Exclusive Interview with Marcela Bolivar, 2nd Prize Winner of the iCanvas Digital Art Award, 2022 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize conducted by Ren Riley
For Marcela Bolivar, art is less made than manifested. Bolivar pulls from her inmost intuitions, beginning with an idea inspired by a moment, a brief from a client, or her own dreams. Her collages are crafted using 21st century mixed media; a commingling of photographs taken by Bolivar herself and digital elements created through Photoshop. The resulting photomanipulations are as beautiful as they are complex. Her creations have a signature softness, which when combined with bold, powerful hues and unexpected subjects, produce images that are at once earthy and transcendental.
Marcela Bolivar began her journey as a digital artist in her teens when her first digital camera, a low quality piece of equipment, produced imagery she was not happy with. She took the images into Photoshop and began to manipulate the elements she disliked. Over time, her manipulation techniques grew into the multifaceted imagery she produces today. Marcela Bolivar has created pieces for industry leading clients including Penguin Random House and Adobe. Her layered, transformative visions dare the viewer to consider the spaces between reality and fiction, disguise and truth.
Can you tell us more about the process behind your winning piece, Chthonic Tide?
This piece speaks of the artist embodied by the figure of the Magician in the tarot. The Magician is the manifestation of the work on earth, in the material world. I, obviously, took some elements from the tarot, but I let the image appear before me as the plant itself that shines and transforms. After a frustrating series of sketches made to no avail, I finally let myself be freely carried away by the creative resources around me and let each of the elements come into the image without methodical thought. This brought me closer to the idea of the Magician as a conductor, a vessel of the creative force that has the power to manifest on the surface that subterranean world in which our subconscious, our purest ideas, are found.
Most of the photographs taken for this work I already had in my personal image bank but each one has a story. The subterranean part of the fantastic plant is actually a pine tree that dried up in my house and when I cleaned it, it revealed an incredibly symbolic form, its roots formed a perfect space inside, as if something should be kept there.
What inspired the piece? What do the various elements symbolize?
The inspiration came from the figure of the Magician, but definitely what pushed me was to destroy a failed sketch to create something from that ruin. The subway space that I like to evoke in many of my images is where all ideas are born, manifest or dormant. The orb carefully enveloped by the roots is the very nourishment of the plant that shines on the surface.
A consistent theme throughout your work is natural elements interacting with humans in unexpected ways — what do those elements symbolize for you?
I really enjoy representing plants in my work because for me they are inscrutable, mysterious, silent but tireless beings, the very paradigm of alien lives sharing the earth with us. Plants determine the atmosphere of every place they are in and from which they are absent. They are the natural force that insistently returns and transforms everything. In my work, plants represent the organic, the irrational, the otherworldly, and the wild. Everything that a human tries to control, both in the civilized world and in their own being.
Where do you draw inspiration for your pieces?
It depends on what I’m thinking about at a certain time, but I’m often inspired by dreams, words, music. I try to digest everything that aesthetically moves me to know myself better, to enlarge my inner world. I’m normally driven by concepts like transmutation, wilderness, artificiality, human and nature.
I try to digest everything that aesthetically moves me to know myself better, to enlarge my inner world.
You frequently work with publishing houses on book covers — what is your process for a piece that you know will have a home on bookstore shelves? How do you familiarize yourself with the story and decide what pieces of it to represent on the cover?
It’s always a very exciting process. First, I am contacted by the art director who thinks my style might fit a story. After that they provide me with the manuscript and also a brief on ideas that are important, or visual elements that should be illustrated. I do my best to read as much of the manuscript as I can to take elements that speak directly to me. Then I do 3 or 4 sketches and present them to the art director. Sometimes one of these sketches is ready to go to its final version, other times the chosen sketch needs to be modified in another direction. It’s a lot of fun to collaborate with the designers and to know how the image is transformed by the typography; I’m learning more and more to take that into account in my illustrations.
You’ve been a Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize finalist before – how did it feel to be a winner this year?
