Fine Art

Eugenia Mello: It’s OK to not be OK

Eugenia Mello is an illustrator and graphic designer from Buenos Aires, Argentina currently living and drawing in NYC.

She studied Graphic Design at the University of Buenos Aires, where she also taught Design and Typography courses for several years. She holds an MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay from the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, Latin American Illustration, Creative Quarterly and 3×3 Magazine, among others.

She is passionate about rhythm, movement and feelings, and uses color and shape to translate into drawing the things that are difficult to put into words. She is always hoping to get music out of her images. She was recently awarded a Gold medal from the Society of Illustrators for her illustrated moving piece Hope for the Day.

An Interview with Eugenia Mello:

You are originally from Buenos Aires and now reside in New York. How did your move impact you as an artist?

I moved to New York in 2015 to start an Illustration master’s program at SVA. Back in Buenos Aires I had studied Graphic Design and was already working on illustrations here and there but it had no official structure and I felt I lacked training in it. So I made the big decision of moving to a new city and investing in an education. It was two years of absolute discovery for me, oftentimes painful because its not always easy to ‘find your voice’ but it was a gift I don’t know I’ll ever fully find words to accurately describe. I am very thankful for my experience in New York so far. It has introduced me to incredibly talented people who live a city where you are constantly challenged to produce your best work.

Being away from my comfort zone also gave me a huge perspective on who I am, what I want to achieve and what needs to happen in order to get close to those goals. Its a constant turning wheel and though, tough and exhausting at times, it is can also be an amazing productive force.

Movement and music is integral to your work. What brought you into this focus?

When I started the master’s program at School of Visual Arts, Marshall Arisman, the head of the program, said we should draw ‘what we know’. I didn’t get it at first. I didn’t have a strong background in Illustration or in Drawing so I had to learn to be patient with myself -which was not an easy task- and start from the beginning. At that same time, I started working on a series of posters with my very talented friends, designer/letterers/typographers Yani&Guille, who were about to launch their ‘Quotes’ font and wanted some images for their type specimen. We decided on Dance posters because that’s something I had had in the back of my mind fo a long time and was really excited to do. That’s where it started.

Each poster would have a ‘Quote’ from a song so my process consisted in listening to that specific song over and over and trying to figure out what movement that song would have, then I drew the character/s and thought about what colors made sense (to me) to go with that rhythm and that movement and that’s how I built that series. That turned into a process I explored for many projects after and then developed into something that has helped me approach illustration in a personal way. Dance and music are essential for me in that they generate a visual movement in my mind that helps me figure out what I want to say with every piece I make. Movement is vocabulary, a part of the puzzle that helps me build my aesthetic language

and as with any language, at the same time it affects the way I think and process illustration in general.

Where do you draw inspiration in your children’s illustrations?

This is a huge learning area for me. I moved around a lot as a child and that can sometimes make you grow up fast, it also affects memories, because you lose touch of childhood landmarks as they are left somewhere in some old memory of a distant city you are not in anymore. ‘Children’s illustration’ and storytelling have truly been a way to reach into those memories and exercise the ability to visualize and process them and -hopefully–transform them into a new form that can in turn be part of some little human’s childhood. The first full picture book project I developed was transforming in this sense because it gave me the chance to revisit memories and find a purpose in them. It was magical. I really hope to continue this area of my work.

Your illustrated moving piece, Hope for the Day, delivered the message ‘It’s OK to not be OK’. What is your perspective on the role of art in tackling stigma?

This is a really important subject to me. the project was a huge challenge because it was my first project to animate (and illustrate) but it was one of the most rewarding because I had so much control over it. Being close to the subject I wanted to create imagery that would feel sensitive and not condescending or superficial. Having animation and movement be part of the tools I could use allowed me to think of images where small tiny movements would tell big parts of the story. In the end, I’m not sure how much help I was but I tried my best to create work that tackles the stigma in a strong subtle way. That was my approach. I think it is very important to create work that tries to finds ways to explore these subjects. And the more the better, because everyone has a different way of seeing and approaching it and everyone contributes to creating windows and opening to let some air, some air/relief in to make it easier to talk about these difficult issues.

What are your thoughts on identifying as a female artist?

This has been an evolving subject recently. I think part of identifying myself has been been able to explore what it means to be female: conceptually and visually and how I view women, and what I want to say about the way we see ourselves. What I want to support, what I’d like to inspire. A recent project and exhibition I worked on really allowed me to elaborate on this.

I had to create a series of eight portraits of women to be used as the image for a cultural center in Buenos Aires and at the same time to serve as huge murals applied on walls and the front of the building. all this to celebrate March and Women’s day. The characteristics of the whole project made it impossible not to confront what image we associate to women and how much ‘beauty’, symmetry/non-symmetry, and social standards/stereotypes play a part in the images we produce. It’s a longer conversation but it is definitely a topic I think all female illustrators/image makers are confronted with every time they portray gender.

Have you witnessed or experienced gender inequality in the art world?

I think female representation is a huge issue that we need to be aware of and strive to open conversations about. I find over and over again that either women are underrepresented in jobs with major exposures or they are usually underrepresented in any sort of illustrated images about topics that are not specifically about women, i.e women’s issues.

So, unless an image is meant to specifically highlight women’s achievements, a man will usually be preferred as the main character (at least in my experience). Especially in finance or scientific or even technology topics. It is almost like the default image in our collective consciousness has a man as a ‘finance-guy’ or ‘business-guy’ and it looks strange if it’s a ‘gal’. It is not strange of course, but I do think whenever it does not come naturally, we need to, as image makers, consciously make inclusion and diversity a priority and a topic of conversation regardless of the topic of the assignment is specifically about women or not.

How do you define success as an artist?

I think that making a living as an artist is really precious. I am very thankful for the path that brought me here, to be able to spend my life and make a living creatively is a success. Furthermore, I think that the next level is to be able to touch or change someone’s life with what you make. To be able to nourish or inspire someone you may not know, somewhere you haven’t even heard of, is magic. It gives all the hours of work and effort and challenges a purpose.

Check out more of Eugenia’s work on her website and follow her on instagram.


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