Welcome to this interview with Romania-based illustrator Ioana Șopov. Share in her experience as an artist, her impressive body of work, her freelance work for global clients, and her future plans as an illustrator. Ioana has a wonderfully diverse portfolio and history of projects, and it's my pleasure to share her artwork and words of wisdom with you all today.
Hi Ioana! Thanks so much for the interview. Let's start at the beginning: What got you into illustration?
Thank you a lot for having me! Well I've always been into drawing like all kids are, and it has been a constant hobby throughout my life, though I was never sure I'd be able to turn it into a viable career choice. I was in my third year of studying Interior Design when I attended a local workshop with designers and illustrators and that sort of put me on this track. I started getting freelance work even before I graduated and that was the thing that sealed the deal, so to speak.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration?
I've always liked sequential illustrations, comics and graphic novels. One of my first "heroes" so to speak, Matthew Woodson, is a fantastic illustrator who used to create short sequences of amazingly detailed illustrations that just blew my mind. In the beginning most of my personal work revolved around nature and man, and the relationship between the two. I think that influenced my commissioned work as well. But now I've gravitated more towards character design and I'm amazed by artists like Cory Loftis, Steve Simpson and Kyle Webster. I'm also a big fan of Tomer and Asaf Hanuka—seeing their work is always stimulating and makes me want to do better work myself. So besides the myriad of amazingly talented artists that serve as a constant inspiration, I get a lot from the people around me and the things I see.
Did you study art or are you self taught (or both)?
A little bit of both. We did a lot of drawing in college, but it was more environment-oriented as I was studying Interior Design at the local Architecture University. Most of the skills that I use now in my illustrations I've learned by myself from the internet or studying others' work as well as my own experience. I don't believe that you need to go to art school in order to be a good artist or illustrator if you have the discipline to actually study and learn by yourself. Art school creates a very good environment to do that as it sort of forces you to study and draw and learn, but the resources are out there, especially online. All you have to do if you don't want to go to art school is just tap into them and use them wisely.
What is your creative process like?
It always starts out with a sketch, digital or on paper. Even for more complex projects, I like to start out with a really rough sketch on paper in order to get stuff like general composition or proportions right before I do anything else. I prefer paper because working digitally and zooming in will often be a distraction from the general composition issues and thus paper is a simple way of limiting yourself in order to get the big picture right. After this step I usually scan what I've drawn on paper and start working on the finer details in Adobe Photoshop.
If I already have something clearly in mind for the composition, I'll skip the paper step and just start doodling digitally. From there on it's a matter of the style and subject of the illustration. I usually like to start with the line art and develop that as much as I can before going in to the colors. If it's something without line art, I'll fill in most of the flat shapes while trying to solve issues like color contrasts, balance and harmony. After that I'll start shading and texturing the flat shapes until they start coming to life.
Time is precious, especially for freelance work, so I try to solve problems in very clear steps in order to avoid wasting time trying to fix something that I didn't think of from the beginning. That's why sketching sometimes occupies more time than the actual rendering, because I think planning ahead and thinking of all the potential issues that your illustration might have will save you a lot of headaches later on in the process.
What programs and tools do you use in creating your work? Anything you're especially fond of that you'd like to recommend to readers?
I've always been a fan of Adobe Photoshop, but I also work in Adobe Illustrator when needed. Recently I've found that using vector shapes in Photoshop saves me a lot of time so I've mostly given up on working in Illustrator. I use a Wacom Intuos 4 M and I couldn't recommend it highly enough. Every artist considering working digitally needs a tablet and I've found that the Intuos line is perfect for the job in every way.
I also use a Photoshop plugin called Coolorus that is basically a smart color wheel. I think it was the only thing Photoshop was missing and needed badly, and once you get used to working with it you'll never think of going without it.
I'd also recommend reading up on the basics of drawing and painting with books like "Figure Drawing for All It's Worth" by Andrew Loomis and "Color and Light" by James Gurney. I've found that studying both of these will drastically improve your knowledge of drawing, and studying these principles practically will add a lot to the quality of your work. I cannot stress how important studying is, and I'd like to recommend Anthony Jones' YouTube video called "How to Study" which offers a very good explanation of what studying actually means for artists.
How many years have you worked as an illustrator/designer?
I've been working as an illustrator/designer for a little over four years and with joy I can say that I've managed to make this my own line of work. Like I said at the beginning, when I was younger I didn't think I would ever get to do the thing I love so much and make a living out of it, so I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do so now.
