The DART Interview: Ignacio Serrano

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday February 19, 2020

Peggy Roalf: When did you realize that you had the ‘artist gene,’ and what caused you to choose illustration?

Ignacio Serrano: I have been inclined to draw since I was a kid. Because of my family, I grew up surrounded by comics, music, and movies, which influenced and educated my taste from a very early stage. I always wanted to replicate my favorite stories in comics, as well as in illustrations. Although it is true that some of my relatives dabbled in the arts, I think I can say that my artist gene came through practice.

PR: Looking at your Instagram, I sense that you were born with a pen in your hand. Yet you embrace a wide variety of media. Can you tell the readers how shifting between different ways of making marks and using color affects your work and process?

IS: When working on a new piece, knowing what I will create beforehand feels like a boring, sterile activity. I try to keep a balance between control and looseness in my work so that my own marks or textures tell me something new. The “provoked accident” is what keeps me engaged with an image, and what keeps my work interesting for myself.

PR: Along those lines, I noticed that you often paint directly. So if you had to choose one—and only one—medium to use for a year, what would that be, and why?

IS: Lately, I have been experimenting with acrylic paint to create textures and marks that always lead me to something unexpected, so I would choose that. Sumi Ink on paper would also be a strong candidate.

PR: Working as both an illustrator and a graphic designer, how do you manage your time in order for a design deadline to not inflect your work in illustration or painting?

IS: I work full time as a graphic designer for Milton Glaser. After work, I usually remain at the studio late into the night, painting or drawing, or even taking classes offered at the School of Visual Arts to keep up my practice. That full schedule affects my work as an illustrator but also gives me a better excuse to not procrastinate or overthink my paintings, letting me freely produce images.

PR: Do you consider yourself to be a good self-editor? 

IS: I don’t think so. I tend to include everything I believe might be useful. I am, however, learning to be more selective with my own work.

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

IS: I guess it is more like a feeling than anything else. I usually stop when I feel I can’t add anything interesting to a piece, or if I feel too tired. Sometimes though, if I push ten more minutes, some interesting elements appear, and I get a good feeling of achievement. 

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

IS: Too many to name here. Some of my favorite painters and illustrators are Frank Auerbach, Neo Rauch, Riccardo Vecchio, Andrew Wyeth, Lucian Freud, Jillian Tamaki, Moebius, Juan Gimenez, Al Parker, or Robert Weaver. I also admire the work of designers Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Bob Gill, Tom Geismar, Ivan Chermayeff and Louise Fili. Musicians would include Steve Reich, Thom Yorke, PJ Harvey, Calexico, Nina Simone, TV on the Radio, Wilco or Pink Floyd.

PR: Do you keep a sketchbook? If yes, how does that contribute to your work process?

IS: Yes, I always carry at least one sketchbook. I used to draw people on the subway or anywhere I had the opportunity. I also use thick paper sketchbooks and acrylic painting or Sumi ink to experiment. The sketchbook is great because it allows you to not care too much about the final results and focus more on the process. I also believe that a sketch is as valid as a finished painting or drawing (but that’s a whole different conversation).

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

IS: I currently live in Weehawken, New Jersey. As I like to separate my working space from my living space as much as possible, I do not spend much time around home and therefore I wouldn’t think it has any impact on my work.

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

IS: First, I have to admit that I prefer to work alone, to the point that I cannot make work if anyone is around me. That complicates things because it is difficult to find a space only for oneself here in New York City.

PR: What is your favorite activity when you take a break from the studio?

IS: Playing and recording music. I have been playing guitar since I was a kid, and I still do. It is fun and challenging, and unlike being alone at the studio to work on illustration, with music I would like to have more people around to play with. 

PR: How does teaching inform your work and process?

IS: Teaching makes you revisit everything you ever learned that you want to transmit to your students. I like to do all the exercises by myself again at least once before class, and it’s great because sometimes I forget about all the available possibilities to work with. You get to remember old processes and techniques, and also you get constantly surprised by your students and how they apply the same materials in ways you never thought possible. It is very inspiring.

PR: What advice would you give to a young illustrator struggling to find the way into a difficult assignment?

IS: Although I consider myself very lucky, when talking about art directors and assignments, one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned is to draw something that you resonate with and that is fun to draw. That doesn’t mean taking the easiest way but taking the way that is most natural to you. Try to find a balance between what the assignment is asking you to deliver, and how you would make it yours, and in a way that is most interesting to you.

I have a classical art education background. When working on a commission, I try to please the art director with ideas and sketches I believe they would like. Those sketches end up looking generic and they lack emotion. Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to get art directors who could see my potential better than me. They encouraged me to take a more personal approach and the results are always much better.

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

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.