Art that moves - How Eugenia Mello found her groove in the world of illustration.

Meet the Artist June 30, 2022

Eugenia Mello is a highly regarded illustrator, graphic designer and author originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina and now based in Brooklyn, NY. Her colorful work is always dynamic and full of movement, and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration and The Art Director’s Club of New York to name just a few. Eugenia has collaborated with Apple, TED, Patagonia, and the Guggenheim Museum along with many others.

We caught up with Eugenia in her New York studio where she’s been drawing professionally as an illustrator for six years. Like most Illustrators, Eugenia was obsessed with drawing long before making it a career, “I guess you could say I've been working for 27 of my 33 years.” With a family that travelled for work during her childhood, drawing became a reliable and constant companion.

Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Eugenia brings a piece of every place she’s been into her creative work, “We moved every couple of years. I lived in many South American countries, and in a lot of houses in the country and cities within those countries. Because we moved a lot, I would always try to find my spot so I could feel at home. My desk was that home, and that was always paired with me drawing there. What I remember is me always sitting at my little desk working.”

When time came to leave home and study, Eugenia felt compelled to return to her roots. “I consciously chose to go back to Buenos Aires because I wanted to be close to what I called mine, where I was from. Life takes you exactly where you need to go, which (for me) was the University of Buenos Aires. It has amazing teachers and it's free and public, so you meet a lot of different people from different backgrounds. My early career doing Graphic Design was through the people and the teachers that I met there.”

“It really shaped me, and allowed me to meet a lot of the people that gave me the chances in the beginning to start developing my work. ‘Illustration’ wasn’t really a career in Argentina, so a lot of graphic designers were also illustrators, which I think is the case in a lot of South American countries and maybe in other places in the world. I made a lot of friends that did Typography and met my unofficial (lettering) partners in quite a few projects that I work on now, YaniGuille&Co. The university was a big collaborative place and a good ocean to find your fish, long-lasting friends and the people that you connected with.”

Eugenia Mello's work for Aguila chocolate is full of rhythm.

Buenos Aires’ influence on Eugenia’s work didn’t finish after University, with her work for beloved Argentinean chocolatier Aguila capturing the spirit of the country’s folk rhythms. “The project was basically to represent some of the most renowned music roots from Argentina. So the type and images (visually) say what the feeling of a particular song and rhythm is. I did the illustrations and YaniGuille&Co did the lettering. That project was amazing because it was like our playground.” The packaging has a wonderfully warm, ‘60s ‘70s retro feel, so we quizzed Eugenia about the era’s influence. “I think it's an amazing super rich era for poster art. One of the pieces in particular, the one about rock and roll, I agree feels quite ‘70s and ‘60s. But it's not on purpose, even though I do really love the ‘60s and '70s, especially the posters. My work tends to be graphic in range, so it could be that (giving it a retro feel). But I think it's also the type. I found it interesting that type can take illustration in really different directions.”

Music also plays a big part in the way Eugenia works. “Rhythm is such a big part of design. Learning design and understanding how to balance our compositions. I think illustration careers sometimes have more of a craft focus to it, developing your craft. But not so much all the other things that I think design does. It's been really helpful, and I love the design background that I have. It allows me to work with amazing designers and typographers, and understand and appreciate what they're doing. I really love graphic design and was lucky enough to teach it at the University. It's also very useful in understanding illustration as part of something bigger.”

I love the concept of synesthesia and those moments where you can translate people and things going from one state to another.

Eugenia Mello, May 2022

While Eugenia’s illustration style is quite diverse, a common theme across all her work is a combination of flow and movement with strong shapes and form. “Everyone is worried about style, and a lot of what gets talked about is aesthetic. What is your rendering style? I feel like my work has a little bit more range. It's not always the same thing, or as stable. But I have thought consciously about how to make a style out of motion. I constantly appreciate movement, how elements morph, change or have a beat. And because I had that in mind when I came into my Master's program, I really was like, ‘Okay, search for it. What does it mean? What are the ramifications of this if I were to make that my so-called style?’”

Eugenia has based her unique visual style around movement.

“I love the concept of synesthesia and those moments where you can translate people and things going from one state to another. My mind is a little bit effervescent, and it gives me something to play with so that it's not just about the drawing that I'm doing at that particular point. Rather, I try to think of each drawing I make as a part of a larger body of work and research. Movement and shape helps infuse that bigger picture, and that's how I've found my style — which is another way of saying a language with which to communicate…no?”

