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Interview with Orlando Arocena

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Read Time: 11 min

Our guest today, Orlando Arocena, is a great designer and creative consultant for Brand and Shopper initiatives. "I hate erasing, and would rather try to make my 'mistakes' work in my favor. It's my golden rule." – he says. Learn more about Orlando and his illustrations after the jump.

Q Hello Orlando, welcome to Vectortuts+! Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Do you have a basic design education? When and why did you get carried away with vector graphics?

Hi and thank you very much for this opportunity! I'm a first generation Mexican-Cuban-American, who grew up in the Bronx, with a passion for art and design. I had the honor to be the first person in my family to attend college and graduated from Pratt Institute in 1994 with a Bachelors in Communication Design. Back then, there was only one lonely apple computer, for the whole college…so ruby lith sliced fingers and photo developer bleach stains on my clothing was a daily rite of passage.

I took jobs that would satiate my curiosity, but were still within the realms of art and design. Animation Gallery Curator for Warner Bros. Studio Stores, a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, starting up "Uptown Arts", with a focus on representing local urban artists, to just name a few. I wanted to learn more about how people interact and appreciate art and apply that to my own creative endeavors - with the goal of being like an N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle or even a Maxfield Parrish - artists that I respect for bridging the gap between the commercial and the fine arts.

Then in 1997 I was presented with teaching art in Mexico or accepting the offer letter to a real design job. At the time I had saved enough to invest in my first computer and decided to take the path of commercial design, with a promise to myself to pursue personal art in the future.

I was first introduced to vector while working at TROMA Entertainment, the guys famous for the Toxic Avenger. Back then my art director, now one of my best friends, showed me the production value of illustrator.

At the same time, I was very much a big fan of Manga, and wanted to emulate the 3 tier tone technique used on their hand-painted production cels. After teaching myself more about the program and becoming more comfortable with it, I found it to be very fulfilling. The overall look and the instant gratification allowed me see my ideas take shape quickly.

I'm still experimenting with it, finding new ways to achieve airbrush-like fades with simple gradients, that in itself is one on my favorite attributes of illustrator - the ability to adjust opacities within the gradient color bar! Adjusting transparencies is another beneficial feature that I use sparingly and try not to abuse. Overall, I enjoy being a bit traditional with vector, plotting and drawing rather than relying on filters.

Q Today, you hold the position of Creative Consultant for Brand and Shopper initiatives. Tell us what is in the scope of your responsibilities, do you continue creating design?

My responsibilities often consist of collaborating with both the creative departments and marketing/sales teams to build brand awareness. Unlike freelancing as a designer, I actually get to offer up strategic ideas that then get implemented and executed throughout many consumer touch points. I also get a chance to contribute exploratory Hero designs.

Q What is your comfort zone in design, do you accept jobs beyond their scope?

I'm most comfortable with designing/illustrating key art for the promotion of any brand. I have a history of working on promoting sports and entertainment as well as consumer packaged goods. At the moment I'm also trying to create a portfolio dedicated to sci-fi and fantasy art, an area that has always intrigued me but never seriously considered pursuing it up until now.

As for accepting work beyond the their scope - I try not to over promise. I'd rather stay grounded with what the client's expectations are, especially if the initiative is supported by a brief that I can use as a filter for gauging my ideas.

Q You have a lot of experience in advertising, brand building and promotion. Has it ever happened to you when thanks to your design solutions clients achieved unprecedented growth? On the other hand, have you experienced an obvious failure in your practice? If so, what conclusions have you made?

Yeah, a little of both. What mattered most, regardless of success or failure, is always the learning experience. That in itself is always rewarding, getting a deeper understanding about client expectations, reactions from the consumer groups and how it all plays a vital role with future ideas.

The 2012 New York International Auto Show is a recent opportunity that I will cherish, as both an automobile enthusiast and long time fan of the NYIAS.

I decided to offer up a design that would be appreciated by both the mature world-class collector of fine automobiles, to the boy who adorns his bookshelf with a spectrum of toy cars and portraits of popular race car drivers. I drew insights from this level of dedicated fandom with the intent to deliver a key signage that everyone would want to own.

The key visual leveraged the Statue of Liberty (who celebrated a 125th anniversary) in an iconic classic hood ornament pose, with art deco cues implying style and speed, as well as reinforcing NYC's history as the host for the event.

Q It has often been said that advertising contains elements that have subconscious effect on the audience. Do you use these techniques?

The speculation of subliminal advertising has always made me laugh. It's simply just a hoax. Sure there will always be people who perceive more than what is present within any advertising composition. Some designers might try to include something as personal as a practical joke, but in all honesty, what the audience tends to forget is the process of quality control. Before any piece of design is allowed to be released, it is thoroughly checked by the agencies quality control department, ensuring the work is valid and free of any inconsistencies.

Q Can you tell in a few words what does a good brand building mean for a small design firm, for example?

"Good Brand building" is about smart ideas that help reinforce the brand personality and the consumer benefit. This all derives from collecting data from many areas: competitive landscape, consumer feed back and also understanding the brand's history, to name just a few. These are the elements that fuel the building of ideas that are relevant to the target consumer. Relevancy is vital for brand growth.

