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Illustrator Spotlight: Maya Ish-Shalom

Process, style, color and influences: Get to know the talent behind the illustrations we love

Illustration: Maddie Fischer

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way to a creative career as an illustrator.

I’m a freelance illustrator living in Tel Aviv. I work on editorial commissions for magazines and newspapers, children’s books, ad campaigns and branding. I live and work in Tel Aviv, which I recently moved back to after living in Brooklyn for 7 years with my husband and two kids. I graduated in 2014 from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, and I moved to NY right after graduation.

I feel that living far from home for such a long time shaped me a lot, as a person and as an illustrator. This is really where my career started. It was a big challenge for me to start all by myself with no network, in a place where no one knows me. Creating everything pretty much from scratch was a little scary and difficult, but eventually empowering and exciting.

I’ve loved to draw and create for as long as I can remember. I studied art in high school. When I was 14, my grandfather bought me a sewing machine, and I used to sew my own clothes (and wear some weird outfits…). I was sure I would study fashion design but when the time came I understood I can express my creativity in more than one way, and I decided to study visual communications.

It’s not always easy to work as a freelancer and to be worried about where the next project will come from, but I feel lucky I get to do my favorite thing for a living.

How did you find your medium and style, and who and what influenced you?

For commission work I usually work digitally, with my Wacom on Photoshop and with different brushes. I feel it's liberating to work that way because I can change, erase, and choose color very easily. Occasionally I also create animated gifs using Photoshop and After Effects.

Sometimes, I work by hand. I feel that the disadvantage of hand drawn illustrations is also what I like about it - every “mistake” or regret will have some traces. I think there is magic in that because you’re seeing the full development.

The problem is that it’s much less efficient and can be problematic in commission work, especially when there is a time consuming project. For my hand drawn illustrations I usually use either black brush pens or acrylic gouache.

I would say my style is naive and colorful. I like to alternate between very simple illustrations with bold simple shapes, to more complex illustrations with a lot of characters and details.

What subjects are you most fascinated with? My art is mostly driven by people and different emotions. I think that these are basically the foundations of everything.

One of my favorite things in my work is exploring and researching unknown subjects. It’s really refreshing and inspiring to find ways to relate to the subject. For example, one of my favorite projects in the last few years was a calendar of the Archdiocese of Seoul. The illustrations told the story of the first Korean-born Catholic priest.

How do you create characters, what inspires them, and how do you use color?

I’m interested in creating non-perfect characters, I like to play with different body shapes and different sizes of body parts. I think it gives the characters more personality and emotion which makes it easier to connect with them. Usually I don’t decide in advance, it's very intuitive for me - I do what feels right at that moment. It’s part of the way I express myself. Sometimes I like to blur the line of genders, try illustrating a person with no specific gender. In general, I try to create diverse characters with different ages, genders, shapes, religions and ethnicities.

I usually sketch directly in color. I create very rough sketches with colored shapes and not with lines. I imagine my concepts in color. I love all the colors, for real! There is no color I wouldn’t use. I usually prefer to limit my palette to 5-6 colors, picking the colors intuitively with no specific rules.

If you had to pick a favorite project, which one are you most proud of and why?

In the past year I’ve worked pretty intensely on a very special project. I worked on animations for a company working to help people with mental illness. The animation is going to be part of a treatment for people with depression. It was exciting to work on a project that might really help someone who is struggling. I’m also really proud because it was the first time I animated a full length animation (as opposed to an animated gif). I really enjoyed creating the story, characters and backgrounds and it's always a pleasure working with people who try to do good and want to make a change in the world.

What’s next for you?

In the past few months I’ve been working on opening my online shop. I wanted to do everything myself, to decide on each and every detail, choose the packaging, find my favorite paper and quality of printing, and to write a little note for each order. I know that when I buy directly from artists, there is something special and personal about the experience. I wanted people to have the same experience when they order from me. I operate it from my new studio in Tel Aviv, which I moved into after years of working from my tiny workstation at home. I now share a space with two illustrator friends, Danielle Peleg and Hadas Hayun. So, new beginnings! I’m excited.

Rapid Fire Round - Choose one answer! you can add a few words if you like :)

Weekend - lounge in bed / go out and party? Go out and then lounge in bed the day after.

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Cats or dogs? Dogs.

Favorite season? Summer. Beach, pool, vacation and people are happier.

Cinema or Netflix? Cinema when possible.

Pool or beach? Beach. (I’m only 2 mins from it.)

Computer or sketchbook? I like to mix but I usually do commercial projects on the computer.

Text or voice note? Text, easier for me to think that way.

City or countryside? City, but going to travel in nature whenever it’s possible.

Getting dressed: colorful or monochromatic? Colorful, even though I find myself wearing a lot of black and white somehow.



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