Synthetic Citizen

where are you from / how long have you been illustrating?
I was born in Long Island NY, and lived there until Middle School, spending summers with my Dad in Manhattan. After that moved up to Westchester for the most part, but my moved all over the place so spent a year in Southern Cali and 4 or 5 months in Texas. I always made my way back to New York though, I loved being near or in the city, it's my home. I've been illustrating since i was a kid. Constantly drawing and doing artsy stuff my whole life. I started to take it more seriously when i graduated from High School and wound up working at a pizza place in Charlotte NC, not really doing shit else but playing video games and smoking pot. Then i started getting a portfolio together and doing little illustration jobs here and there and managed to get into SVA. I majored in Cartooning and was learned a lot about illustration and sequential art over the next 4 years. But a man's gotta pay the rent and eat every once and a while, so I took a job as a designer for a porn mag to pay the bills. My Dad was a graphic designer so I learned the basics from him, and porn isn't as design orientated as one might think, so it was a good place to cut my teeth as a publishing designer. Since that first gig I've worked at 6 different magazines as a designer, and learned a lot about typography and became very comfortable using Illustrator, it being one of the main vector based programs that designers use to play with type and create very clean and easy to reproduce designs. Over the past few years I've been getting back to doing the kind of art that I've wanted to produce, more cartoon based illustration work

i imagine most illustrators / designers would say that their work is like their voice - what are you saying through your work?
I think my work is a hodge podge of the stuff that i like to look at,
combined with whatever is in my head at the time. I've always been drawn to comics and old Tex Avery style cartoons, stuff that is made to be fun or funny and not really taken too seriously. Comics and cartoons have grown up a lot in the past twenty years, because so have the people who were raised on them. These characters who were intended to distract kids while there parents were at work or sell Happy Meals, have a lot more power then that, and they can live in a world similar to ours, and tell stories that not only have depth but look amazing. So I try to take these things that are fun to look at or simply structured , and put them in environments or situations that are more relatable to adults or adults that haven't forgot their childhood. Let these types of illustrations and characters grow the same way we have. And sometimes it's just fun to draw a fart monster.
i sort of cant tell whether your work is vector based or painted in gauche, care to fill me in on the secret :) ?
I will usually start everything as a very quick pencil sketch that gets
scanned in and imported into Illustrator. Once in there, I outline and fill the shapes and begin to fine tune the design. Then it's a matter of layering in textures and playing with the colors and shadows in Photoshop. I like taking these very flat characters that look like animation cells and putting them in a world that gives them a bit more reality. It's fun to combine some hand done elements with the hard edges and cleanness of the vector forms.

you create beautiful characters - not really a question...just sayin'
Appreciate that! Yeah, I love designing characters, there are just so many
different shapes and ways to create faces. That's probably where i start a drawing, or tend to focus. The face really determines the mood of someone and the illustration as a whole, so it's fun to play around with how you can create an emotion.

so, you're an art director as well, how do you juggle so much at once?
The 9 to 5'er sometimes winds up being the 10 to 12:30'er, so it takes up a lot of time and creative energy. That's part of the reason it's taken me so long to get the website up and look for more illustration gigs. I give myself goals and deadlines and try to keep to them as best i can. The last comic I self published took a long time to finish. It was the first time i did a 32 page story entirely in Illustrator. Sometimes I would have to force myself to work on it for at least ten minutes a day until it was done. You just need to figure out how important it is to create, and if you enjoy it, then you can find the time.
how does being an illustrator help you as an AD?
I think being an Art Director has helped me as an Illustrator more then anything else. When we look for illustrators, we take into consideration a lot of factors like style or consistency or how they can use the space, and are very critical of how well that artist will represent that story or subject. Also just the general design of and illustration, how well it's balanced or set apart things that are more important, are elements that I try to think about when creating an illustration. Being on the Art Director side, I know what questions people are going to ask, and try to step back and ask them of myself on any piece i work on.

any thought on the current state of our industry - seeings on how you're seeing it from both sides?
The industry is not in a good place at all. I see magazines hiring less
illustrators and running photos or photo illustrations instead, because of cost and time. You really need to hustle and build up editorial work and good relationships in order to get magazine jobs these days. I also think learning more about how the web can use illustrators is a good idea, that's something i need to figure out myself.

whats your brainstorming process for new jobs - like say i approach you with an assignment, what can i expect?
I think getting as much information as possible from a client is super important. Go back and forth with ideas and hopefully when you send the first sketches, it's in a happy place. I like to start with a few rough ideas and see what kind of reaction they get. Then keep chipping away until they are happy with the end product. I think the more variations of color or little details you can come up with, the better. and without overwhelming some one with a million sketches, give enough choices that show that you aren't stuck in one narrow direction, and are willing to try different options.
do you listen to anything while you work? (podcasts, music, movies etc.)?
Definitely, music helps the whole process for me. For some reason, i don't know if it because it's comforting or just laziness and not wanting to put my focus on something else, but I'll listen to the same album over and over while I'm working on a piece. Usually something loud and fun, Portishead or Morrisey or whatever the kids are getting sad to these days, would probably not be in the headphones while i work.

any advice for new illustrators trying to break in?

