Monica Jimenez Sablich standing in front of James Branch Cabell Library
At VCU, Monica Jimenez Sablich was determined to take advantage of every opportunity she could find. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Class of 2022: Graphic designer Monica Jimenez Sablich champions urban typography of Peru

Jimenez Sablich, a native of Peru, is studying the stories and details behind the distinctive style so that she can share it with others.

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While at Virginia Commonwealth University, Monica Jimenez Sablich felt she had a lot of catching up to do because of something that set her apart from her classmates and was a gnawing issue for her – a 15-year gap between the start of her undergraduate studies in her native Peru and her return to college.

“I feel like I was not taking advantage of all the things my school offered back when I started as an 18-year-old,” said Jimenez Sablich. “Coming back to school, I remember my first semester I emailed the professors, and I was like, ‘We're going to sit down, we're going to make a plan from day one. I just want to know what I can do and what can I take advantage of?’”

Her hard work resulted in awards and scholarships she didn’t even think she had access to as a nontraditional student. Jimenez Sablich was the inaugural recipient of the Friends of VCU Libraries Scholarship and also received the George and Nancy Woltz Endowed Scholarship and the VCUarts Dean’s Scholarship in Graphic Design. And this month, Jimenez Sablich will graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design from VCU School of the Arts.

She began her higher-education journey straight out of high school but left art school in Lima, Peru partway through. She then traveled to the U.S. on a temporary work and study visa through a student exchange program offered by a company in Peru. She took a summer restaurant job in Williamsburg, Virginia, and was able to attend German and history classes at William & Mary for a few weeks to get a taste of the college experience in the U.S. While in Williamsburg, she met her future husband.

Text that says \"Fiesta\" in green, yellow and orange letters and \"patronal\" in orange, pink and purple letters.
An example of Monica Jimenez Sablich's work inspired by the urban typography of Peru. (Courtesy Monica Jimenez Sablich)

They eventually married and moved back to Lima, where Jimenez Sablich worked as a graphic designer. Then in 2017, after several years, the pair decided it was time to move back to the U.S. to be closer to Jimenez Sablich’s in-laws in Virginia, and for the chance for her to attend VCU.

When they moved to Richmond, Jimenez Sablich volunteered with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. That led to a paying job there as communications coordinator from 2018 to 2020.

She entered VCU’s graphic design program in 2019, with her credits from her courses taken as a student in Lima giving her the status of a transfer student. Jimenez Sablich enjoyed one full in-person semester before the pandemic.

In 2020, Jimenez Sablich took a job working as communications coordinator at Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center, a nonprofit that works with victims of domestic violence.

Typography has a strong influence on Jimenez Sablich’s graphic design work and research, but she has found that examples of lettering used in signage found on the streets of Lima are difficult to find in the graphic design collections and books in the United States. So, she made studying and replicating the typography used in urban graphic expressions in Peru – from outside restaurants to event posters – the focus of her senior exhibit work.

“What I'm doing right now is researching the letter form in Peruvian graphic design on posters, signage, and even transportation,” Jimenez Sablich said. “There's a very characteristic style. I'm trying to gather the story behind that so that I can be able to share it.”

To learn more about the eye-catching, multicolored letters she describes as an urban style, Jimenez Sablich independently took online classes with Peruvian graphic designers.

“You see this type of letter forms in public transportation or in the back of trucks to write the maximum load of the truck. So that's the name of the letter form – La Maxima,” said Jimenez Sablich. “You also see these types of signs and letter forms in urban public settings, like fruit markets.”

Jimenez Sablich produced signs in the Peruvian typography style for the VCUarts Graphic Design Senior Show that was a result of her research and work.

“It has a lot to do with our national identity,” Jimenez Sablich said. “It's a fusion. It has to do with immigration and Peru being a multicultural country. It's very representative, but it was looked down upon for a long time, seen as something from the lower class.”

Text that says \"A brief History\" in orange and green letters, \"of\" in orange, green and purple letters, and \"Now\" in pink, green and orange letters.
An example of Monica Jimenez Sablich's work inspired by the urban typography of Peru. (Courtesy Monica Jimenez Sablich)

After graduation, Jimenez Sablich will start a job with Dominion Energy on a team that produces employee training materials. But she aims to continue learning about and shining a light on South American typography.

“I feel like my approach to graphic design has shifted from seeing it as a lucrative or stable job to a practice where you can actually create a change or make a difference,” Jimenez Sablich said. “One of my dreams is I want to help populate graphic design archives with information from Latin America, specifically from Peru.”