If movement and motion are the body of Eugenia’s style, music and rhythm are the beating heart. “That's how we were taught design. I was taught that to understand the rhythm in a piece (of design) we had to think of it as music — to understand that there is sound and there is silence, and that you couldn't have a song without this light and shade. And that unfolded into the idea that a design couldn't always sound the same.” This association of music within design influences Eugenia’s process too, which involves being in the moment and aware of how she moves whilst drawing. “A lot of the graphic arts aren’t thought enough of in terms of being a physical endeavor… To me illustration is a physical creative activity, and yet we don’t prepare for it like in dance where you prepare your body for what you're about to do. When we're translating feelings, my hypothesis is, we should use our bodies more to understand that.”

Concept and finished piece for one of Eugenia Mello's three Guggenheim commissions.

You couldn't have a song without sound and silence. Design can’t always sound the same.

Eugenia Mello, May 2022

Movement can be expressed in many ways physically, but the idea of being emotionally moved by art is at the core of some of Eugenia’s recent work for the Guggenheim Museum to promote their Vasily Kandinsky and Etel Adnan exhibits. “I had actually been to a dance show there previously, and we stood around the rotunda while the dancers were down in the main circle in the bottom. The way they were lit made their shadows gigantic... and there was something magical about that. They were dancing and you were on top of them, so you could see the dancing shadows but from a very drastic angle and they were really big. That’s what planted the first seed because after that night, I was like, ‘I need to draw these gigantic dancers in the main rotunda. I need to do something like this.’”

Using the Guggenheim’s iconic rotunda as a canvas, Eugenia’s draw-over perfectly captures the magic of interacting with great art in such an amazing space. Combining shapes inspired by Kandinsky with Adnan’s rich colors, Eugenia’s master stroke was to play with the scale of characters within the iconic museum’s open spaces. “It’s so incredible to change perspectives and scales, and what that makes you feel. It's so intuitive and it resonates. I think that is a big part of what people responded to, the idea that you could expand yourself to that scale and breath in all the art altogether. Then it became like a game, like what would you do if you were that big, and how would it feel to have these (amazing artworks) around? I interpreted the museum as a space for marveling at, and feeling the art. Using its architecture as an energy chamber, and my idea was to interact with it.”

With movement being a constant theme throughout Eugenia’s childhood and in her working life, when it came to writing and illustrating her first children’s book it seemed almost inevitable it would be called ‘Moving’. The story of a small girl moving to a new place and discovering new sights, sounds and eventually finding a sense of community is obviously a work steeped in personal experience. “It was very personal, and very difficult to do. It took a long time, four years to be exact, but I found it to be one of the most full artistic experiences I've ever had, because I felt like I had control over ‘everything’ — the actions, the sounds, the words and the colors. I feel like that's how directors in movies must feel or orchestra maestros. You have all these tools and you move your hand and it all can happen.”

You can almost hear the music in Eugenia's self referential story 'Moving'

Despite the difficulty in telling such a deeply personal tale, Eugenia discovered that there are rewards in leaving yourself so creatively exposed. “A little girl sent me an audio message saying, ‘I just wanted to tell you, that I read your book and that’s exactly what moving is like. I felt exactly the same and I am so thankful, because you told it how it is.’ It was such a moment of connection. You found me because something connected with you. It's sort of fantastical, and I guess that's the hope or why I make the things I make, for that connection.”

The next children’s book Eugenia is illustrating shares this theme of moving, but adds a unique twist. “It’s about dust, and I love it because it's a new angle to the idea of motion. It has very few people, it primarily has dust and landscapes in the world. The Editor thought of me because she saw the textures I use, and they reminded her of dust. Chalk (dusty) pastels inspired me to use the brushes I use, and so it was really interesting to see how the technique connected with the topic of the book. It's about dust going from Africa to the Amazon. So I was like, ‘WOW, another way to draw motion and moving, but now through dust.’ It's been really interesting and I’ve loved working on it.”

A Procreate sketch from Eugenia's personal collection.

Among her diverse formats and colorful portfolio, Procreate obviously features heavily in Eugenia’s process. We asked her what exactly attracted her to using it as her main tool? “It's so deceptively simple, yet so good in a way that feels stable and that you can count on. I am always sketching, and I love it because nothing works quite like it. I use it as if it were my pencil and my paper, and pencil and paper don't change, right? You have a stack of paper and you have your pencil and that's the one you like. Maybe that could be seen as a small thing, but it's actually huge (for me) because it's like my staple... I really love it.”

“My favorite brush is the Shale Brush. I love it intensely. That is my favorite, favorite brush. There is something about it that no other brush has really done for me (Haha!). I love its texture, it’s definitely my favorite.”

Being always interested in how we can improve, we asked Eugenia if there was anything she’d like to see added to Procreate? "I guess organization sometimes could be better. It would be nice to be able to search for files. But at the same time what is really nice is that everything is just so... Procreate essentially is what it is, and it doesn't change dramatically like some other software I use, and that's great by me.”

If you’d like to explore more of Eugenia’s playful, dynamic and colorful work you can follow her on Instagram, Behance and at her own folio website .

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