Barcelona-based illustrator, art director and graphic designer Gabriela Basin specialises in creating empowering artwork sprinkled with a dash of her unique humour. We caught up with her to learn more about how she leans into and embraces her creativity.
The artwork of the multi-talented Gabriela is an unmissable joy. Popping off screens, pages and even walls in eye-catching colours, her vibrant and cheerful imagery tackles everything from human rights to climate change and gender equality with her signature flair for style and wit. What makes her work even more amazing, though, are the odds she has had to overcome on her creative journey.
That's because, at the age of two, Gabriela was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. This sickness can be very dangerous if it is not caught early, and thankfully in this instance, doctors caught it in time. However, it did impact Gabriela's motor skills, prompting a specialist to tell her family that she would not be able to accomplish cursive writing or drawing in the future.
Fortunately, this didn't happen. Instead, Gabriela forged ahead and flourished into the versatile creative she is today. "I like to think that having to sort out these difficulties while growing up – and having to prove this diagnosis wrong by facing all of my inner and outer battles – gave me the strength to write my own story as an artist," she tells Creative Boom.
However, developing as an artist wasn't just about overcoming obstacles for Gabriela. As a self-confessed "very sensible person", it also allowed her to express her feelings and ideas in a diverse way. "When I was a child, I liked to make colourful drawings and was pretty obsessed with making female portraits. During my adolescence, I used to paint different murals throughout my bedroom each year, thanks to my mum's unlimited patience!"
It was this creative spirit which won out when it came time for Gabriela to plan her future. "I decided to choose the creative path: I studied fine arts, got a degree in graphic design, and also did a very nerdy and theoretical specialisation in Communicational Design at Universidad de Buenos Aires, where I investigated the relationship between gender theories, power and illustration," she explains.
"I think that this intertwining of studies gave me a deep understanding of the creative field and also allowed me to learn much about my own concerns and creative processes."
This continual learning continues to this day. And Gabriela has become finely tuned to what fuels her creative engines. "I think that I get inspired by what speaks to me and makes me feel related to in general, from laughter to small insights, smart approaches or even what makes me feel sheltered or accompanied in life."
These inspirations are an eclectic mix, with everything from Guerilla Girls' art, Louise Bourgeois' sculptures and Alexis Moyano's videos piquing her interest. "I also love Japanese prints, surrealism, the use of colour in fauvism and expressionism," she adds. "I can't stop admiring Modernist artists. I'm a big fan of Gaudi's work and Mucha Art nouveau. I'm also inspired by jazz and soul, which my dad used to listen to at home, and I love improv theatre and poetry."
Gabriela's rich blend of influences has resulted in an explosive style she describes as "fresh, feminine, bold, joyful and versatile". This variety can be seen across her work as it ranges from tender subjects to very critical ones. "I like the flexibility of stating strong ideas while being fun," she reveals.
"I like to communicate about self-reflections, subjects that matter to me, or even to laugh at myself or the absurdity of our world. I always try to give a little twist to any common idea. And I aim to not only catch attention but to say something new.
"I have a very playful perspective of life in general, and I think this translates to the themes in my artwork; embracing mistakes, enjoying life's mess and contradictions, and making adulthood a creative foundation for facing the mysteries of life. And also, to talk about important stuff."
But Gabriela didn't arrive at her style fully formed. Like every creative, she had to embark on a journey of experimentation and self-discovery. "I guess it changed with my interests, my needs and even with the purpose I aim for my work," she muses.
"During my first years, I experimented with different techniques, and I remember having a more pictorial intention. I went from making big oil painting portraits. to small female watercolours to line-sketch drawings. Even when I made my first murals, they didn't look anything like the ones I like to paint nowadays."
As time passed, Gabriela felt the need to build her own creative voice, something that she could relate to and that went beyond aesthetics. "I started experimenting with different concepts, very simple shapes and plain colours, and I've loved them ever since! Going digital allowed me to make quick drafts by instantly testing all kinds of colours and textures, plus it was a very friendly way of beginning a more nomadic lifestyle since I moved from Buenos Aires to Catalonia and started to travel a lot over the last few years.
"About five years ago, I made this big change and decided to start talking about social issues and use my humour. This led me to make new works, murals and interventions and all different types of projects, which helped me build a very versatile portfolio and way of working."
As for why she leans towards fresh, eye-catching colours, Gabriela thinks this is because they help to keep her images powerful. "Also, the use of colour can turn the tone of a sensitive message into something fun, inspiring, empowering and nice to have around."
When it comes to gathering inspiration, Gabriela often draws on real-life experiences. Even the project centred around an ice cream store where the characters are all dirty while eating their frozen treats. "Guess whose experience inspired that," she jokes.
"Ideas might come while washing the dishes, walking, hanging out with friends, or even in the middle of the night," she adds. "And when I'm blocked – of course, this happens very often – I ask for a colleague's opinion. Either that or I just start doing some research and brainstorming concepts. Also, my relationship with my brother usually helps me connect with my inner child and nourishes my work with fresh perspectives.
"Between my notes, art books, the internet, sketchbooks and life experiences, I make my own Frankenstein's monster of inspirations to start playing around with shapes, colours and concepts, which help me land in different kinds of approaches."
Besides being a sensible person, Gabriela is also very curious. A useful trait to have as an artist. "I enjoy having different kinds of projects on the go. And since I tend to get bored pretty easily, being versatile in my professional life gives me the freedom to put my art into almost any media or project that comes my way.
"Besides my illustration work, I work as a graphic designer and art director, and from time to time, I also teach workshops and give mentorship to other creatives. I think that doing all these activities keeps me active and also makes me explore new skills and challenges. It helps me to be constantly learning and improving, both professionally and personally."
Out of her latest project, Gabriela chooses Hysteric Pillows as a notable highlight. This personal project, which is still in the works, consists of a series of pillows with two different sides, and viewers can choose which one to go for, depending on their mood.
"Each side talks about an emotion, but with a cute animal logic," she explains. "For example, the dog is happy, then loses his bone, and so he gets sad, or there's the bird that loves its freedom but then gets bored. I guess even animals can't avoid absurd frustrations! I like this project because I had a lot of fun creating it, and I find it simple and very powerful!"
Another recent project includes the illustration Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Human Rights, which was visible in Mexico's 8M street protests. She also singles out the project Spread Equality Wishes Around the World, which featured gifts sent to organisations and art directors. "I got very nice feedback! I love seeing my work travel around, and having nice responses is always very rewarding."
As touched upon at the start of this article, the life of a creative is not always smooth sailing. But when it comes to challenges, Gabriela says that the biggest hurdle artists face is choosing how to handle their own freedom.
"In these globalised times where we are consuming so many standardised and idealised ways of living, actively exploring our questions in our own way – if we have the privilege of doing so – can be a revolutionary act. It involves embracing our uniqueness, and that's a very hard and courageous thing to do.
"I think that the creative act is a leap of faith that takes a lot of boldness because we need to make room for the uncertain, for taking risks, for mistakes and exposure. It takes time, self-knowledge and many 'failures" that can become big treasures afterwards. We need to study a lot, not only about the different techniques, but also the creative markets. There's so much to explore and learn!"
Gabriela concludes by saying that creating is mostly a one-on-one journey with ourselves. And seeing as it can be a lonely process, artists must surround themselves with others who share their experiences and emotions.
"Our creativity can teach us a lot. There's a lot of power in caring for what we do and what person we become in the journey. Creating needs us to be very present and attentive to how we relate to our own lives and processes.
"Embracing our inner artist is a life-long process that changes and moves with how we relate with the world, and it's always shifting from our inner world to our outer world."