13th September 2019

Illustrator spotlight: Maria Coco

Back to news

Illustrator spotlight: Maria Coco

Maria Coco is one of three illustrators shortlisted for the 2019 Templar Illustration Prize. We spoke to Maria about how her travels and background in graphic and interactive design have influenced her illustration.

Born in the north of Mexico, Maria Coco trained as a graphic designer and has worked in Mexico City, New York, Santiago de Chile and, most recently, Cambridge, where she completed her MA in children’s book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art.

On how her travels have influenced her work, Maria says: “I have been very lucky to mix two of the things I love the most: travel and my creative work. It has definitely influenced my art — every new adventure comes filled with new colours, new ideas, new characters. Being able to travel with my work has been the best excuse for me to keep moving, keep exploring and keep growing.”

“My style does change with new environments, but it retains its essence. I like to think that someone’s style is always evolving, growing stronger and creating its own journey.”

“I like to think that someone’s style is always evolving, growing stronger and creating its own journey.”

Maria’s entry to the Templar Illustration Prize, The New Swamp, certainly draws from a life spent experiencing new parts of the world. It is a picture book that explores the experience of moving to a new home (or in this case, a new swamp). Maria built the story from small and rough sketches from the central character until she felt happy with the visuals and layout. She worked with black acrylic paint to build up layers and used screen printing — a medium she fell in love with while studying in Cambridge — to create the final artwork.

A trained graphic designer, M­­aria knew from a young age that she needed to do something related to visual arts. After graduating from a graphic design school in Mexico, Maria started to focus on more interactive design: “websites, apps, and games.” Some of these involved working with illustration, and it was these she found she enjoyed the most.

“Somehow my illustrations started feeling as if they were meant for children and I started thinking about new possibilities. The MA in children’s book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art seemed like the perfect option to get myself into this magical world, so in 2017 I decided to move to England.”

Maria says her aim when creating The New Swamp was to “teach children that good friends will remain friends no matter how far away they are.

On the evolution of her creative practice, Maria says she used to “work, draw, and think digitally. Photoshop and Illustrator were my main creative tools.” While studying in Cambridge, Maria spent most of her time “experimenting with different techniques to develop my artwork until I found screen print. I loved the handmade texture and quality you could achieve. Being in the print room just felt right, and since then I have been avoiding sitting down and doing everything digitally.”

Maria says her aim when creating The New Swamp was to “teach children that good friends will remain friends no matter how far away they are. To help them understand that little by little the unfamiliar faces will become new friends and that, with time, the new place will stop feeling so new — suddenly it will feel like home.”

The Templar Illustration Prize was launched in 2018 as part of Templar’s 40th anniversary celebrations. The award’s impetus is to discover and foster new illustrative talent, offering a platform for new illustrators to launch successful careers. The 2019 award asked illustrators to submit artwork to the theme of ‘Where I Come From.’ The winner of the 2019 prize will be announced on 18th September 2019 at Nomad Books in Fulham. Maria Coco, Sally Walker and Paula White have been shortlisted for the 2019 award.