María Medem’s atmospheric illustrations are a soothing tonic for a hectic world
- Lorna Pittaway
- 4 September 2019
María Medem’s creations are a soothing tonic for a hectic world. Drenched in resplendent sunset tones, these dreamy scenes and their peaceful characters capture comforting moments of tranquility. With this stunning body of work under her belt, it’s unsurprising that, since we spoke last November, the Sevilla-based illustrator has published even more visual narratives and received commissions from the likes of Gossamer, The New York Times and most recently, the album artwork for Bombay Bicycle Club’s new record.
When we last caught up with María, her now-completed book Echoes was well underway. Published by risograph platform Studio Fidele in early January, this serene illustrated story meanders through the day-to-day life of its main protagonist, water. Taking an alternative approach to structure, Echoes weaves together different stories, realities and scales which thread throughout its pages in a series of intricately interlaced narratives. A series of one-page “silent comics” set the pace of the book, while a single, consistent narrative runs throughout its entirety. “I see it as several vertical stories and one horizontal one that connects the all,” she explains of Echoes’ format. “I also wanted to use this to explore different approaches to reality. Some of the vertical comics alter reality in every way possible, while the horizontal one tries to show reality how it is.”
In commissioned projects, María’s vibrant creations have been brought to life in new, dynamic ways. A particular standout are a set of illustrations for The New York Times’ digital republishing of Kaveh Akbar’s poem, The Palace. Working closely with art director Sebit Min, the article’s playful implementation of parallax scrolling sees the varying layers of María’s compositions glide over one another, shifting and interacting in exciting ways. “It was one of my favourite commissions to work on,” she reflects on the opportunity. “Not only was the poem incredible but the way my drawings were programmed was both surprising and beautiful.”
Whether visually manifesting a poem or creating trippy night-themed scenes for Gossamer, when it comes to commissioned work, having a genuine connection to the subject matter is vital for María. “I have to feel that I can identify with the project otherwise I feel like a bit of a phoney or that I’m doing something superficial,” she muses, adding: “Aside from my personal work, I’ve been lucky enough to have been commissioned for some really interesting projects in that have taught me new things and helped me to evolve in my interests.”
This summer María also attended Colorama Clubhouse, a ten day comic summer camp. Reflecting on her creative struggles before attending, María recalls: “I really wanted to do another comic but I just could’t find the time because I was always having to work on something else. With comics I need time; I need to work on them every day – or at least every two days – otherwise I forget the mood of the comic or I start doubting it.” Away from the pulls of professional commitments and encroaching deadlines, this extended period of focus was a perfect catalyst for new personal projects.
Expanding on a piece of work made during the camp, María’s latest publication, Tregua, is a mystical short comic which tells the story of a ritualistic offering. “I started it straight after I came back from Colorama Clubhouse,” she explains of the project’s beginnings. “I had so much fun drawing and making, that I just wanted to create more comics.” Relatively simple in narrative, María’s focus was on creating a certain mood, developing a specific feeling. "I wanted to keep with this magical atmosphere that surrounds rituals and the folklore,” she muses. Transient and ethereal, this atmosphere is one that can’t quite be expressed linguistically. As María explains: “It’s hard for me to put into words the feelings I wanted to convey because they’re a mixture of blurred memories and elusive sensations. I can sometimes connect them with certain smells, certain elements – like the refreshing was of mint for example.”
The process of making Tregua also came as a reminder of the joys of self-publishing. “It’s really nice working with publishers but I also enjoy – and kind of need – to work on self-published projects,” María reflects. “It is very satisfying to be in charge of all the parts of the process. With self publishing projects I don’t experience the same pressure that I feel when working with publishers.” Ultimately. she concludes: “I know what I’m doing with a self-published comic and I’m navigating within my own rules and with my own judgement because it’s something I wanted to create. It comes down to a strong desire to tell the story and the curiosity to see how it turns out.”
About the Author
Lorna Pittaway joined us in the summer of 2019 as an editorial assistant. She graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with a degree in graphic design and wrote stories for us on graphic design, film, art and everything in between.