Illustrator Profile - Maria Corte: "Enjoy and treat each work with care"

By Robert Newman   Thursday August 18, 2016

Maria Corte is an illustrator who was born and now lives and works in Barcelona, Spain. Her strikingly graphic and colorful images have appeared in magazines and newspapers around the world, most notably IL, The Washington Post, and Scientific American. Corte has also created book covers and posters, and the artwork for the kids book J Is for Jazz. She says “my illustrations are entirely digital,” but have a strong sense of soul and passion.

I was born, live and work in Barcelona. I have dedicated myself professionally to illustration since 2009, upon finishing my studies at the Escola Massana Barcelona—a long-standing arts and crafts school of great tradition.

I didn’t start out studying illustration however. On ending secondary school I studied fashion, but somewhere along the way I realized that the part that interested me the most was drawing and it was at this point that I opted for an illustration degree.  

Although I feel very much from Barcelona, I have a strong Argentinian feeling. My parents are Argentinian and they were forced to go into exile due to the military dictatorship, repression and persecution. Both of them are psychoanalysts and I am convinced that all this background, in one way or another, pours out into my illustrations.  

Like many freelancers, I have a studio at home.  I recently renovated the house to better adapt it to my needs, creating a bigger studio to make space for everything that my process of work requires. The apartment is in the popular neighborhood of Gracia, a kind of small town in the middle of the city. Luckily, I have a lot of light and will continue to do so, as the property in front is protected by law and they can never construct anything higher than this! Those who fail to take as much advantage of this light are my plants; I try to take care of them as best I can but even so, I have managed to kill a couple of cactus! I promise to keep trying though! In any case, it is a pleasure to feel that you belong to a place when you are working all day with people from distinct countries, all alone before a computer. Going down to the street and greeting the baker brings me back down to reality following nights of burning the candle at both ends, 24 hours in pajamas and slippers, etc.

My illustrations are entirely digital, although the part of sketching and planning is always by pencil and using the light table. I do many very small sketches until I come up with a few ideas that convince me and that fit compositionally. After fine-tuning these first intuitions I switch to digital and continue working. About a year ago I bought a large-scale graphics tablet (Wacom Cintiq) which allows me to trace and draw directly onto the screen. I still haven’t exploited all its possibilities but it is a very useful tool.  

In reality I have never gotten used to the vector programs and continue to use and be loyal to quite an old version of Photoshop, the CS3. I have tried to bring myself up to date but must admit that technology is not my strong suit.  

Towards the end of 2011 I kept myself going with assignments inside of Spain and collaborated sporadically with some foreign media. I was just beginning and things were not going badly, but the professional progress was slow.  Access to the big publications was very restricted. One day I noticed an advertisement for a competition that the agency represented by Richard Solomon had put online and decided to apply. It was possibly the best $100 investment of my life. I didn’t win, nor was I even a finalist. But for some reason they noticed me, some time went by, and they contacted me to represent me. Assignments quickly arrived from the United States, and continue right up to this day. The majority of my clients come from there and Italy.

I think that all of us who dedicate ourselves to any kind of artistic pursuit accumulate many influences. Cinema, literature, music, the experiences we live, are all influences that in one way or another are transferred by us to our work. In keeping with the psychoanalytical work of my parents, Freud is without a doubt one of the great influences in the way in which ideas come, the conclusions I reach and the conceptual relationships that I look for.  

Focusing on painting, I admire Fernand Leger and Robert de la Fresnaye, as well as Tarsila do Amaral and Botero. I am also fascinated by the visceralness and candor of Miró. Lately, I am enamored with the pictorial explorations of Le Corbusier, with his work Le poeme de l'Angle Droit.”  In terms of illustration, these include the fine and poetic work of Pablo Amargo and the amazing illustrations of Arnal Ballester.

I would like to bring to mind the work of Chema Madoz, who always stays with me as a reference. He brings exquisite sensibility and outstanding concepts to all his work, with an elegance and unbeatable execution. To say that Chema Madoz creates visual poetry may sound corny, but it is the one time I think I can say that without blushing. Just when you think that two concepts cannot marry to generate a new image, in arrives the work of Chema Madoz to quash this notion. 

