Studying Abroad Insights from Helena Ecija

Who is Helena Ecija?

I am an illustrator and letterer from Madrid, both myself and my work is upbeat and cheerful. The detailed illustration of letters is my passion and I work mainly in the toy industry, products and in the editorial and advertising world.

When did you realise what you wanted to be? 

Right up until a few months before applying for school I was sure I was going to enroll in a Computer Science program (Ingeniería informática), after I went to a Higher Education Fair I realised I had enough Maths and Algebra for life and I wanted to turn my hobby into my job. My family was very supportive and I went back the following day and choose to apply to the Fine Arts undergrad program of Complutense University. Best decision of my life!

When did you realise you need to continue your illustration studies abroad?

At the time I didn’t know how big of an impact going overseas was going to be for me. Not only as a professional but also as a person, I grew in so many levels. My true passion has always been illustration, but I think if I would’ve not gone to the States I would’ve never pursued the dream of becoming a freelance illustrator.


How did you choose where to go? 

I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago because a good friend of mine told me about the program. It was the only program my school offered to study outside of Europe and seemed to be the best of the international programs.

Did you share a flat or did you choose to live in a Student Hall? What did you liked the most of this decision?

My exchange program did not allow me to get accommodations in the dorms, however I did not mind that because I wanted to get a shared apartment off campus anyway. I shared an apartment with 3 other people, two American girls and one guy from Qatar. It was incredible to share apartment with my roommates, I was exposed to the culture in ways I would’ve never imagined! They recorded my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they corrected my texts when I was flirting with my now husband and we made a friendship that we will keep forever!

How is living in Chicago? Pros & Cons?

Chicago is a great city. Although there is one big problem when it comes to Chicago: it is very very cold in the winter, and winters are long. Being from Madrid, I had never experienced what it’s like to go out to the street and breathe -20º C air, it hurts when it goes down to your lungs! But when the snow melts, the city wakes up and there is a never-ending list of outdoor activities happening at all times: the summer time it’s all about free concerts, festivals, beach days and backyard barbecue parties!

Once you´ve decided to become an illustrator, how comes you have chosen the children´s illustration path?

I had a couple very supportive teachers in the School of the art institute and they encouraged me to pursue illustration. I was after I took a class on Children’s books illustrations that I realised that the assignments I did for that class where so enjoyable that I started to investigate in that direction. However, it’s just a few years ago when I started to be interested in typography and lettering and that’s what it’s most recognisable of my work.

Mad-baker by ecija

Did you make some internship while you where studying? If so, do you recommend it? 

I worked as an intern in several places during my training program period that was 9 months long. Some were paid and some were unpaid. I worked as an wedding photographer, as a graphic designer for a clothing store, pre-production assistant for a comic publishing company, and finally for the toy company that ended up hiring me as a full time employee. I really recommend doing internships and even if you get one, keep looking for other options. Also it’s important that they treat you fairly and you feel valued especially if it’s an unpaid internship. I worked for that toy company for 4 years in Chicago and I still work for them in a freelance basis! So you will never know what an internship will bring you!

Did you find obstacles while pursuing your Illustration dream? How did you overcome them? Any tip you can share with our Roomers?

The worst obstacles you have to face are the ones that come from within. Be confident, dream big and don’t let others tell you what you can or can’t do. My tip will be don’t half ass it! Give everything you got and you will succeed! 

If you could go back in time would you change anything? Why?

I don’t think I would change anything, but I would tell my younger self that everything is going to be alright. So I could stop worrying about stupid little things. In the end, everything always works out and worrying about things that don’t depend on you just makes no sense. Do your best and enjoy the moment!


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