The Beauty of Colour and the Power of Nature by Catalina EstradaCatalina Estrada
About this video
Join Catalina as she speaks about her personal and professional history, showing her main sources of inspiration and how she builds a universe based on the simplicity of colour, beauty and nature. She’ll also share the significance of her personal social projects, which have not only shaped her artistic expression, but have also resulted in meaningful connections between her homeland, community and her work on a deeper level.
Thank you so much everyone, for being here. I need to relax a bit, so I'm gonna play a little bit of music so I can. This is my first talk in English. So with this music, I'm gonna relax a bit, and then I'm gonna start to talk.
Okay. so, hello Toronto. I'm so happy to be here for the first time. I am Catalina Estrada. I am a graphic designer, but I do mostly illustration and pattern designs. I'm thrilled to be here. I didn't put this, but, I'm also, as I said before. I'm a little bit nervous because of the language, but, I was told you're a very generous public, so I hope you're gonna be a little bit patient with my vocabulary.
So, as I said before, or as, Nicole mentioned, I am from Colombia. Mete, so nice to see people from Colombia here and there in Colombia. I was born and raised in a house in the outskirts of Mein, and this house was invaded by plants and especially by colors, because my mother was a little bit crazy about colors, and you could see that when you entered her house because she had a different color palette for every room, and not even that, but the beams were different than the rooms, than the windows, than the doors, the shelves. So, it was quite interesting to grow up in that place. And not only that, but she also had this particular sense for strange objects. Some of them were very beautiful and some of them not so much, but, I have a sense that they all lived in peace and harmony in this sort of strange jungle that she built for her family. So, that’s where I grew up. And growing up there, I think later on I understood the importance of having a known language, a unique language that sometimes people may like and some people may even hate. But to her, that's even better than going unno. So she was a very, very particular person. She also taught me not to be afraid or ashamed of what I liked or or what I consider beautiful, which in my case is very frequently emotional. Baroque, tacky, cheesy, and a lot of xs of everything gradient. I tried to be minimalistic for a long time, but believe me, I tried, but I never succeeded.
So at this point, after many years, I just said, you know what? Embrace maximalism and more is more to me. So I, I learned many things from her. I would say for my career, this was very important. I learned to look for beauty in unexpected places, because we all know what common beauty looks like. We all agree what common beauty looks like, and it's okay, but sometimes it's boring, it's predictable. What I like the most is when you allow unexpected places to show you new kinds of beauty. To me, that's what it interesting to look at things in a different way and, then, find what is beautiful in that strange environment. So I, I need to make a long story, very short.
I studied graphic design there and after graduating in 99, I flew, to Barcelona because Meine,
I don't know if you are so young, but Meine during the nineties was going through a very difficult, situation because of the drug war. So the city was taking off, taking over by fear, kidnappings, murders, bombs. And there was a point I couldn't take it, like many people and many of us, we left.
So I arrived in Barcelona, and when you arrive to a new place, you sort of have to start from zero again. But I always had my heart in Meine, and I was looking and missing all the things that I left in there, and I was looking for that in Barcelona, and of course, I couldn't get it. So I tried to complete myself through my work, and I started feeling it, feeling in it with everything that I miss so much, which was the colors, the light, the intensity, the flowers, the animals, and I think nature became my obsession, nature and color. And then the way I started getting into the illustration world, my journey into illustration was through some volunteer projects.
Before I left Columbia, I met a few social projects that stole my heart. And being a graphic designer, I told some of them like, how can I help? I admire you so much that I was sort of disappointed of the graphic design career. But then I found these projects and I said, can I help you, just use me for, for whatever you think I can do? And the first project that I started working on while already being in Barcelona, it was good for me to keep in contact with my country, was the laboratory, which translates like spirit laboratory.
And this woman, this lady taught me so many things. She built a rural library in the middle of the mountains in Colombia in a zone that was very affected by violence as well. And here they educate kids from the countryside and kids from indigenous communities through art, through music, through creative writing. And from Gloria, I learned that these kids are Columbia's biggest treasure, but it's a shame because they are also the most forgotten communities. And let's not forget that Colombia is also one of the most unequative countries in the world. So I like all my respects for this project. And when I entered the place and I saw these kids playing the guitar, I felt like the world for that instant was a beautiful place. I'm not as optimistic as, the owner of this project, and I lose my faith in human beings very easily. But when I see these projects, I think like, okay, there are people doing meaningful things.
