Sandra Conejeros Fuentes (1983) is a freelance designer and illustrator, from Chile.
She has done illustrations for projects such as magazines, educational material, packaging, manuals, books, cover books, among others.
Among her works highlight projects such as her first book as the author “Busco Encuentro, Cuántos cuento” (Ulla Books) and other projects like book “La Abeja Cristalina” ( Publisher Planeta Sostenible) and the large format illustrations for “Alicia en el país de Biblioniños” (Library Center of Puente Alto, Chile) .
Her work has been exhibited in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Poland.
And her illustrations have been selected in the “VI Iberoamerican Catalog of Illustration”, “Latin American Illustración” catalog and in the 14th version of the “3 × 3 Magazine Illustration Show”, among others. Also, she has been awarded a “Silver Dog” in the “8th Salón Imagen Palabra Bogotá- Colombia” and was a finalist in the Peru Design Biennial (2019), Digital Illustration category.
She currently teaches and works as a freelance illustrator as well as with publishing houses, agencies, and institutions.
- Hi Sandra, tell us about you and what made you want to become an illustrator or artist?
Hi everyone! Well, I am a designer and illustrator from Chile.
I was born in a small town in the south of Chile (in 1983), and at 17 ages I moved (alone) to the capital city, Santiago, to study Design in Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
While I was in university, studying Design, I had an illustration course and just got fascinated. There I discovered other illustrators, I learned techniques, I learned about the pregnancy of illustration, among other things. And confirm that the illustration was where I wanted to focus my career as a designer. Once I graduated, I made a blog with my illustrations and sent them to my friends, teachers, former colleagues and everyone who could. Thus and showing my work, my first professional commissions appeared. That was almost 12 years ago.
- How do you define your illustrations?
I think that my way of illustrating is very dynamic, with characters with shapes curved or rounded, where movement, colour and textures are of great importance to help me express the idea and theme that I should illustrate. It is very important for me to express emotions in my characters, that they don’t look “flat”.
- What can you tell me about your publications or books? What are the latest?
Last year I published my first book where I am the author of both the text and the illustrations. It is called “Seek & find, How much do I count” In Spanish: Busco Encuentro Cuántos cuento. (Publishing house: Ulla Books). It is a book of seeking and find, of classic tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, etc.) where I illustrated the characters in some particular situation, which does not necessarily appear in the original story, but which I think could have happened perfectly. As in the Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf, they are taking a break from their way to Granny’s house and illustrated them swimming and sunbathing, or Snow White reading with the seven dwarfs or Cinderella taking a selfie while trying the shoe. And in these situations there are hidden elements, so the readers no just enjoy the situation, then they can seek and find different elements. The best… it can be enjoyed to children until 99 years old (even older).
- Would you explain more about your books. Do you prefer a philosophical story or fictional?
I like good stories. Those stories who invite to travel, to dream, to live, to suffer, to cry or to joy with the characters. And that those stories allow me when I have to illustrate it, to tell with images what it tells between lines. It’s not that important to me if it is philosophical or fictional.
In these years I have illustrated books with stories from others. For example “The Cristalina bee and other tales” In Spanish: “La abeja Cristalina y otros cuentos” (Publishing house: Planeta Sostenible). It is a book with animal stories, and I illustrate anthropomorphic characters, in order to better demonstrate their movements and emotions, and mix reality with fiction and fantasy.
Illustrating other’s stories is a beautiful challenge because as an illustrator you must be very generous when uses your characters at the service of the text you are illustrating. And very respectful about the story you are illustrating. It is not a fight between words and images, but a compliment.
My characters are usually on the move. I like to place a lot of natural atmosphere in the books, especially plants, because they are a symbol of life, of the passes of time.
Last year I illustrated the book “How I am” In Spanish: (Cómo estoy) (Publishing house: Teraideas). It is a book about emotions and the characters are creatures, like a monster but nice, without gender, age. All this to enhance the emotion that was illustrating.
- How many times do you tend to draw a character until it’s right, and also how do you know that it is right?
It depends on the character. But usually, I draw it several times. First, I draw the posture. Rarely, very rarely, I draw a still character, so I start drawing it running, dancing, moving. Many loose strokes at the beginning and then clothes, face, emotions of character appear. When I look at it and feel that it looks at me back, that it has a story to tell, then that´s ok.
