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Interview with Kako

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Vectortuts+ is pleased to bring you an interview with Kako from São Paulo, Brazil. This highly talented illustrator has an extensive portfolio ranging from editorials to advertisements to comics and others. His distinguishable style has brought him clients from all over the world which includes huge names like: Coca Cola, Discovery World, Saatchi and Saatchi, Nokia, Toshiba, MTV, and more.

Kako has won numerous awards, nominations and recognitions. Kako's illustrations are not only alive with energy, intensity and details, but also have a subtle beauty and there own charm. Truly a class apart!

1. Hello Kako! Please introduce yourself, give us a brief bio and tell us where you're from. How did your journey as a designer start?

Hello, my name is Kako and I'm an illustrator from São Paulo, Brazil.

It took a while to figure out my place in this whole mess. I've worked in many fields since I was a teenager; my first job was assistant camera in an advertising production company where I spent two years before getting into Fine Arts College. I dropped out of it a couple of years later to help a ex-teacher on his comic-book art classes and to work as a freelance graphic designer with my brother and some friends, and then after a couple more years I was hired as a web designer. It was only in 2002 that I realized that I should quit my job and focus on illustration.

Illustration was always part of my life; occasionally I did a job here and there, only for magazines and newspapers, but never did I think to follow it as a career. Maybe because it was so part of me that I didn't see it as a job; maybe because I couldn't bear the thought of doing the same thing everyday. But now I realize that being an illustrator I can be right in the middle of it all. Illustration allows me to flirt with other areas, such as fashion, comic books or movies. It allows me to be a graphic or a web designer again whenever needed. I'm right now where I've always wanted to be; everywhere at the same time.

2. Tell us about your very first experience with vector illustrations. What attracted you to choose vector art as a medium to express your creativity?

It was back in 2000 probably, when I first worked with web design. Until then I mainly used Photoshop to color my illustrations and QuarkXPress to do graphic design. A friend introduced me to Illustrator and we used to design the web pages with this software quite easily. And then I realized that it could be a great tool to illustrate after I did a couple of icon sets for a client.

My first vector illustration was an old Linotype machine, quite bold for a starter, but I had to see what I could do with vectors. It worked fine and kept my interest to practice more and more. Since then I never stopped. Mainly because it gives me such power, such control over the lines, something that was quite difficult to do when inking.

3. Your portfolio boasts of wide array of works, which varies from advert and editorial to comics and photos; how did you develop this versatile style? Where do you derive inspiration from?

I always say that inspiration comes when you least expect it. You must have your eyes and mind open all the time. It can be a movie, a conversation with your friend, it can come when you are taking a bath. Ideas have no schedule. I always take a notebook and some pens with me; you'll often find me at the cinema theaters writing/sketching blindly during the movies, for example. Like I said, you must always be ready. I curse every time I don't have my sketchbook or pens with me.

I try to avoid using the word style; I'd rather use technique. I don't think it's wrong and I know they have almost the same meaning, but for me the first gives me the idea of accommodation while the later gives a sense of action. In a weird way I find that you might find yourself trapped if you have a style and I don't like it. Though I think it works well in the American market, where Illustrators have almost a trademark technique for all their lives and your commissions are tailor-made, it doesn't work that way in Brazil, especially in the advertising business. Our market is not so big as theirs and you have to be able to attend to a great number of different briefings in order to survive, so one day you find yourself with a number of different techniques in your portfolio, with one or two specialities. Of course there are one-style illustrators in Brazil, most of them on editorial market, but it was not my case.

Today you'll not find in my website a great number of things I also do, because they are techniques I don't sell anymore openly. Like maps and infographics, or medias such as watercolors or pen & ink. I show what was most requested on previous years and what I really like to do. But I still like to do different things for each client, each magazine, though not as often as before. Sometimes a new client likes one technique better and asks for it and I do, and most of the time I try to change a bit here and there. Like the dark and dirty illustrations I did for Texas Monthly. It derives from my Grandes Guerras Illustrations, kind of an evolution, an adaptation for this new client.

