The Q&A: Adolfo Valle

By Peggy Roalf   Monday January 22, 2018

Q: Originally from [where?] what are some of your favorite things about living and working in [your current locale]?

A: I'm a Long Island-based illustrator whose heritage is Colombia, South America. Both my parents are immigrants from the 1960's. I have to admit that I've never made a pilgrimage to my parent's hometown or anything like that. I've been happy enough to live in the New York City area and Long Island all my life. The beach, the restaurants and the towns between Nassau County and Riverhead are fabulous. Not to mention the Fire Island National Seashore.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: When I first got into the arts I wanted to draw comic books for a living. I'd draw my own stories and those my friends wrote. I'd spend hours reworking Jack Kirby and John Byrne poses from the Marvel universe. But I really gravitated towards doing the "covers" of the stories, and posters. I would create characters and then spend time researching a group shot on these big 30x40 poster boards. Everything was done in ink and Design markers.


During this time I had a sketchbook handy at all times. 'Blackbooks' were everywhere then. I had one when I started as a graphic design major at SVA but by the time I graduated 3 years later I didn't carry one around with me anymore. I was still creating early sketches and color compositions on paper though. Then, when I started working at Newsweek magazine as an art director, the sketchbook vanished altogether. I was working primarily with verbal ideas, photos and professional illustrators. There was simply no need for it.

Nowadays, I have a few small sketchpads that I use to draw out compositions and thumbnails. This is what I send to clients when trying to pitch ideas. After ideas are chosen I use my camera to get photo references. Once past that stage I go to my trusty computer for 90% of the final. I'll print things out and make modifications by hand if needed, but that's about it.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: My digital camera connector! By far! I need to be able to connect my camera and download my photo references into the Mac. This starts the finishing process for me. 

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

A: If you held a gun to my head and asked me to pinpoint a moment, I would say that it occurs when I've attempted to add two or more different elements I think might be interesting and they just don't work. They don't add anything to the impact of the piece. Then a little bell goes off in my head that tells me “This is done. I can't do anything more here.” I’ll stop trying to add things then and walk away from it. If I feel good when I see it again then I know it’s time to send it.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: I was huge on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read it multiple times. I loved the idea of a no-one being involved in great events. 

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

A:  I've read a lot of awesome books lately but none has been more affecting than The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. It struck me deep down, in between my breaths. I also have to mention one of my favorite books ever, The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington. That's another one that I carry with me in my essence. 

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

A: Does photography count? I love the photographic image. I think I might be a closet photographer. I really should try to collage a lot more. If not, it has to be ink. I've played around recently with Walnut ink. I love the way it becomes translucent and multilayered. So much fun to my eyes.

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: Natural lighting. I'm always on the lookout for how light shows me something. If I can, I'll take a picture. When I'm working I have to be able to see outside. My eyes look out the window and something might be happening in the leaves and the shadows or along the telephone pole, a car roof, anywhere at all and I'll say "man I need to try and recreate that somewhere."

I was reading something once while at SVA.... It went something like "Everything is naturally dark. You can only see something because light shows it to you.”  Afterwards I was a kid all a-flutter with eye-popping revelation! If it wasn't for light you wouldn't know shape or color or form. Sounds kind of simple but in fact it's the essence of being able to create anything. Once an artist understands that he/she is in charge of the light, therefore, they’re in charge of how and what the viewer sees, they come into power. This understanding is everything.

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

A: As above. It was directors like Hitchcock and Frank Capra and David Lean. Amed with their revelations in film I became a much more graphic person. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention my time at Newsweek. As AD of the covers of Newsweek International I assigned a ton of work to artists such as Jon Berkeley, Andy Martin and Jacob Thomas. It was looking at how much creative opportunity they had that most inspired me to return to my first love: illustration. 

Then one day I had lunch with Jacob Thomas and afterwards he took me over to his studio. He he showed me how he transferred his sketches to his computer and tweaked the work. Then I said “I can't draw like you, I'm afraid.” and he said something like “illustration and drawing don't have to be the same, it's all about your ideas!” He told me to stop trying to be my preconceived idea of an artist and just express myself in the way I can….I once sent him a Yoda image with Jake's trademark red beard on him. Jake was my Yoda, for sure...My afternoon spent with him changed how I approached illustration. I was like, “Dammit, I can do this in my own way!” It took me a few years to find my visual voice after that but I was pointed in the right direction.

Q: What was the strangest/most interesting assignment you've taken that has an important impact on your practice, and what changed through the process?

A: In 2015 I did a piece for the New Republic on the Internet of Things which was this idea that everything you purchased for your home in the modern era had some sort of access to the internet. This internet access also made the item a vulnerability to your home…. One of the ideas floated around by the editors was that someone could possibly use your internet-connected toaster to steal your identity. I worked that up and found the story to be quite interesting, so it led to a huge amount of thumbnail sketches on the subject. It was really a great visual playground for me. Most importantly, it's where I really started to play with the dot patterns that, within a year, changed the look of my work. I can look back now and see a “before” and “after” at that point in time.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Funny. I haven't really considered such a thing but my wife is a wonderful Thanksgiving cook! She has this whole bacon wrapped Turkey with ground beef and pork stuffing that is to die for. I'd have that any day of my life, including my last!


Adolfo Valle is a graduate of SVA in NY. (BFA in Graphic Design, 1997). After graduating he cut his editorial design teeth at Newsweek Magazine as the cover art director of Newsweek International for nine years. He's currently an illustration gun for hire. Clients include The Boston Globe, NPR, New Republic, NY Observer, Shot Business, Brunswick Review and others. During his travels he's also served as a jury member for the Society of Illustrators 53rd Annual of American Illustration and he's taught classes in a wide variety of design categories, including: Graphic Design, Typography, Advertising, Digital Illustration and Visual Communication at Farmingdale SUNY, Kingsborough CUNY and New Jersey City University. 
instagram: @valleillustration
Email: / 516 360 7654 

Agent: Ella Lupo, Purple Rain Illustrators:


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