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Illustrator Profile - Luci Gutierrez: "Don't be afraid of failure. It's part of the creative process"

By Robert Newman   Thursday April 27, 2017

Luci Gutierrez is a Barcelona-based illustrator. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and most recently on the cover of The New Yorker (the March 27, 2017 issue). She cites 60s illustrators and Polish posters as influences, and it shows in her bold, graphic work that is simple in execution but rich with meaning. Gutierrez created a book about learning English, called English Is Not Easy, that has been published in 10 countries.

MY LIFE:
I live in Barcelona. I've been working as an illustrator for 15 years. I'm also a board member of the Association of Illustrators of Catalonia.

My father worked as a designer—that was before the arrival of the computer. He worked in a company but had a studio at home and plenty of art supplies that I was not supposed to touch. I was so fascinated by them that I couldn't hold myself back from spoiling them.

I used to say that I wanted to be a computer illustrator when I grew up after seeing an 8-bit-animation commercial on TV. I even enrolled in a computer-programming course when I was eight years old, but I only used it so I could play around with videogames.

I used to draw and handcraft a lot. I wasn't a particularly brilliant student in high school; I would spend the afternoons drawing when I was supposed to do homework. Then I went to an art school and fortunately my grades changed. When I had to choose a specialization, I discarded illustration because I wasn’t very good at drawing and I ended up studying Audiovisual Production. But that wasn’t my thing and as I kept drawing in my free time I realized that I had to give illustration a try. I signed up at Escola Massana, a well-known school for its teaching programs in illustration. I had no idea what illustration was about. It never came to mind that there were concepts behind illustrations; I just wanted to learn the techniques to do nice drawings. And it took me a year to discover this.

I feel very lucky for having had such great teachers as Pep Montserrat, Arnal Ballester and Daniel Sesé—all of them great illustrators, too. I think I wouldn’t understand illustration the way I do if I hadn’t had them as teachers.

MY WORKSPACE:
I work at home, which I love. The building has a lot of workspaces shared by animators, designers and also illustrators. I need privacy, so I feel more comfortable working alone; anyway I have a big ability to isolate myself. I have a studio with a drawing desk in front of big windows and another table with the computer forming an L shape. For me, that’s the easiest way to work so I can change easily from one desk to another. I often get bored being in front of the desk, so I may choose to sit on the floor to draw. I also often like to work in the outdoor seating area of a bar.


HOW I MAKE MY ILLUSTRATIONS:

I spend most of the time on the process of concepts. Once I get them, I have the feeling that the work is almost done; I only have to tie it all together. For sketches, I may do them with a pencil or digital pen. For the final art, I work in digital with a pen display, using a Photoshop brush, which is quite similar to the analog way.

Also I spend a lot of time drawing in my sketchbook, I like to do it with no purpose. Actually I need it—it’s like having a conversation with myself. Many ideas I use for illustrations come from this way of working.

MY FIRST BIG BREAK:
Ten years ago, I asked for a loan and I took a break from work in order to spend six months in New York. I just wanted to live in a new place by myself and I also wanted to take advantage of the trip to learn English. New York seemed exciting; I hadn't been there before. I spent the days going to English classes, walking around and drawing in my sketchbook. I didn’t have any expectations about work. But as I was there I thought I could try and contact illustrator agents. Then I met the wonderful agent Kate Larkworthy and I started to work with her, mainly for American magazines and newspapers, and still do to this day. That changed my career a lot.

Also, as my English wasn’t getting better, I had this idea of doing a book about learning English as a language guide for myself with my notes from the classes and the drawings I made on the streets of NYC. The book is English Is Not Easy, a mix between a guide to the language and a cartoon book, which has surprisingly been published in more than 10 countries and also in the U.S. So in the end, I made the most of that trip.


