Meet the Graduates: Judith Breidenstine (Illustration)

With a fresh new batch of students graduating this month, we have the exciting task of hosting our Graduate Degree Show June 2017. Here at the IDI Blog we’ve sat down with some of our most recent graduates to get a little insight into studying, and graduating, with IDI.

Mexican-born BA (Hons) Illustration graduate Judith Breidenstine sits down with the IDI Blog to talk about her connection to Mexico, her passion for children’s book illustration and how children’s books can be used as a vehicle to promote change…

My passion for the illustration of children’s picture books comes from a desire to make a difference.
Judith Breidenstine
BA (Hons) Illustration

I am an American, born and raised in Mexico, and have lived and worked in several countries in Latin America and Europe. Immersing myself in these communities and cultures both broadened and deepened my perspective on the unique characteristics of each people, while also reinforcing my Mexican heritage. My illustrations reflect the diverse life that I have lived.

I have always enjoyed the process of creating images, as the conversations surrounding them are endless. Through illustrations that convey narratives and evoke emotions, I seek to explore societies and participate in cross-cultural studies that give us a greater appreciation and respect for others. More specifically, my passion for the illustration of children’s picture books comes from a desire to make a difference.

I am most thankful for the opportunity given by IDI to take part in such a gratifying and empowering experience.

Growing up, did you have any creative interests?

Since I was a child, I have been creating images. Nevertheless, growing up in a small town in Mexico, opportunities to study art were limited. Also, as one of five children, my parents were determined that I studied something that would guarantee me a good job and career when I got older. Being an artist did not figure into their plans. So, I went on to get a Bachelor’s in Accounting and a Master’s in International Relations. It was not until years later that I rediscovered my love for creating through painting classes while on assignment with my husband in Hermosillo, Mexico. During that time, I had the opportunity to experiment with oils, acrylics, pastels, watercolors and more.

Illustration by Judith Breidenstine

What is the creative scene like in Mexico?

The creative scene in Mexico is culturally very rich, as people have used art over the centuries to express their sentiments in a non-verbal, subtler way. The juxtaposition of bright colors and culturally charged images carry a clear message, while at the same time allowing for different interpretations by different people. Our culture, made up of where we come from and what we experience along the way, is the essence of our beings, that which we can sincerely and authentically express to others.

Mexico City is the hub of the country’s art scene, home to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and others. Furthermore, over the years, artists from all over the world have found their way to Mexico to showcase their creations and find inspiration in the beauty of the city and country.

In addition to having had the fortune of living in different regions of Mexico and the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom and Belgium and have picked up bits and pieces of other cultures along the way.

How did you first know that you wanted to be an illustrator?

Spending time in a bilingual environment on the U.S.-Mexico border, I came to feel that I was Mexican and American, not one or the other, but rather both. In creating illustrations, I found a language that did not need to be translated. The images spoke for themselves, had their own language, which inspired me to want to tell more through images. Through these images, I sought to capture a moment in time that would still allow different interpretations by different people.

Throughout my lifelong learning and appreciation for art, I found inspiration in many artists, movements and illustrators. For example, early on, I fell in love with the murals of Diego Rivera and his portrayal of Mexican culture. While in London, I became familiar with the works of David Hockney and during my studies at IDI, I discovered and became mesmerized by both the works of the Russian artist El Lissitzky and how his works promoted social causes. I admire their capacity to convey ideas and capture the audience attention with their works.

How have you grown as a creative practitioner during your studies?

I found my creative journey at IDI fascinating. IDI’s program was very well rounded provided me with the tools (and tutoring) to learn how to successfully approach a brief or a creative problem. Drawing lessons from successful artists/designers/illustrators in the past allowed me to appreciate it, digest it and develop a style all of my own.

Even when I had been interested in creative works for many years, it was only through my time at IDI that I experienced the growth and honing that I was lacking. As is the case with learning any new language, it took time for me to gain fluency. Recognizing my potential, something that had evaded even me, my tutors mentored, coached and pushed me to try “push the envelope”, go back to the beginning when necessary and try new things. It is thanks to the degree program and IDI that I am well on the way to developing my own, true style of illustration.

