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Illustrator Profile - Pablo Amargo: "I live every project with the utmost intensity"

By Robert Newman   Thursday March 17, 2016

Pablo Amargo is an illustrator living in Northern Spain who creates books and posters, and is a frequent contributor to numerous editorial publications. An ongoing series of illustrated books and graphic posters have been a remarkable showcase for his smart, sedate style. Amargo creates his simple, elegant illustrations with a mix of Freehand and Photoshop. He is passionate about his work—he says, “Illustration is not only a business, it is an attitude towards life.”

MY LIFE:
I live in Oviedo, a city located in the Northern part of Spain. The city is surrounded by the sea, high mountains and humid lush forests. Oviedo is very culturally diverse. It is the only city that has a sculpture in homage to Woody Allen.

A few months after completing my studies in the fine arts I started to publish my own illustrations and since that time I have devoted my career exclusively to illustration. At the beginning I focused all my energy on literature and illustrated books. Some books of mine received prizes and major recognition in different countries. Today, while working on books, I also work on editorial projects and poster design.

I have been represented by Purple Rain IllustratorsElla Lupo—for the past three years in the United States. Ella invited me to be part of her agency, when she was founding it, and I have been represented by her since then.

MY WORKSPACE:
I live in a fairly special duplex, in the attic of a building. I work on the upper floor, in a rather cubist study. It’s a place where several roofs of other houses come together, so the ceiling is very high and has many slopes and heights. Next to my drawing board I have an enormous triangular window, which allows for a great light, although I like to work by electric-powered light during the day. I spend half my life in this study and it is an indisputable part of my life.

HOW I MAKE MY ILLUSTRATIONS:
I spend most of the time with my sketchbooks, which are Moleskine notebooks of different sizes. I only work with a simple pencil and an eraser. I am sketching 80% of the time, trying to find an original idea. I have many notebooks with ideas that were published in magazines or in books, but there are also many others that no one has seen. Ideas are born often without an assignment; they just simply arise. When I like some of those pencil drawings, I complete them with the computer. I work with an old program, Freehand, as well as Photoshop. I’m always trying to make my ideas clearly understood—it is important for me that my drawings are simple and fresh. My ultimate goal is create images that are as intelligent and elegant as possible.

MY FIRST BIG BREAK:
At the beginning of my career, I illustrated mainly educational books for schools: literature, languages, music... but  I wanted to do something different. For a year I worked on a new type of illustration. In 1999 I published a book titled Not All Cows Are Alike, which turned out to be different from everything that was being done at the time and was a success. Not All Cows Are Alike was published in many countries, including Switzerland, Venezuela, France, Spain and Brazil...I even found pirated editions in Japan. This book allowed me to travel a lot, it won awards in different countries, and opened the door to new jobs.

MY INFLUENCES:
The school of thought of the first pictorial avant garde has influenced me greatly. It was a time when art stopped worrying about the world that surrounded it and began to look at itself, and created a new kind of beauty.

I have read a lot about Matisse; I like his paper cut-outs a lot. I have also read many Picasso biographies. I find that his drawings in their different stages are full of lessons. I also like the work of Seurat—his characters are mysterious, without thoughts or emotions. I believe in the spirit of the Bauhaus—going to the root of the problem to find new conceptual solutions. I like sculpture, including work from Brancusi, Chillida and Henry Moore. And also logically Saul Steinberg, for the way that he reflected on the possibilities of representation in illustration.

MY MOST ADMIRED CREATIVE PERSON:
I like Erik Satie. I think he sums up the spirit of the avant-garde: creativity, boldness, humor, authenticity, solitude, tenacity and mystery.

MY CREATIVE INSPIRATION:
I like to draw from life and also from photographs. I’ve developed a love for the forms of things, for the external appearance of objects, animals, people and their faces. Also, I focus attention on people's customs. In the movies and TV series I can see a wide range of situations in other cities and cultures.

I like classical and contemporary film directors like Ettore Scola, Jacques Tati, Lars Von Trier, Harold Lloyd, Tarantino, Woody Allen... I like series like the Sopranos, Mad Men and many other mainly North American ones. Every year I travel to other countries and cities and I watch in detail the life of the people, architecture and streets.

When I illustrate, those forms and human habits come to my pencil synthesized and then I work on them in search of a poetic sense.

A MEMORABLE ASSIGNMENT FROM THE PAST YEAR:
Last year I illustrated and designed a performing arts poster Paris, Quartier D' été, advertising theaters and public performance places in Paris. The working process was wonderful; the client was delighted and excited about my proposals and the poster was a success. In August I was invited to spend a few days in Paris and I was very happy to see the poster all over the Paris streets. This poster design won many awards and it was also was selected by the Society of Illustrators in their annual exhibition and the traveling show. This year I illustrated and designed  the subsequent edition for 2015.

DREAM ASSIGNMENT:
It may seem Buddhist, but I live every project with the utmost intensity, as if it were the last and most important one. I stay so focused on each project that I don’t dream anything specific about the future.


MY FAVORITE ART DIRECTOR:
In the United States I enjoy creating spot Illustrations for The New Yorker. Each time I illustrate a set of eight interrelated, simple, ingenious, black and white images. The New Yorker is a publication that I have always admired. The art director, Chris Curry gives me total artistic freedom. I send her sketches, and finalize the drawings of the series that she chooses. That is very important to me because I always put a lot of creative thought into the meaning of my images. It is the way in which I have always worked in Europe and although I understand that there are other ways of working, in my case I am only able to do so in this way—creating with freedom.

SOME OF MY FAVORITE ILLUSTRATORS:
I like a lot the graphic humorists. They are admirable, they are always looking for clever ideas. I like Quino in Argentina and Sempéin France. Their works are very ironic, charming and very well-drawn. They have managed to maintain a very high level of intelligence and consistency over many years of publishing.

HOW I STAY CURRENT:
In my opinion if you want to do honest work, you should not be worried about following the current trends of the market but indicate to the market where are those trends are and be innovative.

HOW I PROMOTE MYSELF:
I am not a good example for self promotion. In Europe I do not do any kind of promotion. My only tool is my website, which I update regularly, but I don't have any social network, I do not send emails, postcards or anything like that. I don’t like to associate myself with the noise of the networks; my pictures speak of silence. Clients who casually come to my website and like what they see, give me assignments. The awards have helped me; they are a kind of quality rating and I do appreciate them. I have won several awards such as the Gold European Design Awards in Finland and the Picture Book in Korea. In Spain I received the National Prize of Illustration, which is the most important award.

In the United States I trust my agent, Ella Lupo with the promotional work. We send out postcards, e-mails and participate in competitions. Since 2013 I have been featured in the Communication Arts annuals, American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators. This year I was awarded a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators in New York.

ADVICE FOR SOMEONE STARTING OUT:
It is important to go step by step, in a manner consistent and firm, being honest, sincere with yourself and bold. This profession is not only a business, it is an attitude towards life.

See more Pablo Amargo illustrations, new work, and updates:
Pablo Amargo website
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