The Chilean Artist Managing Anxiety Through Illustration

María Jesús Contreras is an illustrator whose vibrant graphics communicate imposter syndrome and the desire to overcome anxiety surrounding art. 

Maria gives surrealist life to everyday inanimate objects and she does so with a dash of darkness and a handful of humour. 

Every form of education in Chile is private and oftentimes studying to be anything but a doctor, lawyer or engineer can lead to young artists, like Contreras, to manifest a sense of imposter syndrome. Contreras has expressed that she thought that it was selfish to only think of herself and to study the arts. While studying engineering, she cried after every lecture and so eventually bit the bullet and enrolled to study graphic design at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Maria states that “sometimes I feel so lucky and grateful for the opportunities I have had that I feel ashamed, and I suffer thinking that there are people who deserve it more than I do,”, her imposter syndrome manifesting. “It also makes me think of all the other people from South America like me that can’t always make an artistic career because of the fear and lack of opportunities.”

In the same way anxiety can make us focus and obsess over one thing that spins in our minds, Maria’s work focuses on small objects and phrases we see and hear on a daily basis. She then brings these to life with elements of humour and nostalgia – her illustrations of a dancing nose and tissue and a circle of dogs sniffing each other’s behinds come to mind! “I am always attentive to memes” she says, “taking photos of everything that I find funny or interesting in the street, I record voice notes that I send myself by WhatsApp. Then at the end of the week I choose the ones that I still find good, draw them and choose a style for them”. 

She finds it hard to be consistent with a style and social networks demand it a bit, so she finds her way around this by using a similar colour palette for very different drawings. “After all this I pass it on to the Wacom One that I bought second-hand and which I fight with all day, and then I upload it to my networks and I throw the phone away so I don’t get anxious about feedback.”

Maria also works on album covers for the likes of Warner and Universal and is now very excited about a project with the French label Nice Guys.

Copyright © María Jesús Contreras, 2021


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