Letters from Madrid

Posted: 30.06.13 by Siobhan Harris
Tagged with: Illustration, Interview, Madrid

Sergio Jiménez

Sergio Jiménez—one of our clients and now good friend—talks to us about being a Madrid based typographer and illustrator and what the creative scene is like over in Spain.

Where & when were you born?
Toledo (Spain), July 13th, 1976.

How would you describe your illustrative style?
Crazy handmade lettering and illustration.

When did you decide you wanted to become an illustrator/typographer?
I’ve always liked comics and I think that that’s been my main influence ever since I was very young. When I finished high school I began studying illustration and my early passion for comics and skateboarding showed through in my work. At university I studied Fine Arts which helped strengthen my love of illustration and typography but to be honest it’s been a natural evolution. I never really seriously decided that I was going to become one, I just did.

Do you think that there is one thing that has contributed most significantly to your career?
What has really helped me has been when people have given me the confidence in what I was doing. That has been vital to my development. Now I am also a teacher I realise how important that is to have someone who can guide and encourage you and also teach you to see your mistakes. People like Julio Sanz, Raquel Pelta, Francisco Rojas, Armando Montesinos, Paco Bascuñan and Sebastián Saavedra have all been instrumental in my career.

What is your process? Do you normally start with pencil sketches or move straight onto your Mac?
It depends. I usually start drawing with pencil or directly with a brush and ink and then work on my Mac. Sometimes it's the opposite. I start designing in Illustrator and then try to imitate the composition with brushes and ink. In the end there is a symbiosis between the two media.

How specific are the briefs that you work on? Are they very detailed or are you given much creative freedom to interpret them how you wish?
Normally the work is determined by a previous job. I love it when you realise that a client understands your graphic language. Good art directors usually send examples of previous work and of other designers simliar to you. In this way it is clearly defined what I need to do, what is expected of me and most importantly, what not to do. I prefer it when the brief is very detailed but that's not always the case.

What do you like most about your work?
The best thing without any doubt is the ability to keep on learning. That I would call ‘the kitchen’—the process of creation and experimentation.

Where do you get your inspiration? Inside Spain or outside?
Inside and outside of course! I'm inspired by typography, comics, skateboard graphics and cinema but certainly what inspires me most is graphic design in its most amateur way. I love learning from mistakes and clumsiness and use that as a body of work to create new languages. Inspiration is a consequence of curiosity.

Do you ever get creative block? If so, what do you do?
Constantly. I try to do a lot of exercise, what the italian designer Fortunato Depero called ‘graphical gymnastics’. It is important to exercise regularly to keep fit.

Do you have any tips for young illustrators?
Curiosity, perseverance and patience. And while they learn how to create their own work, seek to learn about the work of others.

Where does the name Subcoolture come from?
I made up that name not as an identity but more as a site or concept that represented the type of work that I was doing—trying to position myself on the edge of the trend. It comes not from wanting to be cool but instead from wanting to remain as amateur as possible. Then I started to use a dual identity as superheroes do. It’s a trick to shelter my own shyness.

Many illustrators keep their own name, what made you want to create a separate brand/identity? Do you feel that this has helped your business?
Subcoolture began as the name of a project and now it’s what people call me, but I honestly do not think that's very relevant today in my business.

Who have been your biggest and most prestigious clients?
In Spain, newspapers and magazines such as El Pais and El Periódico de Catalunya or publishers such as Random House Mondadori. Outside, perhaps the biggest has been the agency Attik London for Coca Cola or magazines like Toronto Life in Canada.

How would you describe the design scene in Madrid compared to Barcelona? How has this changed (if at all) in the last 10 years?
I think the design scene in Madrid is now very diverse. In my opinion the main differences between the two cities are the design schools and universities. Barcelona has always been renowned for its great creative schools which have encouraged the design industry to develop. In the last 10 years, Madrid has been focusing on improving their creative courses which have now reached a high level of recognition. This has been brilliant for the industry here.

Basically, Barcelona has created a scene from the schools, whereas Madrid has established schools from the scene. As it stands though, the design scene in Madrid is a lot less visible and more ‘underground’ than in Barcelona.

Where are your clients outside of Spain? how did you get the work?
Canada, UK, The Netherlands, Italy and Mexico. Sometimes I send my portfolio directly to them and other times the client or agency get in touch with me. I also work with an agency of illustrators in the Netherlands (Create Agency) that manages European and the Middle East clients.

Do you believe there are opportunities for foreign creatives in Madrid?
There may be, but now the situation is not very encouraging because of the economic situation. I guess in a few years it will all be back to normal. Currently, I don’t know any British designers working here but I did meet some very good British designers a few years ago.

How is British design work perceived over there?
British graphic design is really interesting. I admire the illustrative work which is being created by designers who are often seen as highly developed in their field.

Many of the designers and illustrators who I admire are British, which is also true for my favourite magazine—Computer Arts. From experience, something that I really appreciate about working with British designers is their strong art direction and excellent project management.

Do you have any advice for any creatives wishing to move to Spain?
I can't say it's a good time at the moment but it is clear that Spain needs very strong creative minds to get us out of this economic crisis. This in itself is a good opportunity to enhance collaboration.

Which Madrid based agencies/freelancers are currently producing exciting work?
LuisB, Erretres, Velckro Artwork, Toch Studio and Pablo Abad.

How important do you think social media is in the running of your business?
Now, it is completely necessary. It allows immediate feedback and visibility so clients can get a feel for what you do and encourages more direct and informal contact. Social media has become the normal way of contacting people and collaborating on work as well as being a strong basis for developing new business relationships

The Future

What has been inspiring you lately?
Currently I am fascinated with the work of theorists of composition and colour. I am studying the work of Armin Hofmann and Josef Albers respectively and I am interested in how illustration can be applied to infography and data graphics.

Are there any great Spanish design blogs/magazines that you recommend?
Don Serifa, Monográfica, Lineasguia, Gráffica, 40fakes and Quintatinta.

So what's on the horizon for you in the future?
I’d like to work on new challenges away from editorial and magazine illustration. For example, projects related to illustrated packaging or motion graphics.

How do you see the creative scene in Madrid changing over the forthcoming years?
If things improve economically I see a very interesting scene developing. If the situation of recession continues I see Madrid desolate and full of zombies. :D

For anyone planning a trip to Madrid, where are your favourite places to hang out?
Wurlitzer Ballroom, Home Burger and El Rastro.

Barrio fontCover and title page illustrations for the first issue of 2012 of DominicalLettering project for the cover of S ModaRousselot tribute poster

Sergio Jiménez