Words of Wisdom: Illustrator Andrea Campos Is Doing It For the Culture

Oct 04, 2021Nancy Einhart0 comments

Andrea Campos is a Chicago-born illustrator and photographer with her sun, moon, and rising signs in Cancer. After grinding away in the advertising world for seven years (doing values-based marketing for brands like Absolut, Gap Inc., and The Wing), she found herself unemployed in the middle of a pandemic and reigniting her childhood passion for drawing.

As a first-generation Mexican woman living in the U.S., Campos knows a thing or two about representation (and the lack thereof). But with her first illustrated children’s book, A Little Book About Culture, she’s planting seeds of kindness for kids while also living out her family’s artistic legacy.

I spoke to Campos about the importance of celebrating culture, what kids — and parents — can learn from her book, and how she’s turned her toxic corporate career into a creative masterpiece.

When did you start drawing?

It's something that I've done since I was a kid. My parents put me in a pre-K course, I think mostly to learn English, because I didn't speak it at the time. I remember that the teacher really liked one of my drawings and made it the classroom T-shirt for that year. And I thought it was so cool, because it was the T-shirt that every student wore when we went on field trips.

[Drawing] has come in and out of my world. As I got older I put it to the side, with the exception of doodling during meetings. But it's something that I found helpful and cathartic.

You went on to do marketing for some major brands. At what point did you know you needed to leave the corporate world and pursue your art?

I decided in January 2020 that I was going to set off and do my own thing for a while. I realized that marketing wasn't the right place for me, but what I enjoyed was the creative stuff — photo shoots, the art direction — so I started to hone those skills for myself. I was a photographer, and I had clients that I would work with on nights and weekends. I was writing for different publications, just trying to fill that void in whatever way I could. And then I mustered up the courage to leave the security of a 9-to-5 job behind.

Right before the pandemic! How did lockdown affect your plans?

Every single project that I had lined up disappeared effectively overnight. I remember in March [2020] just thinking, "You know what? My last job was incredibly toxic, and I’m burnt out. Let me focus on my mental health so that when we open up again, I can hit the ground running."

In the midst of that, I turned to drawing as a lifeline. Like I said, it brought me a lot of peace. Community was the one thing I felt like we were lacking, and I realized, "Hey, I have something really special on my hands. I want to lean into this." And somewhere along the line — I think a little bit desperate for human interaction — I started to share my work on Instagram.

What was the reaction like?

First my friends started following, then their friends. Over the course of a couple months, I had thousands of people following my drawings, and I was just shocked. Then for MLK Day this year [2021], I created a relatively simple piece of artwork, and it blew up. Questlove shared it! It completely changed the direction of my illustration, because overnight I had 5,000 new people that were following me online, many of whom were sending comments like, "You're a phenomenal artist, keep going." There was this outpouring of affirmation that I was not expecting.

How did you get the epiphany to illustrate a children’s book?

I started to look at [the account] with a business lens, as an opportunity to do work that I want to be doing. I sought out brands, opportunities, and people that had similar tones or aspirations. I found A Kids Co. online, and I thought they were great. I love that they’re taking what have historically been considered adult topics — like racism, culture, or advocacy — and presenting them in a way that makes sense for kids of different ages.

So I reached out and introduced myself, and actually pitched an idea for them. And they were like, "We love it. But also we have a book about culture that we want to write, and we think that your artwork would be perfect for it. Are you interested?" And I said, "Yes, let’s do it!"

Of all the subjects to cover, why is this one so significant?

Culture is something that's always been very important to me, especially as a first-generation Mexican-American woman living in the U.S. I think a lot of immigrant children, and BIPOC folks in general, can relate to growing up with kids making comments like "You smell different," or "What do you mean you don't celebrate this holiday?" All those little things that make you ashamed of your culture. And I've always tried very hard to not be ashamed. Even when people have been like, "Oh, you're a Mexican, you're illegal." Or like, "You're Mexican, do you ride donkeys?" Just the horrible, stereotypical stuff. I've never shied away from it.

Adults can benefit from reading it with their kids and getting educated together. What do you hope to inspire through the book?

If I can help the conversation on culture and the different ways that it manifests in our lives, in a kid-friendly form, I want to be a part of that.

Illustrating this book was such a joy. I was very intentional in making it as inclusive as possible, to show that culture is something we all hold deeply and differently. Kids absorb things whether you want them to or not.

So yes, these [books] are for children, but really, it's a seed. It's exposure. At the very least kids can see a picture and hold it deep in their mind, so that when they get the opportunity to interact with someone different in real life, it's a familiar conversation with more empathy.

The COVID-19 crisis was terrible for women in the workplace. What advice do you have for anyone wanting to switch gears and build a creative career?

I would encourage folks to listen to that inner child and just experiment and play, because you truly never know where you're going to end up. Just listen to your gut. For me, it was saying the same thing now that it did 10 years ago.

But, it's never too late and there never is a right or wrong time. If you're 22, go for it. If you're 42, go for it. And I understand there are different pressures that come with age, and with youth, whether it's lack of finances or family you have to support. But if it's really something you want, you make the time.

When it comes to your career journey, what are you most proud of?

Getting past my own limiting self-beliefs. I am first-generation, so I tried to go to art school when I was 18 and got a swift "No." Not because my parents didn't see that I liked drawing or was talented, but because I didn't have the luxury of generational wealth to support myself.

My mom was an architect in Mexico and moved to the U.S. when she was 26 or 27, but her degree didn't transfer so she wasn't able to practice here. And I have seen over the course of my life how sad it's made her that she had to give that up.

So, as her child who didn't go to art school, who clearly got these talents from her, I'm so happy to be able to dedicate my time and energy and effort into pursuing this career. I know it means so much to her, and to my grandfather, who was also a phenomenal artist but didn't have that path as a career option. I'm the first generation in my family to be able to have this opportunity, and I'm not taking it for granted. The thing I'm most proud of is that I'm actually doing it.

A Little Book About Culture by Denise Morales Soto and Andrea Campos is available everywhere Oct. 12 (you can pre-order it here).

Photo courtesy of Andrea Campos

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