While playing with textures and compositions, Yelena Smith opens her own path to an up-and-coming career as a graphic artist. Born in Spain, two years have gone by since she moved to London to achieve better recognition. She made it by working with reputable companies such as Interview Magazine. She’s always trying to innovate in her techniques, yet she does what she feels, trying not to be influenced by other’s perception, and getting inspired by essential things in life such as people's relations and quotidian aspects. For her, mistakes are in many cases satisfactory. We have a conversation about her past and what the future has in store for her.
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There isn't that much information about you on the internet. Tell us about the work you develop.
My workflow covers the entire graphic process that involves launching a clothing collection. From the mood boards, catalogs, online/offline promo images, magazine layouts, and editor in chief. Out of it, my big pleasure is to make posters, scribbling, and play with textures and compositions. I try not to analyze too much what I do, I just focus on the idea or the layout I'm thinking of and once it makes sense I exhibit it untitled, I take all freedoms here. My father always told me that if I understand it myself, that's largely right.
So you are a London-based graphic artist and your specialty are collages – but how did you get into creating them?
When I was 17 years old I used to spend everything I earned on travelling, going out, and buying clothes, mainly. One day I decided I had to get something out of it, so started organizing local vintage markets in Madrid. That's when I first used collage for the promotional posters. Shortly after, I began studying constructivism and Bauhaus in art school, and went deeper into the technique. From then on, collage and travelling is all that remains.
Can you explain the collage-making process? Where do you find the materials?
Once I've got an idea and the material I want to work with, I put it all forward, watch it and shape it by playing with their own structures. I tend to place the pieces according to a main one. Colors, textures and paper finishes determine the parts along. I do not always get what I expect – in fact mistakes end up being, in many cases, satisfactory. Almost all the materials I work with come from the ‘70s-’90s. Very playful images are the ones with leftovers, marked profiles, plots, gradient backgrounds, desaturated colors, and interior images. I also use old tinted papers, as the color is worn. I usually buy it all in charity shops, flea markets and antique stores. Some stationaries have really old hidden sheets for sale.
What's your inspiration when working? Do you follow any patterns?
Consciously or not, the more years go by, the more references I accumulate. Plus, if you work with a client there will always be clear guidelines. That's why I try to stay as blind as possible to external influences in my personal work. Even if you want to show something new, there's always a lot to learn from, so I want to think that what inspires me the most are very basic things like people, lifestyles, and relations.
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Do you impose yourself any challenges to improve your work, or do you just flow with your inspiration?
I always try to innovate with techniques; otherwise I get bored and don't go on. I don't pressure myself too much, as the work that I feel proudest of has been done in moments where I was comfortable in different states, neither happiness, nor sadness, nor the need for change.
You are from Spain, so you began to work in your home country. How was the experience? What do you expect to find in London that you couldn't find in Spain?
I moved from Spain almost two years ago, as I was offered a very similar position but much better salary. I always try to put myself in new situations for new things to happen… Although my case is exceptional, because most people come here with nothing signed – I was lucky. The experience was very good, but after two years of developing the same work it no longer offered much more, so I quit –which would be almost unthinkable in Spain–. Now I'm focused again on my personal work, and I’m trying to find a balance between what I really like and what I sell myself for. In my country you're not allowed to stop and think unless you've got a background – otherwise you’re out of the game.
How is the artistic scene of London?
In any scene, if you're not into it, it is very unlikely to live off it – even as an observer. When I was working full time, I had very little time to devote myself to my personal work. It is true that there are very affordable opportunities to actively participate in both markets: DIY, art fairs, galleries – but you have to pursue it relentlessly if you want to live off that.
“The work that I feel proudest of has been done in moments where I was comfortable in different states, neither happiness, nor sadness, nor the need for change.”
I saw you worked a little while as a creative director. Is it a one-time thing or you are interested in working regularly in the fashion industry? What is the most significant difference between artistic and fashion scenes?
I just found myself managing the creative department at some point, so they promoted me. I felt very comfortable and I could carry out the role technically, but not as a permanent role. I like it when fashion comes from a freedom place, when it shows the pieces in an artistic way rather than showing what everybody expects to see. Both are difficult and classicist scenes, but it is the market that makes the difference. In art you're allowed to develop yourself in an easier and cheaper way as an individual, and although the market is huge, you are able to have a small and loyal space. Fashion is more protective of itself, and the competitiveness makes it so boring. So I keep walking.
You have published some of your works in one of the most famous publications ever, Interview Magazine, founded in 1969 by the one and only Andy Warhol and the British journalist John Wilcock. How does it feel?
When Andreas called me to chat about the collaboration I totally freaked out. A high path magazine offered me six full beauty pages to work with Lloyd Evans on backstage photographs with total freedom. I was asked to go mental, so I did. Actually, I worked very comfortably in that state; you can appreciate it in the result. I wish all jobs were like this, you have your style, someone likes it, they hire you, and they let you work.
What are some of your upcoming projects?
I am working on two exhibitions in Spain and getting the online store ready. On a personal level, I’m working on reducing my needs and becoming a backyard gardener.
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