Artist Interview: Cleonique Hilsaca on Her Journey From Honduras to Savannah, Georgia

Today Cleonique Hilsaca followed up her wildly popular first collection Daydreams with a beautiful and inspired sequel, entitled As Big As Mountains.  This new collection tells the story of a girl, her adventures, and her imagination.  We sat down with Cleonique to learn more about her perspective on life as an artist, and how to stay happy.

The cover for As Big As Mountains

The cover for As Big As Mountains

Hey Cleonique!  Let's start with you telling us where you come from?

I’m from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, a small country in the middle of Central America. It’s a beautiful place with forests, jungles, ancient ruins, islands and beautiful people and creatures that inhabit this place. It even rains fish; what more can you ask for? But even though that’s my home and always will be, I currently reside in Georgia with my family and my little dog, in a place called Windsor Forest in my second home in Savannah.

Tell us about your life in Honduras.

I lived in the capital, in a house on a mountain outside the city. It was quiet yet comforting to know I was not in the middle of nowhere. Honduras is very poor and dangerous due to its government which is made up of horrible human beings and their selfishness, but I hope that one day it'll become the beautiful country that its people and I believe it truly is. I only have amazing memories from there. I miss the beach, the awesome simple yet savory and fresh food, the warmth, the forest, the small towns and my friends and family. I lived in Honduras my entire life until I became a student in the U.S. six years ago. Honduras will always be my home at heart and I hope to return to it soon.

What was it like to move to the United States?

I started attending college six years ago in the U.S. and permanently moved here three years ago. That's when the U.S. became my new home. Moving here is sadly really hard and costly for immigrants, and it was really rough for the first two years. I had to work hard to keep myself in school by taking out loans, doing freelance work and part-time jobs, all the while still doing my homework at night. One good thing is that I learned how to make really good coffee! Because of the challenges, for me and my family it was so meaningful that I was able to graduate from college. We are now finally living comfortably yet always working hard to keep it like that.

Describe your path to becoming an artist?

I was immersed in art since I was very young; singing, dancing, playing piano, writing poetry, drawing and painting. Many of these dreams died but one remained and I’ve been fighting for it all this time. I recently finished a six year journey at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) where I finally graduated with my B.F.A. in Illustration. There were times when I thought it would all be over and I had to begin my life again, but even in those times I kept drawing. This is all I’ve got now, so I must give it my best shot!

Was there an “Aha!” moment when you decided that you wanted to focus primarily on art?

When I came to the realization that I could create art for a living during a college fair back in 9th grade. After that I started drawing not just for joy, but with a purpose. I changed majors a couple times but I stuck with illustration which felt like it encompassed what I wanted to do the most.

What was your first official art job?

I believe my first job was with World Wildlife Fund Central America, creating an illustration for a calendar along with 11 other artists from surrounding countries. The calendar was beautiful and my first printed work of art. I even got 50 copies of them.

How would you describe your style (artistically or otherwise)?

My work is very light-hearted and narrative and the style flat and graphic with a focus on drawing, linework and color. I draw mostly creatures, children and surreal environments, if any at all. I always seek to create a whimsical reality with every piece, full of lively characters that hopefully speak to others as much as they do to me.

A poster designed by Cleonique

Inspirations. Who or what are yours? 

My inspiration lies mainly in my ever growing collection of alternative comics, graphic novels and books that I find in conventions, second-hand bookstores and other little nooks. As well as animated movies, surreal novels and instrumental music. A bit of everything feeds my mind, more so if it exists in the realm of dreams in which I wish to inhabit constantly.

Tell us about creating As Big As Mountains.

As Big As Mountains is a continuation of my first collection, Daydreams. My characters being all girls, all with their own unique personas and in different realities and situations. The concept being to show the beauty of women and to empower them to be anything they want to be, in any aspect. That is my meaning for each piece but it will hopefully take on other meanings as people see it through their own eyes. At times it was hard to come up with concepts to illustrate and at others it was easy to have dozens. I knew the look I wanted and how I would get there this time so that helped me work faster. It is definitely a challenge to create a hundred illustrations, but thus, the end results couldn’t be more satisfying.

How was this collection similar to and different from your first collection, Daydreams? (Your process, the art itself, etc.)

In Daydreams I didn’t have quite an exact idea of what concept I wanted to explore and it took me a few pieces to start to discover that. In As Big As Mountains, it was much easier for me, as I had already done it before with Daydreams. The style had already been defined in Daydreams and I continued it in this sequel. They’re meant to go together but to live apart as well.

What's next for you?

Besides a few clients I am currently working with, I am also working as an intern at Wild Apple, a licensing company, creating different collections of art for licensing of different kinds. I will also start working for another company, Geneologie, in the next coming months creating t-shirt designs. On my own, I have started creating a proposal for a new graphic novel and I am working with my brother on a minigame for phones and tablets. I also have some personal projects to build up my portfolio further.  This weekend I will be sending out the first batch of promotional material and emails to get myself some more good ol' freelance jobs to help pay the bills. Hopefully. This is a very exciting and scary year, but now that it's all on me more than ever, I will keep pushing myself to make this dream become my reality.

What are the best and worst parts of being an artist?

The best is doing what you love for a living. The hardest is to never forget to enjoy it and love it as you always have.

Do you worry about how you will support yourself financially once you decided to pursue art professionally?

Yes, but no matter what, I feel like everything will be OK.

What are you most proud of?

What I am most proud of so far is my start into creating comics, something I always wanted to do! I have a couple mini comics so far and my biggest project to date is “Runaway Heart,” a story about a girl who sold her heart by accident. I hope to keep working on it on my free time and one day finish it and hopefully publish it as well. In the meantime you can read the first chapter.

Runaway Heart:

Are you creatively satisfied?

I am not and I hope I never am. I love what I do and I hold every project dear to me but there are still a million things I want to do and I hope to keep improving along the way.  

What kind of advice would you give to a young person starting out as an artist?

When you find what you love, never stop doing it. No matter who tells you to stop, no matter how hard it may be, never give up, this journey is worth fighting for.

Success is different for everyone. What does it mean to you?

It means being able to keep creating new and exciting projects every time, by myself or in collaboration with others. It means to be able to take care of those I love and myself, being happy no matter how hard at times it may be. It means to know in my heart that every day I am living my dream.