Colombian artist and filmmaker Mila Useche, creates playful works of cartoon figures that appropriate a child’s drawings. This approach can be attributed to how the artist is connecting to her inner child and also to her past career experiences. After graduating with a B.A. in illustration in 2017, Useche freelanced as a character designer for animation and publishing clients such as Disney, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros. Animation, and more.
Now, as Useche delves into creating works that are purely self-expression and not done per client’s requests, she comes up with endearing characters that explode with emotions across her canvases. These characters are expressing anger, disappointment, confusion, and grief while riding in some sort of vehicle. They may as well be experiencing something that audiences might recognize as road rage. In doing so, Useche’s artworks portray characters that are vocal about their emotions, giving viewers a chance to check in with their own emotions and reflecting on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Good Health And Well-Being.
Take, for example, Rush, the oil pastel and acrylic on canvas piece that shows a central horned character in Useche’s signature cartoon style with cute rounded features. The character is riding in an anthropomorphized car that’s far too small for its triangular body, all while it looks straight ahead and is locked in a steely gaze with whatever it has its sights on. Judging from the car’s expression and the zig-zag lines emphasizing the character’s anger, viewers could imagine the character stuck in traffic, expressing their version of road rage.
Useche’s Flash, however, shows another side to road rage’s coin. This piece shows a different character with equally adorable, rounded features and horns. The character is riding a bike, again fashioned to look like a children’s bike that’s had a flat tire, all while wearing a mask that’s smiling wide. Under the mask, the character is wearing a frown; it seems fatigued and disappointed in the circumstances it's found its way into.
To further exemplify the messages contained within her artworks, Useche often creates short, engaging videos in which she explains her process. She explains everything, from how she creates her sketches, to her colouring technique, and the decisions that went into creating her original characters. In one video, she explains the rationale behind her good apple character, a small animated apple with angel wings and a halo that appears often in her pieces as a representation of “hope, joy, perseverance, and childhood wonder.”
Meanwhile, in another video, she explains how she creates sketches to get a feel for the final piece’s composition, even if the results do not always reflect the initial sketch. In this video, she also shares her plans to move to Japan; this personal touch gives her content a tinge of warmth and cultivates closeness with her viewers.
In Mila Useche's art, whimsical characters navigate emotional turmoil on the road, offering a poignant exploration of self-expression and well-being. Transitioning from a career in character design for major clients, Useche's works, like Rush and Flash, now capture suppressed feelings, echoing insights on how road rage is seen as a more acceptable outlet for stress. Her piece Flash especially warns against hiding emotions, mirroring the real-world consequences of road rage, which leads to accidents. Useche's art prompts reflection on emotional acknowledgment as her characters, beyond their charm, encourage viewers to navigate emotions constructively.