Milena Bucholz pays tribute to the biodiversity of Guadaloupe in her nostalgia-infused illustrations

The Paris-based illustrator tells us about her childhood memories in the Caribbean archipelago which inform her lush depictions where greenery meets portraiture.

13 August 2021

On first glances at Milena Bucholz’s striking illustrations, the first and most notable feat is the depiction of luscious plants paired with expressive faces. These botanical accents come directly from the Paris-based illustrator’s memories. “Childhood memories,” Milena tells us, “often in summer my parents would take me and my brother to Guadaloupe where my mum is from.” She remembers the biodiversity in the archipelago situated in the Caribbean Sea, the beauty of the plants and trees which “felt incredible,” Milena recalls, “almost magical.”

In her colourful illustrations, Milena pays tribute to the vivid and “almost psychedelic light” across the island. Intuition as opposed to logic feeds her creativity (“I like to let things flow when I create”) and in this way, the illustrator likes to see how abstract shapes come together to create a sense of realism, uniting humans and plants alike. Organically, Milena uses colours that don’t traditionally work together. She’s fascinated by contrast and duality, and experiments with all these tools in her arsenal to create a wholly unique illustration style that is ever evolving and even chaotic at times.

On her first experiences with illustration Milena tells us: “I vividly remember, as a kid, wanting to be left alone with a box of pencils and paper (that hasn’t really changed haha).” And although illustration is her core interest now, this wasn’t always the case. In her teens, she attended a graphic design course where she learned about the power of image, traditional techniques and the fundamentals of visual communication. Then, as she got older, Milena dabbled in fashion design which sparked an interest in textiles culture, patterns and fashion illustration. Drawing on all these references, Milena pulled together an explorative practice which spans both concept and execution, arriving at the realised approach that we can see today in her late 20s when she decided to fully focus on illustration.


Milena Bucholz: Portrait with Heartleaf Philodendron (Copyright © Milena Bucholz, 2021)

A self-described over thinker, Milena doesn’t like to have a particular message or meaning behind her work, as “it triggered my imposter syndrome,” she says. Instead, she constructs an image by simply seeing where an idea can take her. When an idea gets her excited, she lets it lead the way, which eventually finds its way onto paper. In this way, “I’ve managed to keep creative anxiety at bay,” she explains. Milena’s other inspirations include the work of 1920s French designer E A Seguy as well as Spanish Surrealist painter Maruja Mallo and Guadaloupean poet and philosopher Edouard Glissant. The illustrator likes to keep a copy of his poems by his bedside, “his poems take me back to my summers spent on the island,” she says, “he’s quite a ‘visual’ poet and his writings spark my imagination. Great for escapism.”

While many of Milena’s works are personal, she also takes on commercial commissions. Recently, she designed the wine label for the Lisbon-based Ladidadi wines, creating a warm yellow and pink label reflecting a sunset. “I wanted the label to illustrate how light, fun and easy this wine was, so it had to have bubbles and it had to be smiley,” she says. Elsewhere, she works on still life where she brushes up on her texture studies and plays with digitally collaging illustrative elements together. When it comes to her process, Milena tends to roughly sketch a layout on paper. Then, she tightens up the sketches until she is satisfied and believes a piece to be visually harmonious and then, she gets to work digitising the composition in Illustrator.

As for the future, Milena hopes to make more time for personal works off screen. Currently working with woodless graphite pencils, she’s hoping to create big graphite works which are heavy on the shading and mix the abstract with the realistic, “almost like a collage.” Textile design and more editorial work is also on the cards, but fundamentally, she’s hoping to collaborate with exciting new partners where new challenges eagerly await.

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GalleryCopyright © Milena Bucholz, 2021


Milena Bucholz: Brancusi


Milena Bucholz: Lilium


Milena Bucholz: Smoke


Milena Bucholz: Detergent Still Life


Milena Bucholz: Untitled


Milena Bucholz: Botanical Gyal


Milena Bucholz: Shrooms

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Milena Bucholz: À L'ombre (Copyright © Milena Bucholz, 2021)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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