Spain-based creative Ele.Zissou, who's real name is Elena González, opens up about how she made the switch from design to illustration, landed her first pitches, and how she started working in the exciting fields of animation and mural art.
Creative careers, just like the creative process, often aren't straightforward. But in a world where people present their best angle to the world via social media, sometimes it can seem like everyone has their life all figured out. That's why it's something of a relief and an encouragement to hear that Ele.Zissou, aka Elena González, has taken some twists and turns on her journey to become an illustrator and mural painter.
Having been interested in art from an early age, thanks partly to watching animated films, Elena followed this creative itch by initially studying graphic design and working in that industry. However, it wasn't long until she realised it wasn't for her and she needed to change. Since then, she pivoted to her first loves, illustration and animation, although her design background can still be seen in her vibrant, stylised work.
Elena's artistic world nowadays is populated with cheerful and friendly characters, including humans, animals, and combinations of the two. Situated in a magical world that sits between our own and a fantasy land, these characters express Elena's love for nature as they rush around with happy plant pots and proudly wave flags from the sides of buildings.
But how did Elena get out of an artistic funk, find a renewed interest in art and pursue her dreams? We caught up with her to find out and also learn how you could follow in her footsteps.
How did you get started on your creative journey?
I studied graphic design and worked for a few years as a designer, but it was always a world where I didn't feel very comfortable or motivated. I started drawing more after finishing one of my last jobs as a graphic designer, where I didn't have a good experience, and I was a bit burnt out. I was lucky enough to have a few months to support myself without having a permanent job, which I took advantage of to do things I had always wanted to do, like drawing.
I started illustrating without really knowing what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I have always liked watching cartoons and animated films. I loved that whole world. Sometimes I drew monsters, but only for fun. Thanks to the Pictoplasma animation festival and one of its Open Calls to draw characters, I had my first contact with the world of character design. From then on, I started drawing more and more, especially characters. A year later, I studied a character design course where I could learn more about this field and animation, and now I can proudly say that I work as an illustrator for animation.
As for painting murals, urban art was something I had always admired, but I never thought I could ever paint a mural. I have a good friend, a muralist, who encouraged me one day to paint a mural without any pretence. It turned out that I loved the experience, and I decided to keep painting murals and applied to some open calls for Street Art Festivals. Little by little, I painted more and more murals. I feel more comfortable doing it, and now I can say that I'm also a muralist.
What made you realise you preferred illustration over design?
What I like most about illustration and drawing is the freedom when it comes to creating. It's being able to make real everything that comes to my imagination and create colourful, unique and playful characters with their own personality. It's so much fun, and I really enjoy it.
How does your design background inform your work as an illustrator?
One thing I still have in my head – which I have done automatically since I worked as a designer – is to take special care with spacing, margins and composition when I draw. All my illustrations' elements and colours must be in perfect harmony.
Sometimes I would like to eliminate this 'obsession' with everything being perfect in composition and go wilder when creating. Sometimes I'm too much of a perfectionist and don't let myself go too much, but I'm working on it.
Who are your biggest artistic inspirations, and why?
I feel inspired by many contemporary artists (so many that I couldn't tell you one in particular) who come from illustration, animation, urban art and ceramics. Meeting other artists and seeing their amazing work inspires and motivates me to keep growing my craft. And it allows me to experiment and try new mediums and techniques. Thanks to this, I further explore drawing, painting murals and making ceramics.
How did you go about getting your first commissions?
I got my first commissions, getting rid of my fears, insecurities and impostor syndrome (which I still have today) and sent my illustration portfolio to many places: animation studios, magazines, and some publishers. I still didn't quite know what I wanted to do, so I sent portfolios to all the places where I thought my style would fit. For a long time, I did not receive many commissions until one day, I applied to an animation studio that was looking for an illustrator. Thanks to my experience in this studio, today I receive more illustration projects for animation and other fields.
For my first murals, I did the same. I sent my portfolio to many street art open calls until I was chosen for some of them, and I started painting more and more murals.
What are your favourite things to draw and why?
I love to draw characters, animals and everything related to nature and fantasy worlds. When I was a child, I lived in a village, in a house on the outskirts. I spent my childhood surrounded by nature and animals, which has made me develop a special sensitivity for nature, so it is a recurring theme in what I draw.
On the other hand, since I was a child, I have watched a lot of cartoons and animated fantasy films, which have also influenced me when creating characters and imaginary worlds.
I think my childhood experiences have influenced me in many ways and still do today; in the way I see life and in the way I draw. I try never to forget that childish part of me.
How does it feel to see your bright, colourful murals in public spaces?
I feel very proud when I finish a mural, especially a big one. Painting murals allows me to bring my work to a living area in a public place where everyone can see it. It feels amazing to be able to do that. I still can't believe I have painted such big murals!
What would your dream project be?
I don't think I have any dream projects. I just want to keep working on what I like (illustrating, painting murals, and making ceramics) and be able to support myself with it. A few years ago, when I started drawing more seriously, I never thought I could make a living from drawing, and today I can say that I've achieved it, so I'm very happy about it.
If I had to say something, I would say that my dream projects would motivate me artistically; ones where I have creative freedom and can enjoy and have fun doing them.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
It took me a long time to find my way and discover what I liked to do. What has helped me find myself is trying new techniques, making new contacts and challenging myself all the time.
I'd recommend contacting other artists and attending illustration festivals and conferences to see what's happening in the creative world and get inspiration. Draw, draw, draw in personal projects to develop your style. Enjoy and be yourself in what you do; it will reflect in your work and make it unique and special.
And when you find yourself stuck with an idea or project, take a rest, go for a walk, go out into nature, eat well, and do things that make you feel good because inspiration comes when you are good with yourself and rested and clear-headed, at least for me.