Pretty Profiles: Melissa Arbelaez
Tell us about yourself and the kind of work you create.
I am an artist currently based in Los Angeles, California. I am originally from Colombia, and I grew up in a whimsical city that people call “the city of eternal spring.” This is the biggest inspiration for my work. As we don’t have seasons, we have flowers and the sun all year which makes my work really colorful and happy.
As an artist, I always try to evolve and innovate with my work. I love illustration and motion design, but I also love creating objects with my hands. Every time that I am working on a new project I try to really understand the client in order to create new universes and apply some of the techniques I know depending on their needs. Some of my projects are illustration-based, but recently I have been making a lot of stop motion with objects made out of paper.
What is your typical day like? Are there any challenges that you face on a consistent basis?
Every day is a new challenge. I always try to create some kind of wonder in the work I do, and I always try to create something new. I am a dreamer, and I try to inspire people to dream more when they see my work. My biggest challenge is definitely to try to materialize my ideas and bring them to life.
My days are different depending on the stage of the projects. For the brainstorming phase, my inspiration usually comes when I am at cycling class, hiking, having dinner with friends or any outdoor activity. I try to keep myself active and keep my eyes open because I am always looking for inspiration. Once I put the idea together, I spend a lot of time in the studio building the objects, illustrating, taking pictures and finally editing and bringing my vision to life.
You have created a lot of beautiful paper art. What prompted you to start working with it as a medium, and how does your creative process differ compared to 2D illustration?
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t support art as a career, so I started to study engineering. After two years I decided I wanted to create art even if no one believed in my passion. After doing a lot of graphic design, illustration and motion design I tried to apply my engineering knowledge to my art, and that's when I started to create templates and build imaginary worlds. It was a point in my career where everything came together.
I love mixing media. Building paper art gives me breaks from working on the screen and it makes my creative process more dynamic because I get to create in different spaces - from the paper studio to the photography studio and my computer. It keeps my mind more creative.
What unique advantages or disadvantages does combining digital and traditional techniques create for you?
A huge disadvantage is that everything is more time-consuming. The concept and the idea have to be pretty solid before jumping into the production stage because any change means that you have to go back and redo the whole thing. A huge advantage is that at the end it looks unique to me. It's like taking the real world and placing it inside an imaginary world, and I love that idea, and it is what makes the whole process worth doing for me.
Can you talk a little bit about your photography setup and any tips you might have for others hoping to photograph paper art like yourself?
Lighting is the key. I like to have shadows to give more volume to the paper, so it's important that all the shadows are going in the same direction. For making stop motion, a good tip would be to have the camera in a fixed position all the time. I always use a tripod and a tripod arm to shoot overhead, and I tape everything to the ground to have more control of the movement and black out the entire room to have control of the lighting.
Where do you see your creative practice going next?
This is a hard question. I don’t want to keep doing one thing or going in one particular direction. I want to keep growing and learning from the industry as it evolves.
More than a technique or skill, I'm passionate about making the world a better place and being able to bring happiness to people with my art. I know my creative practice will have to adjust to the requirements of "what's next" and I always want to challenge myself into innovation. The idea that there’s always new technology that brings the world together and people creating content on different platforms is fascinating to me. I think my practice will follow along with the core of my art.
What is the prettiest picture you’ve made recently?
I was asked by a company that produces journals and notebooks to create a cover for one of their journals, and this was my design. It has a special meaning because "no limits for my dreams" was my first tattoo, and I always see it as a reminder of where I started in my career. They have special editions with independent artists where the journal cover art is a reflection of that individual's artistic style. It was delightful to have an open canvas to create whatever I wanted. By putting rainbows, flowers, and rockets together I wanted to show that anything is possible when you dream, there are no limits and there are always untapped possibilities within us.