Let´s Talk Art | Balancing a full time job with freelance work with Maria Suarez Inclan

September 14, 2017

Welcome to the next episode of Let’s Talk Art. In this interview, we talk to Spanish illustrator Maria Suarez Inclan about her experience working in Madrid and London, her illustration style and her techniques. Maria currently works as a designer and illustrator for global agency Saatchi&Saatchi. In her spare time, she applies her skills and knowledge to her own personal projects, which has led to official work with some of the worlds biggest brands.
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 hope you enjoy what´s to come.

You used to work in Madrid for Saatchi & Saatchi as a junior Art Director and you now work for Saatchi & Saatchi in London. As a young, aspirational artist how was this experience working for one of the world’s biggest agencies?

Yes, It’s been fine so far. As an illustrator working in a big agency it has been really helpful to find out what Art Directors look for in illustrators’ work. Also as a designer, I’ve had the chance to work and learn from other professional designers.

You juggle your illustration work with your full-time job, social life and everything in between. Would you like to be a full-time illustrator one day? Or do you prefer to keep it as a hobby?

I don’t know if I would like to be a full-time illustrator, I don’t think I’m keeping it as a hobby either though as I’m getting professional commissions and I take it really seriously. I think that having a job in an agency has lots of perks and I really enjoy the type of work we do.
I guess the main issue is the stability that an agency gives you and that’s something freelancers lack. Also, the opportunity to work for different major clients is great. I think it’s nice to come into an office full of different people from other parts of the world that have their unique creative perspectives, I think it’s way more inspiring than working on your own.
I have to admit that organizing your own work and working with flexible hours and not having to cancel plans to stay late working in an agency sounds great though.

Do you have any tips for good time management?

Back in the day I studied two universities degrees (Design and Psychology) at the same time, I remember one semester when I had more than 10 subjects, so I had to learn to manage my time in the most effective way.
When I have a tight deadline, I forget everything else and I focus on finishing what needs to be done sooner. In these situations, good music, lots of coffee and having a clear idea of what you want to do is essential for me.
When I have lots of projects to work on I think it’s better to focus on the biggest one or more difficult one and finish it before starting the others.

Multitasking is a myth, of course everyone has his or her own tricks but I think it works for almost everyone. Also I make lots of calendars, sometimes it’s just for a busy month. I include social and work stuff in different colours to get a bigger picture of the month’s schedule and prepare stuff ahead.

You grew up in Spain and now live and work in London. Have you noticed much of a cultural difference and if so, has this affected your art?

I do notice lots of cultural differences; this is completely fine though. I like that it’s different and new. I miss lots of things from Spain but it’s amazing to experience new things, meet new people and explore different parts of the world.
Work wise, one of the things that I think that has affected my art, is that in England people take politeness to the next level, they just cannot say in a direct way that something is bad or needs to be re-done while in Spain art directors are way harsher and perfectionist, they give you creative freedom but they are involved in the process and want to get the best out of it.
In Spain, I was doing design and art direction simultaneously so I didn’t have as many steps above me, as I do here. To have something approved it needs to be reviewed by lots of people that have different opinions (people who sometimes doesn’t even have a background in design or creativity) that affect the final artwork.

For many people, the idea of leaving behind family and friends is a scary concept. What would you say you enjoy most about living and working in a different country?

I enjoy being completely independent and to be able to do whatever I want. I love London, it’s been more than a year and it still feels new. You can do literally everything here, there are new places every week and the amount of creative people you meet here is insane. So I would say meeting new people is what I’ve enjoyed the most about living in London.

Your illustrations have a beautiful, gritty type of style, whilst remaining fun and charming. What tips would you give for adding texture and depth to digital illustrations?

I think that exploring different texture brushes is always good, I tend to use lots of splatter brushes to add texture. To add depth I often use color, to add this depth I explore different tones of the same color and use more desaturated ones for the backgrounds to make the first elements of the scene stand out more.

“Hollywood Kits” is a series you created exploring the films of famous directors and showcasing famous props and iconography. Tell us a little bit about this series.

This series was commissioned by Curioos. It’s an NY based company that makes prints and merch. They saw the Wes Anderson illustration I did for “Bad Dads”, the art show inspired by WA movies that Spoke Art does every year. They asked me to do 8 more film directors and I ended up doing Tarantino, Coen brothers, Scorsese, Spielberg, George Lucas, Fincher, JJAbrams and Sofia Coppola.
I think I learned a lot doing this project. As the main idea of the Wes Anderson print was to focus on the stuff he chose for his famous iconic film sets, I had to rewatch the movies and take special attention to details.
The project took several months as even if I had watched one movie I had to rewatch some scenes to remember the most important items. It was a long journey but I’m happy with the final poster and I think it was worth it.

This series eventually led to your official “Kit” poster for Michael Mann’s Heat which was commissioned by Fox. How did that feel?

This was totally unexpected, someone posted the Hollywood kits on twitter and this guy who worked for Fox Home Ent saw it and loved it. He put me in contact with another person who was organizing Heat’s anniversary DVD launch and asked me to do an official poster for the fans of the movie.
The experience was great! They were really helpful in providing the movie and making suggestions about what should be on it. I’d love to do something like this again soon!

What other directors would you love to work with and why?

I’d love to work with Spielberg, he is a legend; He’s done some of my favorite movies like E.T. and Jurassic Park, a master, mixing the ordinary with the extraordinary. He is probably one of the top ten directors of all time.
There is something special about Spielberg movies after you watch them you feel like you’ve watched something important and epic, a feeling of completeness. I simply love the way his films made me feel when I watched them. How they have been made, from the sets, soundtracks (amazing John Williams), the camera angles to the casting.