MY MAJOR INFLUENCES:

I have a series of books I inherited from my father that influenced me a lot in my early years as an illustrator. These books are the Swiss Graphis Annuals from the 60s that have plenty of Polish posters and some of the featured artists are Milton Glaser, Savignac, Heinz Edelmann, Andre François, Seymour Chwast, Tomi Ungerer, and Pla-Narbona.

In a different line of work, I love Edward Gorey, Roland Topor, Sempé and Steinberg and I think somehow this may be reflected in my work.

MY MOST ADMIRED CREATIVE PERSON:
I don’t really like making rankings. I admire people who are honest in their work and also brave, create a particular universe, have sense of humor, and are not corny. The artists I mentioned above have all these qualities.

MY CREATIVE INSPIRATION:
Going out on the street and observing people, even though it may sound creepy. Also, lately, when I want to take a short break while working, I spend some time surfing on Pinterest. It’s a great tool to find old graphic stuff.

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF WORKING ALONE:
Making decisions. In the creative process you have to decide constantly what’s the best way to develop something, which concept is better among the ones you’ve got, what colors, composition, everything. And often, you don’t have enough perspective to judge.


A MEMORABLE ASSIGNMENT FROM THE PAST YEAR:

I’m quite proud of this book cover I did for El Cuarto de las Maravillas/Turner, a Spanish publishing house. The publisher, Diana Hernández, asked me to do something astonishing, which was kind of frightening because it meant that her expectations were very high and therefore there was a great possibility of failure. I wish I could do amazing pieces by only wishing it. Luckily she was happy with the result.

And there was this assignment for The New Yorker, with the art director Chris Curry, that I really enjoy: the spot series. The spots are quite small and are spread through the magazine; a concept that I like. Last year I did one series for the Anniversary issue, another one about April showers, and a third one for the Style issue.

DREAM ASSIGNMENT:
My dream assignment came true with a cover for The New Yorker. I’m going to have to figure out another one. I think it could be something that would push me to work in a different way like big format or 3D, and it should be done with creative freedom and no rush.


MY FAVORITE ART DIRECTOR:

I enjoy working with Naomi Usher. She usually appears with projects with themes that are interesting to play with such as a Gala invitation about the 80s, another Gala invitation for Performance Space 122, this brochure for Bent On Learning which is an organization that offers instruction in yoga in public schools and my last collaboration with her, the image for a play of Soho Rep. I think we understand each other regarding work and her designs make the most of the illustrations.

SOME OF MY FAVORITE ILLUSTRATORS:
Arnal Ballester for his ability to switch things up, his irony and his brilliant drawing and impressive graphic.
Tomi Ungerer for his audacity and his sensibility besides his strong expressive images.
Glen Baxter for his delicious sense of humor.

OTHER WORK:
I try to save some time to work on personal projects like the book I mentioned before, English Is Not Easy, or another book I’m working on right now or also this series of illustrations called Making Friends that I started some time ago for an exhibition.

I also do short pieces of animation as well as doing illustrations for animations like this mapping, a collaboration with some illustrators from Barcelona and Stockholm under the art direction by Nueve Ojos, that was projected on the buildings of the city halls of both cities.


HOW I STAY CURRENT:

I think my work has evolved through the years, but it hasn’t been premeditated or with the purpose of finding new clients. I’ve updated my skills when it has been necessary for a specific job. For example, these days I’m learning how to animate with Photoshop because I need it for an assignment of a GIF I’m working on; or I learned how to use InDesign when I wanted to do a book layout by myself.

HOW I PROMOTE MYSELF:
I’m not a good example of self-promotion. Besides entering into competitions, I do not update my Facebook page or website as much as I should and I don’t do any kind of mailing. Fortunately my agent deals with the promotion. We sometimes do postcards or other printed stuff to send to art directors.

ADVICE FOR SOMEONE STARTING OUT:
Listen to Milton Glaser’s wise words about why we shouldn’t be afraid of failure because it’s part of the creative process in order to make progress.

See more Luci Gutierrez illustrations, new work and updates:
Luci Gutierrez website
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