For an introduction into the insatiably creative mind of Lydia Ortiz, there is no better way than taking a look at her recent work for MTV. When she was asked to create a selection of IDs for MTV’s 40th birthday last year, Lydia came up with 40 designs which transport the familiar MTV logo into the recesses of her technicoloured imagination: mushrooms and strawberries sprout up uncontrollably while carnivalesque characters burst out of eggshells or metamorphose into fairy-like butterflies.
These imaginative designs make sense when Lydia describes her upbringing in Manila, Philippines. “My childhood back home was filled with fiestas, music, museum trips, loud grandmas, animals, Filipino folklore, stories of ghosts, and regular visits to the witch doctor.” Inundated as she was with unusual visual references and stories, Lydia soon began experimenting in the realm of drawing. After doing her first commission at the tender age of 13, she was hooked. “It felt like a drug,” she tells us. Lydia is now based in California and works as the lead picture book designer at Chronicle Books. Warmed by the beaming rays of the Californian sun and “surrounded by like-minded people equally obsessed with the visual world”, Lydia can’t imagine a more “indulgent” lifestyle.
When it comes to work, sometimes Lydia experiences a very instinctive response to a brief. In December last year, the LA Times asked her to respond to the prompt: “what brings you peace?” A vision for the design appeared in Lydia’s mind fully-formed. The challenge was trying to explain her idea to the art director… here’s what she said to him: “I think I might be able to pull off an ink blob morphing into an eye, morphing into a drawing of a hand that’s morphing into a hand that is drawing an ink blob that morphs back into the same eye.” Considering the difficulty with which the concept translates into words, it is impressive to see how Lydia managed to articulate that lightning-quick vision into the visuals for this intriguing piece.
However, inspiration doesn’t always come so easily for Lydia. She has a curious selection of tips and tricks for sparking creativity when starting a new project. “I start with a little nature walk,” Lydia explains. “I’m a big believer that making art is a portal to something mystical and powerful, so a small part of my process involves some rituals I’ve kept through the years.” This may be as simple as a few minutes of meditation before embarking on a new project, but sometimes a project requires “more intense exorcism,” Lydia laughs.
In a recent project for The New York Times, Lydia got the chance to incorporate historical research into her instinctive, playful practice. She designed the front cover of the Arts and Culture section which accompanied an article by Alexis Soloski entitled “On Yassifying The Women of History — What gets lost when ‘Dickinson’ and ‘The Great’ and ‘Six’ plunder the past for contemporary feminism.” Lydia’s illustrations cross various historical periods but feel distinctly contemporary at the same time. Her cover design features a portrait of Emily Dickinson with her familiar 19th century lace collar, but she also boasts a pair of heavily tattooed hands and a “girl boss” badge.
Looking to the future, Lydia wants to incorporate more traditional media back into her creative process. She also dreams of collaborating with musicians and bands, or working on film posters and packaging. But mostly Lydia just wants to keep drawing and imagining. To her, the life of an illustration artist is “nothing short of magic”.
Lydia Ortiz: MTV Idents (Copyright © Lydia Ortiz, 2021)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.