Welcome to another round of our #phototalk series! Today, we’re having an openhearted talk with Karen Cantu of @karencantuq. She’s an interior architect and visual artist, spreading her love for art and design mostly via Instagram. At the moment, Karen is based in Montreal, Canada, but originally she comes from Mexico.

She has made her own way on Instagram and created a big fanbase, by designing and sharing her mysterious, colorful yet dark artwork, that speaks to anyone’s imagination. We love her art, as it always manages to surprise us and lets us peek into her surreal little world. Read on to learn what inspires Karen, how she usually goes to work and how making art is her own way of expressing and healing herself.

Hi Karen! Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do for a living, and how does it relate to your artwork?
Hi! Well, currently I work as a contractor for several brands and businesses. My work consists mostly of content creation for social media and I am also the current lead designer of the communications department of a magazine based in Indianapolis, USA.

How did you start your photography career?
Actually, I don’t consider myself a photographer. I started making these collages and edits mostly because I sucked at photography, hahaha…

But you have such a specific, surrealist style. Could you then explain to us how this got to you over time?
I was sick for a couple of years, and that changed my life plans radically. It led up to an episode of depression that lasted quite a few months. That’s when I began creating surreal artworks as a way of self-therapy. I have a very vivid imagination and my mind tends to wander all over the place. To be honest, this has not always been a blessing for me! It took me a while to understand and discover that my mind has a rather unusual “need” of always being unrealistic, always be creating. It took me even more time to control it and channel this need by learning how to use tools, from a pencil to a brush or my computer, instead of manipulating my own thoughts and feelings.
Today this works as an everyday therapy for me. It allows me to learn to wrap my feelings in works of art and it really works healing for the mind!
It has been a long way for me to discover and be known for my style. At first, I got inspired by other artists, which is pretty normal I believe. If you take a look at my early work, you will see that it is way more surreal than it is now! Over time, I wanted to create something of which people weren’t aware they were missing it.
You might have seen thousands of photos of raccoons, lions, tigers, foxes, etc… But nothing like what I do. Now that is what you were missing, see?
The perfect portrait of a tiger with a butterfly, a fox sneaking through flowers or a raccoon emerging from a bunch of beautiful succulents.
Of course, I do believe that most artists jump from style to style once in a while. I don’t only work with animals, but also space and astronauts. I guess it will always be about nature, however.

So, about your creative process: how do you get your ideas and how do you develop them into the final artwork?
When I say that I wrap my feelings in works of art, I mean it almost literally, haha! I edit guided by my feelings, that is the healthiest way to let them out, at least for me. It’s all about what I want to express when I am creating something. For instance, people might see a work and say “Oh, that tiger is beautiful!”. But did you see the eyes, is what I wonder? Did you notice the specific sadness or melancholy I put into them? It’s not always about the beauty of it, or how cute it looks. It does excite me if people get the deeper message or meaning behind it. But in the end, I started doing this for myself, and I don’t really plan on changing that.

How long does it take you on average to make one of your creations?
Oh, that really depends! Some of them are done in 15 minutes and others take around 2 hours or more. I sometimes share quick tutorials to show people that sometimes you don’t need a lot of time or stocks to create something. It’s rare for me to have more than 20 layers in Photoshop, haha!

How do you feel about the IG-fanbase you built up and do you often connect or collaborate with other IG-ers?
I am so, so happy and beyond grateful for my Instagram-fanbase. It is mostly thanks to them that I can work and live for my passion and do what I love the most.
I do connect with other people on Instagram, I have made many good friends through the platform. But to be honest, I don’t really collaborate. Not because I’m not interested, but I guess I have a very specific way of working and opportunities seem to be rare.

Last but not least, can you tell us personal favourite accounts?
Oh, I have many! Let me give you a few of my favorites: