The DART Interview: Vlad Alvarez

By Peggy Roalf   Friday September 20, 2019

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the pencil or the brush?

Vlad Alvarezz: The pencil. My work is finished digitally, but everything starts with a tight sketch, and the pencil has always been my tool of choice for preliminary ideas and sketches. A lot of times I like to do finished drawings from my sketches to keep a physical version of the art.

PR: Please describe your work process—is most of your work done directly, or do you also use digital media? 

VA: Even though al my sketches are done with pencil, the rest of the process is done digitally in Photoshop. I do create some textures by hand which I then edit digitally to use in my illustrations. 

When I was in art school I started doing my illustration work in watercolors, which I loved; but it was time consuming and gave me not much room for making changes or corrections. This is when I started working digitally, and being a graphic design student at the time, it worked to my advantage because I already knew my way around Photoshop. 

In the end this helped me greatly as I was able to put both a graphic design and an illustration portfolio together. It continues today, as I am a full-time graphic designer by day and an illustrator by night. Working digitally allows me to work faster to meet deadlines. But I’d love to go back to traditional media sometime, particularly for personal work.  

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, culture in general—that you draw from in your wor

VA: I get inspiration from all those things, and I think it changes constantly. Sometimes I get inspired by traveling and experiencing whatever I find at that particular location, whether it is nature, people or the place itself.

I’ve always been a fan of the surrealists, and pop surrealism. This style sometimes finds its way into my own work. I also like old religious art of all periods/styles, vintage art, vintage toys, hand-drawn typography, etc. Lastly, I think my graphic design background is reflected in my illustration work and vice versa.

PR: I noticed that you gravitate towards birds and other strange creatures as subjects for illustration. Can you tell the readers what these somewhat indecipherable characters offer up as storytelling devices?

VA: As an illustrator who works on a lot of editorial assignments, I use devices such as animals as metaphors to add interest and visual appeal to illustrations that sometimes are based on not-so-interesting subjects. I like to incorporate elements of nature into my work whenever possible and birds are definitely a favorite. 

PR: Do you keep a sketchbook? If so, how does that contribute to your work process? If yes, does this figure in with your travels?

VA: I do keep a couple of sketchbooks, but I prefer to work on loose drawing/sketching paper and create more tightly developed drawings rather than loose sketches in a book. Most of the time I try to figure out a concept in my head before I start to work on it on paper. 

PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work?

VA: I live in West Chester, Pennsylvania. There are several art galleries in town that showcase local art as well as presenting galleries walks, studio visits, etc. In general the town is filled with a very active art community that I enjoy and which keeps me stimulated. Additionally, Philadelphia is only about 40 minutes away with several museums and many other places of interest that I like to visit.

PR: Please describe your workspace and how it contributes to the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone.

VA: I work in a room in my home that serves as my studio. It has plenty of light during the day but being that I do most of my illustration work at night I keep it brightly lit at night as well. The good thing is that in the evenings there are already other people at home so I am not always working alone like a lot of other illustrators might. When everyone else is either not home or asleep, my cat Luna keeps me company in the studio. 


PR: What kind of breaks do you take when working to a deadline? 

VA: My other passion/hobby; I love driving and working on cars. Whenever I need a break I go in my garage and tinker with my cars. I have a long-term project car that lets me completely disconnect from everything else when working on it or driving it.

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

VA: I usually like to put it away for a day or two, if the deadline permits, and then come back to see it with a fresh eye. I can then tell if it needs any adjustments. 

PR: Do you use photographic reference materials very much? If yes, how do you avoid the pitfalls that can arise when working from reference? 

VA: I do use photos for reference sometimes, usually for resolving human figure poses/perspectives that can be tricky. I also have reference books just for this purpose. But even then I normally change things a bit as not to follow a reference image too closely. I stylize my work quite a bit as well so a lot of times the reference is only used very loosely.

PR: What advice would you give to young artists just starting out about creating a brand for themselves to get ‘eyes’ on their work?

VA: I’m sure young artists hear this a lot but being yourself in your art instead of following popular trends and styles is crucial.  I think it’s important to do the art that you love, and this reflects in the work and people will notice. Having said that, there will always be time to explore and incorporate elements from different sources as you develop your art. 

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment? 

VA: After working on mostly editorial projects which I love, I would like to do more publishing work such as book covers, and also projects in advertising.

Vlad was born and raised in El Salvador, Central America. 
In 1992, he came to the U. S. and lived in Los Angeles before moving to Pennsylvania.  He attended Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and graduated in 2005 with a BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration.

IS: I am pretty happy working on my own material. However, I think it would be interest
ing to create artwork for musicians I admire, from posters to album covers or even videos.

Ignacio Serrano is an illustrator and graphic designer from Madrid, currently based in New York. He has studied Fine Arts in Madrid and Illustration and Typography in Kassel, Germany, where he graduated with a BFA.

After receiving a Fulbright grant in 2015, he graduated with an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts two years later.  

Since summer 2017, he has been working as a graphic designer and studio manager for legendary designer Milton Glaser, as well as a freelance illustrator. 
His professional experience as a graphic designer includes clients such as IBM, Oscar Marine, Volkswagen, or Mirko Ilic, among many others. 
His illustrations have been recognized by Latin-American Illustration, Communication Arts, 3x3 Magazine and Creative Quarterly, among others.


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