Thursday, 18 September 2008

Illustrate Your World!

by Gregori Saavedra

Just a question. Why illustration? Why not art? Where is the difference? In the beginning, illustration meant a way to visualize a text. But now… Illustration usually works on its own. So? Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather be an illustrator than an artist. Artists live too remote from reality.

Too remote for me. I live here, where life is, where people are, where the money is. I have to. No way. But that’s just me. I started doing illustration because I needed to express myself. Just that, nothing else. Funny enough, it turned into a job. That wasn’t my intention, but, sincerely, I feel happy. The point is that clients call me because of pieces they saw in a magazine or in a gallery. My most critical pieces. That’s a huge contradiction. They want me to work for them, although they know I am against them. Amazing. Sometimes I think they just want to domesticate me, turn me into another puppet.

Illustration is a great discipline that anyone is fit for. Just look at me. I just pretended to say the truth. Four years ago I decided to describe myself and create my own website. Then I decided to do it through the collage technique. I realized I was 100% collage. My complexity, my thousand faces, my infinity, could all be visualized.

Then I finished it, in the process becoming a fountain. A veritable spring of images. I just couldn’t stop. I had too many ideas to put forth. I don’t always feel like an illustrator, but like a creator. It’s what I have been for 15 years now. Or perhaps simply a creative director. That’s the reason I always look for ideas, not just images. That’s the difference between illustrators and artists. It’s not a question of style, aesthetic, etc… It’s about ideas. There are millions of illustrators, but how many ideas? Millions? I think not. Ideas come from brains. The majority of artworks is produced by hands. Illustration will be illustration and does not become art, because nobody asks illustrators to think. They just want them to create pleasant images that go perfectly with the ideas (of others) which already exist.

Sometimes I use illustration as a weapon. That’s my way of finding balance. I use my artworks as self-protection. Objectively, I am an extremely lucky person, believe me. I’ve got everything I ever dreamed of having. Not really fair, don’t you think? I don’t do anything against injustice but to illustrate. My illustrations show my critical side, my antagonistic point of view. Every artwork is a shot against the monster: our collectively stupid way of life.

Gregori Saavedra, Inspiration

Every morning I take my inspiration pill. Where do I find it? Newspapers. Pages and pages of pure reality, full of ideas, full of lies. But there’s also a problem, because we live in a world inhabited by extraordinary photographs. If you have to create new images and want them to be relevant, you cannot just do the same as newspapers. You need to be more powerful. New. Original. Surprising.

Yes, I am a great liar. As a creative director in advertising, I lie in order to sell products. As an illustration artist, I lie to say the truth. I mix hundreds of real images to get a new unreal one. But unreal does not mean false. Newspapers provide reality in slices. I provide my completed version, my private vision of the reality designed by the media. My own truth. As any other illustrator, I am a reality re-designer. Free? Of course not. There are limits everywhere. Money means limits. Politics means limits. Sex means limits. And, obviously, religion means limits. Every time I get a commission for designing an illustration, I also get detailed information about the limits I must never cross. That’s the reason I think we are merely technicians. Our clients know perfectly what they need from us. They would most likely do it by themselves if they could. Of course they want us to do something “great”, but the meaning of “great” is relative.

In my case, when I do commercial work, I never feel free. Probably like anyone else working on commission. I imagine that’s what happened to Michelangelo when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine’s Chapel, or Velazquez when he portrayed the Spanish royal family. Maybe that’s the key. Illustration, like painting, becomes art only when it is not directly commercial. But really every artwork is a commercial work. If it is not a work for a client, it is a work for our portfolio. And that means possible clients.

Portfolios are a perfect description, not only of the work and style of an illustrator, but of his/her personality. There are illustrators who just pretend to show their skills, but others prefer to make their personalities abundantly clear. I feel more comfortable with the latter. It could mean that I’m not worried about money or that I don’t mind if I get the project or not. It’s not about that. I prefer showing me exactly as I am. That’s the reason I always include my most critical pieces in my portfolio. I want any possible client to know who I am, how I think and how I do things. Dangerous? Maybe. I am indeed a liar, but not of this kind. Of course I lose a lot of projects because of this. But I am not interested in all kinds of projects. Money is important but my ambitions are driven from within.

Gregori Saavedra, The Cheater

I started illustrating by executing a research project. I didn’t know anything about myself for 35 years, I was too busy, too lazy. Then I discovered aspects of me I’d never realised before. That’s what my illustrations are about, they are landscapes of my mind. All the information, memories, experiences, relationships, everything around me turns into landscapes. Sometimes I walk through them like a tourist, and sometimes I get trapped. There are a lot of common elements in my work: trees, cables, pylons, birds,… But I never visit the same landscape twice. Never. I hate copies.

