Peru-based illustrator Ximena Collado is known for her bright and bold fashion artwork, which depicts female body types rarely seen in the mainstream. We caught up with her to hear about how she made her first 1,000 followers and how a series of failures made her successful.
Drawing and clothes have been a lifelong love of Ximena Collado. Ever since she was a child, she drew the clothes she was wearing or dresses that she wanted to create. It's a passion that has turned into a career, as today, she collaborates with brands to make murals, packaging, and even clothes and accessories. But like many creative careers, this success is built on much trial and error.
However, it sounds like Ximena has always known where she wanted her career to take her. "In my teen years, I loved reading fashion blogs like Man Repeller and La Vida de Serendipity, and sometimes I would just draw the looks I saw there," she tells Creative Boom.
"It happened very organically, and I never really stopped doing it. One day at the office, I doodled this look from a Gucci runway, and this is the moment I decided to make it a regular thing, just a fun side project."
This sort of passion is hard to contain, though. Before long, her work was getting noticed, thanks partly to social media. "I started an Instagram account for my illustrations and always shared my process, which was very easy because of the speed painting videos Procreate automatically makes," she explains. "That was the first thing that drew some people in."
But it was a magazine cover for a publication in Peru that propelled Ximena to her first thousand followers. Her illustration was in response to a cover where a white model wearing a historic uniform was touted as the face of Peruvian Women.
"I joined the conversation through an illustration, and many users shared it organically," she says. "I even created a remake of it a couple of years later because the conversation is still relevant (also, you can see my improvement in technique)."
In a society as conservative and risk-averse as Lima, Ximena says she has always felt a bit eccentric thanks to how she dresses. Ever since she was little, she has proudly worn unique clothes even if the people around her don't like them. As she got older, though, she realised that the fashion world could be conservative too, and she felt it would have little in someone like her.
"I didn't look at all like the models or even the bloggers that had 'made it' at that time," she reveals. "I never saw any representation of bigger bodies or different skin tones when I went shopping or saw a magazine ad. And when I investigated fashion illustration, the same pattern repeated, albeit more abstract and artistic. Very thin and long figures were the norm, and again, I wasn't finding myself."
When she decided to take fashion illustration seriously, Ximena purposefully went the opposite way. "Since the fashion drawings I saw depicted impossibly thin characters, I wanted to create impossibly large ones to open up space so people like me could find themselves somewhere in the middle.
"I hope it sends a message to people (especially women) to take up space instead of making themselves small. Accepting and loving my body, speaking up and being confident are things I've struggled with most of my life, and I'm not the only one."
This approach has resulted in Ximena's signature way of illustrating bodies. Representing an organic evolution of how she doodled humans before, these figures have exaggerated proportions in order to look 'big'. She adds: "I did multiple tests and integrated some references to define how I drew faces and hands. I knew I wanted to prioritise the bodies over the faces (hence why all the faces are the same) because I wanted to show off the clothes.
"It was very methodical like I was making a brand manual but for my illustrations. After many sketches, I ended up with this very geometric shape, and sometimes I tweak it according to what I'm trying to illustrate now."
Getting to this point was more complicated than it sounds, though, and Ximena is very open about failing at other creative ventures before finally making it. Rather than being pessimistic about it, though, she can see how repeated failure proved useful and educational.
"I learned that consistency is key and the base to make any project successful," she explains. "It's hard to be consistent in something that doesn't bring you instant gratification in the form of money or recognition unless you love it, and I hadn't found capital letters LOVE with the previous projects. But they did help me lose the fear of failure and of showing up on social media.
"The street fashion blog specifically helped me tremendously in coming out of my shell. I had to approach very cool strangers on the street and ask them for a pic. It was terrifying but priceless therapy for my shyness."
However, failure can be a brutal teacher, so how should people bounce back from defeat? "Take a couple of days to cry about it (very important!) and get back on the horse," says Ximena. "Reinventing ourselves is a great opportunity, and having failed just means you have more knowledge under your belt. Start small and get excited about experimenting, basically making new mistakes."
Having just completed her first year as a freelance illustrator, Ximena has been learning even more, and not just purely through mistakes. The realities of the industry proved to be just as enlightening. "I was surprised by how important networking and public relations are," she says. "No matter how big I am on social media or how killer my portfolio is, more than half of my clients come from recommendations.
"Being responsible, delivering things on time, and having a good attitude is crucial on top of making good work. I also learned that taxes are real; never again will I price a project without calculating the tax!"
Looking ahead, Ximena is excited about creating new products for her recently launched online store. "I love designing clothes and fashion accessories," she concludes. "I hope to experiment with ceramics and jewellery next and figure out how to ship stuff internationally, too.
"I'm also doing some illustration for animation, which is new for me, and I'm always open to new projects for different mediums, especially related to fashion and female empowerment. So do reach out!"
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