Sometimes you won't see the changes, but it's because it was something technical, not artistic. For example I used to work with a black (C=40, M=20, Y=20, K=100) and now I changed to a different color of black (C=60, M=30, Y=30, and K=100), you will not notice, but it's there. Along with the heavy use of black, people always tell me about the colors I use, like the dark reds and the neutrals. This is something that I can say is close to a style because is the way I see things and I don't want to change so soon. I've always worked with a very limited color palette for example, dark reds, a couple of yellows and neutrals some greenish, some bluish, some brownish. The whole idea is to become closer to the Japanese ukio-e artists such as Hiroshige and Hokusai and how they worked with just a few possibilities of coloring. I love this obstacle, makes me think while I'm drawing, it makes the whole experience a challenge. But slowly I'm introducing new colors such as the pure magenta. The effect of the pure magenta and the heavy black is so beautiful, I love it. And yellow! Yellow is my new dark red! I have to upload so many new stuff in the website - wish I had more time for it.

4. What is your workflow for creating a typical image? How much of the time goes into research to final execution?

Apart from the tight schedule I live by today, it depends so much on how complex the job is, not only the illustration itself but also the whole project. I couldn't say how much time exactly, but I can say that research is very important and you should not neglect it. I work a lot with historical illustrations and I'm always worried about the need to be correct.

After all a kid might see my illustration on the magazine and use it on a school paper. Because there is no prior judgment on the matter, the kid will assume I'm right and that in a way is quite a responsibility. Illustrations are very powerful and people tend to believe in what's printed. If you put horns on a Vikings' helmet they will believe that Vikings had horns on their helmets, which is totally wrong. So, no matter how long it will take me to do the job, I can say 2/3 of my time goes into research.

5. Your illustrations for legendary Cornwell's Saxon Stories are enchanting. How did the concept evolve, tell us a bit about it and how do you feel about the outcome of it?

I'm a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell. I love the way he creates historical fictions with the right balance between research and creativity. When designer Marcelo Martinez called me to create the covers for the Brazilian edition of the Saxon Stories I was in heaven. He already had commissioned other Cornwell's titles to great Brazilian illustrators such as Renato Alarcão and Kipper, it felt great to be part of it too.

Marcelo came up with this brilliant idea of making a poliptic that is mind blowing when you think about the possibilities of composition. We had to come up with all books at once, how they would fit side by side, what would have to be in the cover flaps, how would the elements be positioned near the spine. It was quite a challenge. But it was worthy. And the use of a shiny silver paper did wonders too. Bookstore personnel always put our books on the window cause together they attract so much!

The publishing house decided last year to stop using the shiny paper because they couldn't keep up with the selling but there is an online petition to make them use the shiny paper again, which is wonderful! After all people want to complete their collection with the same design from the first to the last volume. And because the volumes were released as time went by, funny things happened, like a fan that didn't know that we had already designed all covers and couldn't wait for the fourth volume to be released so he sent to Marcelo his idea for the fourth cover, fully illustrated and fitting on the whole poliptic concept. I must say his idea was not bad, not bad at all.

6. You have worked not only with local clients but a lot of international clients as well, how is the experience? How does it differ from working with the local clients, what are the challenges involved and how do you overcome it?

It's quite the same; a client is a client wherever they are. But you do have to make an extra effort of course. First of all you have to understand your client's environment. Working for an Indonesian client is quite different from an American one. Advertising concepts can differ a lot from country to country, for example, so previous research is always valid; know English (and if possible another language) fluently, don't be afraid to talk about ratings, cause each country has their own rates for each illustration segment and you will be surprised by the differences; make good use of the time zone you are; and the most important of all, know how to deal with the fact that you are from different countries, under different laws and economic regulations.

