Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 9, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Pablo Ballesteros

Pablo is a 28 year old full time illustrator who lives in Spain. Like all his family, he studied classic music at the conservatory, but also illustration at the Art School in his city, because drawing has been his passion since he was a child.​

In 2015 he started to combine small jobs with comic and illustration projects. In 2017 he published his first comic, and in 2018 his first illustrated book. Both for small local publishers.

In 2019 he made the jump to a major publisher: Random House, and started his journey as a freelance illustrator!!

Currently he is illustrating “The Fantastic Hormiguets”, a series of children’s books for Beascoa, Spanish Random House imprint.

He is currently represented By Christy Ewers of “The Cat Acency Inc.”

​Here is Pablo discussing his process:

intro: It has been a little challenge to get a step-by-step of some of my illustrations, since I usually work in photoshop and have a bad habit of not saving almost any sketches. However, I have found quite a bit of documentation for this illustration. It is a commision I made for a website about videogames and e-sports.

1.- ideas: The website offers a tracking and statistics service for gamers to improve their scores. They use an almost black blue background and their corporate colors are orange and light blue.
Since I had to use such a limited and contrasted palette, I decided to use it in a narrative way to give strength to the elements of the image. Therefore, I assigned orange to the player, “the user”, And the light blue to the web, “the service”. So I began to develop several ideas until I found the one I liked the most, representing the web service as a super powerful and improved avatar of the player himself, avery obvious message: “using this service makes you stronger”

2.- sketch: after finding the idea and making a small thumbnail with it, I put it on a canvas with the right size and make a sketch of it as detailed as possible. I start with basic shapes and add details layer after layer. In this image it was important to highlight the “gamer aesthetic” with elements of futuristic  fantasy.

3.- lineart and flat colors: In this illustration it’s not very visible because the background is dark, but my next step is usually “inking”, that is, to make a final lineart that I use as a guide for applying the colors. First I add flat colors, and later I add some shadows and shades.
Finally I back to the line. I erase it in some areas, and color it in others.

I inherited this phase of the process from my years as a comic book artist.
I am currently modifying my creative process and I try to do without the lineart whenever I can.

4.- light effects and foreground elements. This is almost the last step. When the line is already colored and the colors and shadows are in place, I add the complementary elements to the image. Illuminations, effects, etc. In this case there are floating screens in front of the character, which have to illuminate him and are also a bit translucent, so I work them in a group of layers separately.

5.- final corrections: Finally, I apply the last details and color correction so that everything looks uniform, and voila!

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing my whole life, but only since 2017 in a professional way.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

The first drawings I made for money were commissions for close people, at least 8 years ago. Some friends asked me for a drawing to give away, portraits of their pets, small labels for products they sold in their stores, etc. At first I did it for free, but when it got to be too many, and it consumed too much of my time, I decided to start charging for them. Not only did it serve as a filter, but I also amortized my time by earning extra money.

Did you study classical music and study art in college at the same time?

My parents are musicians. They both studied classical music, and they oriented me towards the same profession. During high school, I combined high school with the professional music studies, and after finishing high school, I studied the degree of music at the conservatory. During all that time, I kept drawing as a hobby.

However, over time I realized that music was not for me, and the next day after graduating I took the entrance exam for the art school in my city, and began my illustration studies. I don’t regret having studied music. I have been able to work as a musician in many places and have had very enriching experiences. But when I started my art studies I knew right away that I would never go back to music.

What did you study in art school?

I studied a 2 years illustration degree. In Spain they call it “professional training”. It’s like a technical college in the US, I think.

Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

I’ve studied several illustration courses, both online and offline, but none focused on children’s illustration. Children’s illustration is what I work in now, but I don’t want to specialize in just one job for now. There are jobs in many other artistic fields that I would like to explore in the future, so I try to take courses in a broader and more transversal way, especially by focusing on the bases of language and visual narration, and on improving my communication tools as an author.

