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Myths and Magic: The Work of Sonia Lazo

By Leslie Anne Peterson

While she’s still a graphic design student, Sonia Lazo is creating attention-getting art. Her lively, intriguing work addresses not only the world we live in but also unseen worlds—the land of the past and the realms of myth and fantasy.

Lazo studies graphic design at the Universidad Dr. José Matías Delgado, in Antiguo Cuscatlán, El Salvador. When she was a young girl, one of her fascinations was the natural world.

“I thought I would actually be a marine biologist,” Lazo explains over Skype and a steaming cup of coffee. “I’ve just always been fascinated by that kind of thing.”

But as a high school senior about to graduate, Lazo—like many in her position—was uncertain about what to pursue. Should she follow her early dreams of a life in biology? Or perhaps a career in history or anthropology?

In the halls of her university, Lazo found the answer. It was there that she discovered graphic design and illustration.

Not completely sure about how this new interest would translate into a career in her home country, she tested the waters with product design instead.

“I thought that’s what I wanted, but I realized halfway through I didn’t like what I was doing,” she explains. This revelation was the push Lazo needed to pursue her true passion, whether or not El Salvador had a market for it. Since then, she’s used art to nurture her passions for both the biological and the mythological.

Martír, an illustration by Salvadoran artist Sonia Lazo
Dear Deer, an illustration by Salvadoran artist Sonia Lazo
Viscera, an illustration by Salvadoran artist Sonia Lazo

A FOCUS ON PROCESS

Lazo’s work is a Technicolor dream, often blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. Each piece is a bold statement, with thick lines and vibrant, intense colors meant to take the eye on a journey through the artist’s inner life.

“I feel like that’s my strength: color, shape and texture. I like filling everything with textures,” Lazo says with a laugh.

Indeed, texture is a hallmark of her unique style, but everything she does begins with pencil and paper. She then takes that hand-drawn work into Adobe Photoshop, refines the line work digitally, chooses flat colors that serve as the base palette, and finishes with details, highlights, and shadows. She thinks of her work as “digital painting” and uses many different brushes to add depth and texture, for a handmade look.  

“In college, they teach illustration with manual techniques, not really digital. I had to learn how to translate to digital on my own. I think it’s really important to maintain that training,” she says.   

She adds simple animation to some pieces, to make them more dynamic and atmospheric: “I use frame animation in Photoshop,” she explains. “It’s the easiest way I know. I just draw the elements I want to animate on different layers, and I keep the original illustration under. So it’s pretty much traditional animation where each frame is drawn by hand; that’s why they tend to be pretty short.... I plan to practice more and make things more complex.”

Lazo also likes using animations to show how a piece is made. She believes in exhibitionism when it comes to her work, and she will very often display her process from concept sketches to the final piece.

“You should put your process up. I think a mistake people make is they compare each other too much. I know I’m not the best and there are other amazing illustrators, but I like what I do, so I know there are others who will too. That’s why I want to share my process. A lot of people are afraid of showing themselves like that.”

A self-portrait by Sonia Lazo

STORIES OF A CULTURE

It’s clear she draws inspiration from the myths and stories of her culture, always looking for opportunities to portray the relationships between the spiritual world, the natural world, and humanity—a theme frequently seen in Latin American art. Particularly, work like Inmemorable, Vandalismo, and Dear Deer suggests an intimate closeness between the tangible world and supernatural forces surrounding it.

One of Lazo’s more ambitious projects is a series of fruit characters, each with its own distinct personality and expression.

“I’ve been really into character design lately. One day I was eating something, and a thought came to my mind about how fruits would react to someone eating them,” she says. “I love taking my designs and contrasting them to the real world.”

Illustration by Sonia Lazo

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Harsh reality can be a strong motivator for artistic expression—as can the subtle beauty that often provides a counterpoint to this reality. For many people, a mention of Lazo’s home country, El Salvador, is likely to call to mind ideas of drugs and gang violence—images of a land overrun by the wicked and criminal. This however, is not what she sees, and she uses art to speak to the hidden splendor and beauty of her country.

“I wasn’t as proud as I am now of my heritage because it’s a really complicated situation here. You could say we have a bad reputation with violence and gangs and all of that, but there’s also an amazing, rich culture that people don’t see because we’ve alienated ourselves. I always try to put that in my work, so people can see El Salvador in a more positive way.”

Lazo’s journey is just beginning, and many challenges await her once she graduates, but along with that come aspirations to try new things and to deepen and broaden her knowledge.

“I’m extremely nervous about [what comes next]. I would like to go abroad and study illustration. I know people who want the same career I do…and they’re really good! I must always be learning.”

Image from a series created by Sonia Lazo for Adobe Education
Image from a series created by Sonia Lazo for Adobe Education
Image from a series created by Sonia Lazo for Adobe Education