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Latin American Ilustracion: Elena Wen's Delicious Design

By David Schonauer   Wednesday December 30, 2015


A year has passed since we heard from Latin American Ilustracion winner Elena Wen.

Wen, who was two years old when her parents emigrated from Taiwan to Costa Rica, was 19 when she moved to New York City to study illustration at the School of Visual Arts. She later worked in the motion-graphics industry and moved back to Costa Rica to fix up her father’s house. It was there that she created illustrations for a novel by her boyfriend called Hamburguesa. Her artwork was named a winner of the Latin American Ilustracion 2 competition.

“Since it was a personal project and not a job, the process was simply to satisfy myself by trying out different approaches and breaking away from any specific style I might be used to,” she said.

As we noted  at time, Wen divided her time between San Jose, Costa Rica, and Brooklyn, New York, where she and a friend were launching a textile studio to create fabrics based on hand-drawn patterns. One of Wen’s designs, titled “Animalia,” was named a winner of the LAI 3 competition.

                           "Hamburguesa"

                            "Animalia"

Now Wen reports that her startup, called De Islas, is flourishing. “My partner and I create original patterns printed onto a variety of high-quality materials, offering appropriate fabrics anywhere from craft to upholstery to wallpaper,” she says. “Our aim is to provide De Islas artwork in any form suited for individual client’s needs.”

Among Wen’s new designs is a scrumptious pattern called “Un Casado,” which features a repeatable pattern based on a traditional Costa Rican meal of rice, beans, plantains, greens, and other foods. It was named a winner of the Latin American Ilustracion 4 contest.

                "Un Casado"

“As always, my work very much reflects the environment around me,” says Wen. “Over the last couple of years I’ve been spending a big part of each year in Costa Rica. It seems only appropriate to pay homage to the country’s most traditional dish. The ‘casado’ is much like a Costa Rican ‘blue-plate special.’ It is a plate that consists of rice and beans without fail, and on the same plate it can be accompanied by an assortment of vegetables, salad, or plantains, plus your protein of choice. ‘Casado’ means ‘married’ in Spanish, perhaps referring to all the ingredients ‘married’ together on a single plate. Or, as some say, it may refer to the type of food married people eat. No matter where you go within the country, every restaurant, cafeteria or rest area offers it.”

Wen took liberties rendering the ingredients in her illustration. “The part that is the most abstract is probably the proteins, aside from the fish head,” she says. “Since De Islas started I’ve been learning a lot about pattern-making, and it’s definitely fun turning pretty much anything I can think of into working repeats.”

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Dispatches from Latin America