I’ve also taken courses in relation to working as a freelance (invoices, laws, contracts, learning to show and sell your work, etc.). These are basic topics that are often not covered in “official” illustration studies (college, school, etc) and that can save you a lot of trouble..

What do you think help you develop your style?

My current style has a lot to do with comic books and grapic novels. I’ve been a comic reader my whole life and between 2014 and 2018 all my art work was drawing comics. It was at this time that I laid the foundations of my style and my workflow.

Currently I’ve left the comic in the background, and I dedicate myself more to illustration. That is why I’m trying to take my style one step further. Tried new techniques and processes that help me evolve and adapt to new media.

Did the art school help you find work when you graduated?

Not at all. That is common in private art schools, but I studied in a public school, which was the one in my city.

What type of work did you do when you started your career?

I spent some years mixing small illustration commissions with another job as a music teacher in a small school. The commissions were mostly gift portraits and other little things for friends and family. Later I got in touch with a small local comic book publisher with which I did my first published works collaborating on several books with other authors.

Do you feel doing comic illustrations in 2015 was the spark that set you on the road to publication?

Yes, definitely. Drawing comics for me was the beginning of everything.

On the one hand, they were the first works that I shared online, for me it was a new experience, people from all over saw my art and gave their opinion about it.

On the other hand, they were my first experiences with publishers. “The Rocketman Project”, a small publishing house in my city, gave me the first opportunities to see my work published, and also put me in contact with my colleague and friend Fernando Llor, fantastic comic book writer. With him I developed several comic projects that, although unfortunately they were never published, were a great training and learning for me.

Finally, it was Fernando who put me in contact with the publishing house “Ediciones El Transbordador”, which offered me my first contract to illustrate a children’s book.

How did you connect with the publisher who published you first comic?

The publishing house (“The Rocketman Project”) had a character that identified them. I wrote them an email attaching a drawing of their character that I made, and asking them to call me for future publications. And they offered me to participate in a magazine that they published annually. Later I did several comic book projects with them. Like Sangre en el Suelo, that was published thanks to a successful kickstarter campaign.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

It was not something I decided. I wanted to be a comic book artist. It was the publishing house “Ediciones El Transbordador” which offered me to illustrate a children’s book: La increíble historia de Mara y el sol que cayó del cielo. I accepted without thinking and I am very glad I did.

I was a little burned out from comics after a bad experience with a French publisher. And After draw the book for “El Transbordador” I fell in love with children’s books, and I also saw the differences between working on graphic novels or children’s books. It was clear to me that if I wanted to make a living from my drawings, I had to focus on illustration and leave a bit of the graphic novels / comic-books

  

Was MARA your first illustrated book?

Yes! La increible historia de Mara y el sol que cayó del cielo was my first illustrated book. I did it at the request of the publishing house “El Transbordador”

How did that contract come about?

I contacted “Ediciones El Transbordador” through Fernando Llor. My writer friend who I was developing a comic project with. He told the editors about me, they liked my work and asked me to illustrate the cover of one of his books. They were very happy with the result and immediately offered me to illustrate La increíble historia de Mara… a fantastic book by Abel Amutxategi that I fell in love with from the first moment.

Have you illustrated any books in English?

Not for now. I trust Christy (The cat Agency) to make this happen in the coming months.

What was the title of the Book you illustrated for Random House?

It’s a series of books: Las fantásticas Hormiguets, a super fun job.

The series is written by Silvia Abril, a well-known comedy actress here in Spain.

In the books she narrates the adventures her own 7 years old daughter goes through with a group of friends she has, they are stories with many adventures and funny moments based on real life.

It has been an incredible experience working on this series. It’s my first job with a large publisher, Random House (it is published by an imprint they have in Spain: “Beascoa”) and it’s the series that has allowed me to become a freelance. So I’m very happy to have had this opportunity. I recently finished Book 4, the last in the series at the moment, due out in March.

 

How did you connect with your agent Christy Ewer at The Cat Agency?

