Monday, December 1, 2008

Illustrate Your World!

by Gregori Saavedra

Gregori Saavedra, Not For Sale

Just a question. Why illustration? Why not art? Where is the difference? In the beginning, illustration meant a way to visualize a text. But now… Illustration usually works on its own. So? Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather be an illustrator than an artist. Artists live too remote from reality. Too remote for me. I live here, where life is, where people are, where the money is. I have to. No way. But that’s just me. I started doing illustration because I needed to express myself. Just that, nothing else. Funny enough, it turned into a job. That wasn’t my intention, but, sincerely, I feel happy. The point is that clients call me because of pieces they saw in a magazine or in a gallery. My most critical pieces. That’s a huge contradiction. They want me to work for them, although they know I am against them. Amazing. Sometimes I think they just want to domesticate me. Another puppet.

Illustration is a great discipline anybody is fit for. Look at me. I just pretended to say the truth. Four years ago I decided to describe myself, to create my own website. Then I decided to do it through the collage technique. I realized I was 100% collage. My complexity, my thousand faces, my infinity could all be visualized.

Then I finished. But I became a fountain. A source of images. I couldn’t stop it. I had too many ideas to launch out. I don’t always feel like an illustrator, I feel like a creative. It’s what I have been for 15 year now. Simply a creative director. That’s the reason I always look for ideas. Not just for images. That’s the difference between illustrators and artists. It’s not a question of style, aesthetic,… It’s about ideas or no idea. There are millions of illustrators. How many ideas? Millions? I don’t think so. Ideas come from brains. The majority of artworks is produced by hands. Illustration will be illustration and does not become art because nobody is asking illustrators to think. They just want them to create pleasant images that go perfectly with the ideas of others.

Sometimes I use illustration as a weapon. That’s my way of finding a balance. I use my artworks as self-protection. Objectively, I am an extremely lucky person, believe me. I’ve got everything I ever dreamed of. Not fair, don’t you think so? I don’t do anything against injustice but to illustrate. My illustrations show my critical side. My antagonistic point of view. Every artwork is a shot. Against the monster: our stupid way of life.

Gregori Saavedra, Inspiration

Every morning I get my inspiration pill. Where? Newspapers. Pages and pages of pure reality, full of ideas, full of lies. But there’s also a problem, because we live in a world invaded by extraordinary photographs. If you have to create new images and want them to be relevant, you can not just do the same as newspapers. You need to be more powerful. New. Original. Surprising.

Yes, I am great liar. As a creative director in advertising, I lie to sell products. As an illustration artist, I lie to say the truth. I mix hundreds of real images to get a new unreal one. But unreal does not mean false. Newspapers provide sliced reality. I provide my completed version, my private vision of the reality designed by the media. My own truth. As any other illustrator, I am a reality re-designer. Free? Of course not. There are limits everywhere. Money means limits. Politics means limits. Sex means limits. And, obviously, religion means limits. Every time I get a commission for designing an illustration, I also get detailed information about the limits I should never cross. That’s the reason why I think that we are just technicians. Our clients know perfectly what they need from us. They would do it by themselves if they could. They do want us to do something “great”, but the meaning of “great” is different for everyone.

In my case, when I do commercial work, I never feel free. Probably like any other illustrator or artist. I imagine that’s what happened to Michelangelo when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine’s Chapel, or Velazquez when he portrayed the Spanish royal family. Maybe that’s the key. Illustration, like painting, becomes art just when it is not directly commercial. But, sincerely, every artwork is a commercial work. If it is not a work for a client, it is a work for our portfolio. And that means possible clients.

Portfolios are a perfect description, not only of the work and style of an illustrator, but they also transpire the personality of every artist. There are illustrators who just pretend to show their skills, but others prefer to make their personality absolutely clear.
I feel more comfortable with the latter. It could mean that I’m not worried about money or that I don’t mind if I get the project or not. It’s not about that. I prefer showing me exactly as I am. That’s the reason I always include my most critical pieces in my portfolio. I want any possible client to know who I am, how I think and how I do things. Dangerous? Maybe. I am liar, but not of this kind. Of course I loose a lot of projects because of this. But I am not interested in all kinds of projects. Money is important but my ambitions are driven from within.

Gregori Saavedra, The Cheater

I started illustrating as a research project. I didn’t know anything about myself for 35 years, I was too busy, too lazy. Then I discovered aspects of me I’d never realised before. That’s what my illustrations are about, they are landscapes of my mind. All the information, memories, experiences, relationships, everything around me turns into these landscapes. Sometimes I walk through them like a tourist, and sometimes I get trapped. There are a lot of common elements in my work: trees, cables, pylons, birds,… But I never visit the same landscape twice. Never. I hate copies.