When I look back at where I was “in the beginning” with my first illustration work, I clearly see how my studies transformed both my style and myself. I feel quite at ease now in my works and find complete joy in the process of image creation, something that I had probably not fully appreciated since I was a child.

‘Mexicon in Me’ llustrated children’s book by Judith Breidenstine

‘Mexico in Me,’ promotes cultural heritage. Do you feel this is being lost in America today?

There is a tendency among Mexican immigrants, especially the younger generations, to want to assimilate to American culture – to blend in. Consequently, they are struggling to define who they are.

With the book “The Mexico in Me”, I want to communicate to children – like my own – who share my heritage that their culture of origin is rich and something to be proud of and treasured. I want for them to stop and ponder, “Where is the Mexico in me?”

Being multicultural, in this case Mexican-American, is a gift. While there will continue to be societal pressures to “blend in”, I want children to recognize that it is okay to be American and still appreciate the special richness that comes from our ancestors, from our country of origin.

How have children responded to your work?

I have a number of opportunities to present my work to classrooms of 6 and 7-year-old children of very diverse backgrounds and the students responded very well to the illustrations, asked many questions about Mexican culture, and were also quick to share with the other children aspects of their own countries of origin. Whether they sensed my passion for the subject or discovered their own, what was too have been a 20 minute “show and tell” session, turned into a very active exchange of well over an hour.

The sharing of cultures and ideas can help to promote understanding and respect, which are the basis for tolerance. I feel that all children (and we as parents) benefit from learning about others.

During the course of my work on “The Mexico in Me”, I have had countless opportunities to share this work-in-progress with friends, colleagues at work, and anyone who will listen and one interesting, but unexpected consequence, was that many commented that our conversation had inspired them to search too for “who in the world” they really were, to research their own heritage and origin. How wonderful!

Illustration by Judith Breidenstine

Does Mexican and Latin American culture influence you in other aspects of your life?

Mexican and Latino culture certainly does influence all aspects of my family’s life, as the conversations are often peppered with both Spanish and English. The house is filled with a lot of color thanks to hand stitched kitchen towels and tablecloths. The walls are adorned with many of my paintings and other art that we collected during our years in Mexico. And, then there is the food!

You might also gather from the tone of my responses that we also talk a lot. Given the limitation of word count in children’s picture books, I tried to include a lot of detail in the illustrations, which might evoke different interpretations, perspectives and even discussions among the readers – both the children and their parents. My hope is that each person will find a little bit of herself or himself in each of the book’s pages.

At IDI we have students from all over the world, from varying cultures and backgrounds – you must’ve felt pretty at home! Would you say this has further influenced your work?

Participating in IDI was really a wonderful experience, and the diversity of the students certainly added to my enjoyment.

I did feel at home, because we were all from different parts of the world, different time zones, different levels of experience, all communicating though our art. Our interaction with one another helped me grow both professionally and personally, as I came to understand better their stories, as well as my own. I made some very good friends and felt so fortunate to call on them to exchange ideas about our works.

Illustration by Judith Breidenstine

What was the best part of studying online with IDI?

For me, the best part of studying online with IDI was the flexibility that it offered me. Even though my family and I had to move from one country to another in the middle of my degree program, I was able to continue my studies uninterrupted. I also have to commend the outstanding body of tutors, without whom I would never have made the progress that I did. They were exceptionally well prepared, and kind while direct and quite assertive in their instructions.

The most challenging part of studying on line with IDI was the lack of face-to-face interaction. I often longed to converse with, or show my works to, my classmates or my tutor. Even though we had the forums for interaction, there were often delays in responses, which at times proved frustrating for me.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to complete my work on illustrating, “The Mexico in Me”, and enter it in a number of competitions that promote the accurate representation of Mexican culture in children’s books.

In the future, I would like to continue illustrating children’s picture books, particularly those that promote cultural understanding and values and at some point, I could be interested in continuing my education, perhaps with a master’s degree program. Before doing so, however, I would first like to try to publish my works and to better define my career as an illustrator.

Visit Judith’s website or Behance profile for more examples of her design work.

We hope you enjoyed this article and feel inspired. Let us know what you think in the comments section below, and don’t forget to share:

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