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  • Writer's pictureTyzza Macias

Jen Veguilla Lezan: Crafting a Tapestry of Culture, Art, and Memories through Design

Photo: Courtesy of Bella + Sophia Creative

In the vibrant world of design and illustration, where colors blend, lines dance, and imagination takes flight, there exists a Latinx artist whose creations are more than mere visuals—they are portals to a world where culture, community, and nostalgia intertwine. Meet Jen Veguilla Lezan, the visionary talent behind the Bella + Sophia Creative brand, whose work transcends the ordinary to evoke emotions, stir memories, and inspire awe. With the recent unveiling of her TeePublic shop, Jen beckons us to embark on a mesmerizing journey through her art—a journey that seamlessly weaves together the threads of her rich cultural heritage and her profound passion for design, promising a tapestry of creativity that captivates the heart and soul.

This year Hispanic Heritage Month marked a momentous occasion for Jen Veguilla Lezan and her ever-growing community of admirers. During this time, she unveiled her latest design collection, "Por La Cultura," a heartfelt homage to her upbringing in a Puerto Rican Mexican-American household. Through her vivid illustrations, Jen beautifully captures the essence of her youth, weaving together memories of family, food, and cultural iconography. Growing up between two distinct worlds in the urban enclave of Humboldt Park Chicago, Jen was immersed in the vibrant tapestry of life, where tradition coexisted with the rapid evolution of city living. Her designs reflect this harmonious interplay, exploring the dynamic fusion of traditional and contemporary visuals.

One of the distinguishing aspects of Jen's work is her ability to seamlessly blend traditional and digital art methods. She begins her creative journey by illustrating concepts by hand, infusing them with an authentic, hand-crafted feel. These artworks are then meticulously digitized using tools like Procreate and Affinity, transforming them into a diverse array of products.

Jen invites enthusiasts to embark on her creative journey through her YouTube channel, where she shares the behind-the-scenes of her artistic process. From sketching initial ideas to bringing them to life on digital platforms, Jen offers a glimpse into the passion and dedication that fuel her designs.

The launch of her TeePublic shop brings forth a treasure trove of creative expressions. Within its digital aisles, you'll discover an array of products including t-shirts, hoodies, onesies, stickers, totes, phone cases, and more. Each item carries the distinctive mark of Jen's artistry, offering a piece of culture, nostalgia, and artistry for everyone.

Jen Veguilla Lezan is no newcomer to the world of design. With over 12 years of experience in the creative marketing and design industry, she brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her independent venture as a graphic designer and illustrator. Her fearless approach to creativity has earned her the reputation of a visionary artist who pushes boundaries and thinks beyond the norm.

Jen's commitment to creativity extends beyond her work. Having taught in higher education for 11 years, she now shares her knowledge and insights with aspiring artists through Skillshare and her learning platform, The Creative Studio. Her dedication to empowering others on their creative paths is a testament to her belief in the transformative power of art.

Bella + Sophia Creative is more than just a brand; it's a testament to the dreams and determination of Jen Veguilla Lezan. A Chicago-born Latinx and proud mother of three, Jen's journey has been marked by resilience and unwavering passion. From overcoming hardships to attending art school as a first-generation student, she has transformed her creative passions into a thriving career.

At its core, Bella + Sophia Creative is a studio driven by the desire to provide beauty, fun, and vibrancy through art and design. It's a place where culture, community, and memories intertwine to create something truly extraordinary.

In September 2023, the world eagerly anticipated the launch of Jen's products on TeePublic. With a range of prices catering to a diverse audience, her creations have become accessible to all. For those who seek a piece of culture, a splash of vibrant color, and a touch of nostalgia, Jen Veguilla Lezan's designs continue to stand as a testament to the enduring power of creativity and the profound connection they forge between individuals and their heritage.

As we stand at the threshold of Jen Veguilla Lezan's artistic universe, we bear witness to the indomitable spirit of creativity, an unbreakable bond between her art and the heartstrings of heritage. Through her TeePublic shop, she extends an open invitation to us all, beckoning us to immerse ourselves in the kaleidoscope of her imagination, to dance with the rhythms of culture, and to savor the exquisite flavor of artistic expression.

