Let´s Talk Art | being an illustrator and running your own brand with Alejandro Giraldo
Welcome to another Let’s Talk Art interview, this time Jack Woodhams spoke with illustrator and creator Alejandro Giraldo. Alejandro is an illustrator living in Colombia and has created work for numerous clients across the years, including Caller Chocolate.
In this interview, Alejandro talks about his specific style, how he set up his clothing brand Velmost and how he balances his time between his illustration jobs and running his own brand.
So, Let’s Talk Art!
Firstly, thank you for being part of the Let’s Talk Art interview series. How did you get into art and have you always drawn?
I’ve been drawing since I can remember. I never paid attention to my teachers at school, instead, I used to make cartoons of them and my classmates, so my mom signed me up in a course of classic painting. I learned how to use watercolours, oils, pencils and stuff like that, but I thought it was impossible to make a living out of making art, so, I went to high school and decided to study graphic design.
Then, I worked for a clothing company for a couple of years, earned some money and went to Barcelona to study a master degree in Art Direction. When I came back to Colombia I decided to start making my own stuff. I made some clients and started as a full-time illustrator and at the same time, I launched my own clothing company called Velmost.
You’ve built quite a following on Instagram, Facebook and also Behance. Would you say social media has been important for your career?
Yes! Almost all of my commissioned work comes from social media, mostly Instagram. The first platform I used to show my work was Flickr and I got to meet a lot of artists there. The time passed, every artist moved to Facebook and then to Instagram. The key here to have followers is, to be honest with your work that will help you to find your own voice, and, people notice that.
I don’t know what would I do without social media. It’s the easiest way to communicate with people, even if they’re not clients. I can say I can work for people from all over the world. My office is the internet. I can even move to the beach and start working from there.
Are there any artists you admire and how do they inspire you?
Yes…a lot of artists, not only related to illustration. I try to look up into different areas, such as filmmaking, writing, and music. Related to illustration, there are some Colombians that inspire me a lot: Leo Espinosa, Manifiesto79, CaliDoso, just to mention some. Their work is very different than mine, but every time I see one of their amazing pieces of art, something inside of me tells me I have to make my own stuff!
I also admire the work of Wes Anderson, his movies are so captivating, their dialogues inspire me to draw.
Tell us about your sad movie couples series. What inspired it and do you plan to continue the idea at all?
I’ve always been a fan of films, especially those exploring human relationships, so, when I see a movie that I like a lot, I know I have to pay a tribute to it, and the easiest way is by making an illustration. I love quotes, especially the romantic ones with deep meanings, so I thought It would be a nice idea to include quotes in my illustrations. The idea was to place the characters looking upfront, eyes closed, to produce an atmosphere of melancholia, something similar to the feeling I get while watching a Wes Anderson film.
The first couple I did was Samantha and Theodore from “Her” a film by Spike Jonze, this is my favorite film, so I thought it was a good idea. It wasn’t going to be a big project, just a couple of movies to illustrate, but the response of the public was amazing so it was almost impossible to stop. I ended up doing 32 couples. I tried to reach some publishers to see if they were interested in it, but heard no response. So, I’m thinking about publishing a small batch by the end of the year!
Your illustrations typically have solid line work, with little opacity or size adjustment, what led you to this style?
My first job was at a clothing company and I had to make illustrations for t-shirts. But printing has restrictions, you can only use a few colors, most colors must be flat or it would be very expensive.
It’s easier to work with a defined line instead of opacities. That led me to start working on my style (even if I wasn’t thinking about it.) With the passing of time I got rid of colors, I decided I could communicate what I wanted only with black and white. I don’t feel comfortable using colors, I don’t think they add anything to my work. I admire other artists using colors though 😉
I’ve noticed that a lot of your illustrations feature characters with their eyes closed. Other than a stylistic choice, is there a reason for it?
I started drawing characters with their eyes open an thought “something is wrong here!”. I wasn’t feeling comfortable with that, but one day I drew a character with his eyes closed and it was so perfect. I think my characters have their eyes closed because it helps me to express better what I want to communicate. Some people think my characters are sad because of that, I like their appreciation, but for me, it’s just “Nostalgia”, that’s what I want to show in every story.
But this doesn’t happen all the time, when I do commercial work I have to draw eyes open, for example, doing illustrations for newspapers.
One piece of your art that you showcase a lot and revisit is “The Captain”, what was the idea behind that piece?
I draw the Captain when I was studying in Barcelona in 2011. I was alone and kind of lost in my life, I felt fear, fear of my future, fear of my past. So I drew The Captain with the quote “Fight your Fears”.
With the passing of time I noticed that it wasn’t a regular illustration, it was a self-portrait. It means a lot to me, and people seemed to like it. After 7 years the illustration hasn’t changed, and I like it (even with his eyes open hahaha). I like to replicate the illustration on every media: stickers, tees, stencils graffiti. Also, I’ve done mashups of The Captain with some characters of the Pop Culture. By now, it’s my most recognizable piece.
