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In conversation with Ignacio Serrano

Comics vs Fine Arts – what’s your stance?

First of all, I do not think there is a big difference between Illustration and Fine Arts. Perhaps during specific periods in the past, illustration did have more of a clear commercial and/or educational purpose, opposed to that of Fine Arts, which seemed to offer more variety within its own definition.

In my case, I think that I like being considered an illustrator and a comic artist—because of my education, my personal taste, and my innate ability to draw; I like working within the editorial industry, and creating comics allows me to tell my own stories.

 

How did you start as an illustrator? Can you walk us briefly through your journey?

As a child, I was lucky enough to have an older brother who was an avid comic book reader, and a father who was a fan of the science fiction genre. Because I had a natural talent to draw, it made sense that sooner or later I would end up drawing comics and illustrations.

Years later I was accepted into a fine arts school where I learned the history of art and aesthetics and of how to draw technically/properly; it was at this time when I left my aside my goal to become an illustrator. After graduating, I started working as a graphic designer for diverse companies, but I always had the feeling that I was not being honest with myself. Two years ago, I made the big career change and started focusing only on Illustration and Comics. 

 

How necessary do you think it is for an illustrator/comics artist to have good command over language?

It is very important. It doesn’t matter if you are working with pictures the majority of the time; every concept comes in the shape of words, and as an illustrator, you need to be able to understand and develop those concepts.

Even if you are not interested in writing your own comic scripts or children’s books, a basic understanding of the given text is vital.
What is the most interesting project you have worked on so far?

Recently, all comics I have done for Sleepless Comics and Tinkle Digest. The illustration series about The Steppenwolfwas also one of my favourite projects.

 

Have you found your style? Has it changed since you started?

I do not think I have found my style yet, if there even is a final style to be discovered. I have tried different techniques and approaches since studying Fine Arts, but I think that my work from then and my work today, are still recognizable as mine.

The difference is that I feel more comfortable using a specific medium in a specific way or that I consciously keep using certain procedures, gestures, and topics repeatedly.

I guess that style is a mixture between your inborn gestures or marks and a conscious selection of elements that you’ve acquired after experimenting for years with different aspects—such as colour palettes, symbols, gestures, patterns,mediums, etc.

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I think there are two sides of sticking to a particular style:

 a. It helps to create visual identity
b. Though it may not be universally true, but in the course of creating visual identity, some people stop growing as artists.

How would you respond to these two aspects?

I guess it depends on the illustrator’s attitude towards her or his career.

It is true that sticking to a specific style may make you more ‘recognizable’ to art directors, but that can also be counterproductive because after a while, styles, like any other trend, have an expiration date.

You have constantly to weigh different aspects of your work, such as how comfortable you feel with your actual style, if you believe there is a need to change it or not and, if yes, you will might need to explore new artistic paths…

Being conscious about what people find interesting from your work can also be relevant as you can start paying attention to aspects of your own illustrations that you may never have noticed before. Finally, we have to know who is giving us the commissions and why. Being able to develop your style constantly on your own terms would be the best option, but some people just cannot afford to do so (due to financial reasons, for example).

 

Tell us about your work process?

I start writing and thinking about the main concept I want to do the illustration about. Then I just throw ideas on the paper and see what works better. Once I have decided which one fits the best then I have to decide what medium I am going to use for that piece. Finally, I just do it.
Since you have worked as a designer as well for a period of time, do you think the knack of designing is inborn or it can be learnt? 

Like any other discipline, I think that almost everybody can learn the basics of graphic design and with time and hard work, one can master it. I do believe that there are people who are more talented than others, gifted people who can not only master their discipline without much effort, but also go beyond established trends to create new paths.

Speaking about graphic design, I do not believe this is my case. Therefore I feel that was the reason why I finally convinced myself to switch over to illustration and comics.

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Do you think a formal education is necessary for an illustrator? Apart from the syllabus, what else did you mostly do in school/university?

No, I think there are many self-taught illustrators out there.

For me, going to the Fine Arts School meant that I could broaden my knowledge of the Arts, in general. I was able to develop my technique in drawing and observation, as well as to meet other students with similar aspirations as mine. Some of my peers from Fine Arts School remain my best friends today.
The most difficult part of your job?

Sometimes it is in dealing with certain clients; however, I always feel very fortunate being able to work as an illustrator.

 

What is your working environment like?
I share a studio in Madrid with many illustrators and architects. I feel more productive in environments where I can get feedback from other professionals. We can talk about our experiences and push each other forward much more so than if I was working at home alone.

