For most of us, coffee is but a drink. For others, like Nuria Salcedo, it’s a creative medium.
Based in Ontinyent, a small Spanish town near Valencia, Salcedo's Instagram feed @nuriamarq carries global appeal. Using coffee as paint, Salcedo creates intricate illustrations, many of them portraits. Her feed is full of beautiful works of art and serves as proof that coffee is a complex, unique product whose worth goes beyond just a drink.
A self-taught artist, Salcedo is actually a trained architect. But as Salcedo points out, that profession is not an easy one to break into, which in part, has made it easier to devote more time to her art. “I am a young architect without experience and there are not a lot of opportunities for me right now so meanwhile art is filling more and more of my time,” says Salcedo. Currently she takes commissions from friends and family, and does some shows and exhibits (Salcedo’s work was featured as part of The Coffee Art Project exhibit in London). “Let’s say that I am a reinvented architect trying to decide if coffee could become my near future,” says Salcedo.
We caught up with Salcedo to learn more about her creative process and why coffee inspires her.
How would friends of yours finish this statement “Nuria is….”?
An artist. It’s something that I still have to believe myself because I would never have thought that drawing could be something more than a hobby in my life. Also “a perfectionist” could fit in the sentence. I spend so many hours finishing every detail and many times I start an illustration over if it has not turned out how I expected.
What is your background as an artist?
When people see me painting, there is always someone who asks, “Have you studied fine arts?” They are very surprised when I say no. So I think the most appropriate answer is that I do not have a solid background as an artist. I have always loved drawing but I have never taken art classes so everything I know is a result of a lot of hours of practice and things I learned through the Internet or thanks to my degree in Architecture. As a self-taught artist, I have always seen art as a “second home” and the passion I have for it has made me want to learn everything about it. “Trial and error” has been my method, in other words, discovering with practice what works for me, which techniques suit me better… And this is what led me to start painting with coffee.
When did you get interested in painting with coffee and why?
As I said I have always loved drawing, but I stopped doing it for years. After finishing my degree I remembered how drawing (in a more artistic way) had always made me feel better and I decided that it was the perfect activity to fill my time while taking a break. It all started as a hobby but it changed the moment I decided to start sharing my work on social media. I was not so good back then but with the support of some loyal followers I decided to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot to improve but after a couple of years, every day I am better than the day before.
After trying a lot of techniques and a couple of styles I came across an artist who worked with coffee, Maria A. Aristidou. At that point, I needed something that made me stand out from the rest of artists because I was not good enough with colored pencils or with other traditional techniques so I decided to give coffee a try. I have always liked being creative and coffee gave me a lot of new possibilities. I fell in love with it after finishing my first piece and I have not stopped using coffee since then. I guess it is going to take me longer to become a great artist without that background but with faith and passion—and coffee—I hope to achieve a great level one day.
Do you use just coffee or do you use other mediums in your work? Explain a little bit about your creative process and how a work comes together.
A new illustration starts with a new idea and that means looking for pictures that tell a story. I spend so many hours looking for reference pictures and at the end of the process I have a lot of pictures that I put together to create my own idea. Sometimes the process is easier and I find a picture that is beautiful on its own, but I try to change a couple of things at least so I can give my personal signature to the work. And then it’s time to start drawing.
When I work with coffee I start with a sketch using a brown pencil, and once it’s finished I start coloring it with coffee. Coffee works similarly to watercolors and all you need is coffee powder and water. Keep in mind that with more water the colors will be lighter and with less water the colors will be darker. After applying a couple of layers of coffee I always add the details using the brown pencil again. I spend so many hours working on the details because for me they are what make my work more special.
Why is coffee an inspiring medium?
Because you are able to see how a daily product that everyone has at home turns into something that gives uniqueness and personality to an illustration. Using coffee as a medium is unique and singular on its own but going beyond that, it is an interesting technique. The color scheme is really wide and it has the quality of giving warmth to an illustration. It is like if all the feelings around drinking a cup of coffee—comfort, ease, rest, quiet, or peacefulness—were also applied in an illustration painted with it. But it is also special because it is a medium that everyone has at their disposal. A lot of techniques are really expensive, so coffee becomes an interesting choice to people interested in art who want to practice with something similar to watercolors, but are a lot cheaper.
How has your work changed and evolved over the years?
I am still beginning as an artist so there is still a lot of room to improve but I can say that my work has evolved a lot since I began taking it seriously two years ago. When I started I was more interested in creating fan art and all the process consisted of was copying a picture. Looking at it right now, I cannot say that it was useless because I learned how to really use a pencil again, but now I am more interested in the creative process behind every illustration. I love spending hours and hours searching for new reference pictures, choosing the right ones, merging together ideas, and creating my own picture. In other words, now I try to express something with my work.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you have done recently?
I would choose “Invisible” because it was the first time I used one of my illustrations to really express myself and my feelings. Every illustration has a part of me behind it, but in this one I really let my hand express for me how I was feeling in the moment of painting it.
I really like “Freedom (male edition)” too, a painting of Jared Leto, because it has a really deep stare that expresses everything I want in an illustration. I really pay attention to hands and eyes when I am drawing because they can express a lot of things so these two are the perfect example of that.
What are some of your sources of inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere but I quite enjoy looking for new ideas on social media. There are a lot of talented artists out there and I like to study their way of expressing themselves to improve my own art. I also like Pinterest where I can look for general topics like photography or nature and get a lot of pictures that then I can put together for a new illustration.
What coffee are you drinking right now?
As much as I love coffee as a medium and it has become my distinguishing mark after a long time searching for a technique that could express what I wanted, I do not drink coffee very often. Let’s say that my body and caffeine do not get on well hahaha. But that does not mean I am not familiar with it and that I don’t know about different brands and their characteristics because right now I am surrounded by it from Monday to Sunday. My favorite smell to wake up to in early mornings when I have a long day of work ahead is the smell of a cup of coffee waiting for me to start drawing, that smell that will remain with me all day. So I can say that I have found an alternative use for it that suits me better.
For coloring my illustrations I use Nescafé coffee powder because it is water-soluble so it is easy to work with and it also gives me good quality results. I like the color scheme I get and also the texture of it.
Favorite coffee shop?
Unfortunately I live in a small town so there are not specialized coffee shops but I am planning to start a new tradition that consists in looking for one when I travel to a different city or country and make a special collection of different coffees so I can start to get to know the possibilities of every type better, and then study how to use that in my work. So I am open to suggestions!
If you could drink coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
I would choose my friends. Unfortunately, we are not all together very often so it is always nice when we share a long evening together and we finish dinner with a cup of coffee and conversations that last for hours.
Anna Brones (@annabrones) is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in the American Pacific Northwest, the founder of Foodie Underground, and the co-author of Fika: The Art Of The Swedish Coffee Break. Read more Anna Brones on Sprudge.