Blog Home Contributor Voice of the Artist: Talking Creativity with Illustrator Helena Perez Garcia

Helena Perez Garcia speaks with Shutterstock about how her childhood love of drawing led to her vibrant, whimsical illustrations.

When did Helena Perez Garcia know she wanted to be an artist? That’s not an easy question for the Madrid-based illustrator to answer.

Artist is a very big word,” she says.

It’s not that she doesn’t think of herself as one, it’s just that she has a distinction to make first.

“I consider myself to be an illustrator when I’m paid to do things I’m asked to do—so illustrating for books and magazines and newspapers,” she says. “I have a client and I have to solve a problem.”

Whereas she (humbly) considers herself an artist when it comes to her personal work. “Just because it comes from inside myself,” she explains. “I have this idea in mind and I have to materialize it in a way.” (Most of her Shutterstock pieces represent personal work.)

Still, the average person would look at her vibrant, whimsical illustrations (which she does by hand, with paint) would agree—this is the work of quite the talented artist.

“Some people say that artists are like children who never stopped drawing, because every child draws when they’re kids, and at some point, adults tell them to stop doing that because it’s childish,” Garcia says. “I’ve loved drawing since I was little, and they couldn’t stop me. I kept drawing and drawing—and then I decided to study fine arts.”

She spent her first several years after college working as a graphic designer in London, then decided to return to Madrid and plant her flag as a self-employed illustrator (slash artist!) in 2018. Below, Garcia speaks with Shutterstock about where she finds her inspiration, how she structures her day, and more.

Hand-drawn Illustration
The vibrant, whimsical illustrations of Helena Perez Garcia. Image via Helena Perez Garcia.

Shutterstock: What are some of the themes you’re trying to explore in your work?

Helena Perez Garcia: For quite a long time, it’s been this idea of the self: How you perceive yourself, how others perceive you. That’s why I use the mirror very often. It’s almost like if you put that in front of yourself—it’s a way of asking questions about yourself. 

SSTK: Do you know where your interest in the self came from?

HPG: As a teenager, I started reading authors that were quite existential. They were asking themselves questions about life and existence and why we are the way we are. I especially remember one summer reading Nausea by Sartre, and I was really quite depressed [laughs]. I was like, “Maybe I shouldn’t have read this.” But, it made me ask myself questions.

SSTK: You tend to focus on women in your work. Is that intentional or does it happen organically because you are a woman?

HPG: I think it comes naturally to me because I’m a woman and maybe I have some problems and issues that men don’t have. For example, this idea of beauty and how we’re not [considered] beautiful anymore [with age]—that doesn’t happen to men. So, that’s why sometimes people see my work as quite feminist, which I like because I consider myself a feminist.

Woman in Sea Clam
Garcia’s illustrations focus on the self. Image via Helena Perez Garcia.

SSTK: Do you ever get into creative ruts?

HPG: That’s happened to me a lot during this pandemic. I haven’t really been working on personal illustrations. I have time, but with the confinement and everything, I just haven’t been feeling it. I don’t have the energy to do it. I watch the news and everything, and it’s awful and people are dying, and I just can’t. I’m not very inspired at the moment. 

Elegant Woman Illustration
Find inspiration from the things you love. Image via Helena Perez Garcia.

SSTK: Where do you normally find inspiration? 

HPG: I love reading, so every time I read a book I find something inspiring for the next illustration. It might be a quote or a character. And, I would say art is a very big source of inspiration for me. My mom had this collection of art encyclopedias and I remember flipping through the pages when I was very young. Every time you learn about a new artist, you learn about ten more because that artist got influenced by another artist, and you start digging deeper and deeper. 

Everyday, life also inspires me—but not so much what happens on a normal day. It’s more like what you might think when you look at people, when you look at somebody on the train, and then you start questioning, “What are they thinking? What are they like?” 

SSTK: Let’s take “little people working inside of the head of a woman,” for example. What was the inspiration behind that?

Head of a Woman
A painting by René Magritte sparked this illustration. Image via Helena Perez Garcia.

HPG: I think that illustration was inspired by a painting by Magritte—an open head, I think with bells inside, or some kind of weird mechanism. So, I saw that and it sparked something. I started thinking about how we think, the processes in our minds. And I thought, Wouldn’t it be funny if we had people working inside our heads? So, it was a way of representing how mysterious it is, for me. Because I love science, but I don’t really understand it. So, it’s almost like I tried to come up with a surreal representation of that. 

SSTK: What about “girl with different moving parts?”

Girl with Moving Parts
This brilliant illustration tackles indecision. Image via Helena Perez Garcia.

HPG: I think that came from the idea of how we can choose different things at the same time, and how we might want different things at the same time, even if they’re opposite things. Or, we might not really know what we want. The piece kind of represents that in a literal way: Your thorax is facing one way, your legs are facing another. You can’t really make up your mind. 

SSTK: How long do your pieces usually take you? 

HPG: About one to three days. 

SSTK: And what does a typical day look like for you?

HPG: My hours are very similar to office hours. I get up early in the morning. I start work at 9, and I work till 6. Sometimes I end up working until 9 or 10, but I try not to do that often, because I get very exhausted. Last year, I was working really, really hard and it affected my health. 

Two Girl Faces Overlap
Don’t let social media affect your productivity. Image via Helena Perez Garcia.

SSTK: Do you have to do a lot of self-promotion on social media?

HPG: I focus on Instagram. It’s great for promotion and I believe I’ve gotten some projects from it. But, I try not to get carried away because you can just get blinded by likes and followers and all that. If I don’t have a lot of likes on a piece or an illustration, I don’t get annoyed or depressed. You can’t let yourself get affected by that because it’s so fluid and it changes. 

SSTK: What’s the biggest challenge of working for yourself? 

HPG: Being a freelancer, nothing is secure, especially now with the pandemic. I get nervous because I think, “Will I be able to make a living out of this next year? Will I reach a point where nobody will want to hire me again?” I try not to ask myself those questions, though. I try to enjoy the moment, and every time I get a project, I’m just very thankful for it. 

For more inspiration, check out our “All the Best Artists” campaign. It is a must-see!

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Cover image via Helena Perez Garcia.