Telling stories with art: a discussion with graphic designer Nicolle Herrera

Written by Imogen Morris

Have you ever looked at a piece of art that has made you think of a personal experience or a story someone has told you? Have you ever wondered what the story was behind the creation of that individual work? Nicolle Herrera, a Colombian graphic designer, spoke to YOUTH about her illustration and photography and how stories in particular shape her work.

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Nicolle works predominantly with illustration, animation and character design, but has also dabbled in 3D design and fashion photography. “My interest goes into different areas such as video games and technology” she explained, “I think my work is thought to be optimistic, playful... I like to make things that are out of the box - that provide different solutions to people. I base my work on life stories by working on the surreal movement and metaphysics.” Nicolle expanded on the influence metaphysics has had on her work, naming Giorgio de Chirico - an Italian artist and writer who founded the ‘scuola metafisica’ movement – as a key figure of inspiration, as well as the still life movement and abstract art. “It’s not as if I make abstract art but I base myself on some things from abstract art,” and added that she has “many different points of inspiration.” “Metaphysics means placing different objects in different positions and making compositions out of them. It doesn’t have to be based on how gravity works, for example, it goes beyond that.” She also has worked with photography: “I from time-to-time work with portraits of normal people doing their own thing,” Nicolle said as we asked about her photography, “because I don’t like much that is staged but are natural.”

'New Generation'

Her interest in art began from a young age, as Nicolle's parents are art collectors, dealers and even worked with restoration. From antiques and religious art to modern and contemporary art, like art by Fernando Botero, they had contacts all over the world. “At first I wanted to study multimedia design, but I ended up studying graphic design and I really liked it,” Nicolle said, talking about where her origins in art led her with studying, which involved illustration and also motion graphic design animation, so that she can “bring more life into [her art]”.

What was particularly interesting about speaking with Nicolle about her work was her explanation of her process of creation. “I need volunteers to tell me their stories, face to face in an anonymous way,” she explained, “but only tell me the positives about it. And not only life stories about the past but also about the present and the future – your aspirations, who you want to be, who you want to work with, how do you want everyone to view you, how do you want to view yourself?” From this she will pick apart the story to form an idea, “[I] take all this information and start brainstorming and start sketching the ugliest sketches,” she laughed, “and then start selecting and merging them up to be able to come up with a prettier sketch in which I can either digitalise or work analogue.” In between her work with illustration, Nicolle works with mixed media or totally digitally, but she says she has a “sense of surreal world building” and enjoys character design.

Nicolle detailed how animation takes significantly more time and effort to create, that it is even more difficult when working with a deadline. After asking what the most challenging piece of work to create was, Nicolle discussed her animation ‘The Forgotten War’. It portrays war, which is not an easy topic to approach – “you’re not trying to remind people of how the war was but to honour those nations and all the people that were a part of it. I was like ‘how am I going to portray that in an animation that is going to be inspirational, that is more beautiful and that doesn’t talk about violence itself?’” The characters all look the same as it is “not about differentiating nations by skin colour or how they look, not putting on stereotypes, but honouring them. That is why they have the flags.” Nicolle touched on how important research and investigation was in creating this animation to “not make mistakes”; she claims that the animation itself was not tough to make but the “process behind it” was, as it was “hard to grasp”.

“We are all human, and it doesn’t matter whether you are from this part of the world or a woman or a man or which is your sexual orientation – that is not relevant!” Nicolle says she looks forward to work that doesn’t have restriction, linking to her work with surrealism and metaphysics as there “are no limitations”. Nicolle’s work focusses on depicting life and humans in such a beautiful, united nature but also a genuine and dynamic way. Art has taught her “to be more observant because it is all about the details”; Nicolle would advise to any other artists to “take some time to learn about what is happening right now” and “learn about the outside world and can you use any of those things to your advantage.”

'Everydayness' Nicolle Herrera

Check out Nicolle Herrera’s work below: