We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rafa Alvarez, award winning Spanish illustrator living and working between Brooklyn and Berlin. Rafa’s work has allowed him to put on many hats as a creative, working with a variety of high profile clients such as ESPN magazine, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Playboy, Scientific American, Apple, American Express and many others.
We asked about his artistry and inspirations as a working artist. Here’s what he had to say.
“Rafa Alvarez, 35. I was born in Madrid, Spain.”
– How does your family support for your artistic expression?
My family has a long tradition in different art forms…painting, sculpture…That means having good role-models and a lot of inspiration, however Spain can be conservative when it comes to career choices so it took me many years to make the choice of becoming a full time illustrator.
– What was your first experience with art?
I have been making „zines“ since I was 5 years old. I loved comics and devoured European albums (Hergé, Uderzo/Goscinny) and American comic-books ( Kirby, Simonson, Sinkiewicz), dreaming that one day I could tell such fascinating stories.
– What inspires your style?
I don’t consider myself a comic-book artist, I only do sequential art from time to time, but I love its energy and storytelling possibilities. Also my favorite color palettes come from the neon hues of 80s movies and I certainly love the compositions of Austrian expressionists.
– What mediums do you prefer?
Whenever time allows it, brush and ink combined with digital color to play with different palettes. Lately I have been using spray cans and markers for big surfaces, it´s fun how challenging can be to step out of your comfort zone.
– How can you describe your personal connection with your art and what makes you strive to pursue it?
Art has been a personal bet. I had a different career path which worked pretty well but I decided to search a personal voice as an illustrator and I knew that was a one-way ticket. Making a new piece –as we as good coffee- are the reasons why I wake up smiling each Monday.
– What type of energy do you put in your artwork?
I want my artwork to have an interesting line but also a certain sense of humor or foreshadowing. An image is always more powerful when it carries an idea, or if it invites the viewer to invent his or her own.
– Do you think of what you want your audience to get from the piece beforehand?
I certainly do. Since a drawing always has to start with an idea, I like to make sure that this concept (even if it´s quite ambiguous) is present in the final result.
– As a working artist, what is the percentage of fun vs. work?
Believe it or not, most of the editorial commissions I receive are based on the fact that I draw comic-booky scenes –precisely what I enjoy most doing. Therefore I rarely end-up working on a piece I dislike. Also, I try to balance studio time with teaching at University and making occasional lectures, which is quite refreshing. Let´s keep it 80%-20% for all that tedious promotion, accounting and invoicing.
– What are your favorite things/people in this world?
Coffee, Cheese, Cats, Comics. Pretty much anybody but extreme right wing voters and internet trolls.
– Where do you see yourself in the art world in the upcoming years?
Hopefully doing more of the things I do and exploring different fields…editorial, murals, apps, shows.
– What life experiences contribute to your art?
Anything that moves me or just the willingness to have fun creating something smart enough for people to look twice.
– What does creativity mean to you?
Solving problems to tell ideas or stories in a compelling way.
– What does success as an artist mean to you?
Freedom to create images that express my personal view. Pay the bills. Have Holidays. Work until I’m 90.