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Interview with Rubens Cantuni - Tokyo Candies

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Rubens Cantuni (Tokyo Candies) is an illustrator, designer, and art director. His full-time employee role as art director influences his freelance illustration work in both technical and business ways. However, his true passion and creative outlet is his freelance illustration work, which he hope to make a full-time living from in the future.

Rubens has a bold and funky vector style. He tends to mix different or even opposite feelings into his character creations. Learn all about his background, interests, influences, creative process and more in this interview!

1. Hello Rubens, please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what training do you have, and how did you got started in the field? How long have you been illustrating and designing?

Hello, first of all: thanks for this opportunity, I'm a regular reader of Vectortuts+ (as well as Psdtuts+) so I'm honored to be on it. My name's Rubens Cantuni, I'm Italian and from Genoa. I was born in 1982 and my journey in illustrating and designing started a little later ;).

I've always been involved in drawing, coloring and creating stuff, but I've never had specific training in arts at school, so I can say that I'm self-taught. I have a degree in Industrial Design, that is not exactly what I'm doing now, but it was fun and I enjoyed my university years a lot. When I was in my last year I started working as an art director for an advertising agency, and in my spare time I've always been creating my stuff.

In January 2009 I was making some space on my hard disk and I noticed there were a lot of works making dust in there. At that time I was already running the blog koikoikoi.com (a visual arts blog I co-founded with my colleague Danilo) so I thought "Why just talk about other artists' works and keep all my stuff in the closet?" and so I made my site Tokyo Candies, my Behance profile, etc. So even if I've always been illustrating my career is brand new.

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Tokyo Candies Portfolio

2. How did you get started working with vector graphics? How long have you worked with Illustrator? Do you have any favorite vector tools or techniques? Where does Photoshop fit in your workflow?

I think I started with vectors in 2005 or 2006. I knew I needed to know Illustrator, but they weren't teaching it at university (where I learnt things like 3Dstudio Max, which I forgot 1 minute later after passing the exam), so I had to learn it by myself.

At first, I have to say, I hated it. I was used to Photoshop and I couldn't understand a lot of things happening in Illustrator. I don't know why, at that time, it was pretty hard to find tutorials on Illustrator, while there were tons for Photoshop. So I experimented A LOT, and soon I became more and more familiar with it and found it was really handy to be able to manage all the elements.

I don't have a favorite tool, I use the most standard tools: brush, pencil, pen, scissors, mainly. I don't like the gradient mesh tool too much. I mean, it's a powerful tool that lets you make some incredible stuff, but I'm a pretty radical vector artist :). About Photoshop, I use it sometimes as a final step, to add some texture, vintage effects and things like that, but not all the time.

3. To what extent are you attracted to uniting extreme concepts in your work? I notice cute mixed with evil? Chubby imbedded with erotic sexuality? What are the mix of ideas that bring about your work?

Yes, one of the main things you may notice in most of my works I think is the mix of different or even opposite feelings. Cute and evil, funny and disturbing, the perfect example are, of course, the sexy chubby girls, that are my favorite subject and maybe my most distinguishing characters.

An artist I really love, that I think is bringing something similar is Jeremy Fish. The point is: arouse a feeling in the spectator. Could be surprise, curiosity, hilarity or whatever. If you look at one of my works, and you think "Why? Why is it like that?," then I just hit my point.

4. How does working as a freelance illustrator and designer influence your work as an art director? How has working as an art director helped you work as a freelancer? Are there any lessons that cross these two roles you'd like to share?

I have to say that as a professional I live two separate lives. My everyday work is art direction/graphic design as an employee. I really like my job and it pays my bills, but of course my dream is to live just making my things one day, so I'm working hard, day and night, to do that.

My art direction job has been useful to me as a freelancer mainly in understanding client's requests. Plus I learned all the things about the printing process while working there: problems related to it, limitations, preparing a file to be printed, and all this technical stuff you have to know. You can't just be able to draw and/or use Illustrator alone.

5. With your busy schedule, how often do you find time to just draw in your sketchbook or do other creative things just for fun? What are your favorite creative outlets?

One of the main things I regret is neglecting my sketchbook so much. The other thing is painting so rarely. But I take time to do things for fun, also because they can become sold works, or prints or t-shirts. I also have to work on koikoikoi.com, which is a sort of creative outlet. Even if I don't work in first person on something creative, presenting artists, designers, photographers, works, projects, videos, all feed my creativity hunger and increase my knowledge and my inspiration sources.

6. How has travel influenced your work? What places have made an impact on you and why? How often do you hit the road and explore new places?

I don't think traveling has influence directly on my works, but it has certainly impacted my knowledge. It may sounds pretty obvious but the place that really had an impact on me is Japan, both for places and people. It was really like being on another planet, so far from italian culture. Last April I've went to New York. It was my first time in the USA. That city is magical, you really can smell endless opportunities, especially if you're involved in art. I hit the road as much as I can, depending on money and spare time, and both things are not as much as I'd like :).

7. How active are you online with various design communities, blogs, and social media? Have you had business opportunities arise because of these activities?

With my works I'm on: Behance, Facebook, BloodSweatVector, deviantArt, Twitter, and I have shops on Redbubble and Artsprojekt, where you can buy prints, t-shirts, sweatshirts etc. I can say that all my collaborative works come from these channels, I don't have an agent (if there's one reading, we can discuss about it, feel free to contact me!) and there's not much to do locally.

8. You have such a distinctive style? How did that come about? What helped narrow your focus as an illustrator and what continues to inspire you as an artist? What are your greatest influences?

I really like a lot of different things. My style was a natural evolution and it's still evolving. The most important thing I think is doing things as they naturally come to you, without forcing on making them look a certain way or like someone else's products.

My inspiration comes from a lot of different sources, such as asian cultures, tattoo art, cultural icons, movies, comics, cartoons. I have tons of people I admire as artists, just to name a few: Mike Giant, Simone Legno, Jeremy Fish, Jeremyville, Shawn Barber, Audrey Kawasaki, Jason Lìmon, 123Klan, Koralie, Jeff Soto, Flying Fortress, Blu, Sheena Aw, Tado, and Jared Nickerson.

9. Could you tell us about your illustration process using the project "The Dirty Cream" as an example? Does the process for that project flow like many of your others, or do you find yourself often changing how you approach your work?

My workflow may vary from work to work. If I have a precise idea in mind, I start drawing directly in Illustrator. Sometimes if it's not clear enough, or it's a bit complicated, I make a sketch on paper, as I did for "The Dirty Cream" work.

After the sketch on paper (pencil and markers) I traced it with my Wacom tablet, then I gave it the basic color and after that I worked on shadows and lights. While doing these steps I usually make some changes to basic color, removing shadows or changing the transparency, etc. In this work, I noticed that the outlines traced with my Wacom were confusing the type work, so I used them just as a track for coloring. After the main work is done I start refining details, adjusting some curves, adding little elements, etc. The final step was adding the cherry characters and the ice cream lady recycled from a previous work and adjusted a bit.

10. Thanks for the interview Rubens! Is there any advice that you'd like to give aspiring illustrators and designer who are working hard to grow professionally?

Trivial but so true: keep working hard. Try to develop your own style and work hard on promoting yourself. Thanks again for this opportunity! Also, I will be participating in the upcoming Blood Sweat Vector West Berlin Gallery show, which opened just a couple days ago with loads of other vector artists' work on display.

Rubens Cantuni on the Web

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