our lives to look perfect and glossy. Part of my journey, especially this past year, has been to approach relationships with really radical honesty.

I have been so amazed by how people will open up to me now like they never have before. People actually need that. To feel like you can really talk about things. I think that’s really powerful.

Well thank-you for including us in that radical honesty Maria!

Maria and Leo having fun

Maria and Leonard having fun


Things I Love

Being a barista

I love the complex story of coffee beans, from far-flung farms to roasters to shops—involving politics, questions of justice, and countless people. I love how coffee production can be an artist’s craft—from the farming, to the roasting, to the rosetta on my latte. And I love to make beautiful lattes myself and to teach others how to do the same.

Cooking

Many of my favourite things, like coffee and illustrating, are tactile. Cooking engages all of the senses, nourishes the body, and is a way I express love to family and friends. What more can I say?

The sea

I’ve been blessed to live near it for the last six years, and whether it’s a sunny day and I’m making sandcastles with my baby boy, or whether the haar (as the Scottish call the heavy sea-fog) has rolled in and the cool mist is nipping my face as I walk home, the sea is a beautiful neighbour.


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