 

Give us a sneak peek of your upcoming projects? And tell us a little about your visit to India and the Tinkle project.

I was a bit busy with some projects, so as of right now, I want to focus a bit more on “The Sleepless Summer Collective” and “Sleepless Comics.

I have also some ideas and drafts for a graphic novel I want to polish, and continue expanding my portfolio.

I visited India in 2011 and it was just an amazing experience. I started my trip in Goa and headed south travelling by train –which is also an amazing experience in itself- through Hampi, Mysore, Ooty, Trivandrum, Fort Cochin, Kanyakumari and finally in Mumbai. I loved the landscapes, the sunsets, the food, the atmosphere everywhere, the train, the music, the architecture, the history and, of course, the people. I want to go back there some day in the near future to visit the rest of the country.

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The Sleepless Summer Collective:

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How did you guys come up with the idea of this collective? How helpful was the SVA residency program in shaping it? Did you all know each other before it?

We had finished the Illustration Residency Program at the SVA in August last year and we were all really excited about how to continue on. The SVA Residency was so demanding that some of us ended up staying in the studio working till really late or even till the next day! All of us met there for the very first time but after working so many hours together, we started not only to share a lot of our thoughts and passion about illustration but also a sort of workflow emerged from there. We felt that working together was pushing us to better ourselves and also to try new things. It was a really enriching environment and so, once we were at home in our respective countries, feeling a bit sad and frustrated because it was all over, we started to think about a way to keep in touch and work together.

 

What is the thought behind such a name?

The idea was a kind of homage to some of the nights we spent in the studio running against the clock to finish the assignments we got during the Residency Program. At the same time, since we all live in different parts of the world, covering almost all time zones, it means that there always will be at least one member who is awake, so the collective never sleeps.

 

Which came first, Sleepless Summer Collective or Sleepless Comics?

The idea for The Sleepless Summer Collective (TSSC) came first. It took a while because we were too many voices there trying to figure out what kind of material we should publish, when to do it etc. Because of that, and also because Kaveri (Kaveri Gopalakrishnan) and myself were more focused on comics, we both thought about the possibility to create a side project for comics. It was easier to do it because we assumed all responsibility from the beginning and therefore we published first with Sleepless Comics.

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Out of the twelve members, who is your favourite illustrator?

That is a tricky question and truly speaking, I like this group much more because there is a wide range of styles within it. Even through there may be some works I may not personally identify with, I admire each member’s style, precisely because it is so different from mine.

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Dream project?

My dream project would be to write and illustrate my own graphic novel and see it published everywhere.
#1 art tip/ words of wisdom?

Work brings more work.
Favourite comics’ artists/ graphic novelists/illustrators?

I like classics like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Vittorio Giardino, Will Eisner, Sergio Toppi, André Juillard, Jaques Tardi, Juan Giménez, Gustav Doré, Norman Rockwell, Bill Sienkiewicz, George Pratt, Art Spiegelman etc.

And others like Jillian Tamaki, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Sam Weber, Frank Stockton, Josh Cochran, and many others..

Some of the most interesting works I have discovered lately were the ones by Laureline Mattiussi, Grégory Panaccione and Mickaël Sanlaville.

 

Favourite writers.

I am a big fan of Jack Kerouac, Julio Cortazar, Ernesto Sabato, Pio Baroja, Salman Rushdie.

 

Favourite musicians/bands.

I listen a lot of music everyday and play guitar when I get a bit time to do it. Some of the bands I listen to are White Denim, DJ Shadow, Soundgarden, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Raconteurs, Bonobo, The Mars Volta, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Beatles, Queens of the Stone Age and many more.

 

Vectors or Ink?

I have a classical drawing education, and even if most of my current work is done half in digital and half in traditional methods, I always start with sketches done with pencil on paper. I really enjoy inking with brushes and good black ink. I had enough vector graphics during my experience as a graphic designer; I do not miss doing those at all.

I feel very comfortable working with graphite pencil and ink with brush. I am starting to use a Wacom tablet more and more, and I love the results; however, I feel that my drawings are a bit less expressive than when I create work using more traditional media.

 

Three words that describe your work.

Dark, thoughtful, and emotional. 

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Links:

Ignacio Serrano http://www.ignacioserrano.com/

Ignacio Serrano illustration https://www.facebook.com/IgnacioSerranoIllustration?fref=ts

The Sleepless Summer Collective http://the-sleepless-summer-collective.tumblr.com/

The Sleepless Summer Collective –

facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thesleeplesssummercollective?fref=ts

 

Interview taken by Rai

 

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