What's your typical work day like? How about your work space? Can you give us an insight into how and where you work?
I've been working at a local creative studio here in Bucharest for the past two years as well as freelancing, so my work day consists of waking up, going to the studio for about eight hours of work, then coming home, having some dinner and getting to work on freelance work or studying for a couple of hours before some relaxation and sleep.
I definitely prefer my workstation at home as I've set it up to suit my every need. I have a large desk, two screens, sketchbooks and pencils everywhere, books on drawing and a very comfy chair. I think being comfortable at your workstation is very important. As a digital illustrator or artist you're going to spend a lot of time there so it's pretty essential to feel comfortable and not ruin your back while working.
As a freelancer, how do you go about acquiring clients? Do they come to you, or do you seek them out?
Ever since I started freelancing I've mostly had clients come to me. If you're just starting out, it's a good idea to network as much as you can with other designers or people in creative industries. By attending that workshop that I mentioned at the beginning I met a lot of local creatives and some of them sent clients my way. From then on it's much like a snowball effect—the more work you do and have in your portfolio, the more clients will come to you by word of mouth or by finding your work interesting.
Keeping an online portfolio is essential. I find that while having a personal domain and portfolio site is important, the best idea is to get your work on platforms like Behance, which was the source of many of my commissions. Promoting yourself and your work on social media like Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram is just as important. I've often been surprised how people came by my work and contacted me for projects, you never know.
And if you don't have client work to show in your portfolio, create work for yourself, give yourself briefs to work on, produce quality work and get it out there as much as possible. "If you build it, they will come."
I love the board game style illustrations you've done as of late, like the Sainsbury's piece. Can you talk about the process of your design layout, what sort of perspective is utilized, and what went into achieving the gouache-like style of the artwork?
I loved working on that project a lot. The idea was to create a visual board-game-like visual representation of Sainsbury's Nectar Card Promotion. The layout had to reflect the four different areas that you could use your Nectar Points in. I created the layout in a standard A2 format, but each object was layered separately in order to achieve the flexibility needed for other formats and promotional materials the agency had to create afterwards.
I chose a typical board game isometric viewing angle so that you could clearly see the path and each building. The textures I used on the shapes I achieved by using Photoshop CS6's airbrushes with some custom tinkering as well as some other natural media brushes from the standard libraries.
Getting to know how to use brushes in Photoshop is essential; it's amazing how many effects you can obtain with just the default brushes used in the right way.
Your portfolio is quite varied in illustration style. What determines the look of a commissioned piece? Do clients come to you with a style in mind or is that something that you get to feel out in the conception process and sell them on?
It depends. Some clients do come with a specific reference from my previous works or something they've seen somewhere else. When clients don't really know what they want and leave it up to me, I try to think of the style that would best suit the subject matter and present it to them. I like to experiment with different styles in my personal work, it keeps me excited and enthusiastic. Very often I'll get clients who like something I did as an experiment for personal work and want to commission me for something similar, so like I've said before, if you create something beautiful or interesting for yourself, other people will want you to do it for them as well.
When commissioned to do editorial illustration (or magazine cover work), are you given content/articles to read while working on your piece, or does an editor/art director describe what they want from you?
I love doing editorial work precisely because I usually get the text beforehand and get to explore the concepts for myself. However when I've worked with magazines published in other languages like DATUM, I was given the general idea from the editor as translating a very long cover story just for me would take up too much time.
So depending on the language barrier, I either get the entire text before or get pretty accurate descriptions from the magazine. I then get to producing some sketches for each illustration which I send back to the magazine for approval, and after that I work on the finished pieces.
What are your plans for future work?
I've always just gone with the flow in my work, the only thing that has remained a constant idea was that I want to improve constantly. I want to be a better artist with each project that I do, commercial or personal. The exact direction that my work will take is pretty much unknown for me, but I'd like to do more character design work and more editorial as well.
What words of advice do you have for emerging illustrators or artists who wish to engage in design as you have?
Whatever work you're doing, you're doing it for yourself. Even if it's client work, it's still for yourself and you have to like the end result, so always work with pleasure on whatever it is that you're working on. And learn at least a little bit of everything because it's all connected—editorial design, illustration, typography, figure drawing, etc.
Many thanks to Ioana for taking the time to share her work, experiences, and wisdom with us today. You can check out more of her fantastic work and follow her around the web in the links below!
Interested in seeing more of her work and her process? Check out her new course on Tuts+, Illustrating Personality in Character Design.