Illustration by Ale Salaman.

Illustration by Alé Salamán.

Welcome to a new corner of Rookie: Bad Girl Painter! Each month, I will interview a young artist about their artistic practice, philosophies, and passions. “Painter” and “Girl” are terms that won’t always apply here—the goal is to offer space for young people making all kinds of art, in many media.

Our first bad girl painter is 16-year-old artist Alé Salamán (known online as Namalas), who prolifically draws rosy-cheeked, symbolic portraits of people she knows and loves. Her work is rich in linear detail and often incorporates ominous symbols like skulls, thorny roses, and anatomically correct human hearts. The figures she draws are not to be messed with, usually making direct eye contact with the viewer–almost daring you to question them.

I spoke to Alé about the origins of her work, what compels her to make, and her thoughts on displaying art on social media.

MINNA GILLIGAN: When did it first occur to you that you had an interest in making art?

ALÉ SALAMÁN: When I saw my aunt sketching with some new pencils she had just bought from the store. She draws the prettiest pictures, and as a little girl I knew I wanted to be like her. To this day, I thank her for all my success. She taught me to really look at things from an artistic viewpoint, and when she comes to visit me in the U.S., we draw together all the time.

I read that you’re colorblind! How does this manifest—as in, what colors can and can’t you see? Do you think this makes a difference to the aesthetic choices in your work?

I cannot see the color red, but every other color is visible to me. I probably just see it differently than others, I guess. Colorblindness is rarely found in females, so I think that’s interesting. In a way, I’d like to say it changes the aesthetic choices of my work, but I don’t really think so. I apply colors into my work via computer-based programs, so it’s easy to label what red is. I just don’t see it like everyone else does. It all depends on the background.

What are your go-to materials when making art?

A computer, computer paper, a mechanical pencil, micron pens, and a scanner.

You seem to usually draw portraits of friends and people that you appear to have some sort of relationship with–online or in real life. What is it about portraiture that compels you?

It may sound really cheesy, but I just really like that the people and faces I draw have stories. Some are real people, and some are just people I make up and create my own stories for. Faces can tell you anything with just a look, and I think that’s amazing.

All the faces I draw give me a particular feeling. And, when I put it out for the public to see, they all have different perspectives as to what it might mean, and I love that. I love sharing the many facets of the people I know and love, the people I make up, and just the feeling of people in general.

What compels you to make a drawing? Is there a quality in a subject that you look for?

It really all depends on my mood. A lot of times, I’m compelled to draw things that can have some kind of social critique. Other times, I’m compelled by how I feel or by a situation that happened to me. I’m kind of emotional when it comes to my artwork.

Have you ever formed a special friendship or relationship with someone after you’ve drawn them?

Yeah, most definitely. I drew my very good friend Abby Phillips (@abbyroad on Instagram) and we’re very good friends now. We work on Sad Girl magazine, our little online project.

I made my best friend a homemade card for his birthday, and it was a drawing of the both of us. It says, “I’ve got your back.” Since I made him that card, I would say our friendship has grown closer. I think he really appreciates that detail [of the card]. I’m so happy I made that for him.

Can you tell me more about Sad Girl magazine?

Sad Girl is a bimonthly thematic online zine that features artwork, articles, suggestions, and DIY projects from people of the world. Abby and I work very hard to find new artists, writers, and bloggers to join our awesome team. We’re passionate about sharing what we love.

Your portraits have a peculiar kind of melancholy emanating from them, and your subjects seem wide-eyed and self-aware, as if they’re taking a selfie. Would you agree with this, and if so, why do you think that is?

I’ve noticed that, and I’ve also been told my drawings tend to stare right at people, I guess? I was told that it was very triggering for one person who had a phobia of being stared at. I do agree my subjects seem to be very alert, which is why I sometimes switch it up and draw people with their eyes closed. I’m not sure as to why it is—I just always draw people facing forward. There’s no particular reason, but I think it’s interesting how you’re not the first person who has mentioned that.

How do you feel social media sites, like Instagram and Tumblr, inform others of your art? For me, they provide not only inspiration, but also a platform to display my work.

I think internet platforms and all kinds of social media are great places for others to learn about artwork in general, and I really enjoy sharing my own work and getting feedback from people. People can get inspired and compelled to make their own art, too, which I think is awesome.

Have you ever had a traditional art exhibition? Do you think gallery spaces are becoming increasingly irrelevant?

I had my own traditional art exhibition, kind of. I participated in a high school arts competition, and I had a painting hanging at the University of Tampa [in Florida] for two weeks. It was pretty cool and people took photos next to my painting.

I personally think gallery spaces are really cool and very relevant. It’s really different to see art in real life, rather than online, and in my opinion it’s a much better experience. My mom and I try to go to a museum or art gallery once every month.

Is your school and your school’s curriculum supportive of your artistic interest and ability?

The school itself is very supportive of my artwork! I was featured in this past year’s yearbook, and they promoted my artwork. It was pretty cool.

What would you like to accomplish in the future with your artistic practice?

I would like to become an illustrator or a graphic designer. I am planning to attend college, study, and continue my artistic practice, but who knows where life will take me?

What are three words that would describe your artwork?

Alluring, provoking, and neat. ♦

If you’re a bad person painter and want me to check out your work, please email [email protected] with the subject line “Bad girl painter.” Please include a link to your blog, Instagram, or website.