Try to understand the economic agreements between your country and your client's; sometimes you will pay taxes twice if you don't make things right. People ask me about how I feel about the possibilities of being fooled by an international client, things like unauthorized use of my illustrations or even a check that might never show up. I trust my clients. First of all I only work with people that are reliable. I do research about them before closing any deal. And I have to say, sometimes I worry more about clients here in Brazil then the ones abroad.

7. What's one thing you wish you knew when you started your career?

I wish I was a better professional. I wish I were more interested in knowing the value of my work, knowing how to read and write contracts earlier, knowing more about rates. That's something you learn while you work day by day, but it's difficult when you don't have any clue of what's going on, especially in a country that still doesn't have any Illustration course in any university. I was never shy so I was not afraid to ask around, but it took me a while to figure out a thing or two, probably because I never stopped jumping from field to field. I don't regret what I did, but it could have been easier.

8. What programmes or software do you use to create vector arts? What is your favorite Illustrator tool, tip or technique?

I use Adobe Illustrator with KPT Vector Effects 1.5, though I can't find this plug-in for the Macintosh version of the CS3 (HELP!). I used to work on a PC till a couple of weeks ago and now I have to adapt to this whole new Mac thing. A couple of friends are showing me new plug-ins to substitute the KPT. I hope I can get used to the fact that I'll have to change, maybe it'll take me to better places. We shall see that in a couple of weeks!

I have to say that KPT Vector Effects keeps me happy though I now see it taken away from me. Let's see what these new plug-ins have to offer.

9. You organize a monthly illustrator's meeting that is called "Bistecão Ilustrado." Tell us a bit more about this meeting: what does "Bistecão Ilustrado" stands for and the motivation behind the meeting? Our non-Brazilian readers would love to know about it.

Literally "Bistecão Ilustrado" means something like Big Illustrated T-Bone Steak. The bisteca (t-bone steak) is one of the main dishes of the restaurant we meet and we used it in the name as a joke at the beginning, but that's how everybody knows our event now so we kept the name. We have friends in other cities that, inspired by our meeting, started their own using the same name but replacing the "Bistecão" by each city's famous meal. Like if you go to Fortaleza you'll find the "Baião Ilustrado" or if you go to Curitiba is the "Pinhão Ilustrado," and so on.

It all started 3 years ago. I was already working with illustration but didn't know any other illustrator personally. Even though I took part on online forums and was already a member of the Society of Illustrators of Brazil (SIB), I felt a distance between them and me. All our online conversations were about how to improve our profession and all that surrounds it, but how could I help anybody if I was beginning my career? I had yet much to learn and felt the best way I could help was stay in my place and listen. But it was not enough, I felt the need to act, so I thought that if I couldn't help in the client/professional matter I could maybe improve our personal/professional relations.

It's silly but I always look for similarities in History, maybe because I love the subject. So I thought things would improve faster if we bond as friends, not only as professional colleagues. I mean we always try harder to help the ones closer to you, cause in some way their problems becomes yours. Like soldiers in trenches: you would do everything for the one at your side and he would do the same for you.

I felt that if we were closer to each other, then we would probably go further in our decisions as a group because we wouldn't think twice to help the fellow illustrator that was now your friend. Bonding, as soldiers in trenches. So right after an exhibition of SIB members I invited everyone to go with me to a restaurant and it was fun. We weren't much but it was enough for a laugh, it was a start.

So a few months later I officially made an invitation and 10 of us came. And then on the next month we did the same, and then the next, and the next. Today we have an attendance of more then 70 illustrators each month in São Paulo, they all bring friends and families whenever they can, we have meetings in other four major cities, we have guests from other states, other countries, we have sponsors such as Casa do Artista (art supply) and DRC (digital art school) that give discounts and other benefits for illustrators, and the best of it all, we all became close friends.

We are currently moving our blog to Wordpress and updating all info from each meeting, and though it's only in Portuguese and is still quite a mess, feel free to take a look at our blog and our flickr. Have fun!