In this enchanting voyage with Jen, we are reminded that creativity is boundless, transcending borders and eras. It's a timeless journey where tradition harmonizes with innovation, a journey that unearths the profound magic of art—a magic that lies not just in its visual appeal, but in its ability to connect us to our roots, to our memories, and ultimately, to ourselves.

Jen Veguilla Lezan is a Latinx artist who crafts more than just designs; she creates connections and fosters a love for the rich tapestry of life itself. Through her art, she invites us to explore the world, celebrate our heritage, and cherish the beauty that surrounds us. In her creations, we find not just images but stories, not just colors but emotions, and not just designs but a piece of our shared human experience. Jen Veguilla Lezan is a true artist, a visionary, and an inspiration to us all.

This year, I had the opportunity to meet Jen at a panel discussion titled "Latinas Voices In Publishing" during the Chicago Latina Expo 2023. Her words of encouragement ignited a profound sense of inspiration within me, particularly regarding the significance of representation in the Latinx culture and the world of art. In our interview, Jen emphasized the crucial importance of representation, and her perspective left a lasting impact. Here's what Jen had to share during our interview.

OLM: What inspired you to start Bella + Sophia Creative, and how does it reflect your personal journey as a Chicago-born Latina and mother?

Jen: I have been freelancing in design and illustration since 2008 - always in conjunction with a full-time job and in addition to teaching (I was an adjunct prof for 11 years). It wasn’t until the last 3 years that I dared to just focus on freelancing and my business full-time. I believe I could have done this sooner, but as a Latina, who grew up in poverty, part of my trauma response was to ALWAYS be working. Therapy helped me gain the confidence to decide to believe in myself and my capabilities. I think this is something many Latinas experience. We often hustle hard and it's common for many in my generation to have multiple jobs. Over the last 5 years, I realized that working myself to burnout wasn’t healthy and that Latina women deserve the opportunity to create their futures. I read a statistic a couple of years ago that said a Latina would have to work, on average, until the age of 101 for her career earnings to catch up to the career earnings of White men at age 60. This is evident in the corporate world and I decided that I couldn’t buy into this idea any longer. The best way I knew to create freedom, stop trading my time for a paycheck, and build my wealth and career was through entrepreneurship.

Inspired by my goals to have a business that allowed me to create time with my family while also creating income through my passions, I decided to go full-time with my independent venture: Bella + Sophia Creative. The brand is named after my daughters who are my ultimate inspiration. I was tired of trading my time for money and always being away from home and working on projects that didn’t spark joy. So, I decided to focus on freelancing as a designer and illustrator working for a combination of clients as well as designing products for my shops and also taking my teaching experience and applying it to building my courses online. Essentially, I am a self-employed Creative Freelancer and Educator - I run Bella and Sophia Creative (a design and illustration studio working in the fashion and design industries) and an online learning platform alongside releasing courses on a platform called skillshare where I am included as a Top Teacher and rank among the top 1% for quality and student engagement on the platform.

I made it a point to build multiple streams of income including both passive and active income. In the last 3+ years, I have managed to stay afloat and grow income year over year and I hope to continue to do so in 2024 - even with taking a few months off for maternity leave last year. Yet, because of how I set things up with my classes being autonomous and having residual income and royalties in place, I can still manage to get a paycheck even during times like when I had my maternity leave last year.

OLM: Can you share more about your latest design, "Por La Cultura," and how it captures your experience growing up in a Puerto Rican/Mexican American household?

JEN: My latest design launch “Por La Cultura” was released during Hispanic Heritage Month and paid homage to my upbringing in her Puerto Rican/Mexican American household. I was inspired by the nostalgia of my youth. I grew up on the West side of Chicago in a community called Humboldt Park and I also frequented places like Pilsen and La Villita some of my core memories surround family and Food. So my art often incorporates things like food and cultural iconography. I often illustrate concepts that flood the memory of people who grew up between two worlds similar to me as I am an American-born Puerto Rican and Mexican Millennial. I love to illustrate and design concepts that play with the intermix of traditional and modern visuals that stem from growing up in urban communities like Humboldt Park where the Abuelitas kept culture alive, the neighborhood was filled with the smell of pan baking and arroz cooking, but was often juxtaposed to city life evolution in the 90s.

