Elena González aka ele.zissou is an illustrator and muralist based in Madrid but born in a small town in Salamanca. She started as a graphic designer moving between Salamanca, Madrid, Barcelona and Berlin, until she discovered that her path was illustration, a world where she feels more comfortable and freer. Inspired by nature, by her childhood experiences, by animated series and movies that she has seen since she was little and by other illustrators she admires, she has created her own visual universe full of fun and adorable characters, but with a certain mysterious background.
She loves to experiment and try different supports and techniques, and it is because of this desire to try new things that she began to paint murals. She currently works as an illustrator in an animation studio without neglecting the murals.
You studied graphic design and you dedicated yourself to it for a while, to later turn to illustration. We would like to know how the process was like and what motivated it.
Illustration was always there, since I was little I have always loved watching animated series and films, I buy all the illustrated books and comics that I can and I follow the work of many illustrators. It had always attracted me but I never thought it would become my profession.
As a graphic designer I never felt fulfilled, I felt that something was missing. It was from my last job as a designer in 2018 that I was able to have some time to explore without having the pressure of finding a job, and that's where, thanks to a “challenge” of drawing characters from Pictoplasma (Festival of Animation and Character Design held in Berlin, which I had the opportunity to attend for the first time this year) that I started drawing characters without really knowing what I was doing, but that I enjoyed it very much. So the change was fluid, it was already in me somehow.
I began to share everything I did on social networks and it was well received, which motivated me a lot to continue and to train more in this world. Everything I know about illustration I have learned in a self-taught way, looking at other illustrators and trying until I arrived little by little at my current style. Thanks to a mini Character Creation course that I attended in Madrid in 2019, I immersed myself fully in the world of characters. I also took online drawing classes during that time, to learn more about poses, expressions, etc.
As an illustrator, the most recurrent element of your work is the creation of characters, creatures as innocent as they are mysterious. Where do they come from? How is the creative process?
I am a huge fan of animation; from series like Adventure Time (my great reference), Gravity Falls, Gumball, Regular Show, Hilda and many more. They have inspired and motivated me a lot to create my own characters. It fascinates me to think of fantastic worlds and to be able to bring them to reality in some way. Creating characters that convey something, that have their own personality, that are magical, gives me a lot of creative freedom and I find it super fun. :)
As for my creative process, I have several ways of approaching the creation of a character. Sometimes I just start drawing without thinking much, for fun, just to practice and see what comes out. Others, I start by deciding what I want to communicate, how I want the character to be, what I want him to do, I think of a story that gives it meaning, etc. Once I am clear about what I want to do, the process is always the same, look for references if I need them, and start making sketches (usually on Ipad) trying different styles, poses, etc. Then I choose a color palette (sometimes I choose it before drawing) and finish the character by adding color and details.
A year ago you participated in the Wall Lab, one of the Wallspot programs, making the Stay Wild mural. At that time you explained to us that you had not painted many murals, something that today we can say is already part of the past. How was the transition from digital illustration to muralism?
It all started in a free wall of Wallspot in Barcelona. A great friend, Perrine Honoré (illustrator and muralist), encouraged me to paint my first mural. That day she was very nervous, it seemed like a challenge to paint in a large format, so I invited a lot of friends to stop by to say hello and give me a hand, haha. It was a very nice day.
I had always liked urban art, but as in illustration, I never thought that I would end up painting murals, let alone so many in such a short time.
I went from digital illustration to painting in large format, without intermediate steps. I love being able to go from illustrating on my small screen to painting murals in a big way, since it is a more physical job, where you involve your whole body and mind, where you get stained (at least I always end up full of paint from head to toe). I love being able to transform spaces and be able to connect with the people who pass by and interact with me and my work.
The use of color and composition are also features that make your works very recognizable. Do you give them a lot of importance? How do you work them?
The subject of composition comes largely from my training in graphic design, where I developed a small obsession with everything being balanced, taking into account the spaces between elements (characters, objects, etc.) and that everything fits together, looking for a certain harmony in composition.
In terms of color, I seek to create harmony using a reduced color palette. It is very suggestive to choose 5 or 6 colors, make the whole work based on them and know how to fit them so that the result is balanced. I am especially interested in having fun and experimenting with colors and the relationship that is created between them, until I achieve an aesthetically attractive result that evokes something to whoever observes it.
You have been part of some mural creation meetings in favor of feminism. How do you perceive muralism within social activism? Do you think it plays an important role?
Although it is not the main message in my works, I really liked participating in these types of meetings. I consider them a good way to make women and our struggle more visible, and to unite and support each other more.
Urban art, by using public space as a canvas, has a great impact on a social level, since it is accessible to everyone. Anyone can see it just by walking in front of the work (whether they like it or not and agree or not with the message), and this is why it is a great tool for social activism: because of the great impact it generates and because it makes you think and reflect on issues that you may not have considered before.
How did you get to the Wallspot platform? How do you think having free walls in a city acts like?
I think I got to know the platform through Instagram, surely through artists I follow. But it wasn't until a few years after arriving to Barcelona that I painted my first wall.
Having free walls throughout the city to be able to intervene seems like an incredible idea to me. It allows access to walls in a legal way where all those people, artists or not, who want to try to create in large format can paint with peace of mind. Without these walls, I think I would never have dared to paint and would never have got to where I am now.
Now that I no longer live in Barcelona, I miss having free walls in other cities so that I can go and paint if I want to practice or have a good time with friends. Hope this changes soon! :)
BONUS TRACK, Tell us something that you feel like or that has slipped our minds and that would help better explain who Ele.zissou is.
Can’t think of anything else now, and I believe I have described myself too much. haha