June 21, 2017

All the way from Atlanta, Tony Rodriguez speaks to UO about the ins and outs of how he became interested in Illustration along with his favourite and inspiring artists. We also discuss his creative process behind these unique illustrations and Rodriguez leaves our readers with 5 key tips for beginner Illustrators.

Have you always been a creative person?

In my youth, I was more of a replicator than an idea person. I loved pausing my VHS tapes to copy the characters with my markers. At the time, it was the most fun to re-make or replicate the creativity of others rather than come up with something original. Even to this day, creativity doesn’t come naturally to me. I’d say that I grew into it a bit as I pursued graduate school. I spent a lot of time with designers and advertising folks who were on the move in regards to ideation and problem solving for a cause. Craig Welsh changed the game for me with his step by step process for ideation and problem-solving. As a result, I feel that I’m a much more creative person now than I was when I was 6.


Did you always want to pursue a career in the Illustration industry?

Shortly after my childhood desires to become a full-time ninja and cowboy, my father allowed me to believe that I could draw pictures as a job. However, I didn’t really know what illustration was until I attended SCAD Savannah’s Rising Star program. As I signed up for my major course of study, all I knew was that I wanted to draw pictures. My love for the industry flourished during and after my time as a SCAD student.


How did you decide upon and refine your style?

Before I settled on a specific look, I did research on the clients I wanted to work with. I wanted Editorial from the get-go. I wanted Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. So, I looked at the histories of their art purchases as far back as I could go within the timeline of their existence. From there I took on the Wacom tablet as it was the only medium I never really sat down with. I tried to cultivate a style that combined the look of Patrick Morgan, and Joe Ciardiello as they were a couple of my favorites at the time. I also chose to realize my weaknesses. I had always had an issue with copying a photograph too directly without any kind of stylization. To remedy this, I did a variety of studies without lifting my pen off of the canvas; partly blind contour. Once I felt comfortable with obtaining a likeness in that manner, I went with a simple color application of flat color next to flat color for the sake of optical mixing. I didn’t want to blend colors in Photoshop as I wasn’t nearly as experienced with the software.


As for consistency, I brought several personal images to fruition as if they were to appear in a magazine. I figured, if it felt like an Editorial illustration, then there’d be a possibility that an Art Director would enjoy it. The refinement of my style evolved naturally within the time constraints that Editorial work currently provides. I knew I had to be able to bring an image to completion within a short 2-3 day time period. To work this out, I’d set a timer to monitor the amount of time it would take me to bring one illustration to fruition.


You’re a Graduate and now Professor of Illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design. How is this experience for you?

Working at SCAD is an honor and an immense privilege. I’ve never been treated better within a work environment. After being separated from the Illustration community for nearly 7 years, I finally feel that I’m back in a group of people who enjoy and profess to be interested in Illustration. One of the challenges is talking as much as I do and also making sense while I demo. I’m used to working in complete silence and now that I have an audience of eager students, coherent rendering has become a necessity and often times a daunting task. in regards to the environment, our department in Atlanta is small and I enjoy it this way as there’s a special, tight-nit, and ongoing sense of comradery between my co-workers and myself. I’ll continue to march humbly alongside our Chair, Rick Lovell for as long as he’ll have me. In just my first year teaching at SCAD, he has become a good friend and mentor.


Can you tell us about your creative process?

My process is essentially a variety of processes that I’ve picked up over the years. It’s somewhat sporadic where thoughts become doodles and doodles become thoughts and vice versa. When it comes to Editorial, I’ve cultivated a recipe on the look of the finished art. However, there’s no solid recipe for the ideation stages. In my experience, the process of ideation must remain amoebic as no creative brief is really the same. I usually begin by realizing that I’ve been tasked to emulate a person. There may or may not be a story or concept attached to this likeness. Nonetheless, the likeness is usually my primary concern. I try to let my mind wander on this as I obtain the feeling of any given individual(s). I then build the story and or concept around the portrait.


What other artists inspire you and your work?

