The Q&A: Lehel Kovacs

By Peggy Roalf   Monday April 6, 2015

Q: What are some of your favorite things about living and working in Budapest?

A: I was born in Transylvania but I’ve lived in Budapest since I was sixteen. It’s a very colorful city with many faces—basically it’s two cities in one, with a vibrant, dynamic and maybe sometimes too noisy Pest side, and a calm Buda side with its green hills where you can get away to relax a bit.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus in the computer?

A: I do keep a sketchbook, but I don’t use it as much as I would like to. For me, the sketchbook is more like a playground where I can make experiments with new ideas and new tools. It’s not part of my process when I’m working on an assignment for a client. In this case I’ll usually just use some paper from the copy machine, and make the sketches on those, than scan it into the computer. Same goes with the final work, I draw the lines with pencil on paper—scan it, than add the colors and textures in Photoshop. So it's a fine balance between analog and digital in my works.

Q: What do you like best about your workspace?

A: Currently I work from my apartment in downtown Budapest. For several years I shared a studio with some artist friends, but then I decided to move my workplace to my home. This has its positive sides, like working in your underpants.

Winter sports illustrations. Figure Skater (right) was selected for AI 33)

Q: Do you think it needs improvement, if so, what would you change?

A: Well, working in my underpants sometime makes me feel just a little bit unprofessional, so probably in a few months I will move to a studio again.

Q: How do you organize an assignment before you start drawing? Do you make lists and thumbnails?

A: Usually after I read the story (if there is one) I do a little research on the topic, then I just let it go, place it in the back of my mind, trying not to think about it too hard for one or two days and hoping some idea will pop up. So basically this is called procrastination, but usually it ends up well. 

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: When the art director says the magic words, “Please send me the hi-res file” :)

Q: What was the strangest or most unusual assignment you’ve taken?

A: I wouldn't say it was strange or unusual; more like surprising, when I did my first illustration for the New York Times. It was a few years ago when Nicholas Blachman contacted me. I was super excited since I was just starting out as an illustrator and working for the NYTimes was like a dream. It was a book review about a Hungarian author's book, which I read in two days. The funny thing was that the book was about a boy growing up in Transylvania, so it was like reading about my childhood. 

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days

From the series “Firsts”: portraits of the first African American basketball player and football player.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

Zakhar Prilepin's novel, Sankya.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Silk screen printing.

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: I’ve had my best ideas just sitting in parks and wandering around.

Q: What was the painting or drawing or film that most affected your approach to art? 

A: Probably when I got to know Egon Schiele's work in general.

Q: If you could be anywhere but where you are now, where would that be?

A: Somewhere on a beach with my girlfriend.

Q: What advice would you give a young artist about applying to an art school or college?

The Monk (self-promotion piece)

A: I don’t believe that much in schools. You always have to keep in mind that teachers won’t build a career for you, you have to do it yourself. Keep your eyes open on the world. Experiment as much as you can and find the medium that you feel the most comfortable with.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: There is a Hungarian dessert called Mákosguba which is sweet white bread with poppy seeds boiled in milk with butter. So I’ll have that and some whiskey. 

Left: Ballerina (included in Society of Illustrators 2015 Annual exhibition); right: Billboard Girl.

Lehel Kovács is a Transylvanian-born Hungarian illustrator based in Budapest. With a window-dresser degree and a graphic designer past, Lehel's illustration are eye-catching, colorful and joyful, where his hand-drawn line works are usually combined with digitally created colors. He also makes screen prints.


instagram: @le_hell


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