I have to say that I don’t believe in inspiration as a concept. The flashes of talent that we call inspiration are only a stage of the creative process. The longer you work, the more possibilities you have that this stage will occur. There are times in which this point occurs with more frequency, in others, less. Indeed I would truly love that muses existed—and that person should give me their cell phone number! 
However, with that said, my library is one of my main sources of inspiration and reference. It is quite extensive thanks to my sister (an art historian and editor of related books), and my parents, who are avid readers and lovers of painting. I also love to buy books; I do it compulsively and go crazy in bookstores.   

Working for oneself is a challenge in itself. The organization, in the broad sense of the word, is fundamental: organizing hours, projects, accounting and managing to balance hours of work with a personal life can be the most important part. Any freelancer dedicates a great many hours to work in order to get ahead and we often forget that we also have to dedicate time to leisure activities and resting. The 24/7 should be avoided as much as possible. 

Without a doubt illustrating the book J is for Jazz, written by Ann Ingalls and published by Bright Connections Media. It is an alphabet introduction to jazz for kids, in which each letter represents a concept linked to the style or a very relevant historic artist. It was one of those projects which I enjoyed the most and where the work with the art director, Tom Evans, proved extremely enriching and fluid.
I would very much love to work on an animation piece: creation of characters, scenes...or the animation itself. And, since we bring up dreaming and dreaming is free: an animated feature film for adults with a patron producer with an open and creative mind.

And why not, also, a cover page for The New Yorker or for any book of my very-much admired Tom Wolfe. The genie in a bottle always granted wishes in threes...

I have been collaborating with Francesco Franchi, art director of the magazine, IL, for about three years. It is my longest working relationship and one of the projects that I enjoy the most. Francesco is a fantastic art director and his editor in chief, Cristian Rocca and all the professional graphic designers, are brilliant. The magazine takes great care of all possible elements: infography, content layout...a 10 in all aspects. 

As I commented earlier, I could compile an infinite list of illustrators whom I admire. In addition to Pablo Amargo and Noma Bar, I would like to add Magoz, an illustrator who is both colleague and friend from Barcelona who captures brilliant ideas in a simple and impactful way.

The truth of the matter is that the majority of my work is editorial and conventional with regards to formats. At the beginning of this year I carried out, in collaboration with the motion graphic studio The Others, an animation piece for the European Parliament about the prevention of the Ebola virus. It was laborious work and my first serious contact with the world of animation.

As for a format which was very unconventional, I carried out some large-size illustrations for the 150th anniversary of a French company, Novoceram. They were distinct dioramas embedded and adapted to a concrete architectural space. Each diorama recounted the most significant events in world history of the last 150 years.  This entailed a very large effort but it is always refreshing to change the format to unfamiliar things. They pose challenges from which I try to learn and then later apply in more traditional work.   

I have been lucky to have a lot of work as an illustrator in the classic sense of the word, so I honestly have not asked myself the way in which to find more unconventional clients. At times I have considered developing my own projects, but I haven’t had enough time yet to develop them.  

I try to avoid stagnating and continue learning new techniques. Due to the quantity of hours that I spend in front of the computer, I have felt the need to disconnect from the “digital” and go back to dirtying my hands. I have recently begun a serigraphy/silkscreen course and have started to paint again; I’m preparing an exhibition for this upcoming year in Barcelona.  

I’m a disaster in this aspect! Even so, I try to have my website up to date and lately I am more active on social networks. Instagram is what I feel is most suited to my profession given that it deals with the consumption of images—it’s straightforward and readily available. Many people from the sector are present. Behance has also given me great results because it is a network for professionals and is a place where you can be found and get job offers. However, it has to be said that the best cover letter is always published work.  

Work, work and more work is the most reliable advice that one can give, as well as enjoy and treat each work with care, although sometimes this may be impossible. In this way everything turns out better, just like in the kitchen. As is the case in every profession, one must be consistent, persistent and last but by no means least, patient!   

See more Maria Corte illustrations, new work, and updates:
Maria Corte website
Instagram: @mariacorte
Twitter: @wwwmariacorte


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