In my 12 years working in advertising agencies I’ve met a lot of art directors and copywriters who systematically copied from books, design and advertising reviews. They don’t have any problem with that. But I do. In my opinion, it’s not fair, neither ethical. I buy tons of advertising and design books, but I not for copying of them. I buy them to learn from them to avoid to repeat what has already been done. This is my philosophy. That’s why I never create twin artworks. I felt tempted a lot of times, but… Like any temptation, it’s a question of mind power to forget the idea and keep on searching for something 100% new.

But sometimes clients ask me to create an illustration similar to one I already did for my portfolio or an exhibition. They just want me to adapt it to their idea or product. Obviously, I do not love this working method, but it is different from copying from someone else. Some creative teams need to know what image they will get exactly from me. Low self confidence, I guess. Easy money, that’s true. But my mission should always be to design something original, something that has never been done before.

This magazine for example. I am sure there will be a lot of designers and creative departments who will buy it to get to know interesting people. But unfortunately there will also be some who will get it just to know what to do. It shouldn’t be this way. It should be for getting the names of the illustrators they would like to work with on a project. But instead of taking names from these pages, they will take our ideas. One day they will be in a hurry. Their client will ask for a one-day-made campaign or design and we will become their inspiration. Brain-work is not required. That’s the reason, as I mentioned above, there are so much hand-working-illustrators. It’s cheaper. Easier. The ideas are the expensive part of this business.

I landed in illustration coming from the ideas’ planet. I know this is not the usual way, but illustration is a way of communication. If you do not have anything interesting to say, better shut up. It sounds radical but silence is a treasure. Think of it as a sport. A mind’s sport. Anybody can practice it. It’s healthy. And also profitable. Unless you decide to be a different kind of illustrator, a street artist for example.

I deeply admire them. In my opinion, for years, the best illustration artworks weren’t published, nor exhibited in galleries. The most interesting ideas were anonymously painted on our cities’ walls. Blek Le Rat, WK Interact, Banksy, Dr. Hoffmann and so many others were punished by law because of their art. We are so stupid. If Leonardo da Vinci was still alive, would he be the most important artist on earth or a jailed vandal? Is that the way we award genius for? Each of their vandalism acts was a master class for free. I learned so much from them.

They did not have any limits. Their limits were themselves, I guess. That’s only possible if you just work “against”. You can be a modern Robin Hood and illustration your arch, your arrow. Their work, more than landscapes, were portraits of their minds. Political and social stars were the starring, and street artists were visual-synthesizers. That’s what I loved them for, the capability to reduce so much information in one unique image. I guess that’s also the reason why they are such well known artists. They knew the rules. They faced their enemies using the same weapons. They are the infantry. Direct confrontation. But there are another ways to fight. Secrectly camouflaged like spies. Quite. Underneath. It’s another kind of war. Where everything is coded and nothing is what it looks like. Here is where I feel really comfortable. I am a great liar, do you remember?

Easy things, easy come, easy go. The more difficulty, the better prize. For me, pain is the only way to success. This is something I learnt when I was a kid. I hate to spend more than two hours in front of the same document. The only way I know to get the results I imagine: fuck me. Less is more does not mean anything for me. Sorry Mr. van der Rohe. In my neighbourhood, more is more and less is less. This philosophy fits perfectly with the skills demanded for a camouflaged warrior.

In my works it looks like there is an information overdose. But that’s not true. There’s always just one big idea. The other elements are defenders, bodygards. I add them to protect, to cover, to distract the attention from the important issue. It’s just a way to discriminate the wrong from the right audience. People who just see my work as extremely detailed images do not get the right message.

In illustration there is a decoration excess. The majority of artworks just look for beauty. Trendy fast-food. This kind of illustration does not last. Maybe this is another reason why illustration is not taken seriously enough. I am not an expert. That’s true. But it’s not necessary to study art history to realize this. Nasty illustrations are everywhere. But if you want to find nice illustrations you have to look for them.

