Artist Journey: Mirelle Ortega
last updated 28 October 2020
In honor of recently celebrating Latinx Heritage Month, we thought it was fitting to highlight one our Latin artists, Mirelle Ortega, and share her journey to becoming an illustrator. Art has always been the beat to Mirelle’s drum, an organic passion that is not rooted in a single moment. She was born and raised with the clarity of wanting art to be her life, and we may be biased, but she has chosen the best path for her talents!
Since joining Bright, Mirelle has had the opportunity to work on various projects she personally resonates with because of her background, as well as inspire young readers through her vibrant art. Reigning from Veracruz, Mexico, Mirelle’s home and family heavily influences her creativity. It is always a joy to catch up with Mirelle, and we hope you enjoy her story! Happy reading!
We love learning about your path to pursuing your passion. When did you know that becoming an artist was your dream?
I’ve been drawing since before I could write, and even as a kid I always felt compelled to tell stories. I really wish there was an “aha” moment of how I decided this was what I wanted to do, but it was just always there. Being an artist has always been more of a calling than a conscious choice for me. I’m aware it sounds kind of crazy, but in many ways I didn’t pick the dream, the dream picked me.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born with clarity about what I wanted to do, and I am thankful that my parents were always very supportive of my dreams. I grew up in a small rural town in Mexico, so I didn’t have access to a lot of the resources kids in cities have when it comes to art programs; but my mom always found ways to nurture my artistic inclinations. It taught me that just because things aren’t readily available to you doesn’t mean that you can’t make them happen, sometimes you need to get creative and build your own opportunities.
As for my path, I went to college in Mexico and got a BA in Digital Art and Animation. I applied for a scholarship at the National Fund for Art and Culture in México, and I was able to do get a Master’s degree in Visual Development at Academy of Art in San Francisco.
The detail of your work provides a real-life feeling for make believe worlds. How would you describe your style of work? What medium or tools do you use to create?
I describe my style as very vibrant, colorful, shape-driven, story-driven and simple. I’ve always viewed art as a language on its own and I’m very cautious about what I say and how I say it. I want each statement I make to be both striking and clear.
I do all of my art digitally, but I do make tiny loose thumbnails on notebooks before I set out to draw in my computer. It’s really about brainstorming different compositions as fast as I can!
Digital work done by Mirelle.
I use Photoshop CC and a Cintiq HD ’13 or Procreate on the iPad Pro. However, I use this rarely for professional work, sometimes I might sketch there first and then move on to Photoshop.
Is there a specific place or person that inspires your art?
This is a very tricky question for me because I get inspiration from so many different places and people. I think my home state of Veracruz in Mexico, is definitely a place I pull a lot of inspiration from. I just have a lot of love for that place, I had a very magical childhood there. There is so much beauty and sometimes people can’t see it so I want to show them.
Inspired by a folklorico dance from Mirelle’s home state, called “La Bruja”
As for people, I think my family inspires me the most. Every single beautiful piece of artwork I’ve made is a direct reflection of them. I am so thankful to have a family that gave me so much love growing up, and always made me feel encouraged, cared for, and confident in myself.
Mirelle & her brother.
Do you have a dream project or have you already worked on your dream project?
I would love to write and illustrate my own books someday! I would also love to make covers for editions of books I already love. It’d be amazing if I got to illustrate something for any of Gabriel García Marquez’s or Alice Hoffman’s titles. I was also a huge fan of R.L. Stine growing up, so doing something for any of his books would be a dream come true!
One of the last projects I did was a piece for a book I adored, “Mexican Gothic”. It was one of those dreams that I didn’t know I had up until someone offered it to me. I was SO excited when James called to tell me! I think we spent a good chunk of time on the phone gushing about the book and trying to get a copy as soon as possible!
Promotional poster for Mexican Gothic.
But honestly, books were such a big part of my life growing up that I feel like it’s a dream come true when I get to illustrate a cover or a title. Especially when I do things aimed towards a younger audience. I always think to myself, “this is going to be some kid’s favorite book” and it’s so special that I get to be a part of that. I get a lot of messages from moms on Instagram writing to say their little ones love the covers I’ve made. This makes me very emotional because I was the kid who loved books and the illustrations in them, so I know that feeling.
What is your ideal environment for creating? Have you had to make any adjustments in the midst of the pandemic?
My ideal space includes a lot of ergonomic features and practical things. I also LOVE displaying a lot of art that I’ve collected from other artists and friends, it really keeps me inspired.
An illustration by Mirelle modeling an inspiring workspace.
I have a big old ergonomic chair and an automatic adjustable desk. I had been eyeing that desk for years before I bit the bullet and got it, and honestly, BEST PURCHASE EVER. Being able to adjust the height of your desk is a true game changer.
I didn’t really have to do any adjustments in the midst of the pandemic, but I did find myself splurging a little on things I had been wanting for a while. I got myself a wooden computer stand, and at some point I ordered a bunch of stationary from France. In hindsight, I think that was probably a coping mechanism for the general anxiety of the times and not so much related to my workspace needs.
We recently celebrated Latinx Heritage Month! We are proud to represent a diverse group of artists, and admire the beauty that various cultures and races bring to one’s art. As a Latin woman, how has your background influenced your work as an illustrator?
I think everyone’s culture is baked into everything they do - there’s just no way around it. My upbringing in Mexico definitely has shaped the way I look at the world on so many levels. I think latin culture in particular is very vibrant and joyous, and I definitely see that in my work.
I can also see how living in the US for the past five years has shaped me. When you live outside of your culture you start looking at it from a different perspective, it really gives you a greater understanding of the world and people.
I’ve been very lucky to have done a lot of projects that have resonated with me on a personal level, especially when it comes to Latin culture. My first project with Bright was the Love Sugar Magic series published by Waldon Pond Press. It is a trilogy about a family of Mexican Brujas (witches) who make magic through baking delicious pastries.
I also did Pepe and The Parade published with Little Bee Books. This title is a bilingual picture book exclusively talking about Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations! That was pretty neat too!
I was also honored to work on a picture book based on the life of Joaquín and Julian Castro, “Small Room, Big Dreams: The Journey of Julian and Joaquín Castro” publishing with Harper Collins. I think it’s a great book and a lot of kids will be inspired by their story! I learned a lot about them from illustrating the book, and I definitely felt inspired. Monica Brown did a wonderful job, and I was super happy to be brought on the project. Look out for this title in 2021!
When did you officially join Bright? How has your agent, James Burns, supported you in your time with Bright?
I officially joined Bright at the end of 2017. I had worked as a full-time illustrator for an online kids’ platform prior to that, and I was really interested in working for publishing. I had done a little research about representation which included reading a copy of “Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market” and going to an illustrator/agent panel at an artist event. A few of my online artists friends were represented by Bright (like the super talented Gery Rodriguez and Fátima Anaya. When I asked them about their experience they had nothing but positive things to say, and that’s what put Bright at the top my list.
I think working with James has been - as he would put it - gorgeous!
My favorite part about working with him is that I feel like he’s very honest and upfront about his thoughts on specific projects. The knowledge he brings to the table in all areas of the business, and the fact that he’s willing to share that knowledge with me, is priceless. It’s so nice when you feel like someone who is capable has your back!
I do think being represented has helped me build a career as an illustrator. I think there is a difference between having consistent work and projects and developing an actual career. And I feel that being represented has definitely played a big part in helping me achieve the ladder.
View Mirelle’s portfolio here!