‘They’re like eye candy’: Milagros Pico on creating emotional illustrations bursting with colour

Buenos Aires-based illustrator Milagros Pico specialises in creating images that are bursting with vibrant colours. She tells us how music and contradictory feelings shape her work.

If the illustrations of Milagros Pico had a flavour, they’d definitely be bittersweet. Describing her work as “eye candy”, her art has an appropriate sharpness and sourness to it. Full of characters caught up in love/hate relationships, her illustrations are also a somewhat intoxicating blend of contradictions, which only serves to add to their potency.

This mix of feelings also extends to how Milagros got into art. Despite not having a strong desire to follow it as a child, she was nevertheless surrounded by crafts such as beaded animals, candles and soaps from an early age. “One of my dreams was to sell my handicrafts at the local plaza, being an artisan.”

As the youngest of three siblings, Milagros’s creativity was also accelerated by her sisters, who would decorate their school binders with collages made from magazine cutouts. Coupled with a mum who was a notary, the path was paved for Milagros to explore her artistic side, too.

Initially, Milagros studied graphic design, an influence that is still evident in her work today. While she loves the tools that the discipline gave her, Milagros struggles to make it her own. “In my twenties, I was easily intimidated by professors and the standards of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ design,” she reveals. “There were so many rules that I wasn’t able to let go and create a personal style with it.

“Drawing, however, was a different story. It was an activity I did without expecting a specific outcome. I made zines and countless drawings just for myself, creating a personal style without even noticing it. I think I learned to have fun with it; I never got there with design.”

Inspired by her friends in Argentina and the city around her, Milagros has gone on to embrace this sense of fun and develop a completely her own style. Speaking of how Buenos Aires itself has influenced her work, she says its bustling atmosphere has had a profound impact.

“I consider myself more introverted, and being here helps me step out of my inner world, connect with others, and engage in activities,” she explains. “I can see those contrasts reflected in my artwork —busy compositions saturated with colour yet retaining a sense of vulnerability and nostalgic emotion.”

Speaking of the saturated colours in her illustrations, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that when she started out, Milagros worked with black and white fine-tipped pens and rulers. “My themes were very introspective, but eventually, I grew tired of that style,” she says.

“I realised I wanted my drawings to be looser, with a bit of humour. It dawned on me that the drawings that captivated me the most were the colourful ones. So, once I became comfortable with my drawing style, I began paying more attention to palettes. I love the sensation of colours bursting into your eyes, like eye candy.”

The perfect accompaniment to these visual flavours is the people they’re paired with. Milagros has always been fascinated by feelings and emotions that contradict one another, so in her illustrations, she likes to depict how people can say one thing yet feel something completely different, how we’re drawn to things that aren’t good for us and pursue them anyway.

“We try to rationalise all our emotions with words and convince ourselves of their validity, but feelings always find a way to surface — whether it’s in the tone of our voice, a glance, an awkward hello, a touch, a lingering silence, or a sudden change in mood,” she says. “I enjoy it when people question the meaning behind my drawings when they don’t fully comprehend what’s happening and try to understand it.”

Elsewhere, Milagros’s love of music plays a huge part in her illustrations. “It balances me out, takes away all of my anxiety, and connects me with myself,” she says. “I feel understood every time I see my emotions reflected in a three-minute song; it’s so condensed and strong. Realising someone else felt the same emotions, there’s a connection.

Inspired by the ideas in music, Milagros sometimes likes to do an exercise where she translates songs into drawings. “What I love the most about translating is that I make the song my own, I create an interpretation of what I feel when I’m listening to it,” she says. “And at that point it is no longer important what the author tried to say, but what is important is the effect it has on me, what images or memories it brings to me.”

These images and ideas are currently being articulated in a new way. Milagros has recently been experimenting with animation, something she never thought she would delve into as it demands an “exhausting” amount of time and energy.

“However, seeing my drawings come to life is incredibly rewarding,” she concludes. “I have a project that initially began as a publication, but now I’m considering reimagining it as a short film. It’s a story about the friendship between two girls, shaped by sports, competition, and jealousy. While I’d love to finish it eventually, for now, I’m just enjoying the process and having fun with it.”

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