Being a Latina is at the heart of everything I do. My mom instilled in me this fierce pride in my culture - I am Puerto Rican and Mexican American. She made it a point to help me always remember where we came from, the beauty of our culture, and the hard work my ancestors put in for me to be where I am now - despite the hardships they and we faced over the years.

This has influenced my art and design as I am inspired by my culture Within my creations, but also it helps me in the education world because I want to help others on a similar path find their way. I grew up in Humboldt Park in Chicago and because of that, I have a fierce pride for my community. I know the struggles and I make it a point to try and be an advocate and use my skills to help others in the Latino and BIPOC communities using my skills and my time where I can - I share more about that here:

When it comes to my creative work, there is always an undertone of my culture in the work I do. I am not afraid of bright and bold colors, I tap into my culture and past experiences in the drawings and Creative work I do - even in small things like sticker packs I have designed for Etsy you can find my Chicago pack is inspired by my time growing up on the West Side/ Humboldt Park or in the surface pattern design work I do with the colorful and tropical florals. It’s an inherent part of me and rather than try and be mainstream, I like sharing that part of me through my work- even if it is not for everyone.

OLM: How do you balance the influences of traditional and modern visuals in your work, especially considering your upbringing in urban communities like Humboldt Park?

JEN: I think part of creating a balance for me is that while I am inspired by the history and traditions of my culture, I’m a forward-thinking Millennial Latina and my experience in the 90s and 2000s growing up in Chicago always shows through in my work. I always end up incorporating a bit of pop culture and modern ideas into my art even if I’m creating something Latinx inspired. I think that is quite common with Latino/a/x creatives — our generation and culture often influence the work we do and I see it not just in art, but also in music, film, and food.

OLM: With your background in fashion, design, illustration, and digital media, how do you decide which medium or method to use for a particular project?

JEN: It depends on the project I am creating for, but often my process incorporates traditional mediums like sketching with pencil and paper and then gets translated into the digital space using programs like Affinity or Procreate to finalize my design. For example - I do a lot of surface pattern design (think the patterns you see on fabric or even on phone cases) - I will start traditionally, but then jump into digital and finalize the coloring and vectorizing of the art and finalize a repeat in a program like Affinity Designer on my iPad.

OLM: As a proud first-generation art school student who faced hardships, what advice would you give to aspiring artists who might be in a similar situation?

JEN: I suggest people just start creating as much as they can. You don’t always have to go to art school to become a professional creative. The internet has truly democratized the industry and allows more and more people to build a portfolio and showcase their skills to the world than ever before. You can grow your skillset or educate yourself using platforms like YouTube, Skillshare, and Udemy without going into major student debt.

If you want to pursue higher education though, I would suggest doing all you can to find ways to fund your higher education through things like scholarships so you do not graduate with a large amount of debt. I am a huge proponent of higher ed, but I also believe it is a broken system that often negatively impacts BIPOC communities. We are some of the highest educated but often carry the highest amounts of debt. Why? In my experience, my mother didn’t have savings for college. This wasn’t for lack of trying. This is because she worked as a housekeeper and we lived paycheck to paycheck. I started working at 14 to help keep my family afloat. We had no generational wealth. There was no amount of bootstrapping and saving we could have done to allow me to afford college.

Through it all, I believed in the power of education and worked a full-time job while pursuing higher ed, but even that couldn’t cover the cost. For years I was told that the way out of poverty was to pursue higher education. Getting an education is not a choice for people of lower incomes and minorities. The way we start a career to better our lives, often demands that we have a degree. So, we take out loans and pursue college and many of us are left with a literal mortgage on our knowledge. It’s frustrating to know that older generations—the president’s generation—could work a part-time job and pay their tuition, but by the time people like me wanted to go to college, that funding, those grants, that support was taken away and tuition skyrocketed.

This experience inspired me to get involved in organizations that are working to fight for economic justice. Despite the industry's brokenness, there are still opportunities, and people like me are part of organizing groups like The Debt Collective, fighting for things like universal higher education so that the taxes we pay go into programs that support our communities.

OLM: You've had a diverse career in creative marketing and design. How has this experience influenced your approach to running Bella + Sophia Creative?

