December 5, 2014

Bringing Together The Organic & Abstract: with Alexis Marcou

Interview with Illustrator Alexis Marcou

Bringing Together The Organic & Abstract

by Kenneth Shinabery

Discovering and learning more about amazing artists is a real pleasure.  As soon as I saw Alexis Marcou’s artwork I was immediately intrigued by how he weaves together both organic and geometric shapes. The professional illustrator has the keen ability to bring together not only various forms of traditional media (such as ink, graphite, and watercolor), but he also takes his imagery to the next step by introducing digital elements.  Attracting big clients such as Nike, Cisco or HP, Alexis has truly mastered his craft.

This interview explores Alexis' unique style and the process that lays the foundation of his creations.

How did you acquire your skills?  Did you have special training?

I acquired my skills gradually and I am still working to improve them. I never had any special training. We used to have an art class at school, but I never paid any attention to it due to the de-motivating environment. I always had the lowest marks in art at school.

I cultivated my skills through watching tutorials, buying art books but mainly by practicing, making mistakes and learning from them. I always believed that it’s better to discover things on your own than by having someone show you the quick way of doing things. For example, I was never shown how to do shadowing with a pencil, and I probably still do it the ‘wrong’ way for some.

What artists or illustrators did you find inspiring and why?

Growing up I was influenced by films, music and video games. I can’t say I knew much about other artists or illustrators back then. One illustrator I have always admired is Yoji Shinkawa. I always liked the fact that he left gaps in his strokes and let you fill up the rest with your imagination. Also he has a very unique sketchy style that I always appreciated. I brought a book back in  2005 called “Illustration Now” by Julius Wiedemann and realized that there are many talented illustrators out there.

How would you define your style?  What makes your artwork unique and how has it evolved over the years?

I guess you could describe my work style as being fragmented and with many straight lines. I always add something new to my projects but this is not always visible. It’s more about the way I do things rather than how I make things look. For example I have designed about 20 skis for Atomic and every single ski has a different feel to it. The reason behind this is because I created them using a different process for each one of them.

Also I avoid using filters and effects in Photoshop, I make them from scratch and that takes time. In one of the skis I found a way of adding Newton Rings and blending them with graphite powder. You will see what I mean once Atomic allows me to publish this ski. So in some respect, I believe my work is experimental without being unfamiliar.

How did you find your own style? What happened until the moment you sat back and thought, "Yes, that's me".

I found my style very gradually by experimenting with new mediums and being influenced and inspired by many environmental factors so I can’t say I ever had a ‘Yes, that’s me’ moment. Examples of this include a few of my older designs which have influences from a video game called “Virtual Fighter” by Sega. I always liked the fact that the characters of the game were   ‘polygonized’. Probably the Panda illustration I did back in 2008 was the biggest leap from what I was used to drawing until now. My aim on that one was to imagine the referenced image of the panda polygonized as if I’d designed it on an old 3d program with very few polygons.

You utilize photography as a visual aid when creating a piece? How does photography play a role in your creation? Are there any specific photographers that you find to be inspirational? 

Photography plays a big role in my work. It’s almost everywhere from the research stage before the illustration begins, to the making of a design, to even the presentation of the final project.

For example in many cases I drop small pieces of photographs I have taken to create something like a collage to be used in my work at a later stage. I also take a lot of blurry photographs and use them as screen filters for my work and finally I take photos to present my final output and show the process. I use my Camera more often than I draw.

You use a mix of traditional art materials and digital tools. What tools do you use? 

I use pencils mostly ranging from 9B to 9H. I make graphite powder by mixing different degrees of pencils and then work with make-up brushes to create smooth shadows. I often work with blending stumps and tortillions for smudging. I work with watercolors very often and blend them with water-soluble pencils. In some cases, I use ink in my work to get the darkest values. I often also use a golden divider to do measurements. The type of paper I use is essential to me. After experimenting with many types of paper I found that the best for me is Bristol Paper. It’s super white and it works well with Photoshop when scanning it.

I always wear a glove when I draw. I am left handed so I wear a smudge guard and a piece of glove I had made from tights on my left hand and I wear a Mueller wrist band on by right arm. You will also notice in some photos that I wear hypoallergenic tape on my fingertips this is because I need to hold the paper with my fingertips and it’s to avoid creating fingerprints. When I am working with makeup brushes it’s important not to leave any fingerprints on the paper before and this is the reason I use this tape.

As far as digital tools I work on a Mac that is connected to 2 Eizo Flexiscan monitors. I back up my work many times over and over. I work on Adobe Photoshop with the Wacom tablet on a daily basis. I have had many scanners in the past and I have found that the Epson Perfection V700 is a really good scanner.

How would you describe your workspace?

My workspace is about 25 square meters. It looks very empty considering how many things I have. I like to keep things in draws and cabinets. If you come in my workspace you won’t even find one pencil on a visible surface although there are about 2000 of them hidden away ready to be used. I like to sharpen them often because I like to pick it up and start immediately. I also like the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. My desk is fairly big and all the monitors are on the wall so they don’t distract me while I am drawing. I find it best to work with a led light panel, which is dim-amble.

Which Wacom products do you work with? And how have they helped your creative process?

I work with an Intuos 5 touch. Wacom products have played an important role in my designs due to the fact that I grew up with these products. I bought my first Wacom product back in 1998. The more I work on a Wacom the better I get which means that it’s not a gadget or some trend it’s a good tool like a pencil.

How has in your opinion the use of tablets affected not only your art, but also the industry?

Tablets have helped enhance my work and given my designs a digital touch. The most important thing about tablets in my opinion is the fact that they are so “transparent” they don’t get in the way of your work.

What project in your Behance Portfolio (Wacom Gallery) is your favorite and why?

My favorite project in my Behance Portfolio (Wacom Galley) is probably the “BMW STAND” because I used my Wacom tablet for this one a lot more often than any other project. On this project you might have noticed that all the colorful strokes are not made with the use of just traditional markers or a Wacom tablet. They begin or end with traditional color markers and in between they are digitally made with a Wacom tablet.

What tips would you give to an aspiring artist?

Firstly, keep experimenting with different mediums and materials. Avoid obsessing and comparing with other artists works. Doing art doesn't always mean you are having fun, its work. Practice as much as you can. Don't always follow rules and when you are unhappy with your work never get discouraged.

Another thing that I would like to stress is that art is not like racing. You can’t put art in competitions. I see this very often and it’s not good for young artists. I always avoided competitions; it always felt very primitive to me. Art is not measured by strength or speed it’s a matter of personal taste and it’s illogical to me when someone fails you in art.

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