This is the story of a journey. My journey.
Everything started in 2016. I was an art director working for a global advertising agency in Madrid, Spain. I worked as a creative, but I didn’t feel creative at all. I was trapped 10-12 hours a day in an office, working against impossible timings and feeling completely demotivated after 10 years of work.
I remember that summer I went to Nicaragua on Holiday. On the last day, by chance, I picked a beautiful hotel boutique in the middle of a lake. Time stopped when I landed there. The luxury of that place was to have time to do nothing. I spent the day strolling around the 500m2 island and hotel, taking pictures of everything. Then, I realised all the furniture, decoration, fabrics, homeware, and baskets… were beautifully designed and handmade. And they blended in with the environment. I chatted with the hotel staff, and the woman explained everything was created by a local designer and produced by local communities to empower women. They used the hotel as showroom/shop/gallery. The conversation kicked my brain.
A few months later, I quit my job, took my backpack and camera, and started a year trip around Asia. It’s been almost 6 years since then, and now I can tell that trip changed my life. Or if not, at least how I look at life, cultures, and appreciation of time.
But this article is not about me. It’s about the connection between modern design (art direction, graphic design, motion design…), photography, traditional crafts, and mindfulness. And how that trip made me understand the relationship between them and use all this knowledge to keep improving and creating unique pieces (physical products and graphic design) where materials are mixed. The concept is in everything and is made with a “slow and mindful” philosophy.
These are some of the reflections and learnings I can share today.
Inspiration is everywhere
"Open your eyes and look around you. Inspiration is everywhere". This is maybe my biggest learning.
In a modern society where the rush is the norm and the internet so accessible, we are very used to going to Pinterest, Instagram, Behance, blogs, etc., to find inspiration and references to create, to travel, to learn.
We don't have time, or we have forgotten how to look around, searching for inspiration. From the gradients and colours of the sky, natural patterns and textures, and architectural shapes to the city lights and motion, people's outfits, human feelings, and connections, everything can be susceptible to becoming a source of inspiration and creation.
How I found inspiration and applied it for the first time? Here's how I believe it happened –
Just before my trip around Asia, I traveled for Christmas to Alicante, Spain. I was obsessed with La Muralla Roja, one of the most famous Ricardo Bofill architectural constructions. The impossible shapes of the building complex and its harmonic colors blending with the Mediterranean sea views made this place so attractive to me (and to thousands of people on their Instagram accounts).
The place didn't disappoint me. It was perfect. I spent hours taking pictures of each angle, each corner, and each color there. Perfectly balanced and inexplicably beautiful.
More than a year later, back from my trip, those photos became a source of inspiration and joy to me: I won a scholarship to study a course in photography and colour theory thanks to one of these pics, and it also inspired me to create the colour palette and some of the scenes for the video art direction for an international project.
Travelling & crafting, a way to self-immerse in the local culture
Travelling has become a way of understanding other cultures.
Before my year-long trip, I used to backpack around Asia or Central/South America during my 2/3 weeks holidays. Those trips were a taste of the culture but not enough to immerse me in the country.
That year I had the chance to immerse myself in the local communities, from helping as a volunteer in a Nepalese NGO, being a staff member and photographer in a yoga retreat center in Cambodia to learning traditional and modern crafts around different countries (block printing in India, making leather bags in Thailand and weaving baskets in Cambodia, Laos, and Japan).
I got the chance to learn a lot about traditions, ways of life, people's concerns, and different ways of thinking. I also learned how to communicate with people that don't necessarily speak any of my languages, and it helped me to understand better corporal and gesture communication.
I want to believe all these experiences have helped me to look at the world more open-mindedly but also more creatively. They've taught me new ways to create, combine materials, to design with my hands. They've also taught me other ways to think and look at the world.
Creation to tell a story and a way of meditation: from concepts and experiences to feelings
"Print your personality and experiences in everything you do and create." This will help to build a unique style and define you within the creative & art community.
I came back from my trip. I went back to Madrid. Nothing had changed there, but everything had changed for me. That's why in 2019, with mixed feelings and one piece of luggage, I arrived in London. I didn't know a soul, and I had to start again in a marvelous, but not easy, city.
It was a long trip and hard; why lie? – arriving in a new country, starting a new life and a profession as a designer from scratch.
Isolated in my bubble, I started to paint and do crafts again. Not only as a way to express my feelings but also to help bring structure and order to my mind, which helped to create "a conceptual universe." So, I took refuge in art and in my craft as a way to mentally travel to those warm places in Asia where I had felt tremendously good. I soon discovered that creating beyond my work brought me back to my equilibrium.
This is how the Vela project emerged in 2022, a collection of my handmade products and a series of paintings with geometric figures where I mix materials. This project is born as a form of self-expression and as a reflection of all my trips and cultural inspiration to bring to the world unique and imperfect pieces (because who is perfect?), art, and handmade products that tell stories inspired by places, experiences, and incredible women.
Why VAWAA was my perfect match?
After more than 2 years locked in London with the global COVID situation, I wanted to take my backpack and travel the world again.
Last October, I had 2 weeks off between jobs. VAWAA and specifically “weaving baskets in Penang, Malaysia” came to my head.
For 5 days, I went to the studio for 4 hours each day and chatted with my teacher and her family about the current situation in the country, COVID, family, culture, and food. They gave me a lot of advice and things to explore during the evenings, local restaurants, and curious places to visit.
I learned a lot. I enjoyed my time there even more.
I think once you’ve experienced this way of learning and traveling, you definitely don’t want to go back to “the one-week guided tour” type of trip.
Written by Elena Vela Rey