Looking at Jorsh Peña’s colorful, surreal illustrations is like peeking through a window into your subconscious and discovering a party in full swing. The guests are playful and weird, but also slightly unnerving—things could turn ugly if the music stops for too long.
For Peña, who grew up in Mexicali and now lives in Tijuana (both in northern Mexico), exposing the dark or mysterious side of seemingly simple objects is part of the thrill of illustration. His style is a warm blend of geometry, Mexican culture, and a fascination with the occult.
“I always want to say something with deep meaning, not just a friendly and weird doodle,” he says. “I love that people don’t usually notice the mystic and twisted messages hidden in my illustrations.”
Peña’s journey as an illustrator began 15 years ago while studying marketing and running a clothing brand with friends. Looking for fresh design inspiration, he stumbled upon the now-defunct Illustration blog Mundo, which featured different illustrators and their work. “I fell in love with that webpage instantly,” says the artist. “I spent endless hours watching all those incredible and different styles of artwork. After that, I felt the need to create something of my own.”
He began spending hours drawing and experimenting with Adobe Photoshop, posting his finished work to Flickr. Eventually, what started as a hobby became a thriving career. “After a while, I realized that I was earning money for something fun that I truly enjoyed,” he says.
In addition to his gallery shows and editorial assignments, Peña has collaborated with numerous brands, including Alaska Airlines, Google, Samsung, Old Navy, and Microsoft. He enjoys the challenge of creating a harmony between the company’s message and his own identity as an artist. “There are always rules on both sides, theirs and yours,” he says of the process. “But it’s fulfilling when you’re able to nail the blend of your style with their established brand. You become the medium of that message, and you need to say it right so people can understand it and be caught up in it.”
Although he creates his final works in Adobe Illustrator, Peña believes strongly in the importance of sketching on paper first. “It is the root of every solid work,” he explains. “There’s a hidden magic to drawing on paper, you know, like turning something ethereal into something real.”
He’s also a fan of personal challenges, such as 365-day projects. He credits one he did years ago, as he was still getting established, with helping him hone his skills and better conceptualize his style. Each day, Peña gave himself two hours to choose a concept, sketch, and create the finished piece.
For the first month, ideas flowed easily. Then inspiration dried up. “Thirty doodles feel like nothing when you have 335 more doodles ahead of you,” he says. But having made a public commitment to create something new every day, he forced himself to work through the block. “It was a big deal for me,” he says, “Not just for the challenge of making a daily doodle, but to conceptualize something ordinary into something else. It became a personal journal portraying good, bad, scary, and funny memories.”
In 2019, he challenged himself to another daily project: 36 days of creating an image centered around a number or letter.
When in need of inspiration, Peña seeks out other creators pushing boundaries. “I’m crazy about indie video games, weird music, bizarre movies, and any stories with hidden secrets and details,” he says. “Everything that could act as a disruptor is interesting, pushing you beyond your limits and thoughts. I’m always looking for that kind of experience.”