Krystal Quiles‘ Riverdale art studio is cozy and neat. All her knickknacks, books, and art supplies have a home. Art fills every square inch. Her walls display pieces that inspire her, as well as those she’s working on. And even though there’s so many visually appealing items for your eyes to linger on, it’d be hard to scan the room and not see the throw pillow that features a “Baby One More Time”-era Britney Spears. The illustration is one she sells on her shop, printed on notebooks, towels, and mugs. Though it’s not wholly representative of her work, the Britney print’s just one example of the Bronx-based artist’s penchant for 2000s pop culture. Scroll through her feed, and you might find yourself feeling nostalgic for the 2000s.
“I’m really into pop culture. Sometimes all I wanna do is make drawings of that kind of thing,” the Puerto Rican artist says. “So I’ll see a video or something that reminds me of when I was younger or I’ll just take – and I don’t try to repeat the video or take exactly what’s happening in the video – I try to invent around it.”
“[Illustration’s] more accessible to everybody. It’s not liked in this bubble of galleries, where only certain people see your work.”
And though Eve and Gwen Stefani (from their “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” days) and TLC prints are readily available on her site, she’s creating work around her everyday life as well. On her website, for example, she has a series of beach photos based on outings with her friends and family.
At this phase in her career, she’s experimenting and trying out everything and anything. Though she sells home goods and apparel on her shop, she’s working with textiles, embroidery, and lots of GIFs. Her newfound love of GIFs has led her to create a spectacular J. Lo and Ja Rule graphic from the “I’m Real” music video, as well as a very on-point GIF of Katie Bush – inspired by the “Wuthering Heights” music video – swaying back and forth.
“I’ll do a bunch of drawings that convey some kind of movement, and then I’ll scan those in,” she says. “It’s pretty much line work that I scan in. Then I’ll figure out how I want it to move on Photoshop. Then it’s again, going back to printmaking and all those layers. I’ll figure out if I wanna make some more texture and then I’ll do some painting of random shapes and stuff. Then, I’ll scan that in. And it’s just a bunch of going back and forth and layering.”
When Krystal began attending the Pratt Institute in 2009, she initially focused on printmaking. During high school, she studied printmaking and she wanted to continue down that path in college. However, when she learned more about the illustration major, she decided to make the switch.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to switch to illustration in school was I saw that the illustration world was more open,” she says. “Not only in a commercial sense – because I’m not really doing it for commercial reasons – but it’s more accessible to everybody. It’s not liked in this bubble of galleries, where only certain people see your work.”
Currently, she’s trying to learn just how versatile the field is, but she continues to come back to printmaking and layering. “I just really like when things look like it’s mixed media,” she says.
Last year, as she prepared to show in Santiago de Chile, she sought to create something that could easily travel from one country to the other. So she began experimenting with printing her drawings onto fabric and tapestries, which she then embroidered. It’s something she hopes to do more of in the future.
“There’s room for all of us. We each have our own unique voice.”
She’s also hoping to collaborate more with other artists, because working as an illustrator is “very solitary.” Though Instagram and Tumblr serve as inspiration for Krystal, she can go without them. Sometimes she does. Working with others, however, helps her grow as an artist. “Of course, if you’re constantly working I think you’re growing,” she says. “But there’s something to be said [about] working with somebody else. Their creative process is completely different, and I think there’s always something to take away from that.”
Recently, she teamed up with her friend, Nicole Rodríguez, a photographer. Krystal’s found combining art and illustration very challenging. For this collab, Quiles drew all over the photographs. In her younger years, she may have turned down this kind of partnership, because she saw other women as competition. “I’m learning more and more that there’s so much to learn from each other and supporting each other is the best thing to do,” she adds. “There’s room for all of us. We each have our own unique voice, and we should all be heard and there’s no reason to hate on each other. So I’m really happy when I’m working with other women.”
Additional reporting by Itzel Alejandra Martinez.