María Medem’s designs are a fairytale fantasy
11.06.21 Words by Hannah Valentine

María Medem’s designs are a fairytale fantasy

The Spanish illustrator captures our imagination with her vibrantly-coloured editorial designs, comic strips, and graphic novels – showcasing her love of storytelling, and pulling us into a world of fantasy and fable.
11.06.21 Words by Hannah Valentine

Ethereal and dreamy, María’s vividly-coloured illustrations pull us into a world full of fantasy and imagination. From inky star-strewn heavens, to rich glowing sunsets and luminous moons, the expansive skies she uses in her work form the backdrop against which her simply-depicted characters feature. "What I love most is creating stories,” María tells Wrap. "I don’t feel happy with a drawing unless it has some narrative behind it—even if I’m the only one who can see it!”

Even María’s hometown of Seville seems like a fairy-tale setting, with its ornate architecture and sunny parks and plazas. It was here that she studied for her degree in Fine Arts, and it’s the people and places she encounters in her daily life that provide constant inspiration for the narratives in her work. "When I go out with my dog I always end up talking to at least one or two people,” she says. "I find myself having long conversations with people who might be 50 years older than me and have a completely different perspective on life! But we get talking and they often tell me really unexpected and moving stories."

When it comes to bringing these stories to life in her illustrations, María enjoys regularly switching up her daily routine– working both from home and from her studio, where the terrible Wi-Fi connection means she’s forced to focus. No matter her location though, the first part of her creative process is always to experiment with different ideas in her sketchbook. "I start out with very small, rough and incomprehensible sketches,” she tells us. "I always begin a sketchbook trying to fill it with decent sketches, but naturally that’s impossible!” The next step is a more meticulous drawing, before she scans the design onto her computer to colour it digitally.

María’s narrative style makes her work a popular choice for editorial commissions, and she has illustrated for publications including BBC Culture, AIGA Eye on Design, Zeit and The New York Times. This style was also ideal for her work with French design magazine Kiblind, for whom she created a series of comic strips inspired by the theme Square2. "This was an interesting project. All the strips had to have a square in the centre, and just from that I had to create something compelling,” she says. "Some of the strips were easy to imagine, but in others I had moments of severe desperation thinking that I’d never be able to come up with any good ideas that met the brief!”

She also works on her own books, creating comic-style illustrations to explore different poetic and reflective topics. "Making books is the thing I most love doing,” María says. Her graphic novel Cenit, published by Apa Apa Cómics, examines the layers between dream and reality, and her book Èchos is a poetic reflection on water. For her most recent work Cedars, published by Fidèle, she has created illustrations in her signature narrative style to accompany the work of poets Youmna Saba and Todd Fleming Davis.

It might seem like María sees the world through rose-tinted glasses. However, she is of course aware that life, just like fairy tales, has its darker side—she just prefers to keep her work to a more optimistic focus. "What I draw is kind of a mix between my actual view of reality, and some wishful thinking,” she explains. "I think it’s important for artists to create imagined worlds that have some element of hope.”

María Medem
"What I draw is kind of a mix between my actual view of reality, and some wishful thinking. I think it’s important for artists to create imagined worlds that have some element of hope.”