A journey through Karla Alcazar‘s Instagram feed is like walking into a wonderland of color and whimsy.

The former psychologist now “Illustrator and Tiny Storyteller” is the mastermind and teacher behind a new favorite among Skillshare students and a Staff Pick – Exploring Color in your Illustrations Using a Limited Color Palette.

Art by Karla Alcazar
Art by Karla Alcazar

In just an hour, Karla dives into how she picks colors for illustrations, color theory, gathering inspiration, and finally to making an illustration. It’s a great introduction for anyone who loves to draw but might feel stuck in what to do next, or for those just seeking some colorful inspiration in their life.

That colorful impulse is a through line throughout Karla’s life. She was born and raised in Durango, Mexico, a small city with gorgeous sunsets and lovely historical buildings. As a child, she felt drawn to editorial work, but found herself studying psychology and working in the field just after college. After a few years, she found herself craving a break and decided to try babysitting abroad in Boston, where she met friends who encouraged her to pursue her dream of illustration. 

Flash forward to a year later when Karla moved to England to get her Illustration degree. After graduation, she moved back home, and to put it in her own words: “It took a long while and slowly but surely I started developing a voice and felt more confident contacting clients and agencies and understanding the tricks of the trade.”

We caught up with Karla at home in Durango to discuss color, finding inspiration in childhood textbooks, and what’s next.

How would you describe your creative journey to date?

If I can use a word to describe this whole journey would definitely be uncertainty. It’s been a long and hard journey but I feel incredibly grateful and lucky to be doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing!

Where do you go for inspiration?

Anywhere with trees and open skies. I also like going on little walks and seeing people from afar; It’s always inspiring to listen to bits of their conversations when they’re passing by and also love seeing what they wear. Bookshops are always super inspiring too.

“I think that curiosity is key to cultivate your own style.”

How does your background in psychology factor into your creative approach?

I try to incorporate introspection into my process a lot. I think that it is very important to connect with oneself in order to create connection with others. Illustration is a lovely communication tool, so I try to understand the message well so I can be a good communicator and I also try to filter that message through my personal view and I find introspection to be the perfect tool for the task.

Art by Karla Alcazar
Art by Karla Alcazar

In your own projects, how do you decide on a medium?

I tend to play it safe even when I’m working on personal projects. I usually tend to go for markers and pencils, but I’m also aware that growth only comes from doing things differently so I try to incorporate at least something that I wouldn’t normally use for client work like crayons or paint and hopefully come up with something exciting. I’ve been doing a lot of digital illustrations lately, mainly because I think I have loads to learn, so working on personal projects is the best time to explore.

How does color help you communicate and/or express yourself?

I think color helps me to be very mindful of the mood and story I want to communicate. It helps me to take a step back and consider alternative ways to approach an illustration, even if it is for a brief second. On a personal level, I find it very interesting to see a consistent use of a particular color in my illustrations over a certain period of time; seeing those colors takes me back instantly to the time and place those illustrations were made.

How did you cultivate your own personal illustration style? And how does color play a part in that?

Trial and error mostly! I also think it is very important to learn as much as possible from everyone and every topic that may interest you; I think that curiosity is key to cultivate your own style. I also think that color can play a huge part in someone’s style since it can enhance your own voice so much. For me, using a limited palette was a huge discovery, and I think that this method compliments my style and what I want to communicate quite well. 

When was the first time you remember seeing an illustration that spoke to you? And when was the most recent time?

When I was a kid, we had these free text books in Mexico and every elementary school kid would get a few ones every year. They were so lovely and I remember one in particular (the first one I had ever gotten) that had so many illustrations in it done by different artists and it was one of my most precious possessions then. It was so captivating! I remember one illustration in particular that had a huge full moon and a tree and a few kids running around it, it was stunning. I don’t remember what the story was about but I still remember the illustration quite well. Recently I discovered Aaron Douglas’ work and I was instantly captivated by each and one of his pieces.

Art by Karla Alcazar
Art by Karla Alcazar

Has your art changed at all during lockdown? Are you exploring new themes? From your Instagram, I’ve seen a few amazing illustrations that highlight moments of self-care.

Thank you! Self care has definitely been a current theme. I like to use my Instagram as a little journal, and self care has definitely been one of my priorities during these strange times. I have also been wanting to explore very different themes in my work and there are days in which I feel very inspired and ready to explore something completely new but there are others in which I feel like doing something comfortable and familiar is best for the time being. It comes in waves. To some degree, my illustrations have not changed too much during lockdown, but I definitely feel an itch for exploration and doing something completely out of my comfort zone and hopefully I will be able to share some progress soon. I have so much to learn, and that’s super exciting. 

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a couple spreads for a book pitch. The author and I are very excited and we believe this could be a lovely book for parents and children. I’m also working on a very personal project; I can’t say much right now, but it is also an editorial project and fingers crossed will be out next year. I’m also doing editorial work for a lovely magazine and I’m planning my next class which I am super excited about!

What do you want people to carry with most from your class?

I really hope that anyone who takes any of my classes feels encouraged about exploring new subjects and to question everything. I hope they leave feeling excited about trying new things and feeling very curious about any new topic they may want to approach.

Discover your own colorful journey in Karla’s Staff Pick class on Exploring Color.

Join Karla Alcazar for a Live Class

Learn to draw Minimalist Self Portraits with Karla on August 19.