Out of all the work you’ve ever created, is there a piece your particularly proud of, and why?
The Captain is my favorite piece because it’s a self-portrait, he’s what I am.
A lot of your work includes symbolism and quirky captions. In a way, you are telling stories through your art. Are there any stories or ideas you want to develop?
I don’t like to plan my illustrations, they come from personal experiences, so it’s just a matter of time that something happens in my life and I decide to make a catharsis. There are some topics I like to illustrate about, like relationships between humans: love and loss. Maybe a new relationship or an old one, maybe a movie or maybe the lyrics from a song can inspire me to create new work. I don’t like to be very literal, either. I love symbolism, and I love how people can make their own interpretation.
Coming up with and telling new stories can be difficult. How do you approach your art whilst trying to stay original?
I just try to be honest with my work, be transparent. That led me to create work with whom I feel identified. Maybe another person has done work about the same subject, or maybe someone in China made the same artwork and that’s normal. We all have access to the internet so the ideas can repeat, but to be honest, I don’t care, I just want to express myself.
Also, every illustration takes a lot of time to be conceptualized, a small idea starts to grow in my head, then I add some more stuff, then more and more. When I think I’m done with the mental sketch I start to work on a paper sketch. I think that process helps me out to create original stuff.
With so much competition, being an artist in this digital age of social media can be difficult. Do you feel a certain pressure of sharing, uploading etc. Or are you happy to take some time out without posting?
Wow, I wasn’t expecting this question. I think about it all the time. I do feel the pressure of sharing, I know I have to post in order to reach clients and gain exposure and that’s sad. That makes me anxious. When I post, I start to look at how many “likes” the illustration gets, how many comments, Did people liked what I just posted? Am I a terrible artist because I only got 800 likes instead of 1500?
I must admit, when a lot of time passes without posting, I feel a rush of creating new work. Though I’m working on this, I just want to create stuff that I like regardless of the appreciation of the Internet. I would like to take a break, move to a beach, and draw all day long without posting anything.
A lot of art you do gets re-produced as stickers or pins and you have a society6 store with your art. What encouraged you to start selling your art?
When I moved to Barcelona to study, I started to look for an income, How can I get profit from my work? I found Society6, It seemed to be an honest platform. I wasn’t expecting a lot of money, but for my surprise, a lot of people from around the world started to buy my work. 6 years after I started with Society6 I can say I’m very happy, their catalogue is huge and their products are high quality.
That platform is also a way to get in touch with your fans.
What does your work process look like?
I start sketching inside my head, this part of the process takes most of the time and it’s the most difficult. I never take a pencil if the idea is not strong enough. When I feel the idea couldn’t get any better, I sketch on paper and then I finish the illustration using Photoshop (most of the times).
Your work has a great traditional ink feel to it, how do you achieve this look?
I’m a really basic digital illustrator. I only use Photoshop and the pressure brush. Every illustration is done dot by dot, so that’s how I can achieve the look of traditional ink. Also, the Wacom tablets have helped me a lot. When I started as an illustrator, I had a Wacom Graphire, then I moved to an Intuos Pro, and now I also have a Mobile Studio Pro.
You run your own clothing company, Velmost. When did you set this up?
I’ve always loved streetwear, so when I was studying graphic design I started to print my own t-shirts! I tried with 2 or 3 fashion projects but none of those worked pretty well. I needed experience, so I worked for a clothing company for 3 years, learned a lot about the fashion industry and decided it was time to create my own brand. It was in 2012 when I started with Velmost, I used to sell online, but now we just opened a store located in my hometown: Medellín.
How do you balance time between your illustration work and running your clothing company?
My main work is being a freelance illustrator. My secondary work is my brand, let’s say it’s something like a hobby where I can explore other styles and lines different than the ones I use in my personal work. So, I spend most of the time in my illustration work. When I have extra time, I spend it designing collections for my brand. But I can say, all day long I spend time within both of them, also because I’m the community manager of both! hahaha.
Given you create artwork for clothing, do you feel like your work takes a particular direction based on current fashion or do you try and stay away from mainstream fashion trends?
I have a personal illustration line, but I can’t deny I also like to stay updated with what’s happening with fashion, specially streetwear. It’s almost impossible to stay away from all the information you find on the internet. So, for every collection, I make an investigation of brands that I like and fashion trends. The important thing here is to take that information and transform it into your own language.
I’m sure a lot of people would love to set up their own clothing companies, are there any tips you can give for people starting out?
I think it’s very important not to focus on the product but in the brand itself. You have to build a strong DNA nobody can copy. After that you have to study the market, then you can start designing the product. It’s easy to design, it’s not that easy to sell.
Thanks for reading!
That’s it for this month’s Let’s Talk Art article, stay tuned for another instalment next month! We hope you enjoyed this interview with Alejandro Giraldo and found his insight inspiring and helpful.
If you feel inspired by this interview, go create something! Live. Dare. Create with Wacom.