Interview with Goni Montes

by Tuesday, July 26, 2011

First of all, tell us something about your upcoming work. What are you into at the moment?

Apart from the usual editorial work, I’ve been getting more sequential work lately. This has provoked a lot of exploration. Needless to say, it is very enjoyable. Unfortunately, the clients wouldn’t like it if much was revealed about these projects before the final publications so I can’t say much more.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: where is home, and how long have you been an illustrator?

Home will always be Ponce, Puerto Rico, although I’m established now in Decatur, GA. When you’re born and raised somewhere, everywhere else feels like outside. I’ve been an illustrator since 2004, although a different type at first. That first job as a scientific illustrator was fantastic, but editorial had a very inviting luster, hence the switch.

Could you tell us some more about your illustration? How would you describe your style?

I could bet that every artist sees their own style differently to how the public sees it. I see my style as malleable. There’s this feeling like every project turns out so different, whether it is due to the process or the final product. This must be because I tend to close in on the details and a lack of care for standardization. On the other hand, the public will see the final product and see it as another piece in your portfolio. To them, it probably ties better with the rest of your work than it does in my head. The computer plays a big deal on my work. It is the medium I use most. This makes me nervous sometimes as it is not as widely respected as most of the older media. On the other side, my control over this medium makes me work much faster than with any other. I’m pretty sure this dictates a lot about how my work looks. When time is not an issue I will delve into other media although in commercial illustration, deadlines are usually primordial.

Would you give a brief walk through your work flow?

The reason why I jumped into editorial illustration is my tendency to prefer narrative work. Every project start with a story, one written in letters. My job is to translate this into a picture. Mostly, the work flow is the traditional illustration method. The art director and I go through thumbnails, then tighter sketches, then a final. In the thumbnail stage you work out concepts and compositions. While in sketch level, you start tackling details such as likenesses in case of portraits and how the detailed elements affect the composition dictated by the thumbnail. Once you’ve reached finals, you tackle color and even more details. I have a very particular taste for color. A lot of the time spent in finals have to do with color choices. Although I take on every change requested with a smile in my face, when changes have to do with color choices, I am admittedly tickled wrong. It most certainly should not, but it does. I still shut up and take them on. You can never be too professional.

Do you remember the very first piece of art that you worked up?

I took some printmaking classes in art school. Those were the first pieces that made me proud enough to consider them art, probably because my teacher was such a hardass (in a very, very good way). I may sound rude on this, but I honestly couldn’t care less about defining what is art and what is not. I’m not aware of my work should be considered art or not, but the thought bothers me very little.

Which book or work has given you the most satisfaction in producing?

You guys are gonna get me in trouble with this one :) Well… one should probably avoid talking about favorites, but heck, here goes. I love working with Irene Gallo, as probably does the rest of the illustration world. She is the head of art direction at Tor Books and she has brought me some of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had. The projects were most enjoyable not due to the art itself, but because Irene is such an exceptional art director. She can express the most solid point with very few words. I recently took on a project for Wired magazine with which I have had the most fun this year. It consisted of a series of spot illustrations, all of which were funny as hell. It was refreshing to take on some humor for once. I must stress that all the humorous ideas came from the art director, as I am fortunate enough not to possess a sense of humor.

What artists have influenced you, and how? Who or what inspires you in your personal life and work?

The list is too long, but I’ll keep it short: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s graphic prowess, Lord Frederic Leighton’s lighting, Alphonse Mucha’s subtle grace, and the amazing skills of Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker. There’s also a heavy infatuation with old Korean prints.

How has your work evolved over the years from when you where beginning?

I’m trying to be less tight now. With a background in scientific illustration, the emphasis on detail is overwhelming. I want to add more looseness and expressiveness to my work. I’ve been experimenting with this and hopefully it’s been working.

What inspires you and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?

Two things come to mind:

– Student loans

– Umm… forget inspiration, just sit down and draw :)

How could you describe that precise moment….The one it makes you say: “Yes! This is great! I did it! I got it!”

It usually happens when choosing colors. I swear, I must be color blind or something, but until something has some sort of obnoxious color scheme, I don’t seem to be satisfied. At that point, my clients are starting to cringe at the colors I’ve chosen… bless their hearts for letting me get away with it.

How have you handled the business side of your work?

Apart from the usual organizing and nitpicking, it’s a lot of networking. I’m lucky there are so many good, interesting people in this business. It’s always fascinating to meet both artists as well as art directors.

What is your family background? Were there any artists or creative types in the family?

There are no other visual artists in my family. There is an overwhelming amount of musicians, engineers, and bureaucrats. They have no clue what I do for a living. They’re not big magazine readers either. They seem very proud of me though, although it’s a confused kind of proud… the kind that goes “Whoa, that is… important, right? I’m REALLY happy for you.” You can see they are genuinely happy… but seriously lost. I don’t blame them. I didn’t become interested in art until my junior year in college, when I dropped what I was doing and, on a whim, switched to art. I had very little drawing experience and no painting at all. Things worked out in the end though. There were some SERIOUSLY good teachers cracking that whip.

What upcoming shows, exhibitions, do you have coming up?

Don’t have any shows lined up right now. There’s a traveling show going on called You Lucky Bastards. There are some other, magnificent artists involved in it.

What’s the best part of being an illustrator?

It must be the part were you get to work with other people. That whole lone wolf thing is overrated. I don’t like it. Producing art is great, add some co-working to it, and it usually gets even better.

Do you conduct workshops for aspiring illustrators?

I do, sometimes in my classes, sometimes outside of them. I teach a few classes as a part-time teacher in the Savannah College of Art and Design. I must be honest, demos and workshops during class tend to be very relaxed, but workshops with people I have never met tend to make me nervous… and nothing ever comes out like you want.

What good advice do you have for people who want to be illustrators?

Be professional and polite. Understand that art directors work with you… they are on your side.

Before you put your work “out there”. Do you have it critiqued by someone else, or do you just go with what your heart tells you is right?

On every project, you form a professional bond with your art director. They review your work and give feedback. The good ones (and I’ve been lucky enough to say that my art directors are awesome) will seek the best creative ideas along with you instead of trying to push out a product as quickly as possible.

Who’s the first illustrator that comes to your mind in front of your next blank canvas?

Probably no one… I’m self-centered like that:)

Goni Montes website

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