Sometimes when you grow up in a place you don’t recognise its beauty because you’re so used to it. It’s only when you go away and come back that it dawns on you how spectacular it truly is.
That’s certainly the case for me and the city of Seville in southern Spain. It’s where I was born and first discovered drawing as a child. I always loved playing with marker pens, but I don’t think I realised how the vibrant colours, scents and intricate Baroque style of my home city – a place with a huge artistic soul – were starting to influence how I saw the world.
I just liked the feeling of being able to draw with no purpose. It never occurred to me that I might end up doing it for a living. I didn’t feel brave enough to study fine art at university, so I opted for advertising instead and began working in the fashion industry.
As an adult, I fell in love with illustration all over again
That was my Eureka! moment because I was surrounded by stylists and designers – people who made money from their creativity – and I decided I wanted to do the same.
So, I picked up my childhood hobby and fell in love with illustration all over again. At that point in my life, I was moving around a lot due to my husband’s job as an engineer. We were living in different places, from Southampton in the UK to Belgium to Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain’s northern Basque region.
Everywhere I went, I drew. I’d spend hours working by hand with acrylics, pencils and ProMarker pens. I’d get up early and drew at the weekends, using every moment I could to develop my technique.
In Seville, I feel a lightness in the sunshine
I started to get commissions. It made me feel rich – in terms of the experience, rather than money – to be able to take that leap of faith. As a self-taught artist, I gradually got better, accepting more clients as I explored my own style.
It wasn’t until my husband and I arrived back in the Spanish capital of Madrid, however, that my career as an illustrator really took off. Suddenly I was getting offers of work everywhere, from promotional sketches for Netflix’s Stranger Things to bespoke vinyls for luxe activewear brand Lululemon, illustrations for Vogue and more.
Maybe the uplift in my work is something to do with the 3,000 hours of sunshine per year we get in Spain. I didn’t really miss the sun when I was living in cooler places but in Madrid – and when we return back home to see family in Seville – I feel a certain lightness in the sunshine. I’m like a puppy, just raring to get outside.
I’m a very aesthetic person, drawn to detail
Perhaps sunshine is something I crave unconsciously as I zero in on my work. It’s one of those little everyday joys that makes me happy in life, like a warm coffee, a walk in the park or a chat with a friend.
There’s a big culture of working overtime in Spain, but our national character is such that we are still able to appreciate the small moments, too. We’ll head out to eat tapas together in the early evening sunshine or make time for a picnic on the beach. I’m a very aesthetic person so I’m drawn to detail, like the pop of bright tropical flowers or the texture of a tabby cat.
There are also lots of women in my drawings because they have always been a necessity in my life. I feel a strong connection with my female friends. It’s the biggest compliment for me when people say they see themselves in my work. I want to capture those tiny glimpses of calm, familiarity and sensuality we all find day-to-day.
We work together as a family from our creative studio
I’m constantly evolving, too. Every new client is different. I relish the ability to work alongside a glossy lifestyle magazine one moment and a big fashion brand the next. If I don’t know how to do something, I’ll learn along the way.
By 2021, my workload had become so big that my husband decided to quit his job and join me full-time in our creative studio, managing exhibitions and contracts. Nowadays, we work together as a family business from the living room of our flat.
Our six-year-old daughter also paints, so it’s a form of expression we share. And when my artwork is displayed locally in Madrid, for example, on a mural or a painted glass house, we’ll travel together to see it. It’s something that all three of us can take pride in.
For Pride, I drew hands squeezing juice from rainbow-coloured oranges
On an identity level, however, everything comes back to Seville. It’s a place that’s so many things at once; it’s cultural, modern, traditional and full of artistic grandeur. It’s been such a joy to rediscover my home city as an illustrator these past few years.
One of my favourite commissions was creating the poster for Andalusia’s 2022 Seville Pride event last year. Seville in springtime has a very iconic scent, due to the thousands of orange trees in blossom. I drew a series of hands squeezing juice out of rainbow-coloured oranges to capture the fragrance, the power of the gay collective, and the sense of verve and optimism you feel with a stroll through Seville.
If you’re in the city for a weekend, you might like to pop by Casas de la Judería, a museum-like hotel that’s set across a maze of courtyards, arches and manicured gardens with fountains. It’s an amazing place filled with curiosities, including a spa and rooftop pool.
Like Seville, my illustrations are filled with romanticism
Wherever you go, make sure you travel by foot – Seville is such a walkable city – and stop along the way for small sharing tapas plates. You can try so many local delicacies this way, many of which change with the seasons.
Like Seville itself, my work is quite Baroque – not in the original meaning of the word but in the way I pack in so many small details. Every piece reveals a different story, layered beneath another, like a palimpsest. My illustrations are filled with colour and romanticism, too, just like the city itself. In my art, I always carry Seville with me.
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Images: Courtesy of Ana Jarén