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Paul Fuentes: ‘I like the idea of saying a joke without words’

Paul Fuentes transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary taking everyday objects to create cool mashups with a touch of humour.

When Paul’s Instagram posts appear in our feed, it always brightens our day. So when he created a special commission for our recent Affinity Photo for iPad update, we took the opportunity to gain an insight into the mind behind his surreal compositions that have taken Instagram by storm.

Tell us how Paul Fuentes design came about.

It’s more than three years ago that I opened my Instagram account @paulfuentes_design. I noticed the trend in food photography on Instagram. I took the lock off my account and started sharing my personal work, I suppose just to get some feedback. Suddenly, my designs were reposted and the account was growing! I got interview requests, people wanted to use my designs for advertising and my followers just kept on increasing. I really didn’t expect this, but now I knew: this was my calling; creating images of common food, objects and animals in a new and twisted way.

It is my goal to break your ‘boring’ Instagram feed and to bring a smile to your face with minimal and surreal pop mashups. I like to remind people how fascinating the world is by producing images of food, animals, and objects with a twist.

So explain to us, where did the idea of the ice cream snail come from?

I love to make food-related mashups and with the beautiful summer we’d had I wanted to make something with ice cream. The next step is to open up all my senses to find the unexpected other half. For me it’s like a marriage, both objects need to adapt in many ways like shape, size and colour.

We’ve got to say, your work is really addictive when scrolling through your Instagram! Tell us a bit about your style?

I like to say that it’s the new pop art. The style is modern, minimal, colourful and surreal photography. I always choose humour—even the basic needs of a person, like food, has to have humour. I try to make people laugh and I like the idea of saying a joke without words.

“I try to make people laugh and I like the idea of saying a joke without words. ”

Talk us through your background in photography and photo manipulation; are you self-taught?

It’s almost 15 years ago that I started to play with photo manipulation. I grew up in a creative family so it was an easy choice to study graphic design in Mexico City. After finishing my study I worked as an editor for the social magazine of the university.

Irony plays a big part in your art and each design is so cleverly composed—where do you gain inspiration from for each new piece?

I get my inspiration from everything around me. Travel, fashion, music, but also when shopping in the supermarket. My designs consist of everyday objects that often we can find all around us. I just need to open up my senses and keep training my creativity.

Whilst your designs look simple to an untrained eye they are incredibly detailed in terms of composition, how long does it tend to take you to create a single piece?

They are really detailed with the correct shadows, colour balance, shapes etc! But every image changes, some designs are easy and strong, they can take a few hours of work and another design could be three days of work or more. If I think I’m finished I often look back a day later and see something new to adjust.

Can you talk us through the creative process of your art?

It’s always different for each image but I normally use two objects to create a new one, so I start with one and then try to find its other half. For me it’s like a marriage, both objects need to adapt in many ways like shape, size and colour.

When I have an idea for a new image, I can often instantly envisage how it looks. Sometimes I just start with sketches and an idea can come to life. Then I take the picture of the object or go looking for the right stock photos. For example, I can buy a picture of the snail on a photo stock site, but I can photograph an ice cream or a self-folded rose of salami or a pineapple filled with roses that I created and composed myself.

Whether the photo comes from a stock site or is photographed yourself, there is always a lot of editing involved. That’s where manipulation and retouching comes in to play!

Finally, I choose the perfect pastel background colour.

So do you have a top tip when approaching photo manipulation?

I focus very much on the right shade and colours. I can work for hours on details that someone else maybe doesn’t see at first sight. But when you switch between with and without these details make my design!

The floral pizza is a personal favourite of ours, where did the idea for this piece originate from?

Haha, from each design I can tell you where I was or how it came about.

I made the Floral pizza whilst travelling in Asia. First, my phone stopped working and a few days later my laptop. I was so frustrated and felt empty without them. The only thing I had was a pen and paper so I started sketching. You can always make me happy with pizza so there it was. Some positive vibes! Or maybe it was because I’d been eating noodles and rice for the last 5 weeks, who knows!

How do you see your style evolving?

I continue to strive for innovative and original ideas, the possibilities are infinite.

This year I started a new project, Paul Fuentes photo. This new project is a colourful lens through which I see the world in a different way. Working with a similar style and without missing the pastels, where I take travel photographs to a surreal and unexplored place.

In the coming years, I see myself traveling around the world taking pictures in the most beautiful places. And for Paul Fuentes Design maybe working with 3D or video animation. As long as you can find creativity and pleasure in your work, everything is allowed!

If you could give someone one piece of advice when starting out in the industry what would it be?

I would say that the best tip is to see many artists, many styles, many tools and options—a great piece of advice is also to try to emulate your favourite artists without copying, that’s where you will push yourself harder and understand the technique.

Your bright colour palette is something that really defines your style, how did you decide which palette to use?

Colours can do a lot to an image as it can make a design stand out! I grew up in Mexico where a lot of colour is used. Towns with houses in all different colours and traditional colourful fabrics. And in the end, colour simply make us happy!

Do you have a plan of what pieces you’ll work on next or is it led by a vision at the time?

This is always led by the vision at the time, Sometimes I work on various designs or I have some ideas that I wait to work on until it’s the right time.

Your art is so unique and imaginative; you surely must hit creative roadblocks–how do you overcome these?

The best way to get rid of roadblocks is to continue working on what you always do, normally when we have them is because we are not sure if it’s working. Maybe a bad comment or a bad review can bring a roadblock and it affects your self-esteem so try to be honest with yourself and continue working instead of lying in bed.

Lastly, what came first–your love of photography or graphic design?

I think in a way what I loved first was photo manipulation, a little bit of graphic design, a little bit of photography combined. I used to stare for hours at the posters of movies and try to understand what the movie was all about just by the design behind it.

You can view more of Paul’s addictive designs on his website or Instagram.