A small design firm that is able to deliver upon this principal demonstrates to the client that big ideas aren't just limited to the larger, global agencies. What's important is how the smaller agency continues to understand and reinforce brand equity to develop brand muscle.

Q You have previously worked as a freelancer, what are the major advantages and disadvantages of this type of work?

As an in-house consultant, I get to collaborate and offer insights towards building ideas and solutions. These ideas then result in possible tactics for the general market to gain awareness of the Brand. Often at times a write up and a design exploratory is needed to help support the idea.

For me taking on freelance work is more about being selected to deliver an idea through a unique design, and not collaborating upon the many possible tactics that will engage the consumers. Personally, there are several advantages of freelancing:

  • I really enjoy starting a new job, it gives me the opportunity to build new relationships and get to know different personalities - this applies for both people and brands.
  • The second is about quality of life. Being able to share time with family and friends, but also time to recharge and pursue personal interests. For me it's a healthier way of exploring and leveraging what influences me and how I can incorporate it later.

Disadvantages: besides the lack of a benefits package, it would have to be the isolation.

I have no problem with being accountable for my work as an individual, but I also enjoy interacting with people, sharing ideas and inspiration towards a common goal.

Q I consider your artworks to be highly artistic and very expressive. At the same time you use a minimum of techniques. I noticed that you focus the attention of the visitors of your online galleries on the fact that you do not use raster effects, gradient mesh and plug-ins. Most likely, you tentatively can be referred to the group of the followers of clean vector. Why don't you use these techniques and plug-ins? It can significantly speed up the process of creating a design.

Wow! Thanks for the compliment. I enjoy a challenge, and lets face it - vector art is so unforgiving!

I'm a traditionalist and enjoy keeping things native to just clean vector. In my opinion combining raster images into a vector layout, turns the composition into a mixed digital medium and no longer a "vector" illustration. Sure I have done work like this in the past, but I wouldn't solely call them "vector illustrations". I enjoy keeping my rasters and vectors separate. I guess its all dependent on the overall look that I choose to create.

Mesh gradients, can deliver very impressive results but are also very time consuming, but cheers to all of you that play with this feature - your work is amazing!

Filters are probably the only pet peeve I have. Okay, I sometimes use the bevel and warp for text, but decide to stay away from plug-in effects. Personally, plug-in effects just take all the fun out of exploring the possibilities of creating unique things from scratch.

I think that's the underlying benefit of what makes a majority of my illustrations unique without relying on outside sources.

Q Tell us about your "Philosophy of ballpoint". Does this philosophy only apply to creativity or is it a philosophy of life? Do you stick to this philosophy in the process of creation of vector artworks, in other words, do you use shortcuts Cmd + Z?

I remember being enthralled by the surrealists and their "automatic drawing" technique, at the same time I was really into Buddhist and Taoist philosophy.

And developed this game of sketching with ballpoint, sumi brushes, magic marker – basically any drawing tool that prevented me from erasing. It allowed me to observe and then react, and at times having to find a viable solution to turning what could be perceived as a "mistake" to an actual benefit to the sketch. Now, I feel comfortable enough to "Look and simultaneously react".

Do I use this in my everyday life and vector/digital art?...Yes and no. I've adopted a version of this "Ball Point philosophy" into my personal everyday life. I think its always insightful to "turn the tide" on what could be perceived as a personal mistake, but modifying that same mistake into a positive.

With my vector/design work, I initially play with a conscious idea, do a bit of sketching and then move forward with evolving the visual composition. For vector sketching, working with either the brush tool or pencil has its immediate rewards, especially when a stroke is combined with a gradient fill-in. Cmd + Z is used very frequently along the creative path (no pun intended) only because at this point, I'm working on finalizing a composition and not just trying to quickly capture the essence of the subject matter.

Q I think women that you create have demonic nature. Is this how you see women? What kind of images do you create, what do you want to tell the viewer in these artworks?

Just like any artist, I'm subject to explore and illustrate different subject matter, especially those that may derive from my interests whether it be sci-fi, fantasy, cultural arts or even fashion. This particular inspiration fuels my imagination and creativity, allowing me to explore new techniques within vector that I can later implement on a future job.

For me, often at times when designing and illustrating, I leverage some of my agency tactics, one of them being to understand that there's an audience for everything, even one that appreciates a thematic based on "bombastic–attitude totting–death defying–attractive–never say "die" women. I just add my own ingredients to spice it up a bit.

My own personal perspective on women? I think women are awesome, I love them. They are the embodiment of strength and sensuality. But please don't judge me as thinking that all woman are evil, based on the theme of a few of my illustrations.

Q Orlando, thank you very much for the interview. What would you like to wish people who are only making their first steps in vector graphics?

For those of you that are considering exploring vector art, it's a very technical way to illustrate. It will definitely feel foreign and mechanical-but definitely explore it. Include what you know about traditional drawing, and develop an understanding about plotting out paths and anchor points. Just remember one important thing… have fun with it.

Thank You for this opportunity, I really appreciate your support.

Orlando Arocena on the Web

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