Since I started working as a freelancer, I’ve wanted to publish my work in the US. All my colleagues and friends by profession recommended me to look for a representation agency, so I set out to find an agent who wanted to represent me.

I emailed a few agencies and Christy was among the first to express interest in my work. It was a great joy for me, because I love The Cat Agency, and I loved the idea of being in a boutique agency.

However, although Christy had interest in my work, she was unable to offer me representation at the time. We kept in touch, and after a few months we talked again about the possibility of establishing a professional relationship, and this time we were able to sign an agreement. A story with a happy ending! (or a happy beginning)

Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines or any other magazines? If so, who?

My first published work was for “The Rocketman Project” annual comic-book magazine. A short 8 page story. But it wasn’t for kids.

Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes! I work from home. It is one of the great advantages of this profession. On my instagram @pablo.balles (shameless self promo) I have a section of highlighted stories with pics from my studio, you can come and see it!

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

No, and the reason is simple: I don’t like that kind of book at all!

Just kidding, let me explain: As a reader, I don’t like picture books without text. Therefore, I am not interested in developing a book without words as personal work. Although I would do it without problem if someone hired me for it!

Was it scary to decide to become a freelance illustrator?

Oh sure, it was a tough decision. In Spain there are poor working conditions, especially in artistic work. Becoming freelance has been a risky bet, since I left my part-time job as a teacher that guaranteed me a monthly income to dedicate myself exclusively to illustrating.

So far It went well, and I’m very happy to be able to make a living from my job even if the income is small. Also, shortly after leaving school they closed due to the pandemic for months, so working from home has helped me not to become unemployed, I think I made a good decision.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

Sure, as long as we reach a mutually beneficial agreement, I would have no problem doing so.

I know you will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

It is difficult to answer, because we can measure “success” in many ways. But if I had to say one, I think if I look at where I was 3 years ago, and where I am now, I could consider the whole journey of small decisions that have led me here as my greatest success, both personally and professionally. In other words. I am very proud of how I have managed and used my resources in these years to be able to become a freelance illustrator in such a short time and with so little experience.


What is your favorite medium to use?

I always work with digital media, not because I like them more, but because they are much more practical to work with.

Has that changed over time?

Yes, when I was a student, I felt a certain rejection of digital media. I thought they were “less authentic”. Over the years those prejudices have disappeared. Also, once I started trying to make a living illustrating, the digital medium seemed much more convenient and efficient.

However, I still use traditional techniques when drawing for fun, especially watercolors and colored pencils, I love mixing wet and dry techniques to achieve eye-catching, eclectic finishes.

During these last months, I’ve began to practice more with these types of techniques, and also with gouache, since I would like to find myself comfortable enough to be able to do professional work with traditional media in the future.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

Yes, I use my old Wacom intuos pro M for work. I’ve also bought an iPad Pro recently so that’s my new toy.

What materials and / or tools do you use to create your work?

As I said, I mainly use digital tools.

My setup:

– Wacom intuos pro M + imac + photoshop

– iPad Pro + procreate.

When working with traditional techniques I usually use Windsor & Newton watercolors and Polychromos pencils.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I dedicate between 5 and 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday. I like to get up early in the morning and work according to a normal “office” schedule, although my hours are quite flexible depending on the projects I’m working on. There are times when I’ve less work, and other times I’ve to spend even weekends working all day.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

I don’t usually take specific photos for each project, but I do like to take photos when I go out, and some of them are useful for projects later.

Usually the first thing that happens when I’m commissioned with a project is that I start to form an idea in my head of how I want the project to look.

This idea is based on my personal sensitivity, my tastes, the things that excite me, my experiences, etc. We could call it artistic look or author’s look.

Then I start to do my research to refine that idea: first I find out well what has been done lately in similar projects and then I look for photographs and illustrations that inspire me or serve as a reference. I do not usually take direct references, but perhaps I use the color palette of one photo, one type of plant from another, an idea of composition from another, etc.

