I remember drawing a big T-Rex using lots of color markers and also something with ninja turtles, but my childhood memories are very blurry. I only know that I spent all my spare time drawing around, quite randomly, at least until I got my first Sega Mega Drive. From then on it gradually went down. I neither went to art school nor took any special courses, because someone told my mum that it was better for me to find my own path. It took me very long. In secondary school I didn’t draw anymore. Sometimes I’d made caricatures of my classmates but that was it. Later I got a degree in Tourism Management. All that happened in my hometown, Zaragoza, in Spain.
I moved to Berlin in autumn 2004. It was supposed to be a one-year thing, to learn some German, because I was supposed to work in tourism sometime, which I never ended up doing. Instead I got a job as a waiter, which I also hated, and partied hard. I had no further plans, got depressed and started drawing again. Then I met some people who were studying Communications Design and wanted to become illustrators. I was 23 years old and it was my first encounter with design students, ever, and also the first time I considered creative work as an option for myself. They told me they were about to move together and had a free room. I got onboard.
One and a half years later I applied for Communications Design at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences and got accepted. Later on I switched to the Berlin University of the Arts, Illustration Class, where I finished my studies.
I had inherited some money years before and thought I could afford to take it slow in the beginning. Also, I was in a very political stage of my life at that time. I had entered a left wing political party months before, activism took a lot of my time and energy, and I didn’t want that to change, at least not immediately. I decided I would try to get some assignments from left wing newspapers for my portfolio and see how things develop from there.
But that plan didn’t work out because about one month after my graduation somebody broke into our co-working space and stole all the computers, Wacoms, external hard discs and whatever they found that had a cable attached. We had no robbery insurance, I had no cloud storage. Big drama.
I had just lost all my files and needed new hardware urgently. With the inherited money I bought a new and better computer and a new and better graphic tablet. It was expensive and also the end of my cozy career start. After that I was in a hurry. I had to quit activism and fully concentrate on getting more assignments, making my portfolio grow and earn money. My first editorial assignments were mostly poorly paid, which I accepted because I sort of felt I was doing politics through my illustrations. Most of my little income came from low-fi graphic design jobs. Hard times followed – about one and a half years of precarious freelancing, lots of stress and unanswered emails, very little social life and bad backaches. Easily the worst months of my life.
I had probably never made it without that inheritance, which is a thought I find unpleasant. At some point I had spent almost all of my money and was very worried, but my website was good enough. I showed it around and got some exposure. Then I submitted my portfolio to bigger design websites and got even more exposure. Then things started to work and now I’m quite happy and have an acceptable work-life balance.
Right now I’m super busy with two big editorial projects and things are rather stressful, so I’m trying to be disciplined. I wake up at 8 o’clock. Then I shower, have breakfast, check the news and walk the dog, not necessarily in that order. At 10am I should be sitting at my desk, at home, where I work. I check social media, emails and my schedule. Normally, I tend to procrastinate a little in the morning, but right now I’m very busy so I just don’t. I take a break somewhere between noon and 2pm to have lunch and go out with the dog again. Then I go back to my desk, let’s say at 2 or 3 pm and work until 6pm or 7pm, often longer. Before I quit working, I check social media and emails one last time.
Then, ideally, everything is done and my girlfriend has also finished her work and we still have some time to hang out, cook something, go watch a movie, meet friends. Disconnect. That’s not always the case. Occasionally I have to pull an all-nighter. I try to go to bed at around midnight.
I imitated others until I didn’t need to do it any more. I tried to keep track of what was being published in the places I wanted to see my work in the future. I always checked if the stuff I was drawing would eventually fit in there. Then I started getting assignments and my style started to change by itself and got more versatile because I had to adapt to different topics, targets, media, etc. I also had to learn to work faster due to super tight deadlines. I started using Instagram, discovered a lot of brilliant people and now input comes from everyone, everyday, which is definitely affecting things. This process never ends, I suppose.
Someone with a lot of talent and experience in the job told me once, in a solemn tone: "It’s not the good ones who make it, but the hardest ones." I don’t agree with the statement because I believe the super talented people have really good chances to make it. However, I was being warned: for the rest of us mortals this job can be rough, especially if your means are scarce. You might end up working a lot of hours for very little money or even for free, too often. It can be like that just for the first couple of months or for a couple of years. It can be very frustrating and even unhealthy. Be ready for it.
Five illustrators, in no particular order:
Ruo Han Wang
The best year of my life.