- How do you overcome a creative block?
I apply a couple of techniques to face “that” moment hahaha. For example, drawing something completely different from what I’m doing, just for the pleasure of doing it. Many times I drink coffee and I look out my balcony for a while or if I can, I go for a walk in the neighbourhood. Sometimes I read, other times I watch a movie I’ve seen before, just for the pleasure of watching it again. I mean, I try to clean my mind, have a relaxing time and then to start over.
- What is your favourite piece of work in your portfolio? Why did you make it?
It is difficult to choose only one. Usually, it is the last work what I am doing. Currently, I really like the flower-headed women that I am doing, because I started to draw it thinking that we, the humans, are like flowers. We are all different, but at the same time, we are all the same. Different shapes, colours, mood. Just like flowers. But we like this about the flowers, we like their variety, but humans, not always like persons that are different to us. I would like that we would see to us, as we see the flowers.
Also like my illustrations of animals with leaf bodies, because they have allowed me to play showing a more emotional side of the characters.
- With what technique are you more comfortable?
I like to be constantly knowing new techniques: graphite, acrylic, gouache, stamp, collage, digital … But I always back to watercolor. It was the technique I learned to illustrate and I am in constant learning. I still have so much to learn from it! However today, I love working digitally because it allows me a more efficient use of time. But today I could not illustrate with digital tools in the way I do, if I had not learned before to do it with traditional techniques.
- Have you published outside your country?
Not yet, but I hope someday … no, so far!
- How is children’s publishing industry in your country?
In recent decades, it has been growing a lot, publishing different graphic styles, formats and themes. While I believe that as many illustrated books are not published as in other countries, everything indicates that here in Chile, this industry is growing more and more every year.
- Is it very different from what is done in your country from other countries? What are your influences international illustrators?
Jesús Cisneros, Carll Cneut, Elena Odriozola, Isabelle Arsenault and many, many others! From all of them I highlight the body posture of their characters and the use of the color they have. And, of course, the way that they conceptualize the images and how it complements the texts.
- What do you think about e-books and apps like a new field of a job?
I think it is always interesting to have new fields in which to develop a profession. It seems to me that eBooks and apps must continue to develop every day because it is a great platform for us illustrators. It is not a competition for books, but something that comes to complement the use of these. It is different.
- how do you think online design resources have influenced the art being produced today?
There is a great development in digital tools to illustrate today. Many software, brushes to download, tutorials, etc. That helps to many people dare to experiment and put aside “I am not good at drawing.” However, I think for the professional development of illustration, mastering the tool is not enough. It is also necessary to know how to conceptualize, to have a story that supports the illustration. If not, illustrations work it’s become a collage of different samples of digital brushes or textures.
By the other side, there are some people who believe digital tools make all work by itself. Sometimes, some people ask me about what technique I used in some work, and I tell them that I used Photoshop or Procreate. So, they look me like if I pressed some button and “voilá” work its done. A digital tool has so important than any other technique. Maybe some times it would faster, but no easier.
- Can you give some advice to any illustrators out there who may be looking to become a children’s book illustrator?
Work. I mean, set a clear goal and work for it. If you want to publish but there are no clients yet, then develop a good portfolio to send to publishing houses, or make an Instagram account that you can show as a portfolio. Classic stories or fairy tales are always a good excuse to create. You can take any story and develop it in 3 or 5 illustrations and whit that begin looking for work. That allows the editors to see the graphic language, what is your way of narrating, etc.
And don’t compare yourself with others. I mean, admire the work of your colleagues, enjoy it, but don’t compare yourself. Each work and graphic language is different. Find your work´s strengths and maximize them.
- Where do you see illustration going in the next few years?
I hope to see it in many more media than now. That each day others understand the importance of illustration, publish many more books with many more graphic styles, formats, and themes.
The Illustration can be an even more powerful tool to continue helping to inform topics such as climate change, inequality, violence, etc.
My country has experienced a great social change in recent months. And it has been very impressive to see how the illustration has served as an expression language both in murals, publications, and social networks.
In the future, I just hope to see illustrations everywhere.