Your current studio set-up includes a MacBook Pro and a Wacom Intuos Pro. How long has this been your go-to set-up and is there a reason you chose these tools?

This has been my studio set up for almost 6 years now. When I started studying design I realized I had to save some money to buy a nice computer that allowed me to do all the work they would ask us to do. After the first year at University, I had enough money to buy a MacBook or an iMac. It was a tough decision; I ended up buying a laptop, as I knew I was going to be most of my time in University and moving from building to building.
I’m actually dying to get a Cintiq, I think it has to be really nice to feel like you’re drawing on paper but with all the perks of digital art (control and speed).

Before starting an illustration, do you go start digitally or do you begin with sketches on paper?

I always start sketching on paper; at least I do a couple of little thumbnails or schemes, just to start setting up different layouts and compositions. There have been some occasions when I was in a rush and the deadline was incredibly tight so I would start digitally, but it’s really rare for me. I like the natural feeling of doodling on a paper, it was more fluid.

Your career as an illustrator has been very successful, even more, remarkable given your age. Do you feel there’s anything special you did that helped you to get where you are now?

I think one of the things that have helped me the most to get where I am was to join a collective of illustrators in uni (Guts). This was a huge step for all of us because each of us had different experiences with illustration and we only knew that we all were really motivated and wanted to get better and to do exciting things.
When you find people that are passionate about the same thing you are, is when exciting projects are born. The main objective of Guts was to develop our styles, have fun and grow as illustrators as they didn’t teach us anything valuable in University, so we learned from each other. We published 5 issues of an illustration zine and we got our first professional clients like Heineken. We learned how to deal with clients, promote our work in an efficient way, how to read briefs and how to commit to projects.

Besides illustration, you’ve also done some commercial design, book layout design, and logo work. What would you say is your favourite type of work other than illustration?

I love the editorial design, I know everything is digital now. But I have this thing for materials, typography, nicely designed covers… There is something special in using paper, a real-life interaction when you take a book and you notice that the material of the cover feels nice or when the light reflects in a different way on the typography.
Also there is some historic aspect on print, when you’re designing a magazine or a book you know it’s going to be produced, it’s going to be an object and it may be out there for a while. You’re not going to keep a website or an app for years, while you may keep your favourite designed covers of a magazine. So the impact in an individual level is bigger in the long term.

Would you say your extensive skills and design ability have helped your career and why?

I think that it has indeed helped me. Someone that is multidisciplinary is always going to have it easier that someone that is focused just on one thing. Design and Art … they interact with each other, some elements of Design can help improve Illustration and vice versa, some elements of illustration can help make a better design.
Also, both require similar skills and abilities. On the other side, Psychology might seem like it’s not related to these fields at all but It’s how crazy how Psychology has helped me develop in my career as a designer and illustrator.

Would you recommend that other designers experiment with different forms of design they’re less comfortable with?

I think that when you’re not comfortable with something it’s because it may be a challenge for you. And challenges make us move forward and actually learn and get better. We learn through experience, and only experimenting and taking new challenges we can get better.
So yes, I would say that exploring other forms of design will be helpful to have a wider perspective for future projects, and you can always apply what you’ve learned to other projects.

I’m a big fan of your work, especially your use of colour. How do you usually decide on what colours to use for a project?

I usually set up some main colors first, let’s say I start exploring three colors or four colors. Depending on the briefing, I would go for a set of colors of a different one. For example, I would start directly with pink, light blue, purple and red for Wes Anderson’s Hotel Budapest poster. But after setting up those colors together, I would try to find some others that work nicely with them, even if they’re not directly reflected in the movie.
I would play with tone and saturation to get those three to work together nicely. After I have the main ones I usually play with different shades.
Sometimes I also like to think before what colors would be nice to use as shadows and lights, instead of having the same color with a darker shade maybe using a complete different one for the shadows. This usually gives the illustration a nicer contrast and a richer environment.

What tips would you give to aspiring illustrations that struggle to find the right colours for their artwork?

Also, I would say they have to be curious about everything and specially about what other creatives are doing, keep exploring websites, going to art shows, watching old and new films and discovering new ways of doing things. You may have always drawn plants with different shades of green but then after going to a museum and see Matisse’s work, you realize that plant leaves can be blue, red, yellow, pink or black.
When watching movies, you realize color is a powerful storyteller tool, you get the subjective atmosphere the director wants to express with different lightings, and you can apply this to your illustrations as well.

Where do you see yourself (career wise) in the future? And do you have any personal goals?

I would love to be developing my own projects and I want to be passionate about them. One of my personal goals is to have my own studio, but that is something I want to do in the future, after learning from other creatives and having more experience in the field.

Lastly, do you plan to live and work in another city at some point? Or has The Big Smoke become home?

London has become some sort of home for now, but you never know. I used to think I wanted to go to New York, and I think it’s still a dream I want to try.
I would love to come back to Madrid at some point as that’s where my family and where lots of my beloved friends live but creativity wise there is less opportunity for growing in a city like Madrid compared to London or New York and for now I want to focus on doing what I enjoy doing, which is illustration and design and become a better professional.

Thank you for reading!

It was a pleasure talking to Maria, who’s illustration work has a very unique and beautiful style. Hopefully, Maria’s experience and advice will help your own work.

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Let’s Talk Art series is written by Jack Woodhams, founder of PosterSpy. Twitter Website

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