Oh man. The list. Sterling Hundley, Rich Kelly, Gary Kelley, Joe Ciardiello, Mark English, John English, George Pratt, Ed Kinsella, Steve Casino, Scott M. Fischer, Bill Mayer, Alan Feldmesser, Das Tamura, Jon Foster, C.F. Payne, Patrick Morgan, Ryan Adams, Air, Fleet Foxes, Radiohead, RJD2, Cuyler Smith, Conor Langton, David Moscati, Craig Welsh, Chris B. Murray, Amy Sol, Nicolas V. Sanchez, Ian Fennelly, Thomas Fluharty, Jason Seiler, Andre Carrillo, Miles Johnston, Stavros Damos, Cool 3D World, Will Picaro, Wylie Beckert, James Jean, Britt Spencer, Ken Taylor, Rodney Ibarra, David Hughes, Bill Carman, Erik Jones, Jonathan Twingley, Alexander Jackson, Jeremy Sorrell, J.A.W Cooper, Jacob Jeffries, Benjamin Bjorklund, Olivia Kemp, Sam Kossler, Rob Benigno, Sofanisba Anguisola, Judy Chicago, Rosa Bonheur, Seymour Chwast, Amos Lee, Ray Lamontagne, Andrew Bird, Animal Collective, Bon Iver, Daft Punk, Michael Jackson, Primus, The Strokes, Wilco, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The list goes on but I’ll stop at Arnold for now.

You’re an award-winning illustrator. What has been your proudest achievement to date?

There’s two. Marrying my wife and winning the Professional Editorial Category of the 2017 World Illustration Awards.


Have you got any advice for illustrators at the start of their career?

I’ll leave 5 of what I think are the most important tips for emerging illustrators. First and most importantly, an illustrator should know what they like to draw about. I have students who don’t know what they like to draw and it blows my mind. This is a job that you can cultivate from the ground up based on the imagery you enjoy doing! A career as an illustrator can put you in situations where you’d get paid to draw what you love to draw. If you like to draw dragons, I promise you there’s a market for it. Second, it is super important to research and become very familiar with the market(s) you want to work within. For example, if you’re yearning for Editorial, your research is sitting at a Barnes and Noble, CVS, and Publix. Make it a habit to flip through those publications and you will notice a pattern of what that magazine consistently purchases when it comes to illustration. Third, take advantage of social media. And no, I don’t mean an Instagram account that showcases some artwork and primarily hosts images of your cat and or your night at a bar.

Today, serious Illustrators are devoting their social media presence specifically and exclusively to the work they want Art Directors to see. Fourth, think Global as Mohammed Danawi states. Don’t limit yourself to U.S. markets. The Gulf and East Asia are huge emerging markets. Stay ahead of the curve and research them. Lastly, at some point, this becomes more than just drawing pictures. You must think and act like a business. Professionalism is key for obtaining repeat clients and procuring new ones. Be organized, consistent, and learn to balance your portfolio with narrative and conceptual imagery. Also, Art Directors find it very useful to see your process via the internet. If you showcase your process from start to finish, they’ll have a better idea of what to expect when working with you.


How have you seen your work develop over the past few years?

My work has become a bit more complex which is kind of the opposite of what I was hoping for when I started out. It’s become a fun challenge to see how far I can take something within a 2 day time period when the final art is due on the morning of the 3rd day. I think it’s generally the fault of my personal work that I do from time to time. If I tackle something on my own time that was once a challenge, I’ve found that I can execute it faster while in the midst of an Editorial gig. It’s kind of like lifting weights. The more I condition myself to take on a complex subject matter in my personal work, the easier and less time consuming it is to achieve it while in the midst of an Editorial job. Overall, the color palette has become more complex. I find myself focusing on color details in very small and minute areas of a piece whereas a few years ago, I would’ve solved an issue like that with one giant flat color.


Have you got any new projects that you are working on?

I’ve been working on a personal piece since mid-May based on one of my grandfather’s poems. It started out as a departure from pop culture. I really enjoy drawing pictures of celebrities, however, that kind of imagery and the strict deadlines within Editorial work can put a huge stronghold on my imagination and creativity. I wanted to see what a new work would look like without any time constraints or creative briefs. I’m definitely enjoying the process thus far. It’s liberating in a way.

See more of Tony Rodriguez’s work here

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