Emotive and pleasing, the work of illustrator Ema Gaspar comes littered with hidden messages

Rather than drawing what surrounds her, the Portugal-based illustrator is more inspired by the past – creating scenes that echo with memory and nostalgia.

17 December 2019

By mixing moments from her past with those that she’d “liked to have happened”, Ema Gaspar portfolio is a raw and personal one. “Drawing is something I’ve always done in my free time since I was a child. I would go to my grandparents’ house and, because it was such a calm place and there weren’t any distractions, I would draw and make up my own stories,” she tells It’s Nice That.

Alongside this, the Portugal-based illustrator found herself drawn towards anime as her main point of inspiration as a child – her favourite shows being Japanese manga series Cardcaptor Sakura and anime series Digimon. Her grandfather would also help to record these shows onto VHS, which enabled her to then pause on specific parts and copy what she saw. “Because of this, anime is a strong part of my childhood memories, and my illustrations are infused with it,” she explains. The next chapter for Ema then involved an evolution from figurative scenes into those more connected with the notion of her “inner-self”, which came at a time when she pursued her studies in Visual Arts at college – a moment where she’d started to delve into more abstract ways of drawing and thinking. “Now I’m blending both things,” she adds, “it’s something like a mist, a mix of more rigid forms and more undefined shapes that represent my thinking.”

By transferring her thoughts to paper through irregular objects and analogue compositions, she explains how each of her pieces have their own distinctive narrative – but this isn’t something she always plans. “When I start, I don’t have any idea of what the final image will look like, from that first object I add in new ones with new stories.” The only thing that is concrete throughout her working process is that she knows when to stop – when she’s successfully created an “atmosphere of a memory” or represented an emotion that she’s experienced. This can be seen through a trip to Japan which has dominated her memories of late, littered with toys and “something acidic”. She adds: “I miss being there so much, it was an absence of something not very stable, because that’s how I’m feeling right now.”

Rather than drawing from that which surrounds her in the present tense, Ema is more inspired by the past – “even the most recent, like yesterday,” she adds. She also cites artists like Ancco and Stephanie Mendoza (whom she’d met in Japan) as those that she relates to wholly, as well as various fashion designers such as Jenny Fax. With these components at hand, Ema tends to work in her bedroom where she feels most connected with her emotions. “It’s where I feel safe and I haven’t felt the need to find another place to work in.” Then she draws predominantly with coloured pencils, feeling they give her the most control. “I’m interested in the process of creating something and not being able to undo it, like you would digitally,” she says.

A recent commission sees Ema illustrate the album cover for Waterdownrobotroute’s CD, Cracked. Inspired by the title and what “cracked” connotes, her work steers towards a mix of “sweet and unstable” as her concept. “I photographed objects of porcelain that I saw in Japan and I drew them like they were cracked.” Interestingly, she subconsciously brought to life a character that she feels represents herself “in that state”, a moment where she felt “shaken up”. Additionally, the piece features plenty of white space – absent from any type of background – which is characteristic of her entire portfolio and artist aesthetic.

As a whole, Ema’s work is visually pleasing to the eye, yet once you peel back the top layer it seems to reveal a much deeper and emotive context hidden behind it. “What I do is create an outlet for my emotions and try to create a fun space that’s different from reality,” she says. “I hope that people see themselves in it – I want it to be a space for their emotions, but they don’t have to feel the same things I do.”

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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