JEN: Before freelancing full time and running my online learning platforms, I taught in higher education at different universities for 11 years, as well as freelanced and worked full time in the corporate fashion retail industry for brands like Claire’s and Icing doing digital marketing for social media and public relations, worked for retailers like Macy’s and Forever 21, was a design coordinator for the Chicago Fashion Foundation, ran a digital magazine called Halfstack as well as worked in the non-profit world doing creative marketing and design work for clients like 360 Youth Services and most recently The Debt Collective.

My specialties include graphic design, surface pattern design for fabric and stationery products, and Art Direction. I also film, edit, and produce all of my courses so I have had to learn video editing and production over the last 8 years. While my career path was not linear and it was unconventional, all of the work I have done in the corporate sense has helped me as a creative business owner as I often have to apply those skills to the work I do running my own business.

OLM: You teach both in higher education and online platforms like Skillshare. How has teaching influenced your creative process and work?

JEN: My passion for helping others truly has been the undercurrent in all of my work teaching. What it does best though is inspire me to be a lifelong learner. While I am an expert in things, I also know that there is always room to grow and learn new things. When I am working on a client project or learning a new piece of software for a project, I often find myself thinking about how I can show others how to do what I do. It’s always in the back of my mind and I often end up creating courses that relate to projects I have done in the past because I find people want to learn how to do similar things. So, I utilize my skills to show them how. I have courses on Skillshare that are paid, but I am also a believer in creating opportunities that are accessible. I have found YouTube to be a great place to do this. So, I offer free tutorials and resources on my channel and have built a beautiful community of people open to learning new and creative things.

OLM: Your Tee Public shop features a range of products from t-shirts to phone cases. How do you ensure that your designs maintain their integrity and appeal across such diverse products?

JEN: One of the reasons I opted to utilize Tee Public is because of their quality standards. There are lots of Print on Demand sites out there and one of the major flaws with the industry is cutting corners to cut costs and that ends up impacting quality. Tee Public’s production team establishes the highest quality standards for the third-party printers who participate in the marketplace to ensure that every product I sell is high quality and to the best standards. I also appreciated that they have a variety of products - I may not be able to hold inventory, but I can create art and then choose from over 75 products in a huge variety of styles for my customers. This is a great asset to have when you’re building passive income from things like print-on-demand sites. They are not all created equal and it takes testing and getting samples to help you decipher what’s good from what’s not I have found that Tee Public is one of the good ones!

OLM: With your expertise in both traditional and digital art methods, how do you blend these techniques to give your work a unique, hand-made feel?

JEN: It’s all about the process work to create a handmade feel with digital work. I incorporate traditional techniques like sketching with pen, pencil, and paper - I often sketch and also create my hand-made textures and scan that work into my computer or iPad. Then I can utilize apps like Procreate to digitize the work using those sketches, scanned textures, and the amazing variety of brushes for the app that help me to create a handmade feel with digital work.

OLM: Looking towards the future, what new directions or projects are you excited to explore with Bella + Sophia Creative?

JEN: I am in the preplanning phase of my year. January is my month for goal setting and prepping content for the year, so I am looking forward to figuring out what 2024 looks like for me in the coming weeks. The top goals I have are focusing on finalizing my children’s book, booking more illustration and surface design clients and I of course will have more creative classes coming out and some great content for YouTube as well.

OLM: What guidance or tips would you offer to Latinx individuals who are eager to pursue a career in your industry?

JEN: My biggest suggestion would be to get involved in any way you can - pursue organizations related to the creative industry and see if there are volunteer positions available and also look into internships relating to your field. If you’re into design AIGA is a great option. Also, put yourself out there. No one is going to rally harder for you than you. Set up an Instagram page and Linkedin and share your work. Create a website on a platform like Wix and start building that portfolio of work that you can eventually pitch for work opportunities.

Join communities online like Facebook or Reddit and see what other creatives are doing to get their name out there. And once you start growing and building in the community, bring others like you along. That’s the most important part - we need to bring each other into those spaces we haven’t always been a part of and that is how we start impacting change, that is how our art is seen, that is how movies are made that highlight the Latin experience. There are opportunities out there, we just can’t be afraid to pursue them. You are worthy, so go for it! A great resource that caters specifically to Latinx creatives that I can share is La Nueva.

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