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Ricardo Bessa Interview

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Ricardo is an illustrator whose work borders on the line between realism and fantasy. Boasting images that depict magic, characters from myth, zombies or even fan art, it shows both a vibrancy of imagination and – for lack of a better word – a glowiness that adds to the ethereal imagery. You can’t help but admire his work, whether it’s his depiction of character and movements, or his interesting composition of stories within his work.

1. In one paragraph, could you describe yourself to our readers. Talking about the work that you do, and who you are?

Well, I’m Ricardo and had my name picked by my older brother, and I was born and raised in a small Portuguese town called Penafiel. I feel that my work still very much reflects the fact that I was mostly self-taught and had to rely on Anime, comics and the Internet to get me into art.

2. What kind of Art Education have you done, if any? And do you think it’s important for an illustrator to pursue some kind of educational award, whether that’s in terms of learning, or simply having something to put on your CV?

Well, I hope it’s not essential, because technically I was never educated in actual illustration! I have a masters degree in Illustration, but it was project based, which means we weren’t actually taught any technical skills. Before that, I did a BA in Art & Multimedia in the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon. I… won’t comment at length on my formal education – for one, I don’t think I’ll know how much it influenced me until later in my career. It was not what I was hoping it would be – I’ll leave it at that. What I like to believe is this – you shouldn’t really do things because they look good in the CV. Do it to learn more, and learn better. Specially because, in an actual art career, people won’t give a rat’s ass about your CV. They will be looking at your work. I have to believe this because I didn’t go to a world famous school and I never got any kind of scholarship, but I do know that there have always been, and there always will be, successful, self-made artists. In the end, your own drive and motivation are what will lead you to success.

3. We couldn’t continue without mentioning the illustration you did for Florence + The Machine. What was it like being picked to have your work featured as one of the chosen works? Did you go to the event itself?

It was pretty great, of course! And it was one of those things that my mom told everyone about back home, just because everyone knows who Florence + The Machine are. I’m still really baffled by how well this image seems to have been received. It actually led to my first really good commission when the good folks at Pfeiffer Wines stumbled upon it and asked me to do their labels. And of course, now I have this artifact with my own work and Florence’s autograph! So if I’m ever really famous and bankrupt, I’ll be even happier that I did this. Unfortunately I couldn’t go to the opening of the exhibition (I believe I was working that day), but I visited the gallery while it was still ongoing.

4. It would be silly of us to say that anyone looking at your work wouldn’t be able to recognize a very vivid and noticeably style. But regardless of what other people think, what would you classify your own style as? What process do you go through then creating your work, and what kinds of things get you into the mood of putting together such imagery?

Uff, tough question. I’m always at a loss for words when people ask me to define “my style”… I don’t know, style actually something I used to worry about a lot, but that I’m definitely learning to let go of. I generally tend to depict slightly otherworldly images, if that makes sense – fantasy art is definitely an influence, even though I don’t actually do that much of it, in the typical sense of the genre. I like to use colours, that’s for sure – colouring is the part of the process that is most instinctive, fun and stress-free to me, for sure. And line-art is very important to me – in that sense, I wouldn’t say I’m a painter at all, and I’m okay with that – in the past, I would frequently try to be more of a painter, but I eventually discovered that not only was this not the type of work I liked doing, it was also not the type of work I loved seeing the most.
I honestly can’t pinpoint what “gets me in the mood” – seeing amazing illustration usually helps, and if I want to draw something I’m not familiar with, I’ll always do a bit of research – I feel like I got in the habit of drawing these things as a means of escaping reality in a productive way, if you will, although I don’t think that’s the main reason nowadays. But I try not to let my mood dictate whether I do good work. Sometimes I just power through to make it by the deadline.

5. If we took one image as an example, your – Communitree – image. What is the process you go through when composing your image. How do you start it, what techniques, software and skills do you use? Do you create lots of sketches beforehand? Are you inspired by something?

My process is generally pretty straight-forward – I draw something, I scan, I colour it in Photoshop. Sometimes I like to leave the sketchy lines, other times I clean them up or actually use a lightbox to create the final line drawing. I definitely don’t do as many thumbnails and sketches as I should – that’s not ideal, but I’m trying to correct it. I also do my best not to let the medium limit me – I fortunately know Photoshop well enough to get the results I want. And if I need to paint some textures or smudge some lines and scan everything and put it all together in Photoshop, I’ll do just that. I honestly find the digital vs. traditional discussion absolutely ridiculous.

6. Sticking to the topic of your illustrations, we’ve noticed you like to do a lot of observation based life studies. In other words, you sketch images of people you see on the train, or of people you study with. What causes you to pick out a certain person to sketch? Are there any funny stories regarding you being caught? And how important do you think it is to sketch so regularly such as yourself?