So she was telling me about the difficulties she gets to find the funds, to collect the funds to keep this library going, to pay the teachers. And I said, when I looked at the notebooks that the kids were writing in their creative writing classes, I was so touched, and I was so moved that I said, I need to share this with the world. I mean, more people have to see this, their connection with nature, the power of the words was so moving. I don't think I ever read something like this, and so humble. So I said, Gloria, listen, why don't we create something that can come out of the voice of these children and we can help those words fly away from the mountains and maybe get out to people and maybe touch other people's hearts, and maybe they can feel what we feel when we read them, and we can establish bridges. I don't know. I mean, I'm very emotional with these things, so the first poetry I started illustrating, the idea was to create a scarf that is a very easy piece to give, to fold, to make, a painting with it or whatever.
And it's Francis the girl on the right. She was nine years old when she, when she wrote the poetry. And it goes like this,
I am the fire that burns in the afternoon. I am the sun.
I am the clouds. I am the red flower of love.
I am the rain that falls from the sky. I am the rain.
No, I am the wind that blows with love.
I am nature that grows and grows.
And I thought this was so powerful, so poetic. And we kept on doing more. And I chose other poetries from other children. And, there’s many that I cannot show everything today, but they would be so proud to he see that their words were being read, their voices were being heard.
And this is probably one of my favourite ones. She was also nine years old when she wrote it
I think it's genius how in that little brain she can go from one extreme to the other, from the darkness to the lightness, the beauty, the ugliness, like life itself. And to me, these poetries are really, really strong. And since these projects are volunteer, I mean, we kept on doing many, we've been working for like 18 years, but since these projects are volunteer, that means no pay because I offered. I used them to experiment, to explore, to shape my own language, to strengthen it. And the best pay payment for me, besides working for such a beautiful cause,
because sorry, is to create images that I love so much and that, they don't have any art direction. So the result is a very personal work. So after I was so happy with these images back in 2001, probably. I sent those images already being in Barcelona to different European publishers, ALTE, communication, arts, orate, like big magazines and big publishers. But I didn't know they were going to publish. But I mean, you already have to know, but to my surprise, they did publish me. And from that moment on, I started getting commissions, like commercial commissions from clients I would have never, ever imagined. So I am so grateful to this project because if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been making a living out of illustration for already maybe 20 years.
And I would've never met any of these brands or started with, working for this huge project. But I'm not here to walk out to talk about big projects. I want to talk about this small and meaningful projects to me. So I don't like to give advice very much because I don't think that
everything works for everyone. I'm here to talk about what worked for me. And whenever I feel disconnected or uninspired or I don't know what to do with my life or what, or with my career,
my first reaction is I look for people doing things that I admire. And the good thing about them is that the energy of these people who make meaningful things happen and work is so contagious then, then there's nothing more inspiring, at least for me, than to feel that I am being part of something so much bigger than my own life.
And then I'm gonna start with another project that came exactly when those publications came. It's a small brand in Brazil, a fashion brand. And she contacted me right away of the Desta publication. But unfortunately, by that time, just before her post meet in UK and STO Barcelona, they had contacted me asking me for whatever I have of illustrations they wanted to buy. So I gave everything to them. And my Mariel Vida, who is the owner of the brand, she told me like, you don't have anything, but just send me any leftovers. Look, look, look, you might find something. So I sent her like a few, three or four images, and then I get to see these pictures. And for the first time I see my images. I never worked in fashion for the first time in my life, I see that my drawings or illustrations are being embroidered white, over white, different gradients of threat. And it was becoming like three dimensional. And the way that the fabrics flow, I, wanted to cry. I mean, it's so beautiful. It was my first experience with this. And then I could tell she's such a sensitive person and so delicate, and she moves in a different rhythm. Time for her is slower. I mean, and she's such a beautiful person. That little by little we started getting each other. So this was in 2006, and it's been, we've probably done more than 18 collections together. And now I pay lots of, I mean, this is a huge project for me, even though it's a small brand, but to me, because she's become not only my best friend, but like part of my family, she's like grandmother of my children.