In the end, all that documentation shapes the initial vision and makes it something solid to start working on.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I couldn’t work as an illustrator if the internet didn’t exist. For me, the internet is everything professionally speaking. I Developed my portfolio and connected with all my clients through the internet. Literally from my own home.

In the past, you could count the spanish illustrators with the fingers of your hand, and they almost necessarily had to live in a big city like Madrid or Barcelona if they wanted to get a piece of the scarce and badly paid job that there was. Today we are thousands of illustrators and we work for all parts of the world thanks to the internet. It is a wonderful tool that allows us to be part of a global market. It is mindblowing that now you don’t even need to publish a book, or work on a movie, or in a design company to make a living from drawing. Many can make a living by selling their own original art through platforms like etsy or patreon, or even their own online stores, without intermediaries, just with an internet connection.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I don’t like to talk about “dreams”, I prefer to talk about “goals”, psychologically we understand a dream as something ethereal, without a definite form, unattainable. However, a goal is something tangible, that you can write on paper, that you can achieve if you meet the requirements.

My main short-term goal is to start publishing in the US or Canada. Whether in children’s books, magazines, etc. For this I’ve already taken some steps, such as becoming part of “The Cat Agency”.

In the long term I’ve a goal that I would be very excited to fulfill: to work in animation, in the design department of a film or animated series. It’s something very different from what I do now, and I will have to study and make a suitable portfolio, but I think I’ll get it in the future.

Finally, as a personal goal, I would like to develop my own voice as an author much more, to put more of myself in each work. I am also taking action for it, although this may be the most difficult goal, since it has to do with overcoming my fear of exposing myself through my work.

What are you working on now?

I have just finished book 4 of Las fantásticas Hormiguets and I’m taking a few days off for the Christmas holidays. In 2021 I have 3 books already signed with a Spanish publishing house called “La Galera”, and I hope that some more will come in the future, but my priority at the beginning of the year will be to develop my portfolio to the fullest together with Christy in order to get a contract in English.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

An advice that I’ve learned the hard way: do not save money on material. It’s hard to say, but there’s a BIG difference between good and bad products. Painting with color pencils from Aliexpress is a very different experience than painting with Polychromos, or  Caran d’ache pencils, for example. (I used to think I didn’t like colored pencils, simply because I’ve never had good ones. Now I LOVE them)

I’m not saying that you have to buy the most expensive brands, but inform yourself well before buying, read about which are the best brands, and pick one that is at least competent.

When I was a student, I didn’t give it much importance, I thought there wasn’t much difference, and there is. It’s worth waiting and saving money to buy something good, than suffering the terrible experience of trying to create something with the materials fighting against you.

The same thing happens with digital media. Save money and invest in good and reliable components instead of buying the cheapest ones.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

When they ask me this I always like to send a message of optimism but also of prudence:

I am very optimistic because I think that we live in the best moment in history to be an illustrator. I said it before, the internet has opened the doors and windows of the industry wide, and if you work well, there will be a place for you.

BUT, first of all, GET INFORMED. Just because you like to draw doesn’t mean you have to be an illustrator.

Talk to professionals, read interviews, ask everyone what exactly the different creative or artistic professions consist of. Find out about the ways to earn money,  the good things and the bad, what skills you need, etc. Do not decide your future based on an idealized vision, because that way you will avoid the unpleasant surprise of find that your dreamed job or dreamed career was not what you thought.

Pablo, thank you for sharing your time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. I really enjoyed viewing your illustrations. Please let me know your future successes so I can share them with everyone.

To see more of Pablo’s work, you can visit him at:

WEBSITE: https://www.pabloballes.com/
Linkedin:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/pablo-ballesteros-85a61b18b/?originalSubdomain=es         
The Cat Agency: http://www.catugeau.com/pablo-ballesteros-1
INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/pablo.balles/?hl=en

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

 


Responses

  1. Very nice! Thanks for sharing with us, Pablo! Best wishes!

    Like

  2. Love how “the musician” transitioned to “the illustrator.” I think a certain kind of melody permeates your work. Thanks for an insightful interview!

    Like


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