Artist Interview: Cristina Vaello on the Beauty of Physical Imperfections

Cristina Vaello is a 30-year-old freelance illustrator, graphic designer, and animator who lives in Spain. She recently created a new series for NeonMob, "The Women of Gladsburg," featuring illustrations of women on corrugated cardboard backgrounds. Vaello's women are beautiful, but slightly, or sometimes not so slightly, imperfect – with one eye bigger than the other, a neck that's too long and too thin, a third eye growing in the middle of her forehead.

We recently caught up with Vaello to find out more about the artist behind the new series.

Where in Spain do you live and why did you decide to live there?

I was born in Alicante, a small city by the Mediterranean sea coast in the southeast of Spain. I grew up here, but when I started my studies as an artist, I had to move to Barcelona, where I completed the first two years of my degree. While I was in this great city, I discovered that I was not motivated enough to continue with my studies and one of my professors recommended that I move to Valencia. He said, "Try studying at the University of Valencia but if you still can´t feel motivated, then you perhaps need to think about quitting." I do owe him a lot. In Valencia I felt at home and I learned almost everything I know now, I finally found the motivation I needed. 

You went to art school for illustration and design in Spain and spent some time in Germany at Fachhochschule Munster as an Erasmus student. Why did you decide to study abroad? Did you learn anything in Germany that you feel like you wouldn't have learned if you stayed in Spain?

I have also spent some years in other countries. For instance, I went to Bristol, a city in southern England. I found my life there very difficult, as I had to work hard to survive. Many Spanish people have to do the same to subsist during this critical period of no employment in Spain and many of my colleagues and friends are still living there. During that academic year (2013-14) I found no opportunity, nor did I feel any desire to draw. I think that was the reason for my big change. After that challenging time, I decided to come back home and devote my time to that which really makes me happy – drawing. I have now started a new project, which is more personal and I hope it will come to light soon. I am also working as a teacher of Illustration at the same school where I completed my Masters and enjoy doing other small freelance projects and collaborations with other artists.

I decided to live the Erasmus experience during the year before finishing my degree because I think that leaving your comfort zone – your home, your country – always helps you to expand your knowledge and worldview greatly. I considered going to Germany because of the language: for a Spanish person, learning Italian or French could be easier than learning German. Learning proper German was a big challenge for me and I also thought that knowing a bit of English would help me to learn German in a quicker way. I did not only learn more about design and illustration but I also had the chance to practice and improve my English, which was a bit rusty; plus, I was able to learn German, a language I do love. During my time in Germany, I was also able to discover many things about myself and to build up my personality. For me, Germany was a lifetime experience and engendered a significant change in me as a person and as an artist. 

Concept art by Cristina Vaello for a character named Juli

Concept art by Cristina Vaello for a character named Juli

Your style varies from cartoon-like characters to more realistic illustrations. Which style do you prefer, and how do you choose which style to use?

The truth is that I do change my style depending on the project I am developing. When it comes to a personal project, I can change it according to my mood or my concerns or worries at that moment. I feel I am quite eclectic in terms of style, so I sometimes find it difficult to state which one could define me best or which makes me feel more comfortable at work. One thing is for sure, all my pieces of work keep a piece of my heart. All of them are like children to me. I put all my heart and all my love in them, and the way I approach every new piece comes from within as a source of inspiration, as if it were the right path to follow.

An editorial illustration by Vaello

An editorial illustration by Vaello

For your NeonMob series, you decided to focus on women. What was the reason for this focus? What process/medium did you use to create this series?

Like many other female artists, one of my main concerns is the misuse of the image of women in advertising and contemporary fashion styles. In my country, there is this image of beautiful women being symmetrical and thin, with perfect hair and white skin. I do not identify myself with this image our society wants to sell. I believe that there is beauty in our physical imperfections. It is true, I am aware of the importance of keeping fit and healthy, but I also believe it is imperative to take care of our mind. We can be perfect with all our defects no matter if they are inside or outside. It did take me some time doing a series of illustrations based on this issue, and for this work I felt that this was definitely a good topic to address. Then, I started to collect used cardboard. I like the look of cardboard, how its surface is worn by the passage of time and it is imperfect, like my girls. So, this was giving and adding that extra layer I wanted to project on my work. 

It looks like some of the women in the series are based on real people. I recognize some faces, like Keira Knightley. Do you use photos to draw from?

Of course, for this work I use real women as reference. I usually start doing a web search of models and actresses and then play with their faces to deform their physical image, but I still try to keep in my work their essence and beauty.

From your Facebook page it looks like you're doing watercolor pieces lately. What do you like about watercolor and will we be seeing more of that medium in your work?

On Facebook you can see how I develop my art day by day. Right now I am fully engaged in a very different project, which I mentioned earlier in this interview. For this project I had to change quite a lot of my personal style to create something fresh and cheerful without neglecting the more spiritual sense I am trying to give to my work. Watercolors bring me that sense of freshness and it's also a technique that I have always enjoyed doing; it's a great and fun experience. I should also mention that this is one of the most complicated techniques I have developed in my professional career and I am still feeling a bit weak in this field...  But, I also enjoy working on mastering a technique and then playing randomly with the imperfections. I am looking forward to continuing to experiment with watercolor; I feel there is much more I could do and enjoy in this medium.

Interview edited for clarity by Sarah Han