In the West, breakfast is often bland: many of us reach for an uninspired apple, an unseasoned egg or a depressing dish of oatmeal that was boiled in water—not milk. But the award-winning Spanish artist Sonia Pulido would make you think otherwise. In her illustration for Bee Wilson’s Wall Street Journal article “It’s Time to Revive the Interesting Breakfast,” Pulido makes the meal sumptuous, a sensory experience replete with shakshuka bathed in blood red tomatoes and platters brimming with speckled dragon fruit and palm-green avocados, which are anything but insipid.
Linda Rubes, the Wall Street Journal’s art director who has hired Pulido for many nonfiction assignments like this one, says that she “just [uses these] really bright colors [that are] really graphic and [have an] interesting use of space. They are fun, energetic and positive.”
In this piece (and many of her others), Pulido uses vibrant hues and fluid lines to turn the mundane into the marvelous. The 48-year-old illustrator from Barcelona—who won a 2020 National Illustration Award from Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Sports, and whose work regularly appears in publications like The New Yorker, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal—has been drawing for as long as she can remember, always gravitating towards picture books and comics as a child. However, the young artist didn’t realize that her passion could become a vocation until she randomly watched a television program one weekend.
“I remember watching a movie on TV one Sunday afternoon when I was ten or eleven years old,” Pulido says. “In the film, one of the characters was an illustrator, and you could see him in his studio. I was excited to see all the material: pencils, papers [and] drawing tables... It’s funny, but that was the moment when I realized that illustrating was a profession.”
After her epiphany, Pulido continued to make art through secondary school, sketching anything and everything around her. When she had to choose what to study in college, it became clear that she yearned to do something creative. So, the fledgling illustrator decided to pursue fine arts at the behest of one of her teachers, later enrolling in a degree program at the University of Barcelona. It was there that Pulido was truly able to hone her craft.
Though illustration didn’t have a strong presence in the university’s curriculum, she still developed skills in techniques such as engraving and silkscreen printing, which would prove essential to her current practice. During this time, Pulido also became fixated on the relationship between text and images, one she continues to explore in her work today. “I came across a style and method different to what I had ever produced before,” Pulido explained in a 2020 interview with Silvia Laboreo in the online publication Domestika.
During her coursework, Pulido discovered illustrators like Ana Juan—another esteemed Spanish draftswoman who creates surreal images of strange, fanged creatures and women with butterflies for hair—who deeply resonated with Pulido. “Hers were—and still are—illustrations for adults: elegant, complex, intense,” Pulido says. “And then, once [I was] ‘out in the world,’ everything happened in a way that illustrating ended up being my own profession.”
After practicing illustration for years, Pulido began to develop her own style, a colorful medley that blends figuration with everyday objects and vivid colors. Marlena Torzecka, Pulido’s representative and president of Marlena Agency, says that Pulido’s hand has become more refined over the years. “It’s more confident,” Torzecka says. “You can see [this] in the way she uses colors, lines and pattern in her illustrations. She also started adding more patterns to her illustrations. I think [it feels more mature]. It’s stronger.”
Though the themes of these drawings vary from assignment to assignment, Pulido’s oeuvre is unified by a strong sense of storytelling. “[Her work is] narrative [with] some more graphic elements,” says Rubes. “[They cut] up the spaces [with] different bits and sometimes [with] words. She’ll just go from all different directions.”
One such drawing was included in the Wall Street Journal for an article about meat consumption called “The Keto Way: What If Meat Is Our Healthiest Diet?” The illustration is a complex schematic with a blue-and-green globe at its center. Multicolored concentric circles filled with chickens, pigs and cows encircle the central sphere. These shapes are splashed in primary yellows, reds and blues that stand in sharp contrast to the figures, which gives the piece a kaleidoscopic effect, like the elements of the work are undulating around one another.
“It’s a very complicated story,” says Rubes. “I wasn’t sure how she was going to pull it off in a way that would reflect the complexity of the piece and still be … fresh, engaging and interesting. [What she did] was really awesome.”
Pulido’s environment has always had a profound influence on her work. Growing up, Pulido would attend local events like Barcelona’s “Festa Major de la Mercè”: a five-day-long celebration at the end of the summer that pays tribute to the city’s patron saint. In 2018, she created 20 posters showing women playing instruments, dancing and acting for a campaign encouraging people to go to the festivities.
“She portrays women,” Torzecka says, “[many of whom have a] really great fashion sense. And very powerful, confident women. I think this is what a lot of clients may also find attractive about her work.”
Now, Pulido’s surroundings affect her in a different way. Instead of drawing from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona’s city center or energetic celebrations, she finds solitude in the current place she calls home, a small seaside village called El Masnou. “Having the horizon of the sea always in sight gives me the feeling that I have a lot of air to breathe,” Pulido says about her village. “It’s an open, clear horizon where everything is possible.” The tranquil town—filled with verdant carnations, and long, meandering streets—gives Pulido the space to engage in quiet activities like reading, visiting the cinema, seeing exhibitions, walking by the sea and taking care of the plants in her backyard.
Despite her passion for illustration, in an artist statement for the Barcelona-based art gallery Ana Yael, Pulido says, “Sometimes, … I [wish to] turn my back on it all and set up a small avant-garde flower shop.” Pulido hasn’t traded in her drawing tablet for a small store yet, but she has found some peace of mind in El Masnou. The serene environment gives the artist pause and helps Pulido to focus on many of her creative projects. In addition to drawing, she also enjoys making ceramics because the medium allows her to make functional and tactile objects.
“I really love ceramics. At the moment, [I’ve] had to suspend this activity for lack of time, and I miss it,” Pulido says. “I started investigating this field out of a need to relate differently to the person [looking at] my images. I wanted those images to have a more evident presence in [a person’s] day-to-day life. The curiosity to illustrate objects in three dimensions also led me to ceramics.”
Though she loves making ceramics and other objects, illustration is still her first love and will always remain a key part of her art practice.
“I think I continue illustrating because, first, it’s what I like to do the most,” she says. “And second, because I feel that I learn about the world, about myself and my way of thinking.” ca