Now, at the very beginning of the twenty first century, illustration asks for respect. Is it necessary? Respect comes with well done work. Let’s do things right and recognition will come to us. If we respect our work, everybody will do the same. Those who already did it, are now in art galleries and published by the best editors worldwide. We should care about our work like we never did it before. Until now, the kings of illustration were just the commercial ones. That’s not bad, but it’s not real. Illustration, like so many other disciplines, is not just a question of money. Sometimes there are mountains of talent and there is no buck. We should change it. Illustration is pure culture. And culture, dear friends, it’s the most valuable that we create on earth. People come and go, are born and die. But culture remains for generations.

A lot of articles assure that illustration is living through its best moment in history. Well, compared to the isolation suffered until now, that is maybe true. But I’m afraid it is just a question of time. Maybe I am wrong but I think what is happening can be compared to what photography experienced 60 years ago. When suddenly, photography became art. But then there came the digital edge and rules changed. Advertising is 95% visual. Photography is too classy for some creatives. Then illustration comes with its freshness and variety of styles. But in ten or maybe less years all the gold will be finished and then… adaptation or death.

But, sincerely, I am not worried about that. I just worry about important things. I love my worries. It means I am alive. My work is a collection of worries. What else could I illustrate? Is there anything more important? They settle in our minds until we expel them. My method to expel them is easy. I illustrate them. Like nightmares. Someone told me the way for not dreaming the same nightmare was to explain it to somebody. I use the same method for my worries. As soon as I threw them out, they disappear little by little.

Gregori Saavedra, One vs. All

Sometimes my worries are really stupid. Tiny. Sheer personal. I also transform them in artworks. But usually my worries are absolutely global. One day, when I die, there will be a diary, because my illustrations reflect my presence in every piece. Maybe I illustrate something of the future or past but if you look closely you will realize they are built through actual elements. That’s great. I can imagine, also invent, but reality prevails.

What I really love about illustration is its open minded public. Wide opened to everybody. It doesn’t look like illustration has any complex. Or maybe, nothing to loose. Anyway, whoever wants to enter may get in. I am a perfect example. I took all my fears, my memories, my obsessions, mixed all together and here I am. All the elements from my childhood revived: the comics I read, my father’s engineering drawings, the retro aesthetic of my summer holidays in a little village of central Spain. Everything is there. And I am really astounded people love it.

Illustration is my psycoanalyst. I discovered so many things while working on it. For example, I realized through it, that I inherited the curiosity of my mother and the meticulousity at work of my father. Her heart, his mind. I feel free but I use to show myself tied. Everything in my illustrations tells something about myself. Like playing a clue game. Sometimes it is even more sincere than the artist himself/herself. Just look at me. I am just 1,45m tall, but in my artworks I love to play the giant’s rule. It’s so obvious. I could think about it and visualize myself as the dwarf that I am. What a mess. That would be pure reality. Fiction as symbol is more interesting. Don’t you think so?

As in my case, there are a lot of illustrators who are not 100% dedicated to illustration. Illustration makes up just 25% of my income. I know other illustrators who have a similar problem. They live two lifes. By day, they work in a graphic design studio or in an advertising agency. But then, at night, they become the great artists they really are. It looks like a superhero’s life. Illustration is more than their scape valve, it is their secret superpower. All they can not be at their nine-to-five journey, they permute in their illustration work.

Some years ago it would make me feel really sad if I would know cases like these. But now I realized that, maybe because of this, illustration is more popular than ever. If designers or art directors become illustrators then it is perfect. If a designer or art director needs an illustration work, he/she just has to call another designer by day/illustrator by night. It works perfectly. Both talk the same language. Both know the market rules. Both are used to manage the same kind of problems. It is really easy. Probably it is another reason why illustration has this high.

I still remember the moment when I was invited to illustrate. I was reading a design magazine. At home, while working. I still do not understand exactly how it happened. But somehow, all those designers, talking about design, motion graphics, also illustration,… they did something. They opened the door. And said: -Come… Come and have fun.” That magazine was not just a magazine. It was an invitation. The right invitation I was waiting for. The one.

I would like this magazine, these pages, these words, these works, these images, these minds, to be also an invitation for you. Not just a nice book. It would be great! Simply magic! Perfect! So, I say: come on. Join us. Come and have fun. Do illustration. Take paper, pen, scissors and glue, a Mac,… It doesn’t matter at all. Whatever. Then think. What do you want to say? Remember: “you”. Just “you”. Got it? Ok. Now be great! Be new! Be rare! Be crazy! Be true! Be this! Be that! Be here! Be there! Be anywhere! Be anybody! Be you!

If you are lucky, extremely lucky, five years later, you will be writing 2968 words for an illustration’s international review like this.

Good luck!

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