In my 12 years working in advertising agencies I’ve met a lot of art directors and copywriters who systematically copied from books, designs, and advertising reviews. They don’t have any problem with that. But I do. In my opinion, it’s neither fair nor ethical. I buy tons of advertising and design books, but not for copying purposes. I buy them to learn from them how to avoid repeating what has already been done. This is my philosophy. That’s why I never create twin artworks. I felt tempted a lot of times, but… like any temptation, it’s a question of mind power to forget the idea and keep on searching for something 100% new.

But sometimes clients ask me to create an illustration similar to one I already did for my portfolio or an exhibition. They just want me to adapt it to their idea or product. Obviously, I do not love this working method, but it is different from entirely copying someone else. Some creative teams need to know exactly what image they will get from me. Low confidence, I guess, but easy money, that’s true. My mission will always be to design something original, something that has never been done before.

This magazine, for example. I am sure there will be a lot of designers and creative departments who will buy it to get to know interesting people. But unfortunately there will also be some who will get it just to know what to do. It shouldn’t be this way. It should be for getting the names of the illustrators they would like to work with on a project. But instead of taking names from these pages, they will take our ideas. One day they will be in a hurry. Their client will ask for a one-day-made campaign or design and we will become their 'inspiration'. Brain-work not required. That’s the reason, as I mentioned above, that there are so many hard-working-illustrators. It’s cheaper. Easier. The ideas are the expensive part in this business.

I landed in illustration coming from the planet of ideas. I know this is not the usual way, but illustration is, for me, merely a form of communication. If you do not have anything interesting to say, better shut up. It sounds radical but silence is a treasure. Think of it as a sport. The mind’s sport. Anybody can practice this. It’s healthy. And profitable to boot, unless you decide to be a different kind of illustrator. A street artist for example.

I deeply admire the street artists. In my opinion, for years, the best illustration artworks weren’t published, nor exhibited in galleries. The most interesting ideas were anonymously painted on our cities’ walls. Blek Le Rat, WK Interact, Banksy, Dr. Hoffmann and so many others were punished by law because of their art. We are so stupid. If Leonardo da Vinci were still alive, would he be the most important artist on earth or a jailed vandal? Is that the way we reward genius? Each of their vandalism acts was a master class for free. I learned so much from them.

They had no limits. Their limits were themselves, I suppose. That’s only possible if you just work “against”. You can be a modern Robin Hood and illustrate your arch and arrow. Their works, more than landscapes, were portraits of their minds. Political and social stars were the stars, and street artists were visual-synthesizers. That’s what I loved them for, the capability to reduce so much information into one unique image. I guess that’s also the reason they are such well-known artists. They knew the rules. They faced their enemies using according weapons. They are the infantry. Direct confrontation. But there are other ways to fight, for instance secretly camouflaged like spies. Quiet. Stealth. It’s another kind of war, where everything is coded and nothing is what it appears. Here is where I feel really comfortable. I am a great liar, remember?

Easy come, easy go. The more difficulty, the better prize. For me pain is the only way to success. This is something I learned when I was a kid. I hate to spend more than two hours in front of the same document. The only way I know to get the results I imagine: fuck me. Less is more does not mean anything to me. Sorry Mr. Van der Rohe. In my neighbourhood more is more and less is less. This philosophy fits perfectly with the skills required to be a camouflaged warrior.

My works can appear to have an information overdose, but that’s not true. There’s always just one big idea. The other elements are defenders, bodyguards. I add them to protect, to cover, to distract the attention from the important issue. It’s merely a way to discriminate the wrong from the right audience. People who just see my work as extremely detailed images simply do not get the right message and do not understand.

In illustration there is a decoration excess. The majority of artworks just look for beauty. Trendy fast-food. This kind of illustration does not last. Maybe this is another reason illustration is not taken seriously enough. I am no expert, that’s true. But it’s also not necessary to study art history to realize this. Nasty illustrations are everywhere. If you want to find nice illustrations you have to look harder.

Now, at the very beginning of the twenty first century, illustration calls for respect. Is it really necessary? Respect comes with well done work. Let’s do things right and recognition will come to us. If we respect our work, everybody will do the same. Those who already did are now in art galleries and published by the best editors worldwide. We should care about our work as though we never did it before. Until now, the kings of illustration were just the commercial players. That’s not bad, but it’s also not real. Illustration, like so many other disciplines, begs clearly not just the question of money. Sometimes there are mountains of talent and no buck. That should change. Illustration is pure culture. And culture, dear friends, is the most valuable thing that we create on earth, no matter how tangible it may be. People come and go, are born and die. But culture remains for generations.

