Graphic Artist Aurélia Durand Is Using Vibrant Illustrations To Celebrate Diversity
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In a time when social media feeds are oversaturated with content, graphic artist Aurélia Durand has built a following with her eye-catching imagery, which celebrates diversity through bold color and movement. Working with newer mediums like augmented reality and digital illustrations, as well as more traditional formats like paintings and murals, Durand hopes to bring a message of positivity while adding more representation of Black people in art.
Even if you aren't familiar with Durand by name, you've likely seen her animations for companies like Apple, Magnum, and Instagram. In addition to boasting nearly 94,000 followers from countries all around the world on her Instagram account @4ur3lia, Durand's work was recently featured in This Book is Anti-Racist, the 2020 New York Times best-selling book by Tiffany Jewell. Even Beyoncé considers herself a fan, highlighting Durand on her website as a notable Black-owned business to support in June 2020.
However, the Paris-based Durand is quick to point out that her global success didn't happen overnight. Just a few years ago, the now-29-year-old was struggling to figure out what she wanted to do with her life while going to art school in France and Denmark. "I needed to figure out things for myself as I was having a really hard time figuring out who I was and what I was going to do as an adult," she says.
Art allowed me to understand more about my identity and what it meant.
While getting her master's degree in industrial design from ESAD d’Orléans in France, Durand spent a semester in Copenhagen at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in 2013. She fell in love with the city, and after graduating in 2014, Durand left her native France to live in Denmark for the next five years. She relocated back to France in 2019, and says her experiences living in a variety of different places — including four years of her childhood on the multicultural island of La Réunion off the coast of Madagascar — has helped influence her art.
"When I started to study art back in 2009, I wanted to create art which tells my story. I come from a multicultural family, and I traveled to different places while I was a child," she says. Her mother is from the Ivory Coast and her dad is French. "Art allowed me to understand more about my identity and what it meant."
While living in Denmark and doing product design after graduating from art school, Durand began to explore — and in turn, celebrate — her identity through art.
"Being in Denmark influenced me because I wanted to see more diversity. It's not so diverse there, in my opinion," she explains. According to 2018 CIA World Factbook data, 86.3% of Denmark's population is made up of people of Danish descent, while Turkish people make up the largest ethnic minority group at 1.1% of the total population.
She shares, "I did feel a little bit lonely at one point." Drawing became a type of therapy for her: "I started to grow [as an artist] because I needed to see more people of color represented. It was kind of something for me." While it wasn't Durand's goal to become an illustrator, she found herself increasingly enjoying the work and how it allowed her to explore her identity. She shared her first piece on Instagram — a portrait of a Black man with a patterned hat — in 2017.
It's important to speak up and tell your story so other people can relate and not feel alone.
"I started to draw as a therapeutic thing and to connect with the community of Black women in Denmark," Durand says. While in Denmark, she was approached by a woman from a Facebook Group called "Women of Colour of Copenhagen" who'd seen her work online and wanted her to create illustrations for flyers and other promotional materials for their events.
Working with other Black women and women of color in Denmark was an enriching experience for Durand. "I met lots of different people, and I learned a lot about the richness of diversity and how complex it is at the same time," she says. "I learned that it's important to speak up and tell your story so other people can relate and not feel alone, so we can change things together."
Today, Durand creates colorful images by using her tablet and computer as well as programs like Adobe Creative Cloud, Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, and Adobe Premiere to edit and animate them. She mainly draws her inspiration from modern architecture, Afro-pop influences, and pop culture, favoring simple shapes and bold colors.
"I like to diversify my work and challenge myself," she says, noting that she doesn't have a preferred medium to work with. "I like to get new ideas through projects and renew myself all the time. In the beginning [at art school], I was not doing illustrations only. I took pictures, films, sculptures, objects. Being in an art school helped me to do experiments to look for my answers. Today, I have found a way to express it with colors and shapes."
Many of Durand's illustrations show joyful images of Black people surrounded by bold, almost neon, colors and vibrant patterns. Even in her still images, many of Durand's subjects appear to be moving and dancing.
Illustrations and portraits take Durand anywhere from one day to a week to complete depending on if she's working on a piece for a client or her own portfolio. However, she stresses that both are important for an artist, because you need to build up an art repertoire to get jobs.
Back in 2017, when Durand set her sights on becoming an illustrator, she spent a year working as a babysitter while simultaneously creating an art portfolio, which she hoped would lead to landing an agent and potential clients. "I knew what I was capable of, but in the illustration field, people are only judging on what they see," she explains. "So if I don't have something, no one wants to hire me."
When publisher Quarto Kids approached her in 2018 about illustrating a book, Durand says she was "lucky" in getting recognized and that being successful in her field is all about exposure. For Durand, that moment was with This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on how to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell, which was released in January 2020.
If I influence people, I want to influence them in a way that they're feeling happy and accepting others.
Durand credits the book with helping her launch her art into a full-fledged career. "[In 2018], I was not really a full-time [illustrator], just doing it and trying to make things happen," she says, "I think [working on the book] helped my voice, and I think it's the whole beginning of what I'm doing now."
Durand's illustrations in This Book is Anti-Racist complement action plans that teach people how to navigate racism and be actively anti-racist in their daily lives. The book is available as an e-book and hard copy, and Durand says it's rewarding to her to see the positive reaction to her work and its message of inclusivity.
"It's cool that people are feeling positivity and joyful when they see my work. I think that is the most important message for me," she says. "If I influence people, I want to influence them in a way that they're feeling happy and accepting others."
Diversity naturally comes through in a lot of Durand's pieces, but she's still navigating how the anti-racism movement ties into her work as a whole. "I started doing more to see more colors, to celebrate the diversity, to talk about the anti-racism, and now I'm still working on that," she says.
"I like that my work is engaged in topics like Black Lives Matter and the environment, but I don't want to be only for one cause and want to expand," she adds. "That doesn't mean it doesn't matter for me. It does, but I'm not going to do the same thing over and over. I don't want to be in one square."
In 2017, she began using her account as a virtual portfolio and a way to interact with fans, many of whom are from the United States, the UK, and other English-speaking countries.
Images have an impact on us and change peoples' minds.
"I see Instagram as a gallery and a shop. I post an image, people see it, and they want to buy it. It's part of the process," she says. Spending nearly two hours per day on the platform, Durand struggles to balance how much time she spends on Instagram versus working on her pieces. "Instagram has played an important role in putting my voice out there, but projects lead to other projects," she says. "It's not enough to make one post that's going be seen by thousands of people." Instead, she favors the platform for connecting with like-minded creative people.
One thing she thinks has contributed to her growth in followers is how her work has evolved, which has led to new work opportunities. "It's a constant evolution," she says. "I'm posting consistently, and I think over the years, it's grown because I've diversified my work and am working with different people."
While she doesn't think the kind of art she does has a name yet, she's excited about the power of digital art to change hearts and minds.
"Art can have a positive effect on people," she says. "Because we are seeing so many illustrations on our phones every day, I think that images have an impact on us and change peoples' minds. We see so many bad images and negativity right now, that I hope I can bring some positivity and hope to people."