I never expected it, honestly. When I have applied to the contest I always do it to support the magazine because it is a publication that has supported me a lot to grow in social media and for that I will always be grateful. It is very flattering to be part of such an inspiring group of artists.
Your pieces are complex – a viewer could spend an hour looking at the same piece and still not see all of the hidden details. Do you enjoy layering in symbols and textures that may not appear to the viewer at first glance? Do you feel like your pieces are hiding any secrets?
Yes, I like to think so! Digital art is seen as immediate and lacking in originality or effort. But I think it’s important to show that the inner world of an artist manifests itself with more fluidity and momentum when we find the medium in which we feel comfortable. This gives me the freedom to put details and elements that often go unnoticed but that for me are everything when a work is examined. And I like that, it’s not just a visual treat or part of an infinite scroll on social networks, if you want to stay a little longer looking at an image of mine, you will be rewarded.
Can you take us through how you go about creating a new piece from start to finish?
The most important thing are the ideas. I have a serious amount of notebooks with sketches, ideas that come and go, obsessive ideas, shocking dreams, recurring dreams, all of that goes into a filter where I choose a subject either on the spur of the moment or because I honestly think it’s a great subject that motivates me. Then I make a list of the things I need to photograph to make the image and what other resources I can take from my personal archive. In photoshop, I work a lot with scanned textures from paintings I make and also textures from surfaces I take on trips or outside. I base a lot of my atmospheres on these textures and the whole image slowly emerges from them. After putting in all the elements of the composition, I use more textures and brushes in the last layers of the image and play a bit with the color palette until I am satisfied. The thrill I feel in those last steps is unmatched.
It would be interesting if everyone who is attracted to what I do could see themselves in my images, see in symbols or atmospheres something that they cannot articulate rationally.
What do you hope viewers will see when they look at your work?
I don’t really expect anything. It would be interesting if everyone who is attracted to what I do could see themselves in my images, see in symbols or atmospheres something that they cannot articulate rationally. I am very happy when someone is inspired as I am inspired by the work of others.
Is there any image in your repertoire that holds special meaning for you? What about that image do you connect with?
I really like Cold Vessel. It is based on a sketch that I had been waiting for many years and when the time came to realize it, it manifested itself very strongly. I had just arrived from Madrid where I visited a special Bosch exhibition and the impression lasted so long in me that you can see it reflected in certain details of this image. The image is a portrayal of the sublimation of the human psyche, a bodily and mental transformation, a body that is t
What equipment do you work with to craft your pieces?
I work with a Nikon750, light lamps, acrylic paint, graphite, scanner, molding supplies, Wacom Intuos and Photoshop.
Do you have anything exciting planned for the future? What can our readers look forward to seeing from you next?
Yes! I’m going to spend a good part of this year and early next year illustrating a special edition of one of my favorite books and authors. Dream job.
What advice would you give to new artists who are just beginning in your medium?
I would advise you to take your own photos, references, textures and make every single detail in the image unique. In the days of artificial intelligence and unlimited stock photography, it’s very easy for everything to end up looking very similar and no voice is your own. You need to get up from your desk, get out there and make your own resources.
It’s a way to test yourself, to lose your fear and expose yourself to the world, when you get used to that, you are more free.
Why did you enter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize?
Because I like to support this magazine that I appreciate and because it is not bad to know how my art is valued today. It’s exciting to see yourself side by side with inspiring artists and it forms a community linked by the desire to create.
What do you feel you have gained from this experience?
Exposure! haha, well that’s important especially if it’s your work. Plus the certainty and validation of knowing that your art is valued by people who have appreciated a lot of art in their lives or who are dedicated to this. One tends to forget what the perception of the world is when you spend months locked away creating new things.
Would you recommend it and encourage others to enter? If so, why?
Of course, it seems to me that if it’s in someone’s budget, there’s nothing to lose by entering this kind of contest. It’s a way to test yourself, to lose your fear and expose yourself to the world, when you get used to that, you are more free.