A lot of articles assure us that illustration is living through its best moment in history. Well, compared to the isolation suffered until now, that is perhaps true. But I’m afraid it is just a question of time. Maybe I am wrong, but I think what is happening can be compared to what photography experienced 60 years ago, when suddenly, photography became art. But then there came the digital edge and rules changed. Advertising is 95% visual. Photography is too classy for some creatives. Then illustration comes with its freshness and variety of styles. But in ten or maybe less years all the gold will be finished and then… adaptation or death.

But, really, I am not worried about that. I just worry about important things. I love my worries. It means I am alive. My work is a collection of worries. What else could I illustrate? Is there anything more important? Worries settle in our minds until we expel them. My method to expel them is easy. I illustrate them. Like nightmares. Someone told me the way to not dream the same nightmare twice is to explain it to someone else. I use this method with my worries. As soon as I threw them out, they disappear little by little.

Gregori Saavedra, One vs. All

Sometimes my worries are truly stupid. Tiny. Entirely personal. I try to transform them in the artworks. Usually my worries are absolutely global. One day, when I die, there will be a diary, because my illustrations reflect my presence in every piece. Maybe I illustrate something of the future or past but if you look closely you will realize they are built through actual elements. That’s great. I can imagine, even invent, but reality will always prevail.

What I really love about illustration is its open minded public, which is wide open to everybody. It doesn’t seem as though illustration has any complex. Or maybe it simply has nothing to lose. Anyway, whoever wants to enter is allowed. I am a perfect example. I took all my fears, my memories, my obsessions, mixed all together, and here I am. All the elements from my childhood revived: the comics I read, my father’s engineering drawings, the retro aesthetic of my summer holidays in a little village in central Spain, everything is there. And I am really astounded when people love it.

Illustration is my psyco-analyst. I discovered so many things while working on it. For example, I realized, through it, that I inherited the curiosity of my mother and the meticulousness at work of my father. Her heart, his mind. I feel free but I used to show myself tied. Everything from my illustrations tells something about myself. Like playing a clue game. Sometimes it is even more sincere than the artist himself/herself. Just look at me. I am just 1,45m tall, but in my artworks I love to play the giant’s role. To me it’s so obvious. I could think about it and visualize myself as the dwarf that I am. What a mess. That would be pure reality. Fiction as a symbol is more interesting. Don’t you think?

As in my case, there are a lot of illustrators who are not 100% dedicated to illustration. Illustration makes up just 25% of my income. I know other illustrators who have a similar problem. They live two lives. By day, they work in a graphic design studio or in an advertising agency. But then, at night, they become the great artists they really are. It looks like a superhero’s life. Illustration is more than their scape valve, it is their secret superpower. All that they are not allowed be at their nine-to-five job becomes permuted in their illustrative work.

Some years ago it would make me feel really sad when I would see cases like these. But now I realized that, maybe because of this, illustration is infact more popular than ever. If designers or art directors become illustrators, that is perfect. If a designer or art director needs an illustration work, he/she just has to call another designer by day/illustrator by night. It works seamlessly. Both speak the same language. Both know the market rules. Both are used to managing the same sorts of problems. Probably another reason why illustration has the current high it does.

I still remember the moment I was invited to illustrate. I was reading a design magazine at the time at home, while working. I still do not understand exactly how it happened. But somehow, all those designers, talking about design, motion graphics, also illustration,… they did something. They opened the door. Then they said, " Come…come and have fun.” The magazine I was reading was not just a magazine. It was a real invitation. Just the invitation I was waiting for; the one.

I would like this magazine, its pages, its words, its works, its images, its ideas, to also invite you. It's not just a nice book. So I say, come on. Join us. Come and have fun. Illustrate. Take paper, pen, scissors and glue, a Mac,… It really doesn’t matter at all. WhatEVER. Now think. What do you want to say? Remember: “you”. Just “you”. Got it? Ok. Now go off and be great! Be new! Be rare! Be crazy! Be true! Be this! Be that! Be here! Be there! Be anywhere! Be anybody! Be you!

I would like this magazine, its pages, its words, its works, its images, its ideas, to also invite you. It's not just a nice book. So I say, come on. Join us. Come and have fun. Illustrate. Take paper, pen, scissors and glue, a Mac,… It really doesn’t matter at all. WhatEVER. Now think. What do you want to say? Remember: “you”. Just “you”. Got it? Ok. Now go off and be great! Be new! Be rare! Be crazy! Be true! Be this! Be that! Be here! Be there! Be anywhere! Be anybody! Be you!

If you are lucky, extremely lucky, five years later, you will be writing 2968 words for an illustration’s international review like this.

Good luck!

1 comment:

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