CONVERSATION

Caleido interviews Fernando Cobelo illustrator

Caleido interviews Fernando Cobelo, an illustrator of Venezuelan origin. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here

Diario of: @fernandocobelo

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@fernandocobelo
1. Your universe is populated with characters. How do you come to define their (visual) identities? Do you have a methodical process? Is there a character you feel most attached to?

I like to use visual metaphors as much as possible. This means that when I have to illustrate a certain action, fact or scene, I try to do it not in a literal way, but by replacing some elements with more figurative ones, creating a symbolic transposition of images. So the pages of a book can turn into a swing or a doctor’s stethoscope into a light bulb. Creating this “transfer” or this “exchange” of concepts means that many times there is a surreal key in my works and in my characters; or that they are perceived as dreamy and poetic by the viewer. In fact, all I am doing is using visual metaphors: they are really part of my creative process.

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2. You are Venezuelan, a land usually associated with color. Instead, your works are mainly in black and white (and many greys). Can you tell us about your relationship with color? Have you always drawn without it? Do you think in color or in black and white?

I like the intimacy and delicacy expressed by a black and white illustration. I have always believed that colour is not necessary to express certain concepts, and so in the process of stripping an illustration of all its non-essential elements – in order to make the image as clean and clear as possible – colour is often the first element to be omitted. And this presents a real challenge: finding the right contrast between greys can be much more difficult than using colours. Having said that, colour is a friend and I understand and appreciate that its use is sometimes not only necessary, but also requested by clients. I will always love black and white (and all the shades in between), but I am happy to add a few strokes of colour at times in order to reinforce a particular concept even more. I always say that an illustrator’s style is constantly evolving and colour, in this case, is part of my process.

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3. Do you ever have to restart from scratch in your work? Have you ever had to redesign a world that seemed perfect in the past? How do you approach change?

Change is part of the process and you have to embrace it. Every illustration starts from scratch, from white, from nothing. And yes, even when the image is finished, I may have to redraw it, but that depends on how satisfied I feel with the image at that particular moment. It may happen, when the illustration is finished, that I am not 100% happy with the result, and if it is not enough to correct a couple of elements, sometimes you have to “simply” start the process again. From zero.

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4. Is illustration for you a mise-en-place of an image already constructed (and finished) in your mind or is it the result of a process in progress?

Sometimes you visualise the finished illustration as soon as you start to make it, but normally this visualisation is still too abstract. It needs, therefore, a process of research, tests and sketches to enrich it and arrive at a better result.

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5. In a time pervaded by photographs and videos, where does the strength of an illustration lie?

Illustration is one of the most free media there is. As illustrators, we have the responsibility to communicate the historical period in which we find ourselves, and we do this through our own particular way of seeing things. This profession has a beautiful peculiarity: if a client decides to work with you, it is because he is looking for you. They are looking for your personal way of communicating through drawing. There are exceptions, of course, but most of the time your vision and your illustrated style are respected, because they are the very reason why you were chosen. When this doesn’t happen, and believe me, it can’t not happen, you have to see it as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. It is up to us as illustrators to follow the brand’s instructions without losing our identity. Usually, at the end of the process, we come out richer. I am lucky enough to attract clients who want me to be 100% myself, but anyone who pushes you to step out of your own little world is also to be appreciated. I always prefer to see it from that point of view.

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6. Do you remember the moment when you realised that being an illustrator would be your job and not just a passion?

At the beginning of my career, many years ago, I was at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and I had brought with me a small booklet – printed very amateurishly, using clandestinely the materials of the office where I was working at the time – which contained a small story illustrated by me. I would purposely leave it in various places at the fair and then hide, so that I could observe the reactions of the people leafing through the “abandoned” booklet. I vividly remember the reaction of an Asian woman in her 70s who, although she was from the other side of the world and belonged to another generation, smiled as she leafed through the illustrations. There I realised the communicative power of my illustrations.

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7. If you were to point us to artists (in any field) who have somehow shaped your creative vision, who would they be? So we can start following them on Instagram…

I am mostly attracted to illustrators who include a certain emotional or metaphorical message in their work. Some contemporary illustrators or artists who are experts in such concepts are, among many others, Moonassi @moonothing, @mariacorte or @pablo.amargo.

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8. You have produced a small book dedicated to foreigners who have chosen Italy as their new home. Can you tell us about this project? What is the story that has stayed with you the most? What social issues are closest to your heart?

Sono qui” is one of the projects that is closest to my heart. It is a book designed, produced and illustrated by me, based on the stories of 10 foreigners living in Italy today. It was created to celebrate my tenth anniversary in Italy, with the intention of creating a manifesto that would pay homage to the country that made me the person I am today. It was designed, printed and bound by Print Club Torino, and the second edition, just launched, is a limited edition of 150 signed and numbered pieces. The cover was printed in two-colour silkscreen on 1.75mm thick cardboard, mounted on Fedrigoni Color Malva 140g/m2 paper, while the interior was printed in two-colour risograph on Fedrigoni Arena Natural Bulk 140g/m2 paper. The story that is closest to my heart is that of 58-year-old Kevin, who when he was 24 years old moved to Pisa directly from Melbourne, Australia:

<< I came to Pisa for work when I was 24 years old. Once, while I was on the balcony of my house, tired and frustrated because of the distance, I started to cry. I didn’t realise that on the balcony next door was Rosa, a girl about the same age as me who, on seeing me, asked “Are you OK?”. Last year, on our 30th wedding anniversary, Rosa told our three children, once again, how we met. I always love her laugh when she calls me “Piangolone”.>>

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9. If you were your own gallery owner, which work would you start with to explain your creative vision? What is the illustration that binds you most emotionally?

I would use the plates from my book “Sono qui“, not only because they represent my vision as an illustrator well, but also because they express the empathy that, in my opinion, an illustrator must have when creating images.

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10. What is an object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Would you send us a photo taken by you?

The object I always carry with me is my “little notebook of ugly drawings”. It is a small booklet that I use to quickly (di)mark down the ideas that come to mind during the day or during my work. In its pages you won’t find a single beautiful drawing: they are all made from the gut, intuitively, without worrying about their aesthetics. They function as a registry of ideas, and are very useful to me during my creative process.

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