Creating A Safe Space For Your Art

Carlos Semerena

Each month, over on Instagram, I chat one-on-one with talented creative professionals across various industries and communities to engage in uplifting conversations around creativity, entrepreneurship, mental health, and how we can show up in our work as our authentic selves.

Today I want to share highlights from my conversation with Carlos Semerena, a seasoned illustrator and graphic designer based in Mexico City, whose work has been featured on large-scale murals, product packaging and other collaborations with major clients such as Citibank, Nike, and Apple. Carlos has even done a Google Doodle!

In this conversation, I chat with Carlos about the inspiration for his bold and colorful work and the importance of creating a safe space for your art.

About our Guest!

Carlos Semerena
Illustrator and Graphic designer
Carlos Semerena

Carlos Semerena, a seasoned illustrator and graphic designer based in Mexico City, whose work has been featured on large-scale murals, product packaging and other collaborations with major clients such as Citibank, Nike, Apple and Google.

Lo Harris: One thing I noticed about your style is it’s unrelenting when it comes to being bold and taking risks. How did you get started as an artist?


Carlos Semerena: I loved drawing as a child. When I was a child, I was very shy but when I would draw I could connect with other people. I could speak with people more easily.


You know, when I draw something I saw on TV or something that other people told about me or drawing the face of the people in blank page -- those things make me to connect with them. So, I can break this shy feeling.


So, when I grew up, I was like, that’s my dream job.


I was working in publicity and digital agencies [as a] designer, I designed things like Facebook fan pages, landing pages, logos so I can earn money, so I can pay the bills.


In the morning, I was working like a designer and then in the evenings and the nights I always loved to draw.


LH: One thing that I really kind of enjoy about your color palette, and your manner of how you use shapes and how you use composition. I've always interpreted your art as this bold and unapologetic celebration of contemporary Mexican culture. Is that something that you intended to do?

CS: I was born in Merida – not far from the beach. The weather is very tropical. So, with these memories in mind, I use this tropical color palette – the blues, the greens, orange, and red.


LH: You’ve said that color is hard for you, which is surprising.


CS: I feel more fun with drawing the sketch. With the color it’s more difficult. So it's an exercise but I love to challenge myself to put different colors that harmonize and look good on the page.


In the past, I have another different style and drawing with I think comic reference graphic novel reference, some anime and manga reference.


LH: As artists, I feel like we're these cultural collage artists where we're drawing reference from all these various influences, whether it's the beaches of Merida or anime. There's so many ways that we can take all of this information in and it's really magical how we're able to digest that and turn it into something that is new and adding to the cultural conversation.


So what is your experience dealing with clients? And how do you go about protecting the integrity of your voice and your work?


CS: Sometimes they claim they don’t know what they really want. So if you make this round of sketches and they see that thing and say I don't know it's going to be good for the brand and then you back to make another sketch. I put on my invoice you have two rounds of adjustments… past that second round, the price is going to change.


When you say that first to your client, they will say, okay, I need to be clear to the illustrator and it’s easier for them to think about what they want.


LH: Yes, sometimes we can fall into this trap of clients giving endless revisions to the point where they literally break your work. The quality of the work is going to suffer. When you, being professional, of course, say upfront, you are entitled to X amount of revisions, that forces the client to be concise and decisive and how they're approaching your work.


Is there any advice that you could share for any illustrators who are feeling discouraged because what they’re drawing isn’t lining up with what they’re imagining in their heads?


CS: It's like exercise, When you’re going to go to run, the first day, you don’t run correctly. And you’re not very fast. You’re like, I don’t want to do this. I know it’s healthy, but I don’t want to do this. With drawing, it’s similar. The first drawings may not look the way you want. You need to have a lot of drawings you don’t like to get to the point where you do.


LH: It’s a practice. it is imperative that you take time with your work and I encourage people to make an art Instagram and make it private --  or make it public – and just create a space for yourself. Create a safe space for yourself to share your work and to share your progress because I promise you when you look back at it you will definitely see the gains. Create a safe space for you to experiment and try different things.


CS: For the new people that love to draw, it's so important that you have your own space. Forget [social media] for one minute. If you have your safe place, you can draw and learn about yourself first, learn what you want to draw. This style, this thing that you want to show the world. Then you practice with other things, with color and light, the craft. And then when you are more comfortable go and show all the people -- to the internet, to your friends, to your family. And with that says safe place you always can go back draw.


When you are happy with the thing that you are drawing, then the work is easier, right? When you have some commission, the commission is going to be a little less difficult. First, you need the safe place to go draw.

Follow Carlos Semerena on Instagram @totoi_semerena.

lo harris poses with her choice illustration markers

Lo Harris is an NYC-based artist, educator and children’s book illustrator who champions vibrance, confidence and joy.

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