Carolina Espinosa’s Illustrative Heritage: Animated Realities in Design

By Chloe Montpetit

Worlds of art-nouveau and Japanese anime collide in Carolina Espinosa’s whimsical illustrations and design work. Her youthful designs offer playful and engaging imagery, serving as a nod to her Latin heritage. 

As a first generation Canadian with Chilean and Uruguayan roots, she recognizes the lack of representation of artists with mixed Latin American backgrounds within Montreal’s street art community. In part, she believes that this is due to the challenge of depicting diverse backgrounds in one singular artistic form. Espinosa actively chooses to sign her street art with her given name rather than a tag, in an effort to subtly layer her South American heritage throughout her work.

Editorial Illustrations for Adesso Magazine

Espinosa recalls feeling as if it were her duty to pursue a degree in Science in university. However, motivated by her parents’ support and her love for design, she transferred programs and completed a BA in Graphic Design at UQAM and studied as a mentee under Pol Turgeon. The program provided her with the opportunity for her endless inspiration to flourish. From there, she went on to work as a senior graphic designer for an ad agency before making art her profession.

Since her childhood, Espinosa has been largely influenced by religious works of art, in particular the icon of our Lady of Guadalupe. She often finds herself coming back to this image and other religious iconography—combining it with her fresh art nouveau and Japanese anime-inspired style. The result is captivating; her use of eccentric shapes and caricature create a whimsical and otherworldly universe.

Espinosa features personified objects and animals in many of her pieces, giving the viewer a glimpse into the curious world of her imagination. She explains that she rarely runs out of ideas—her struggle lies more in what to create first. Years ago, Espinosa began recording ideas she dreamt about the night before in a notebook. Now when she starts a new project, she can easily look back for inspiration from her past self. Along with her extensive knowledge in branding from her years of experience at an ad agency, this process provides her with a wide variety of ideas to draw from and allows her designs and illustrations to bring life to a range of media from editorial illustrations for magazine articles, to product labels and murals.

Espinosa’s editorial illustrations for Adesso Magazine.

Many of her illustrations and designs feature bright, colourful figures. Espinosa explains that creating digital art using her iPad has allowed her to freely experiment with colour—something she strayed away from in her earlier works. “I used to hate colour,” she says, “but with the iPad, I can make so many mistakes and not be afraid.” With that said, her black and white wheat paste mural series are captivating in themselves. The colour she injects into her pieces only further enhances their whimsical character. 

Espinosa explains that her most recent projects are always her favourites. In October 2020, she participated in a month-long illustration challenge wherein she completed a series of images inspired by food packaging. She explores the use of transparency and texture common in printed packaging through patterns and negative space. In her take on a peanut butter jar, Espinosa employs the use of pattern through fine white polka dots which give the illusion of a transparent jar. The golden-brown colour of the peanut butter is overlapped by the dotted pattern which gives the viewer a look inside the see-through packaging. Espinosa applies this technique to many of the illustrations in the series, using variations of patterns and negative space to emulate transparency. Espinosa’s experimentation with transparency in her cartoonish illustrations demonstrates an innovative approach to design.

A selection of 4 images from Espinosa’s Food Packaging Illustration series

Earlier in the year, Espinosa created a three-part banner series featuring personified flora and fauna for Maison de la culture Claude-Leveillée. Each towering flower has its own monochromatic colour scheme and is surrounded by hybrid human-animal figures who are perched upon their leaves and walk over their roots. Every figure depicted wields its own facial expression, from the sleepy bulbs to the happy flowers. For this project, Espinosa also explores animation and uses augmented reality to bring each aspect of the pieces to life.

Espinosa’s three-part banner series for Maison de la culture Claude-Leveillée

In another mural project, her 2019 contribution to Under Pressure, a Montreal based graffiti festival, Espinosa delivers a detailed black and white series of four wheat paste murals. Using fine lines and details, the images represent a “feminist freakshow”. This features a bearded woman (who embraces body hair), octo-mom (who can “do it all”), the invisible woman (who is “past her prime so no man can see her”), and the strong woman.  

The mix of fine details and cartoonish hair and makeup create a unique combination of reality and the imagination. The murals’ overall compositions, inspired by vintage freak show posters, recall a traditional, old fashioned aesthetic. However, their content’s engagement with feminist subject matter provides a thought-provoking sense of contrast.

Espinosa is deeply impacted by the future setting of her projects, who her audience is, and when her pieces will be viewed. She explains that this gives her work a purpose, whether that be “something simple like spreading joy or more of a commentary.” This particular project works as a celebration of the woman and serves as a form of feminist advocacy.

Espinosa’s four-part wheat paste mural series for Under Pressure (2019)

Espinosa’s stylistic combination of art-nouveau and Japanese anime provides a unique and whimsical quality to her work. Her interest in representing her mixed Latin American Heritage in her street art and her avocation of feminism add dimensions of deeper meaning to many of her works. Espinosa’s love for illustration and design ultimately led her to pursue her passion for art  professionally. This has provided her with the opportunity to create images which serve a purpose—whether that be a demonstration of her beliefs, an eye-catching label, or anything in between. Carolina Espinosa’s ultimate goal of providing a sense of joy for her viewers is evident in each piece she creates.

These are only a select few of the many incredible designs and illustrations Carolina Espinosa has created throughout her career. More of her work can be found on her website as well as her instagram (@crakolina).