Honestly, I just pick the people closest to me! When you just want to sketch in a public setting, you generally can’t be very picky, though sometimes I see someone and go “Oh wow, look at that face, I need to draw this”. I’m not sure whether I’ve ever been caught or not – probably have, but I’ve never been called out on it. I like to think I’ve become like a ninja, but I’m probably the only one who thinks that.
I definitely think that it’s very important to draw from life as frequently as possible, particularly if you have a style that requires you to have a semi-realistic approach. The funny thing is, I actually used to be pretty bad at it – I was very slow and sketches would often come out looking frankly ugly. But I kept going at it and got better. Now, for me it’s such mindless fun that sometimes I actually feel almost guilty for doing it instead of trying to come up with “concepts” or compositions of my own.

7. Despite the themes and use of character within your work, it’s also noticeable that what you create is influenced by myth and fiction. Such as the, Fairies, Nymphs and even character of modern day fantasy works such as Harry Potter and Studio Ghibli’s ‘My Neighbour Totoro’. Is this something that interests you more than others? Do you have a specific reason? Are there other subjects that you’re interested in but haven’t illustrated (Yet.)?

As I mentioned above, fantasy and mythology are big inspirations in my work. I mostly consume fictional books and movies, and growing up I read a lot of Young Adults novels, played a lot of RPG video games, read lots of comics. It’s only natural that what I draw reflects this. One thing that I would still like to explore a lot more than I have is the human sexuality – because the human body is my favourite thing to draw, and because I feel it’s something that hasn’t been very explored under a certain light – it’s like, you find artists who never draw sex, and you find artists who draw pornography. Finding something in between is quite rare, although there’s been a lot of great young names appearing in the past few years. I’m also interested in it because it’s a subject which a lot of people can’t quite wrap their heads around, and I honestly don’t understand why.

8. Are there any illustrators or designers that you feel influenced by? Perhaps any artists that have affected the practice of your work, or your style? Is there anything else other than art that inspires your work? Music, perhaps.

Oh, so many. I was definitely the kind of student that would find a new amazing artist and try to emulate their style for the next 2 months until the next art crush came along, and then I’d do it all over again. The vast majority are North American artists that are actually not much older than me – I’m aware that this is a bit restrictive and I’m trying to broaden my horizons, but I can’t deny that they were, and still are, my biggest influences. When I was doing my BA, I think started realising that what I really wanted to was illustration when I found the work of James Jean. After that I just researched and discovered more and more (a couple of big ones after that were Jillian Tamaki and Edwin Ushiro, which I discovered later). Apart from that, I would say nature is probably my biggest inspiration – especially because I dislike drawing straight lines so much, and I’m so much better at drawing organic shapes.

9. To talk about your career. You began working for D&AD in January 2012 and have said that it’s enabled you to learn more about the business side of the creative industry and marketing. Has there been any work you’ve come across while working as an Awards Assistant that you’ve taken a particular interest in? Is there any gossip you can divulge about the world of the D&AD Art Awards?

One of the perks of working for D&AD was seeing all the amazing work, that’s for sure! My position as a production assistant gave me an overviews of what was being produced, and who was who in the industry, and the role I took on later, as a research assistant, was really valuable to get to understand how the marketing side of it works. I learned a lot about the inner workings of advertising, and my sense of design definitely improved. Sometimes the hours were long, especially when preparing for judging week, and I hardly had any energy or time left to do anything when I got home, but I can’t think of a better learning experience right out of school. I did not feel ready at all to become part of the industry, and this turned out to be a great way of getting a sense of how everything works, which in turn improved my confidence. Wouldn’t be fair to share any gossip, though – especially because I’m still working with them! I can say, though, that I could have met Yoann Lemoine (Woodkid) last year – he was a judge – but judging week is such a huge event that I wasn’t aware of this until it was over. I love his work and THAT was a huge fail.

10.. As a finishing question for this interview, would you be able to share with us any goals you have for the future? Project that you have planned? Is there anything you’re hoping to make that our readers could look forward to viewing? And are there any artists or clients you hope to work with/for?

Expand my freelance business! 2012 was an opportunity to learn a lot, and now I feel ready to take on so much. I’m really excited for this year, and I already feel like I’m being so much more productive. A friend and I have been thinking of creating a silly comic together, but none of us has any experience there, so IF it happens, it will take a while. I’m really hoping to work for some YA/fantasy commissioners – would love that kind of job.. I’d love to work for Irene Gallo, for instance, like so many other illustrators. But for now, I just want to produce a lot!

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