My husband was a photographer and she would hire him too, and she would fly us to Brazil. So he would take the photo shootings, and it was her husband helping my husband with the lighting, her daughter doing the makeup. So everything was so spontaneous, non-professional at all. But we were drinking rps, having fun, like it was the trip of our dreams, like no stress at all. And meanwhile, they were taking these pictures. She really didn't even care how the pictures looked. She would go and play with my kids and she would be like a grandmother, spoiling them. And we would be on the bed looking at the ceiling, deciding what colors are we gonna do for the next collection. Ah, do you like cockroaches? Should we do cockroaches for the next collection? I find something beautiful in there, because we have this kind of same sensitivity and approach to beauty. She doesn't care about what's trendy or not, she doesn't care about the color of the year. She doesn't even care about the seasons. She manages her own time. She doesn't care if things are not going to sell because they always sell. She has her special client. So this project is very, very small, very special to me. It's small, but it's special.
One of my favorite collections with her is this collection devoted to St. George. I don't know if you know St. George in Brazil. He's a very special saint because, he is synchronized with an African orisha that is called Ogun, that was brought by the slaves that they couldn’t pray to their own gods. So they would pray like behind a Christian God. And she, briefs me like three images, and then I have to make up the whole concept. But it's nice, I mean, because we all get along very easily and the conversation is very fluid. So, researching a bit on St. George, I loved the prayer, because he's a protector and he's super strong. And then this is the prayer that is on every piece of clothes. And it says,
I am dressed unarmed in the weapons of St. George so that my enemies having feet, they will not reach me, having hands, they will not trap me having eyes. They will not see me, and not even with a thought, they will be able to harm me. Weapons of fire shall not reach my body. Knives and spears shall break without my body touching. Ropes and currents shall break without my body binding.
Now, I don't know about you, but to me, the idea of a woman being dressed in an armor of the most delicate hand embroidered images, the softest fabrics with the prayers hidden underneath the drawings, I think that's poetic. I think that's one of the most delicate and symbolic things I've ever done. And this relates a lot to the next project I'm going to talk about, which is international amnesty.
They invited me a few years ago to, together with a few other artists, women artists, graphic designers, sculptures, to work on a campaign to stop the violence against women. Because in Mexico, a woman is raped every four minutes, and seven women on average are killed every day. Now, this is brutal, this is too much. So at the beginning, I didn't know if I was going to be able to accept, because there was a moment in my life where this issue touched me very closely. And I didn't know if I would have the strength to work on it and to look at it in the eye.
But then sometime later I said, okay, I'm ready. Let's go for it.
And I started looking for Azteca symbols because they are so powerful. They're so simple but powerful. And I like this universal language that they have. And they can reach without language. It's more like an ancestral language. And I particularly like this Aztec calendar, which is full of details and symbols and borders and is amazing. So I started creating or emulating the Aztec Sim graphic language with very basic colors. And I didn't want to go too colorful, like everything I do.
So I stuck to the colors of the flag of Mexico, which is green, white, red. I drew the woman, a simple woman, the arms that would threaten her, the symbols that would protect her, and a few graphic porters. So very inspired by this calendar. I created a circle of women, so none of them would be alone again, and they would protect each other. And even though I was very happy with the results, I felt like the peace was very silent. And I remembered that when I was in that situation, the worst thing for me, the most painful thing for me was the isolation. The isolation for not speaking about what was going on because of fear. The fear is so big that you don't share what's going on. So I didn't want this to be silent. I started looking for women's voices,
and I found an amazing song by Colombian folk, singer, Martina Camargo. I wrote to her explaining the project and said, yeah, you have my permission. So I worked, reworked on it again, adapting the song to the movement, to the voice, to the lyrics. And I was quite happy with the result. Thank you. Thank you so much, and thank you to Martina.
