Emily López has had quite the journey over the last ten years, living in Atlanta, Bogotá and now New York, and trading an impressive advertising CV for life as a freelance artist.
After a lengthy stint working as a graphic designer at Ogilvy & Mather, DDB and Vice – all in Colombia where her family lives – she decided the ad industry wasn’t for her. Despite working with major companies, López says she felt constrained by the need to adhere to brand assets and guidelines.
“I started to feel like I wasn’t doing a lot of stuff,” she tells CR. “Every time I changed agencies and tried to do a portfolio, it was really hard, because I felt like I was showing work that wasn’t my work. I felt like I was lying a little bit because it wasn’t my job, it wasn’t my illustrations or my art.”
López left her art director role at Leo Burnett, and dedicated herself to “studying everything” – learning new 3D and motion design skills and developing her own illustration style.
She torched her existing portfolio, erasing everything she’d made so far and replacing it with new work, before relocating to New York in 2019.
“When I arrived I was a little bit scared,” she says. “I was like, OK, what’s the worst that can happen? Nobody calls me and I have to go back and live my advertising life?”
Although she describes New York as an extremely difficult and competitive place for artists to establish themselves, López found fans of her work. Commissions for brands such as Absolut rolled in, and she started incorporating more moving image elements into her illustrations.
Since relocating she’s made work for America’s ongoing Got Milk? ad campaign and Bogotá’s Festival Estéreo Picnic music event, as well as editorial pieces for online mag the Verge and artwork for musicians Galantis.
All of it’s tied together by López’s acid bright colour palette, which combines neon pinks, yellows, greens and blues in a way that’s reminiscent of late 90s or early 2000s websites. Scrolling type is another recurring feature – and something she says is inspired by the “structure” she learned while working as a graphic designer.
As for her subject matter, López says she aims for the same mix of cute-but-dark she’s always been drawn to in other pieces of work she loves – for example, Tim Burton’s illustrated poetry book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories, and 1994 animated TV series Aaahh!! Real Monsters.
López begins everything with a hand-drawn sketch, and says all her ideas are accompanied by written plans of how she’ll make it, alongside mood boards and treatments. This can also help with clients who are occasionally a bit intimidated by her fluoro colour combos.
And although López’s final artworks are digital pieces, her long term goal is to translate her style into textiles – perhaps through a streetwear brand. “I want the whole package,” she explains. “I want to have a brand space, and textiles, and graphics, and prints, and interactive stuff. That’s my goal.”