Today we'll get acquainted with a wonderful Spanish illustrator Javier Alcalde who, thesedays, creates characters and designs for computer games. Javier finds his inspiration in environments and calls himself a life observer. Read more about him in the this interview.
Q Hello Javier, could you tell us a bit about yourself. When did you begin to draw and why did you decide to become an illustrator?
It is the classic story of the majority of draftsmen. I have not stopped drawing since I used a pencil for the very first time; drawing has been my main entertainment since I have any memories.
While studying Fine Arts, I learnt about painting, video and photography. However, I focused on graphic design putting illustration to the side. When I finished University, I had been working as a graphic designer for a year but I stopped doing it because I really missed something: and it was drawing. That was the reason that made me create a portfolio and start looking for a job in the field.
Q Looking at your works, everyone can easily understand that you're a professional artist. Where did you study, how much time was needed to master it?
I studied the course of Arts in my secondary school in Burgos (Spain) and, then, I did, as I said before, my BA in Fine Arts in Salamanca (Spain). Obviously, that study has helped me a lot to improve my technique and style but I think it was both drawing at home just for my own amusement that has really taught me and of course my professional work.
You can only get to a really good level in drawing having lots of years of practice and being very persistent, curious and able to do self-criticism. I have been drawing all my life but I know I have so many things to learn and improve.
Q What kinds of applications and tools do you use to create illustrations? Which one among them is preferable for you? What does your workstation look like?
I normally use a Mechanical pencil and normal paper to do the sketch. I draw on a little drawing board which I put on my lap and I visualize the possible references I might need on the computer screen. When I finish this, I scan the sketch. According to the kind of work, I decide whether it is better to paint it directly in Photoshop or re-trace and color it in CorelDraw first and shade it in Photoshop later.
In the future, I would like to mix more traditional drawing and painting techniques with the digital ones. It would be more fun and it would reduce the computer working hours.
The studio where I work is neither very nice nor spacious. I have a big computer (a 27" iMac) on my desk, an additional monitor, a scanner (Epson P4990) and a Wacom A5. Nevertheless, I am thinking about getting a better place where I can put a proper desk just to draw and paint using the traditional techniques and with a room for a small photography set. But in fact rent is really expensive in Madrid and I do not earn enough money to pay for a good studio.
Q Tell us what illustration is for you today? Is it your main job? What kinds of work do you do, who are your main clients and in what way do you find them? Can you always manage to present and explain your ideas to a customer? Could you give any advice concerning this issue?
I actually work as a Concept Artist for ENNE Entertainment Studios. It is the only job I have nowadays. I have been working for video games companies for three years although I worked as a freelance for magazines and advertising agencies before. I have recently done work Adidas, however, I do not do works for other companies very often since I have been working in the video games field.
I simply live to earn a salary once a month although the job sometimes is not as exciting as it was when I was a freelance (smiles). I practice photography in my spare time, but I do not think it is going to be more than a hobby to entertain me. In general, clients are not flexible enough in Spain and it is difficult to change their minds, even if your ideas are much better.
My suggestions often refer to aesthetic aspects more than to conceptual ones. The clients give me an idea or an outline with some details and I try to surprise them drawing it in the most beautiful way. I always try to keep the same high quality in all my works but I sometimes have problems because I do not have enough time to do it as good as I would like.
The clients do not change much in my works. When they contact me, it is because they are looking for my style and if I give them something good according to my style, they like it. If there is someone who does not like my style, they don't contact me. I don't have much advice to give about it. If you think you have a better idea than the client's one, you have to protect it with passion and good arguments; but if you know that a client is not flexible, you should not insist on too much because he is that one who is going to pay you in the end, who is going to take the last decision and if he doesn't like your work, maybe she/he won't call you again.
Q Could you describe your working day? Tell about the stages of a project? Do you have any favorite projects and what projects you are working at just now?
My working day? Well, it depends on the day. If I go to the office, I say hello to my workmates, I assist in the preparation of the daily meetings, I check my mail and I start working on the project I have to do that day. If I work at home, I do the same but without workmates or meetings (smiles). When customer order me a drawing, they send me an email with more or less detailed description about what they want; sometimes they also attach some support references. After that, we make an agreement on the deadline and money they are supposed to pay me for the project if it is a freelance work. Later, according to the kind of project, I look for the images in the Internet just to help me as a reference to do my drawing. In other occasions, I take my own photographs if I do not find what I am looking for on the Internet.
With all this information, I draw some small and quick sketches in pencil. I select just one or two to draw them again but in more detail. Once I finish, I scan them, then improve them a little bit with Photoshop and send them to the client. It is the client that chooses the one and if it is necessary, they ask to change something or add. Having received the client's opinion, I quickly start doing the neat color illustration. During the process, I like to send the client a couple of samples in order to show how the drawing is being done, just to avoid the client's disapproval when the drawing is finished and not to start everything from the beginning. My favorite Project is a comic called Verónica.
It is a personal project based on my friend Ivan Saez's short story. I don't know when I will finish it, maybe never… Actually, all my drawing time is dedicated to create an educational video game that ENNE Entertainment Studios is developing.
Q You have been working in the production of computer games. Which computer projects did you take part in? What characters did you design, which of them are your favorites and why?
Before working for ENNE, I was working for Pyro Studios doing the video game DanceStarStudio in which I demonstrated the concept of art of mainly all the scenarios and characters; moreover, I created the design of the interfaces and the identity. I also worked on the concept art for the video game Planet51 online but, in that project, I had to adapt my style to the style the movie had. My favorite characters are those from DanceStarStudio as I created all of them and I had so much freedom to design them.
Q I know that comics are your passion. Are you going to create your own series?
As I said, my personal project is Verónica. It has been stopped for a few months but I would like to carry it out soon. The problem is that I don't have so much spare time and, also, I don't want to stay 14 hours a day in front of the computer. However, I really would like to work drawing comics. If I find a publisher who pays me enough money and does not put so much pressure on the deadlines, I would be delighted to make business with them (smiles).
Q Your works are so light and clean. Where do you find the inspiration for creative work? What attracts you in life besides illustration? What makes you excited and joyful?
I find my inspiration everywhere, even if that sounds like a cliche, in music, graphic design, paintings, photographs, movies and, of course, in other illustrators' work. When you analyze my drawings, you can see the influence of the photography in the way I use shade and light, the influence of the cinema in a way I frame and the influence of graphic design in the way I color.
I really like people, their features and gestures, their behaviors and habits. I like to observe, listen to and chat with people. And, of course, the beauty is very attractive for me in any of its manifestations: an amazing landscape, a beautiful song, a pretty face, etc… It sounds sentimental, but that is my reality.
Meeting people is so interesting, as well as being with my friends and family, discovering magic places full of beauty, etc. I really enjoy observing life, I am like a life's voyeur (smiles).
Q Javier, thank you for the interview. Would you like to give some advice for beginners in design and illustration?
Thank you so much to all of you for being interested in my work. As advice to the beginners, I would tell them to do what they like, the work done with passion lets them grow up as artists. They have to be curious, non-conformist and very demanding on their own work.