By inserting her drawn self into the scenarios of her favourite childhood anime series, thus changing their narratives, Ema Gaspar found her way to illustration. Today, the Lisbon-based artist creates entire worlds of her own and generously allows her audience to enter. In drawings that flirt with abstraction and tell stories of the unknown, the artist immerses viewers in subjective scenarios that want to be explored.
Inspired by everyday objects and personal experiences, Gaspar's characters often have something mystical about them, offering much room for interpretation and triggering connections to their viewers' individual memories. We had the chance to ask her some questions and, among other things, find out why she likes to leave the backgrounds of her drawings blank and how she combines personal inspirations with the client's requirements.
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Your work brings back some childhood memories for me. Do you remember the kind of drawings you did as a child? And how did you first get into illustration?
I would make a lot of comics as a child but without any speech and no context of space around the characters. Normally, I would make comics as a way to change the route of the story of the anime I was watching to one I liked better, or to include myself in the series I was watching.
I remember illustration always being present. I think it first came as a way of escapism as a child from the crazy reality I was living. One anime I remember watching was Cardcaptor Sakura.
You studied Plastic Arts at the Escola Superior de Artes e Design de Caldas da Rainha. What made you focus on a two-dimensional medium after that?
I entered art school making illustrations but was discouraged, so I started using painting as a way of expression. I enjoyed it as it helped me explore the abstract and is connected to the subjective world I like to explore. But after a bad experience in Erasmus and the general art world, which brought me to a soft depression, I started coming back to what made me really happy which is illustration, now with the added experience of abstraction.
Seemingly disconnected elements, a mix between abstraction and figurative drawing, your art invites viewers to enter a mysterious, fairly-like wonderland. What emotions do you want to evoke with your pieces?
The feeling of the unknown. Entering a profound spiral with no way of looking back, from which the only exit is exploring a new world. It’s what I try to create for myself while I’m producing so the process is fun and not always the same routine.
In your art, you investigate your past and re-evaluate lived experiences. Do you also sometimes draw inspiration from everyday topics?
Even if my work process is basically entering a fantasy world, I’m very present in the reality of events. I try to counterbalance fantasy with being as present and active as possible at the moment. I don’t think it could be any different than to be truly isolated. Otherwise, I think my work would be lifeless.
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You frequently do collaborations with musicians. What is the significance of music for you and your practice?
I’m always listening to music while I’m creating. It helps me shut off intrusive thoughts and problems that block me. By listening to music those thoughts become more melodic or malleable to transform into elements or characters.
I have the tendency of leaving the backgrounds in my drawings blank because I don’t want to make the work feel too complete. When working with musicians, my work will live in the context of their worlds which helps complete that background, and it creates a new mystery in itself.
Is painting digitally something that you would like to explore in the future? Or are you a pencil-and-paper person?
Pencil and paper are what I know to do best and what I’m super comfortable with. Sometimes I do digital work and I also enjoy it, it’s much faster, which is mentally better for me.
But the fact that when working on paper you can’t undo the mistakes that happen ends up working in my favour and helps me make decisions. I want to explore the digital more, I just take more time in understanding what I like when drawing that way. Sometimes I feel there are too many options, but it’s something I’m figuring out.
Some of your figures allow associations with god-like, higher beings. Is spirituality something that plays a role in your work?
I’m interested and inspired by many things, but not associated with any specific current. I’m interested, for example, in animism, I like taking everyday objects and transforming them into beings. There are certain things that for me are hard to understand as real, which are mysterious, like the infinite existence in reality or the existence of black holes. It’s something that seems so out of reality and can have a dimension of spiritual, but that is scientifically studied. At the same time, I really enjoy a good ghost story and the idea of the supernatural, even if it’s something I don’t think I include in my work
How do you approach a new piece? Do you always follow a similar pattern, or are you rather spontaneous? What can you tell us about your way of working?
It's very intuitive, I’m inspired by things that I find, it can be a shape or an ornament. I try to figure out what their vibe is and assign a personality to those objects. For example, for Mura Masa’s E-motions' single cover Demon – I was inspired by a glove I saw that brought me a lot of strong emotions and I’ve drawn the fingers to represent those emotions.
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You have done many commissions/collaborations over the last few years. What are the challenges of working for a client, especially when personal experiences are a big part of the process?
I try to develop ways so that I can connect the client’s request to something from my own experience. For example, when working with fashion I try to see what world the pieces take me to and combine that with the direction that the client is seeking.
With music, it’s much easier as I can understand the world and connect more quickly with it.
Generally, I try to personify the brand with myself, but there’s a limit to how much I can do that. There’s a more cerebral and detached side to it, different from if I was creating for me only.
I have been very lucky because my clients give me a lot of creative freedom, and I’m so grateful for that. I think the challenge is where I place that limit. 
Many people are thinking and speculating about our future in the Metaverse and new digital spaces. Have you thought about how your characters would live in this world and what form they would take there?
I’m open to having an evolution of where my work exists. And external changes make me question my work. My only requirement for where my characters live is that it’s not a scam.
Are there any dream projects or clients you would like to collaborate with in the future?
The clients I’ve had already are dream-like to me, and if I really think about it it’s something I would never have thought would happen some years ago. There are a lot of projects I’m currently working on and if everything goes well they are a dream.
I hope I can keep evolving my process so it’s never just a routine, and that I can keep surprising myself, my clients and people who see my work. I would also like to explore my work in other mediums such as animation and painting.
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