“My illustrations are the way I choose to show myself to the world. This is how I translate what my soul wants to say.”
Colombian illustrator Amalia Restrepo studied architecture before coming to the realisation that illustration was her true calling. She has a master’s degree in Illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Amalia especially enjoys illustrating for children. Strong women are a recurring theme throughout her work, as are lush plants and playful animals. Her powerful female protagonists are her flagship for gender equality. She describes her designs as “Simple and fun illustrations that carry messages around the world”
- Tell me a bit about you and your background: where are you from/ where did you study?
I am from Colombia; I have lived there all my life. I have a BFA in architecture and worked as an architect for a while. It was while working as an architect that I realized I wanted to be an illustrator. I taught myself a little bit of Photoshop and built a portfolio to apply to a Masters Degree in Illustration, it took some time and a lot of effort but it got me into one of the best schools in the US. I graduated last year from Savannah College of Art and Design with an MFA in illustration.
- When did you start to dedicate to the world of illustration?
To be honest, my illustration career is pretty young. After I graduated from Architecture school I went to Boston for six months to work as an intern at Boston Center for the Arts and went to night school at MASSART. I fell in love with my illustration class and illustration in general in spite of my lack of technique. It was there that I decided that I would start learning however I could and setting the goal of a Masters Degree. I started working as an illustrator five years ago, while doing architectures and kept working through my Masters Degree. Now it’s my full time job.
- What are your top tools to work?
I work in Photoshop; my work is 90% digital. The remaining 10% is for hand sketching, doodles, and pictures of textures that I incorporate in my work. Anything from a rock, to spilled food, coffee, sand, trees, anything really.
- Does your work represent your personality?
I think illustration has to come from a very personal place. This is my personal take on the job. I put a lot of myself into the work I make. I give it my all and then I set it free, there’s no use for me to dwell on past illustrations. They are pictures of my soul at some point, even when working with clients that have very specific briefs, my energy, my time, my imagination and my hands go into the drawing, so there is no way they don’t represent my personality and what I like. The colors, the patterns, the nature, the flowers the stretching and pushing proportions; that all comes from memories, from the place where I grew up, from what I like to see and smell and eat, from the people I love, the books I’ve read. The illustrations are what I build with the material I have gathered in life so far.
- Where does an idea come from and how does it transform from an idea into a book?
I feel ideas have lives of their own. Whenever I get a glimpse of one I try to take care of it and give it time to grow. Usually I get ideas from looking at the world around me, watching a documentary, reading a book, talking to my grandmother, going to a museum. But it’s more often that not that ideas come when I am working. So, usually the more I work the more ideas I get. Of course I get artist blocks and they last for days and weeks, this is when I try not to go crazy. I try to take it all very peacefully and give myself some time to rest.
The idea becomes a book when I feel the click. It’s hard to explain but some things just click. It’s very important to me that the book tells the story with words AND illustrations. For me, the book does not work until the words work with the image. The words don’t say everything and the illustration tells very important parts of the story, its fun because you have to look closely to get some details, I love that.
- Who are some of the other artists you take inspiration from?
Anthony Browne is my favorite author and illustrator so I have studied his work quite a bit. Ethel Gilmour and Beatriz Gonzalez are two artists that I admire because of their content and message.
- What challenges do you expect in this job?
I think the biggest challenge is dealing with my own self-expectations, and self-doubt. It’s a job that requires you to have thick skin because it’s hard getting rejected when the product you are making is so close to you. It tends to get very personal and that’s where you need to draw the line. What I mean is that, for me, the work has to be personal when you make it, you know, pour your soul, do your best, but it has to stop being personal when you deliver it. This way, nor rejection nor glory will kill you.
- How do you define your illustrations?
My illustrations are a way of understanding and connecting to my own reality. The majority of my work is an exploration of extremes, testing how much I can push an image in terms of proportion, scale, unusual combinations, and sometimes, nonsensical scenarios in order to deliver a message. I try to evoke dreams, magic, nostalgia, and a sense of strange familiarity, similar to the sense of returning to your childhood home, or a smell that transports you back in time.
- What can you tell me about your publications or books? What are the latest?
My publications are mostly children content. I self published a book in Colombia called “La Bicicleta” (The Bicycle) and it’s based on my story with my grandfather who I never met. I wanted to write a story about how to cope with losing a loved one and how they never really leave us. It’s not very explicit and the main character is the bicycle but it’s a very endearing story that tells children that they can have a spiritual relationship with the people they have lost.
I also illustrated a beautiful book of poems by Maria Jose Ferrada, published by Tragaluz Editions, and recently illustrated an animated short film by Lulu Vieira, Colombian film director.
- With what technique are you more comfortable?
I feel comfortable working digitally, I have to be honest, I love traditional media when I am playing around and making a mess, but all the work I publish is digital.
- Have you published outside your country?
Not yet, but I’m working on new ideas, so hopefully soon!
- How is children’s publishing industry in your country?
Colombia has several publishers dedicated to children content. I have been extremely lucky to work with a company that, in my opinion, has the best children content in the country. I even dare say Latin America. Cantoalegre focuses on education based on music and they produce CDs, video clips, books, and class material among other things. Other than that, there are some other good publishers, but again, the industry is small compared to others. I wish there were more Colombian author-illustrators and publishers that would bet on our talent.
- Is it very different from what is done in your country from other countries? What are your influences international illustrators?
Although there are thins happening with illustration, I feel the industry is still very small in Colombia; it’s hard to earn a living as an illustrator there. I hope that I can help bring some value to the job and help people understand that illustration is powerful and valuable.
- What do you hope people take away from your drawings?
I hope that when they look at my work they feel something; they remember their childhood, or a really good day. I hope that I can make people think, about something, anything. But I love when my work sparks something in other people, an idea, a memory, a healthy disagreement, a smile.
- Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I see myself being a published author of many, many books, trying new things, maybe even working at a publisher as a designer. I love books, and I hope that eventually I can dedicate myself completely to them in anyway I can. I never want to give up illustration, I see myself evolving, creating a brand, and still doing what I love.