Here’s a recipe for a very interesting interview:
- Freakishly Talented Illustrator (Fernando Juárez)
- Freakish Talent
- Spanish, the language Freakishly Talented Illustrator speaks fluently and you do not (even though you minored in it)
- Pore over all of Freakishly Talented Illustrator’s work and post a gushy comment on his blog
beggingasking him if he’d be interested in an interview.
- Become extremely ecstatic when he responds, but keep your cool and try to act “professional” to show you’re not just some weird fangirl. This basically means to “use less exclamation points” in your emails.
- Mull over the fact that while his English answers to your questions were not originally written in his native language, you really want his story to be shared.
- Try to set all of this information about the interview up in a humorous way, perhaps in the form of an anecdotal recipe?
- *edit* Create the world’s longest post in the history of mankind, and get so caught up in it that you forget to eat dinner.
On a slightly more serious note, the below answers from the wonderfully talented illustrator Fernando López Juárez come in edited form. I’ve done my best to interpret his responses without sacrificing what I feel was at the heart of each of his answers.
Some backstory first. I discovered Juárez’s work when browsing Goodreads and stopping to look at the cover art for Rita Murphy’s YA, Bird.
Gorgeous, isn’t it?
I love illustration. I don’t think I can say this enough. I think every time I feature cover art that’s illustrated, I’ll have to annoyingly reiterate how much I love it. (Sorry in advance) I especially love how all of Juárez’s illustrations evoke feelings of wonder, fascination and curiosity.
Below are some early sketches of Bird’s cover art, along with the finished jacket:
To my delight, I also discovered that he worked as a color key artist on the animated feature, Planet 51 (more work is on his blog):
Okay, enough ogling for now. Let’s hear from the man himself!
TCG: Can you give a history of your career as an illustrator? What were some of your early influences? What eventually made you want to go into art/design/illustrating?
I liked to draw for as long as I can remember. I loved “The Adventures of Tin Tin” and “Asterix and Obelix.” There was no internet yet and my generation could see the work of only the most published artists. The possibility that people could see your work
around the world was only for a few artists.
Now, thanks to the digital age, all artists can easily show their work to the world. All these young hopefuls in the artistic world have direct entry into it. Their artistic maturing process is a lot faster than the artists of my generation. I can see it in my daughter — she’s eleven years old and she is a faster learner than I am! Anyway, that’s another story.
In 1993 I started studying graphic design and illustration at the art school Ramón Falcón in Lugo, a little city in northern Spain. During this time, I was influenced by Alan Lee and Brian Froud with their book FAIRIES.
I wanted to be an epic stories illustrator like them. Their magical world impacted me so greatly that their scar is still visible in my illustrations today — especially when it comes to atmospheric elements.
Three years later my career took another direction. I started working in the 3D animation world in 2000 at Bren Entertainment for four and a half years. I worked as a junior artist doing everything under the sun in the art department, but taking on more responsibility than I was learning.
The most important thing I learned there was that animation studios are places of movement for a lot of artists: not only illustrators. Modelers, animators, lighting artists, photographers…everyone was a storyteller in their own artistic field. It was enriching to see each person’s interpretation of their art.
Currently I’m an art director at another animation studio, Ilion, in Madrid and I’m still learning. Also, since 2003 until present-day I’ve been working with Illustrationweb, an illustration representation agency. I have done all kinds of illustration jobs during these years working with international publishing houses and advertising agencies.
My biggest artistic influences at the present — I love the work of Rebecca Dautremer, Tadahiro Uesugi, Dice Tsutsumi, Peter De Sève, Mark Ryden…I aspire to be as talented as them, even when I’m an old man!!
TCG: How was your experience working on the covers for Bird and The Owl Keeper (Christine Brodien-Jones)? Were you able to read the novels before working on the covers? Did the publishing companies give you an idea and you ran with it? What kind of parameters did you have to work in?
FJ: Usually when I get these kinds of jobs, I’m given input from the editor and writer because they have a clear vision of what they want for a book cover. Besides, I’m only creating what I consider a small contribution in their huge project.
I think it’s really important to understand their ideas, how they imagine places and characters — this makes it possible to go in the right direction on the first step. In regards to THE OWL KEEPER and BIRD, I can say that working on these covers was really rewarding for me because we ended up with a good balance between their vision and my style. Rita and Christine were both really happy with the final result, and the editors too…that’s very important!!
TCG: What are some of your favorite book covers (even if they’re not young/adult)?
THE HOBBIT, illustrated by Alan Lee, was my favorite cover for a long time. The golden title and some touches on the treasure with the sleeping dragon on the top of it, reminds me Gustav Klimt’s paintings, one of my favorites artists.
Also, CORALINE’s cover art by David McKean and design by Hilary Zarycky — a great book cover.
TCG: I notice some of your work on your personal blog is very magical with a fantastical quality. How would you describe your type of artistry? Is there a type of illustration style you prefer over others?
FJ: I try to capture a realistic style with a touch of fantastic atmosphere in regards to lighting. With the characters and sets, I prefer a cartoon style over a realistic one, maybe somewhere right down the middle. As far as a preference to illustration style, I prefer children’s books because as an illustrator, I feel much more free to do my work. In most cases, the client is looking for a specific illustration style and usually for a specific illustrator to translate a beautiful story in pictures with his or her personal point of view.
Also there are fewer descriptions in children’s literature, or perhaps the texts are shorter than in young adult literature, and that helps a lot! This is a general rule, although there are often exceptions. I know that the process is much more intense and absorbing with children’s books because there’s a much greater amount of artwork. I also enjoy working on covers. The most important thing for me is to take on a variety of jobs, or at least have a rest between similar jobs.
TCG: What type of qualities in a book cover (young adult or any other kind) would make you want to pick it up?
FJ: When working on book covers, the most important thing to have is a good duet between the graphic designer and the illustrator — both people need to strive to work towards creating a beautiful and attractive composition: harmoniously, with empty spaces. (In terms of design style, I’m not fond of the Baroque style for a cover)
When I’m doing an illustration for cover art, I try to think of what would attract my attention when I’m in a bookstore, what book would catch my eye if I saw alot of shelves stock full of them.It’s all about that first instinct, those very few seconds, for the buyer to take that one book fromall the others. (Then of course, it depends on the author whether that buyer will like the story or not) This is why it’s so important to have good artistic teamwork between graphic design andillustration: Bad graphic design can to loseone’s favor on a book cover, and vice versa.
Thanks so much for the interview, Fernando. I enjoyed exploring all of your artwork (as well as your influences), and I look forward to seeing more in the future!