You just need to keep at it, seek out contacts and places that you think would be interested in your type of illustration, and be persistent. there will definitely be some "NOs", and if you can't take criticism or rejection you should think about changing your career path. maybe become a Har Krishna.

any advice for older / established guys?
I think being current with your work online or having a blog is a good way to show the world that you're still out there and creating relevant illustrations.

All images copyright synthetic citizen. thanks Damian, excellent stuff!
See more great work here: http://www.syntheticcitizen.com/home.html



where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I grew up in Montreal. I've been in the Toronto area for about 12 years. I've been illustrating for real since around 2003... I realistically started/graduated in 2001, but I didn't really start doing the freelance thing until 2003. before that it was mostly gallery shows and personal work. so let's say 6-8 years.

so you went to school at sheridan then you became a professor there...whats that like?
It's amazing. The 3 years I spent at Sheridan as a student were some of the best years of my life. I made some great friends and we all pushed and influenced each other. It was really exciting to discover this great new world. I also had these amazing teachers (Paul Dallas, Joe Morse, Jill Peters) who just got me excited and taught me so much. I feel like I could never repay them for what they gave me.

Although it's very difficult to try to be one of those teachers that I held up so high, I really appreciate the opportunity that was given to me to try walk in their shoes. I get a lot of satisfaction when the students get excited and grow as creative people right in front of me. I also feed off of the students enthusiasm.

you run a design studio with your wife - is there ever creative competition?
No, not really. We work together really well. She's better at some things than me and vice versa, so we know who is better suited to certain tasks and we just let that person take over the role when necessary. It's such a fun environment. We're pretty lucky to be in our situation. I can't imagine going our separate ways each morning ever again. Fingers crossed!

what can you tell me about "repless abandon"?
It was a collective of student that graduated from Sheridan in 2001/2002. It was pretty much conceived of and formed before I joined. It was basically a way for illustrators to rep themselves. So get the benefits of a being in a group and the benefits of flying solo all in one. That was the idea anyway.

what motivated you to leave that collective?
It's really hard to get 15 people to agree to anything. So there was a lot of compromise and I just felt like I lost my identity being a part of the group. My work is really subtle and the colors are muted. It's not loud and in your face, so I just felt like my work was getting lost in the shuffle. I know it worked really well for some of the people in the group, it just wasn't really for me.

would you ever consider a rep at this point in your career?
Maybe, if the situation was right. I've thought about it and had discussions with a few reps, but always turned it down. I would maybe consider one for the advertising side of things. There isn't enough money in editorial to be split as far as I'm concerned! But more important to me is I like having control over how and where my work is displayed/advertised, so maybe the whole rep thing isn't for me. I don't know. There are definitely certain aspects of it that are tempting. I'm not a huge fan of paperwork.
how has your work been evolving lately...like recently...and where do you see it going?
I'm getting more and more interested in concept. When I started I was almost solely concerned with aesthetic, but as I'm growing and learning, I'm realizing how important a good idea is. I still love things that just look beautiful, and I don't think I'll change, but a good idea makes a longer and stronger impact. It's also more satisfying to know your doing something that can reach people a bit below the surface.

as a husband and father, does it ever freak you out that the industry is going through so many unstable changes?
Yes and no. When things slow down, I can't help but freak out a little. But I think there will always be a need for good visually creative people, so I'm hoping I can just move with the changes.

whos work are you really into lately?
So many. But I'll go with Push Pin Studio. It's not new, just great. I'm really excited about work that walks the line between illustration and graphic design. I think that graphic designers used to be able to draw, and that doesn't seem to necessarily be the case these days.

what do you do to fill the time that you're not busy with work?
I have a shitty old house, so I'm spending a lot of time trying to make it not as shitty. I'm also spending a lot of time making music... it's my other big love.
are there any dream clients you havent worked with that you'd like to?
Yeah, for sure. I don't think there are any particular ones, just dream clients in general. The ones who are open to seeing your ideas and then offer you advice on how to make them better. And then when you give them the final piece they give it an amazing graphic home to live in. I just finished a few pieces for the New York Times magazine. I think they were pretty amazing to work with. Good constructive feedback, and the layout looked amazing. I love that magazine.

any advice for new illustrators?
Figure out what you love to do, and then work hard as hell. The second part is easy if you get the first part right!

any advice for the older established ones?
Nah, they know more than I do.

all images copyright Marco Cibola. check out more of his work here: http://www.novestudio.com/
he does some design stuff too, which is equally as great. Thanks Marco, very inspiring