And the last project I'm gonna talk about, and I have to rush a bit, is a project. You're gonna see. This project started three weeks ago in the Amazon rainforest. I have this friend Carolina, and she's been bringing school supplies to the children in the Amazon for more than 11 years.
Every year she brings about 2,500 school kids to these children. And for many years she's been inviting me to go, but I still don't feel very safe when traveling in Colombia, and especially in this territory, because there's this three frontier, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and it's separated by the Amazonas River. The thing is, Colombia and Peru are still number one cocaine producers in the world. And you see how easy it is for Peru and Colombia to bring the cocaine to Brazil through the river. So depending on the time when you go, it might be a little bit tense.
So I am always reluctant, but for personal reasons, I was a little bit disconnected this year. I started disconnecting from my work, from my family, from my life. This happens to me every certain time. And I said, you know what? I'm going there. Let it be whatever happens, I need to fly away. So after a two hour flight from Bogota to Leticia, arrive in this giant broccoli. It's green.
Everywhere you go, it's beautiful, like nothing you have ever seen.
Then it's lunchtime. So we arrive straight to the market. I love local markets because you get to see the fresh feed, the fresh fish, the food, the people. It's so noisy, so many things, so vivid, tons of things going on in the market. And we get to see the catch of the day, this handsome fish we get to see, to eat this delicious soup. And I don't know if you're familiar with pie ruku, this yellow fried fish. You are, yes. The thing is, I never met him in person, so I was taking pictures, sending them to my kids because it's my kids' favorite fish because he is the biggest fresh water fish in the world, and he only lives in the Amazons. So it was like a legend for my family. And after that, I was also offered with this Amazonic Delices, which is Lars, they're called Mojo Hoy, the super protein of the Amazon. But no thank you.I was already so full. Maybe next time, no, not for today. And then we go shopping for the last things that we need because we don't wanna stay. There we go. We wanna go straight away to our first place. And I love local signs everywhere I go there. So powerful. So we jumped into the boat, three hour drive.
We arrive to the first place where we're gonna stay the night. And we are welcomed by these creatures. Like they are so cute, and they're just, while they're waiting for you, and this is the place where we're gonna do our first night walk in the jungle. The thing is the sound of the jungle at night. You have no idea. It's so intense that you only wanna be quiet. You only wanna listen and look because everywhere you look, every centimeter, you move your eye, there is another creature. This is the jungle, is literally alive at night. Now, the next day we get on the boat again, four hour drive, we are gonna go to an island in the river, and in the middle of their island there is this lagoon. So what a better idea than to get on a boat and to go looking for alligators at 11 at night in a boat that was spilled by the neighbours of the family we were staying at.
They never tried it because they usually work. You know, thing is we survived. I'm here. The lake is full of piranhas and alligators. So, but okay, I'm here. Not only that, we survived sleeping in the open jungle where mosquitoes are not mosquitoes, mosquitoes are dinosaurs. It's a different breed. You have no idea. I never met mosquitoes like that. They would go through the jeans. I would sleep with two jeans plus the hammock, plus the mosquito in it. But, I know this sounds so uncomfortable, but the thing is that when you wake up in that place, you feel so small, you understand your proportion in the world. And I still don't think I have the vocabulary in English to speak about this experience because I'm still processing. There's so many things.
I lived in there and I was just coming here, so I had to put whatever I can say in this few minutes.
But the thing is that it's amazing. I also get to, to be invited to give an illustration class. In one of the schools we were delivering the kids, there was very little material. So I said, you know what? Let's go get some things from nature. Grab some leaves, grab some seeds, whatever you think is interesting. And we are gonna create creatures. And I said, how about we do dinosaurs, because my kids are obsessed with dinosaurs. And they said, oh, we'd rather do butterflies. And they all did. And they were so enthusiastic. And this is probably the most beautiful workshop I’ve ever done in my life. Now, the other thing about the Amazons is that most of the communities we visited, they don't have electricity. Or if they do, they are very restricted in some schedules. And people are fine with that, fine with no internet, fine with no phones. But that means that they have time to connect and that means that we had time to connect with them
because you need time in order to hear their stories, in order to share your own stories. And it was a huge privilege for me to hear and learn so many things from them and from the jungle.