10. Do you feel things are changing for the design community and are they getting better globally and locally?  What goals do you have for yourself?

There are always changes. Any creative area must change in order to be interesting. If they are good or bad, it's relative; it'll depend on you and where you are geographically, professionally, personally. All I can say is that things are changing faster and faster and there is room for a lot of people, so be ready. There are a lot of open doors mostly because of the Internet, so you always have to think globally nowadays.

Brazilian artists, for example, are getting so much attention today, much more than before. We find great illustrators such as João Ruas doing the new covers of the acclaimed Fables, graffiti artists like Osgemeos and Onesto exhibiting their work in every major contemporary gallery around the world, comic book artists like Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá at the top of the list in the US comic book industry, designers such as Nando Costa making big internationally and I could go on and on. It's a great time for Brazilians who think globally.

But it's never so easy as that, of course. Plans must be made, you have to have good networking skills, your website must be clear, sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time (which is the most difficult part of it all), and of course, you have to be prepared for it, you have to know your skills (and limits). If you are prepared, you can make it.

My only goal is to do what I do the best I can. By doing that I'm fulfilled. The rest is a bonus.

11. A lot of your work is done for editorial magazines, how do you come up with the illustrations that complement the articles, how do you strike the balance between what they want and what you see as the end product? What is the importance of visual communication?

Most of my editorial clients became close friends, they all know my background in graphic design, they all know my approach on any article or chronicle I have to illustrate, they all know how important reading/research is for me, so pretty much there's no what I want/what they want, because there's trust from the beginning. I know how each magazine works, we always talk about the readers, about the articles and we have great briefing meetings so we have no problems with that. Sometimes tweaking is needed, but that's our day-to-day business, nothing that will kill any one of us.

The most important part of all editorial cycle is the reader and each reader needs the right visual stimulation from an illustration. For example, I worked for a magazine called Grandes Guerras, a Brazilian history magazine about wars and conflicts and I was in charge of the weapon section, which is pretty much where history buffs go crazy. If you make a mistake, they practically kill you. So I studied a lot for each piece and we would go all the way to find interesting material for them and I think we did a great job, cause most of the time they look for "reality" in these kind of illustrations, kind of like the Osprey Publishing books, but they totally accepted the kind of illustration I do and I think it was due to the fact that we gave them what they wanted. If you please the reader your work is done.

12. Tell us about your participation in Lurzer's Archive 200 Best Illustrators.

It was great to be part of it; not only the repercussion of it all but also people at Archive are the best. After the publication we became very good friends. It all happened in the end of 2006. I received an email telling that an international jury nominated me and invited to submit my work for the selection of the second edition of the 200 Best Illustrators series. I was used to publications that you had to submit your work first, but it was the first time that I knew about a book that had a previous selection before the submissions. You feel kind of privileged.

The best part was when Sheila King, from Archive, told me that 10 of my illustrations were selected and that it never happened before in one single Archive book. I was quite happy. And I almost made it to the cover. It was between Hanoch Piven and me, but I told them that none of my selected illustrations would fit into the concept of the 200 Best covers, which is always a portrait, a head, or something similar, so they went with Piven's striking portrait of Kim Jon Il, which for me was always the right choice.

13. And now that two of your pieces are being selected into the Society of Illustrators 51st Annual, what are your feelings at the moment?

That is also great, the Society of Illustrators Annual is like a bible for all of us. The Americans do know how to respect their professionals and their history, how to pay tribute to them. Just look at the SoI's Hall of Fame and you'll find such great men and women of our profession. It's amazing. And they also put all their efforts to promote the new generations and to be a part of it is an honor.

14. Kako, thanks for the interview and for your time. What advice do you have for young people considering illustration as a profession and find inspiration in you works?

I'm the one who thanks you for your interest in my work. As I always say to the young people: keep your mind, eyes and hands busy!

Kako on Web:

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