1.Where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I'm originally from Los Angeles. My family moved to Denver when I was in Elementary school, so I've been here most of my life. I was still working full time at a job I had worked at since I was 16 after I graduated, so I didn't begin illustrating full time until about three years ago. My first two years after school I was only illustrating part-time.
2. How was your experience at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design? Did you feel prepared for the real work upon graduating?
I lived at home and drove an hour across town each way, every day. And I worked whenever I wasn't in school, just to be able to pay tuition, so I don't feel like I had the "real college experience" that some people get. I wanted to go out-of-state. I really wanted to go to Art Center, and I was accepted into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but there was no way I could've afforded to live on my own, and pay my own tuition (plus, I got a really good scholarship to RMCAD). I think I was fairly ready to jump into reality upon graduation from RMCAD. I think that things change so quickly, it's hard for any school to really prepare students for what's coming. The best they can do is teach students how to adapt to changes in the market. I guess I wish they would have focused a little more on the business end of the profession. After all, you are running your own business.
3. How has your work changed in your 5 or so years as a professional image maker? what directions do you feel it going in?
My work has changed A LOT! What I was doing a year after I graduated, is completely different from what I was doing in school. And what I'm doing now is different than what I was doing a year after I graduated. I think it's just part of the way artists evolve. Artists are supposed to evolve. Maybe not quite as fast as that... but I thinks it's important to grow. I'm definitely moving constantly towards a more simplified, minimalist way of working. I'm really drawn to the colors and shapes in the design and illustration of the 1960s. I love images that communicate an idea, with as little visual information as possible.
4. your work is obviously very concept driven (and great ideas at that) - how do you go about brain storming when a project rolls in?
Most of the time I just start writing down everything that comes to mind. I'll read the story or brief, and try to get a main idea out of it. I'll reword that idea into a few different phrases, and jot down words that come to mind when reading that phrase. Nate Williams had a great tutorial on getting ideas, http://www.n8w.com/wp/3242 . The tutorial basically sums up everything I learned in school about deriving a good concept from a story.
5. what mistakes would you caution young illustrators NOT to make? what were some of your mistakes (if any) when starting out?
I don't know if this is good advice, but I would tell nubies not to obsess over "style." I know nowadays we're supposed to sell ourselves as a "brand," and you can't have brand recognition if your work doesn't look exactly the same as all your other work, but that goes against everything I've ever believed in, about art, creativity, human nature. I think the most successful illustrators have a style that can almost be copyrighted. And maybe I'll never be as successful as those illustrators, but I don't know if my restless tendencies will ever allow me to stick with a visual identity long enough to be characterized as "my style." So maybe my advice to new illustrators would be to disregard my advice!
6. you obviously put a lot of thought and care into your promotions - do you have any advice for new illustrators looking for ways to market their work?
Well, I think postcards still work. ADs and CDs will always keep the postcards they like. Postcards are easy to stick in a folder and carry around with you. But sometimes going the extra mile every once in a while pays off. I'll probably always send out a postcard or two, but then occasionally I like to send out something really special, like a booklet. Even if you only print up enough to send out to 20 or 30 people, if the illustration is really good, and you take the time to design it well, it'll get noticed. And that's the most important thing- making sure the work you're sending out is high quality. You can spend a thousand bucks on a really nice booklet to send to people, but if the illustrations inside are crap, they'll just toss it, and keep the cheap postcards with really great illustration.
The computer/interweb has made life for illustrators exponentially easier. Can you imagine having to ship a huge painting to an art director every few days? But aside from the convenience of turning in assignments, the programs have made work quicker too. Not better, but quicker. And that's the reason why I think I'll always keep my work at least partially traditional. If the program doesn't necessarily improve the quality of work, why completely forgo the joy of getting dirty? My illustration is almost always some combination of traditional collage and printmaking, along with digital.
8. when do you experience your greatest periods of growth - either professionally, or personally?
When I stop to take a breather, and really think about things. When you're so busy that you can barely take a time out for a meal, it's hard to grow because you're on such a roll. You're not experimenting or going out into the world to experience things and be influenced- you're down in your studio or office, knocking out the illustration. It's good to look up from the drawing board/computer screen every once in a while.
9. tell me about cars.
Cars are fun. The older, the better. The older they are, the simpler they are. When I look under the hood of a new car, and see all those wires, I get very intimidated. I like just about any car made before 1970 (before they started worrying about fuel economy, unfortunately). The style of body, the chrome, the dashboard. It's like a time machine. I think the history is what's most exciting. My car has an old tube radio, that only has AM stations. I feel like I'm in a different time period when I get in.
10. i notice (and appreciate) environmental themes in your work - are you as scared shitless about global warming as i am?
In a word- yes. I think most people in this country are pretty insulated from the immediate effects (besides the Southern coast, with all the hurricanes and tornadoes and flooding), so we have yet to do much. And lest you think I'm a hypocrite, I do realize how my 60 year-old vehicle affects the situation. I try to limit my driving as much as possible. I put 20 bucks worth of gas into my tank at a time, and I only do that about once every other week, to give you an idea of how little I drive. I actually enjoy riding the bus sometimes.
How much she makes me laugh. I've never been the happy-go-lucky type (I'm actually kind of a grumpy old man for a 27 year-old), but I find myself smiling a million times a day. Of course that's not only due to my daughter. Her mother has a lot to do with it too. The two of them really make life fun.
12. whos work / what (in general) are you loving right now?
I feel like I should have been born in a previous decade sometimes. I like movies, t.v., cartoons, music, cars, art from previous eras. It's just what I'm drawn to. Most of the art and design that influences me, and that I most enjoy looking at, is from the 60s and earlier. I really like a lot of illustrators working today, don't get me wrong. I just pay more attention to the past. I know he isn't really illustrating right now, but I always loved James Jean's work. He is truly a talented artist. I got into Fables just because I liked the covers so much!
13. last words?
I hate caramel. It's sticky and chewy, and it's way to sweet. Thanks, Pete!Really big thanks to Justin for the great interview. All images above copyright Justin Renteria - check out more of his great work here: http://www.justinrenteria.com/