Welcome to the next episode of Let’s Talk Art. In this interview, we talk to Robert Bruno, a commercial illustrator living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Robert mainly works on projects in the sports and entertainment industries. He shares with us the important reasons for working digitally and networking.
This interview series is produced by Jack Woodhams, the founder of PosterSpy which is an online showcase platform for poster artists. We would like to thank everyone who has responded positively to this series so far and we hope you enjoy what´s to come.
So, let´s talk art.
Tell us a little about yourself, when did you first know you wanted to be an illustrator?
I guess I knew I wanted to do some kind of art as a career from a young age. I was always drawing as a kid and I became more and more interested as I grew older. High School was significant as I was fortunate to have a teacher/mentor that helped me plan for college (Pratt Institute) and then the possibility of a career in art.
I shifted my focus to illustration primarily when I reached my sophomore year at Pratt. I really enjoyed drawing and painting, this combined with the possibility to freelance and work for myself doing commercial illustration was incredibly appealing.
Colour and brush strokes are a big part of your work, which gives it a nice, traditional look. Are there any other styles you’d like to experiment with?
The style you’re referring to was actually several years in the making. I took several years of the History of Illustration and other art movements in college. The style I’ve tried to establish is a mix of many different artists and schools that came before me.
While I work mostly digitally on my commercial work nowadays, I try to keep it as organic and painterly as possible. The new products and software make this very possible for illustrators and designers.
You’ve worked for a lot of huge clients including Disney, ESPN, and Olympic Boxing. Is there any client you’d love to work with and haven’t already, and why?
I’d love the opportunity to work with just about any studio, sports team, or brand. Off the top of my head, a collaboration with Nike would be the main goal.
One of my favorite projects is coincidentally also my first ‘big break’ project. A collaboration with the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2014. I’ll preface by saying that at the time, I had really been struggling to gain any kind of momentum or traction with the art. I was coming up on 2 years out of Pratt and beginning to have doubt and also pressured into possibly pursuing a different career. It was when I closest to diverting careers when the Eagles contacted me.
The creative department tasked me with creating the key artwork for the season ticket holder packages. This included a montaged cover illustration with several of the key players, in addition to several single player illustrations. The work was used on the program covers, interior pages, as well as the actual tickets.
Another was a job I did for ‘Pytchblack’ an agency based out of Texas for ESPN and Lockheed Martin for the Armed Forces Bowl Game. This was quite an honor as I was tasked with creating illustrations depicting both football players and uniformed service men and woman to go on billboards, bus stop ads, and various advertising material!
A lot of artists stick to one kind of genre, whether it’s sport, film, TV, music or general pop culture. You tend to work in all of these.
Do you feel that expanding your range has helped you grow as an artist?
I think expanding one’s range and style is important and necessary for any artist. It forces you to keep learning, keep developing and expanding your overall skillset. For me, working in both the entertainment and sports worlds constantly keeps me on my toes.
I’ve often times taken a motif or specific style/palette/composition I’ve used in one industry and incorporated in a future project in the other. Aside from that, I always try to read up on and stay up to date with current design trends and work that companies are using and producing!
Currently, you are an entirely independent artist, no agency, no agent. Do you find this beneficial?
Yes, at the moment. I personally love the daily hustle. In my own words, it’s a ‘good constant stress.’ As a freelancer, there is no limit to opportunities, as long as you put the work in. I also really enjoy talking to and communicating with clients directly. In my experience, information gets lost or miscommunicated when it goes through a middleman or third party.
Do you have any recommendations for artists wanting to go solo, or for artists who don’t have an agent and want to find work?
It really comes down to how bad you’re willing to work for it. As a freelancer without an agent, it’s entirely up to you. No one is going to hand you anything. That being said, we live in the best possible time for any freelancer. So many opportunities can be found on the Internet. Use every single social media platform that’s available, get your work up on Behance, submit to blogs, create a mailing list, open an online store etc. Attending trade shows and conventions is another great way to network and promote your work.
How long does a portrait usually take to complete and talk us a through your process?
I work just as if I were painting on a canvas. Once I have a concept or idea in mind I start by blocking in the background, then paint in broad shapes to begin defining the form. I then gradually develop the lighting and overall mood with shadows and highlights, then finally build of the detail.
How many hours per day do you spend illustrating?
Monday through Friday I’m typically working for 8-10 hours, usually late into the night/morning. Not included in that 8 hours is time spent printing/packing/shipping prints, answering emails, and managing/updating social media platforms.
Your work is mostly done on a Wacom MobileStudio Pro; do you often take it with you to work away from home?
