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Invoice2go Artists: Q&A with Totoi Semerena

The Invoice2go, a Bill.com company, Artists series is born out of our mission to amplify the independent spirit of small businesses and freelancers. Each month we’ll collaborate with an artist and add their creative energy to our blog, Amplified. We’re thrilled to kick off the series with content for Hispanic Heritage Month, featuring Mexican freelance illustrator, Totoi Semerena.

Totoi has lived in Mexico City since 2011 and takes inspiration from the tropical-Caribbean landscape of the Yucatan peninsula and the visual aesthetics of the 1980s. Totoi does traditional, digital, and large format illustrations – including murals. 

His versatility has enabled him to work with well-known brands, including Coca-Cola, Google, ONU, Apple, and Greenpeace. You can also find his work around Mexico City in the Mercado de Jamaica and the Central de Abastos.

We got the chance to sit down with Totoi to discuss his inspiration and influences as well as overcoming some of the challenges he faces as a freelance illustrator. Check it out!

1.   What inspired you early on as an artist?

I was born in Mérida, Yucatán. When I moved to Mexico City, I was inspired by the interconnected spaces. I loved the gigantic walls full of illustrations that showed pieces with varied styles. I always dreamed of one day being able to do that type of work.

As far as influences go, Gauguin is one of the great masters that I look up to. I also love newer artists like Pegge Hopper (Hawaii), Ichiro Tsuruta (Japan), Sabrena Khadija (Africa), Eloïse Heinzer (France), Naoya Isayama (Japan), and popular illustrations from the 80s and 90s. I was born back in '85, so a lot of my work brings the vibe of that time. 

2.   What are some ways your culture has influenced your work?

I get inspired by many Mexican illustrators and urban artists like Dia Pacheco, Profe James, Seher One, NEWS, and Smithe. Part of arriving in Mexico City was soaking up the works of these incredible artists.

All of Mexico as well as Mérida, Yucatán are important inspiration points in my work. They are the places that saw me grow and from which I have been able to enjoy their spaces and flavors. I feel nostalgia for my home state and get energy from the constant movement of Mexico City.

3.   As a freelance illustrator, what are your greatest challenges? How do you deal with them? 

Managing the emotions of working freelance is huge. There are seasons where you can be solid and constant in terms of the amount of work – where organizing is easy and everything flows.

However, then there are seasons when you feel low and you spend a while without working. Something more personal takes back the pencils. When you feel your ideas are put on pause or blocked – the feelings of frustration and guilt are hard.

However, like all jobs, it’s essential to have a professional to help you focus and return to the march. Freelance artists can easily fall into the idea that they can do everything alone when that’s just not possible.

Realizing that you don't like the style of a project you already worked on and turning it around is a moment to reflect and refresh. New work helps you attract new eyes and helps you remain satisfied with what you've done. 

4.   What’s one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on recently?

Being able to collaborate with brands that are outside my country. Now that I rethink my graphics and begin to dig a lot into the synthesized anatomy, the forms and tropical nature draw attention in places where I never thought I would go.

Working, for example, for Apple Japan, as well as doing a Google Doodle was important. Working for agencies or production companies is one thing, now touching base with a job for an agency like Jacky Winter not only gives me excitement but also feels like an important personal achievement.

Having shown my work in countries like France or Germany is also something new this year. Sometimes I feel like an athlete and the feeling of representing your country with your work is exciting.

5.   What advice would you give to artists looking to grow a freelance business?

That it's so important to handle negative feelings like frustration, anger, and loneliness. Those feelings are inevitable in your career.

It is important to feel them, turn them around, and find a way to face and solve them. Dark moments will be there but having this willingness to feel and face them will help you better handle anything in the future. It never hurts to go to therapy and have a good accountant in the daily diet lol.

Also, if you want to be an illustrator, rely on digital tools and also open to other media. Traditional drawing exercises can be hugely helpful during moments when you feel blocked and help you maintain a style both digital and by hand. You never know which path one of the two may open for you.

6.   What are you most excited for in the future?

Not knowing what is coming! The essential focuses in my work will stay in digital illustration – traditional and large format. Those are the ones I enjoy doing the most. I'm doing a project on a big wall before the end of the year and have a lot of design work lined up as well. It already looks like I'll be busy throughout the December holidays!

Greetings to all from Mexico!

If you enjoyed this article, check out The Freelance Forum. Each month we'll share new original illustrations and interviews with artists from around the world.


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