The DART Interview: Amalia Restrepo

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday September 12, 2019


Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the brush or the pen?

Amalia Restrapo: Where did the pencil go? 

PR: Please describe your work process—is most of your work done directly, or do you also use digital media? 

AR:I like my work to have strong ideas behind it. When I have that, I just start brainstorming. I don’t write anything down, it doesn’t help me, I just live with the mess in my head for a while and after some time when solid ideas start coming up, I doodle them. The next steps are sketching by hand and sketching on the computer. After this stage, everything is digital, using Adobe Photoshop. Color is important for me; it’s probably where I spend the most time, and when I am happy with the palette and composition I draw in the details that involve a lot of textures. 

PR: I noticed that you combine a wide variety of disciplines in your practice, from surface design for textiles to animation to book design—all in addition to you work as an illustrator. How do you balance what must be a love for particular types of projects with the reality of paying the bills?

AR: I feel like I need that variety. Of course I like some things better than others. I LOVE illustrating books and editorial pieces. I love how they make me think and question myself. But I also like to change it up and do a licensing project, or a textile design. I’ve been lucky enough to have opportunities to work in all these disciplines; they are different and demand different things from me. Learning this has helped me carry some things from one type of project to the others. I like to have a wide skillset, and having diversity in the jobs I get. It also helps with the bills because there’s a wider range of projects I can tap into. 

 PR: Ideas about childhood populate your work to a large extent—including the incredible Youth Symphony Orchestra program in Colombia. Could you tell the readers about your attachment to ideas of excellence in childhood and how it plays into the work you do?

AR: I was lucky to have a very happy childhood, and to grow up in an artistic environment. I believe children should live freely and sensibly and be loved. Excellence in childhood for me means the possibility to have all your basic needs filled, being able to express yourself and have a free development of personality. I come from a country where a lot of children don’t have this, and the Youth Symphony Orchestra gives a lot of these children the possibility to study music and to grow up learning an instrument and playing with a community of friends that become another family. That is a whole different world from growing up on the streets. So these are the projects that I believe in and that I love working on. 

PR: Along similar lines, it’s not easy to miss the presence of ‘home’ as a subject in your practice. Could you enlarge on that idea as well?

AR: Home for me, is that perfect state, that feeling that you can’t really describe with words. Maybe peace? Zen? Calm? It’s not necessarily a place—it’s more a state of mind. For me it does come from my home and my family, probably my Latin heritage as well. But my intention, more than illustrating that precise thing, is trying to convey that feeling that we all want to have. 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. That is home for me, the feeling of being safe and having some ground

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, and culture in general—that you draw from in your work?

AR: 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. Music and books are where I find more inspiration, and I have to say Murakami is one of my all-time favorites. Of course, The great Colombian author, Gabriel García Marquez, and the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, are also on my list. I honestly could write a very long list of creative inspiration. It’s everywhere I look! 

PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work?

AR: I currently live in New York City, but I’ve been moving around since I was 18. I went to school in Colombia, then Savannah, then New York. I am very sensitive to my surroundings and I do believe that shows in the work. I also think that is why this whole idea of home is so present in my illustrations. I think about it a lot, and I try to make the place where I am a little bit of a home even if it’s for a short time. When I lived in Savannah where it’s all very calm and beautiful and small, I could work nonstop in a coffee shop making soft illustrations, but here in New York my energy has spiked, and I have so many new ideas and I just want to do everything now! Haha! I guess New York is like that, right?

PR: Please describe your workspace and how it contributes to the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone.

AR: I am an introvert, and probably have become more like this since I started working. I am not great with working in places that have distracting noises and loud conversations, so I usually work at home in my studio. I have a small space dedicated to my job, and it’s very clean and organized. I have books for research, my computer, pens and paper and music. It’s quiet most of the time. 

PR: What kind of breaks do you take when working to a deadline? 

AR: I tend to push myself, so if I have a deadline to meet, I won’t stop working unless it’s necessary. I don’t really sense the passing of time when I am working, but I take breaks, even on a deadline, and when I do, it’s to cook and eat something I really like, or take a walk around the park and breathe, or to go cycling in the morning. Even if I have a tight deadline, I try to fit in time to take care of myself. My brain will stop working after 10 pm so I’ve taught myself to be very efficient and a good time manager.  

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

AR: It’s hard to explain but some things just click. It’s like the illustration tells me “please stop”. I’ve overworked a lot of illustrations because I decide not to trust my gut and then I have to go back and rethink them. I try to avoid overthinking and overworking the illustrations, but I think it’s a matter of practice too—getting to know your work and understanding when it’s time to stop. When I have ttime, I sometimes ask for feedback from people I trust. I have a friend who got her masters with me and I send her my illustrations for her to review; we got used to doing this in class and now we do it via email. It’s great. 

PR: If you could live and work anywhere, where would that be—and why?

AR: Right now, today, I want to be in Colombia for a while. I want to have the people I love around me and enjoy them every day. I feel I’ve been away from home a long time. Also, I think I can help grow the illustration industry there because it’s quite small right now. Other than this, Provence sounds like a magical place. I would love to work there in the summer, pure inspiration!  Berlin, London, San Francisco, New York, Athens, Rome! I could live 6 months in each city and absorb all the culture, the history and the work of the greats and work my way around the world. I can’t really decide on one place! 

PR: What advice would you give to young artists just starting out about creating a brand for themselves to get ‘eyes’ on their work?

AR: I would first say read a lot, read to broaden the mind, and the next thing I would say is to enter every contest, competition and call for entries there is to create new work. Maybe you don’t win, but you practice, you get used to the rejection emails and getting back up, and then you become incredibly grateful for the times you do win. Little by little your name starts to appear regularly. Patience and consistency are key. 

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment?

AR: My dream job for now would be to get my books published outside my country, especially in the United States.

Colombian illustrator based in NYC. Amalia has an MFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and design. Her work varies from children’s book illustration to editorial, licensing and motion, and has been winner of The A’Design Award, The Brightness Award, The Red Dot Communication Design Award and the Perro de Plata Award. Her work has been published in books including La Bicicleta, País de los Sueños, Con los Pelos de Punta and video clips and short films like Giraluna and Dreamsheep, among others. A short film titled “Dreamsheep,” by Lulu Vieira, art directed and illustrated by Amalia, was selected for screening at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in November, 2019. 



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