I got so much from the Amazons that I felt I needed to give back in a certain way. So when I got back home, I couldn't get the Amazon out of my mind. Not even now I go to bed, I think on the Amazon. I wake up, I think on the Amazon as I'm obsessed and I need to share it with other people. I called Carolina and I said, I have so much inside of me. What do I do with this? I need to share it. How about I make some scarves to be original? And I said, I need to do something and to contribute to your project. I am going to donate some scarves and you're gonna sell them and you can collect more funds to improve your scholar kids. And she said, yes, of course she was happy. But the problem is how do you pay tribute to such a place, to such a huge, immense place that gave you so much, that gave me so much inspiration.
I just decided to start small and build from there small, like the projects that I like. And I would go to my camera roll and I would spot the very important objects that were for me in this trip,
and draw them quickly as quickly as I could, because we need to get this done by November because, uh, December is so close. So we need people to buy their, I mean, we are in a real rush to make it short. But then when I finished, I realized I didn't include the mosquitoes. Oh, I didn't include the spiders or the cockroaches. And I felt my heart is aching because I feel a betrayer. But I will do another one later on in honor to them.
So finally the jungle started becoming alive. This is a whisper of the jungle where the sap runs like the indigenous blood, deep and serene in every leaf, in every route, in every trunk, in every river of the Amazon, ATSU, Kuta, Peter. These are the rivers that joined the Amazons to make it stronger.
And I'm gonna go fast now because time is about to finish. And these are the guardians of the river, the tikuna, the Toma, jaguar, wi toto, mat, una, tca, ana, ri, ja tu. Do you see how much musicality there is in those names, in their language, in Tikuna, in all these languages? So I finally have the three designs ready to go to production, but I also have to design an envelope,
an envelope that pays tribute to everything, because every project has to be complete, even if it's in a rush. So before came the day before flying here, I go to the printer to pick up the envelopes that were the first thing that were ready. And she asked me, what is this project about? So, so golden, so strange. And I'm like, I tell her the project. And she says, really? Are you taking notebooks to the Amazons?
Do you know? That's my dream. But I never found a way because it's so long, it's so far away. How about I donate you the notebooks? And I was like, yes. And then the girls who were printing them, ah, I didn't run this video. it's okay. Where am I? Okay, the girls who were printing them, I went for an estimate to print these cards. My time is over and they tell me we have this ecologically certified fabric. And all the theory amazing. And I was thinking to myself,
I don't have the budget for this. So I go home, I give it a second thought, and then I get a call from them. You know what? Don't worry about the budget. We are gonna donate the printing, the fabrics, because we want to be part of this project. We believe in this project and we love it. So, yes, we are finally spreading the energy of the Amazon. So it all started in a difficult way.
I don't have time to explain the difficulties. We literally had to get off the boat and push the boat because the river was dry. And then let's not get into climate change because we don't have time.
But, so, I mean, I could do so many talks on this Amazon project that is just going on. But the thing is, people, even though the rivers dry, people are jumping and they are making this current stronger and wider and more furious. And we're, I hope we're gonna get, more people going to join and we're gonna improve those school kids.
And then where did I go again? I went to the wrong place. Last, last, last.
So I want to think that we will always make room for the signs that bring people together. When we work together and we do small things, we can make huge changes. When you feel part of something so meaningful, so meaningful, you connect with life and with and with people in a deeper and a broader way. Hopefully we can always find a way to work in projects that inspire and touch the hearts of others so that we can build wonderful and more meaningful things together.
Catalina is a Colombian illustrator based in Barcelona who reinterprets Latin American folklore, preserving its original strength to make it bloom in deep harmony and simplicity. Her impressive and cheerful visual language is infectiously optimistic, and with thousands of colours and all the power of nature, it goes beyond borders. Catalina has worked for major brands including Disney, Netflix, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nike, Levis, Old Navy, Smart / Mercedes Benz, Paulo Coelho, Unicef, Amnesty International and the Government of India.