LA-based artist and illustrator Juliette Toma’s style combines a painterly approach with a stylised aesthetic. While she has a keen eye for details, she also tries to avoid things looking “too perfect”, using colour choices, character features and environments to bring an oddness to her works.
“My work is a little quirky, bright, and can sometimes be humorous. I’m inspired by vintage fashion magazines, old cookbooks, old family photos, and kitsch knickknacks,” she tells CR. “I’ll sometimes use photos I’ve collected from flea markets as painting references and a starting point for an illustration. I’ll also mix in my interest in fashion, and give the characters a pair of sunglasses or sneakers I’ve been wanting.”
Growing up around art – her father is a painter – Toma was given a lot of freedom as a child to express herself creatively and she knew early on a career linked to drawing was for her. Since graduating from Art Center College of Design with a BFA in Illustration, Toma works on personal and editorial projects for a range of clients including Adult Swim, the New York Times, MTV, Nike and Playboy.
Toma’s favourite subjects are people and food and they feature in bold, zesty works that fill the frame. “I like drawing things I find fun. I’ve always considered myself a shy person. Things I once found embarrassing I choose to celebrate in my artwork,” she says. “The characters I paint have bad makeup, braces, and acne, but they embrace them with the confidence I always wished I had.”
Most illustrations are created by gathering and taking a handful of reference photos which Toma then collages together to create her own image. Then she starts painting. “The only difference in my process between a personal piece and commission is that for commissions I do sketches first to make sure the client is happy before I start the final,” she explains.
Toma currently uses ProCreate on her iPad to create her illustrations and it’s what helps give her work a surreal sheen. “I’m really enjoying digitally painting now because of the freedom of being able to play with colors and to easily rearrange my compositions,” she says. “I will also paint textures and scan them in to help give my work a more painterly look.”
Working on editorial projects provides Toma with much needed variety not just in the topics she covers, but also the clients and commissioners she gets to work with. “I like that each job feels fresh and you get to meet new clients and work with different art directors. All who bring something new to the table,” she says.
One the hardest parts of working in editorial though is the competitive nature and the need to get your work seen. “I consider myself a shy person so this can sometimes be hard for me to really put myself out there,” she says. “Also trying to figure out what the client envisions for the project can be a challenge, but it’s usually a fun challenge to figure out together.”
Despite these obstacles, Toma feels the illustration scene in LA is overall supportive, with an art show or creative event always happening nearby. “I am also very inspired by LA. It is a very diverse place with so many different things to draw inspiration from,” Toma says. “I can be driving in traffic and see a really cool hand-painted sign or someone walking a pink poodle. Those are the things that get me inspired to make work.”
Ultimately for Toma her illustration work gives her an outlet to express herself in a way that would be difficult to do verbally. For her it’s about connection. “I hope other people can resonate with my paintings, laugh a little, and feel less alone,” she reflects.