Gastón Mendieta distills advanced ideas into cinematic illustrations

“I think the attraction of illustration is that telling different stories makes you grow and empathise with other realities,” says Barcelona-based illustrator Gastón Mendieta.

With an interest in drawing from an early age, after art school Mendieta experimented for a while before he landed on illustration as a career. Since then, he’s been building a portfolio of monochromatic works that feel almost cinematic in their composition. 

All images: Gastón Mendieta

“I think that my style can be more recognisable in the atmosphere of the illustrations than something specifically graphic,” he says. “That said, I think I give a lot of importance to the light and shadow within the paradoxes of the images.” Inspired by current issues and topics, Mendieta sees it as his mission to uncover the part of the story that connects people.

Working across a range of commissions for various editorial clients such as GQ, The New York Times, Forbes and New Scientist among others, the illustrator says his approach remains fairly similar for different projects. “Before I start working on a new assignment I find documentation essential, I think it’s a way in which I feel comfortable because when working on ideas it’s a solid base for the other parts of the process to be more fluid,” explains Mendieta.

“I usually work the sketches in grayscale at first, I do this so I don’t get lost in the idea and go by blocks, once I’m happy with the idea I add the colour. Many times the meaning of the piece changes radically with the inclusion of the chromatic ranges, and at that moment is when I work different adjustments so that graphically I can communicate the idea in the right way.” 

Mendieta works digitally, mostly using Photoshop as that best suits his way of working and he often likes to play around with different brushes to add depth and texture to his works. “I think it is important to adapt the technique according to the assignment,” he says. “This way you can learn new skills over time that make you grow as an illustrator.”

This is an important part of Mendieta’s practice as he worries about playing safe and not developing. “I think one of the most important challenges in my work is to keep defining my style without stopping experimenting,” he says. “To keep growing organically, and at the same time make images that can convey something inside the viewer’s thoughts.” 

Conceptual pieces are Mendieta’s bread and butter and in the past he’s explored abstract notions such as hope, loneliness, happiness and shame. What grounds his works are the small figures that inhabit his bright, off-kilter worlds. 

“I think commissions are an important part of an illustrator’s career in terms of having different perspectives on your work,” he says of his commercial work.

“The fact that I get to delve into different stories is what draws me to editorial projects, also the fact that I get to experience different sensibilities depending on the subject matter and make that into an illustration that communicates and completes an article for me is a challenge that I enjoy.”