Since getting the MobileStudio Pro, I take it with me EVERYWHERE. Whether it be a weeklong trip, weekend convention, or a quick day trip. You never know when you might have to get a quick sketch or proposal into a client. Point in case, this past June I was attending a convention in Charlotte. While I was there I was approached by FOX to do a 6-part campaign for the then-upcoming show ‘The Gifted.’ As this was a very tight timeline, the only reason I was able to take on the job was the Mobile Studio.
Disney commissioned you to produce some artwork for the latest Pirates of the Carribean film Dead Men Tell No Tales/ Salazars Revenge. How was that experience?
This was easily one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve been fortunate to work on.
I was commissioned to create six character illustrations of the main character from the new Pirates film. After several conference calls with the project manager, we wanted to achieve a slightly darker palette to add a grittiness and drama to the characters.
The project took roughly 6-8 weeks from beginnings discussions to the actual creation of the artwork to the approval process and then printing. I created a hand embellished one off of each of the six and sent them off to Disney. They were then framed and displayed in the Dolby Theater on the night of the premiere, which I was fortunate enough to attend.
When you sell your artwork, you often add something extra like hand embellishment, why do people like this?
Great Segway! Yes, for the last year or so I’ve been offering hand finishes or embellishments on select prints. This allows for a more personal touch, and for a 1/1 print at a more affordable price then say a full graphite or ink original. It has also offered me a creative outlet to bring back and incorporate many techniques and methods I’ve learned over the years with paint, leafing, ink, and fire.
As you often work digitally, what would you say are the top 3 reasons digital is your preferred method of working?
Time is easily the biggest reason. In today’s fast moving advertising and commercial world, we (artists) are constantly under tight timelines for projects. The ability to ‘paint’ digitally helps compensate for some of this. I don’t have to worry about paint drying and meticulous time spend scanning, packaging, and shipping original artwork.
Revisions would be the second reason digital is my preferred method. If I were to create a traditionally painted illustration for a client, I might finish the artwork and submit for final only to have a client request a revision/s on an area or specific color. With traditional paint on a canvas, I would have to first gesso over the area first and then redo each brush stroke with the desired revisions.
Lastly, the reproductive capability is another huge asset. In so many projects, clients hire me to do work for use in digital advertising and on their respective social media platforms. When I complete the illustration I save and send to them via email in any file type they need. It’s also efficient for myself making prints of my work. I have to adjust some of the levels, and values through 1-2 rounds of test prints and then I’m good to go.
How do you best manage your time between work your social life?
I’m very fortunate to do something I absolutely love. Often times I don’t even feel like I’m ‘working.’ That being said, the beauty of being a freelancer and being your own boss is the flexibility that comes with it. I don’t mind taking a night or even several hours off any day/night because I know I can make up for it the days before or after!
You currently live in New York and often travel to comic conventions to sell your art and meet fans. Would you say that’s an integral part of your illustration career and would you recommend other artists attend comic conventions?
I don’t know if I would say its integral for everybody, but it is certainly a valuable component for me. I love interacting with fans, meeting new people, and exploring different cities. Now that there is essentially a comic or horror convention in every major city, I’m able to do just that!
For any artists not sure what to prepare for a convention booth, what would you recommend?
There are a couple of essential items that I’d recommend:
- Photography stand / black backdrop – great for displaying prints and signage
- Industrial strength magnets – great, compact option for hanging prints
- Poly bags and cases (Various sizes) – this is what I use to pack up each print/order at cons
- Stand / Stackable cubes – Nice option to display smaller items and for storage
- Card Reader – I use PayPal, super simple.
You’ve often had your artwork seen by the people you painted. Recently, you were able to show Michael Rooker your Yondu painting. How does that feel knowing your art has been seen by the subjects?
It’s a really great feeling, especially as the majority has been incredibly positive in their response. In Michael Rooker’s case, his agent literally found me in artist alley explaining that Michael had been signing my Yondu prints all weekend and relayed how much he liked them. He then asked if it might be possible to get one for Michael, to which I replied ‘Heck Yes.’ I ended up gifting one to
Michael the following day and he then insisted on signing one and taking a picture with me!
After years of work you’ve built quite an online fan base, what advice would you give to artists looking to build their own fan bases?
Create groups in addition to pages. Facebook and Instagram have ever-changing algorithms for small businesses but having a group seems to be a loophole and opportunity to reach my audience and fans more directly. Mailing lists are also an effective tool.
Finally, where do you see yourself being in the next few years, do you plan to stay a freelance artist or is there something else you’d love to pursue?
I’d like to stay exactly where I’m at for the next 2-3 years. I love talking to all my clients directly and traveling frequently. Beyond that, I will most likely look into getting and agent to help bring in work.
Thank you for reading!
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Let’s Talk Art series is written by Jack Woodhams, founder of PosterSpy.
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