“Design Is an Inherent Quality of All Humans”
An Interview with Ecuadorian Illustrator Viscera Vicarious
When reading Viscera Vicarious’s answers, one can learn about how artists, either creating fine or applied art, can build an entire universe that supports them in their daily work. Despite never learning how to draw in official settings such as in schools, Viscera has shown his talent on several occasions, and expressed rather complex thoughts on a wide range of issues. He is more interested in human existence and all related questions, though. Besides trying to unfold what drives Viscera as a multimedia designer and illustrator, I’ve asked him about the design traditions of his homeland, Ecuador.
Let’s begin with a very basic question! When did you discover and decide to work in the field of illustration?
Years ago I studied advertising, and then graphic design in Santiago, Chile, but it wasn’t until I was truly immersed in design and understood that illustration is a tool deeper within the realm of possibilities at hand. As a result of returning to Ecuador and starting to work within the traditional graphic design field, I began to practise illustration. I illustrated as a form of relaxation and conceptualization, with the aim of providing a new tool in addition to those used at the time. Nevertheless, I started receiving a lot of attention in personal and work circles, and the natural progression was to seriously and consistently focus on developing this tool.
I live in Sweden, and I can hear a lot about a typical Swedish (or Scandinavian) style due to a few very distinctive features of it. What are the characteristics of Ecuadorian illustration?
Similar to other parts of the world, the characteristics are related to cultural and social aspects. However, the very same social process experienced here in Ecuador could result in illustration not being considered as a design tool, but rather an isolated trade that generally relates to the plastic arts field. The daily challenge is to make an offer on the local market, and make it understand that illustration is a valid medium within the design field as well as the value it has to offer. These aspects are taken care of in other parts of the world.
What position do you think Ecuadorian illustration/design holds in the context of South America and in the world?
It is difficult for me to try to position national illustration and design within this global context. It seems the national offers are geared toward development and learning. It is important to take into consideration that Ecuador, when compared to other countries of the region, such as Brazil, Colombia, Chile or Argentina, is trying to catch up. But the one thing that I can take away from this reality and situation is that the influence of the region is a school of learning for the local medium. Currently, there are national benchmarks in different fields, such as urban art or graphic design, individuals who are pioneers for the new generations, creating a field for the natural development that goes along with these processes.
What do you think the biggest challenges and greatest opportunities designers in the region have?
They are related to the openness to the world, meaning, one of the reasons that I decided to return to Ecuador was to understand a graphic medium that was beginning to acquire knowledge, which was commonplace in other parts of the world. Through this, the traditional work fields would begin to transform, and new ones would be born. More graphically, it was to take on a blank canvas that would allow for proposing new ideas. On the other hand, the cultural and social characteristics of the region represent an important source of information that fosters value and variety to the medium. If we talk about opportunities, I think they relate back to this. We have historical and cultural knowledge that is attractive for a global market that is more and more saturated.
Locally, the challenges I’ve had to confront and I experience on a daily basis are related to the erroneous idea of how design is viewed, or better yet, the designer. It is very common to see daily ads of companies looking for graphic designers with knowledge of practically every area of communication, and much worse, designers who manage all types of design tools, giving way to labor expectations that are beyond reality for both the client and the designer. The challenge lies in getting the professionals and the work fields to understand that the careers in the communication fields are multidisciplinary and that each specialization is another link in the value chain of this field.
You are a very successful illustrator. What advice would you give to those who are about to start their career in the field?
A piece of advice to young people who are starting off in this profession would be not to allow the tool to define them as professionals. The tools are simple, the most important thing is the style and spirit that someone gets from the tool. Additionally, patience and hard work are essential factors for this type of profession, which results in a lot of frustration. The modern era and software have caused us to expect immediate results. Many young people expect or think that a couple of filters in Photoshop are the solution to creating great designs. I recommend looking for sources of inspiration and information that are not necessarily related to our field of study or profession.
What advice did you receive that helped you to become the person/illustrator you’re today?
From a personal aspect, values such as consistency and hard work have always been present in the teaching of my parents. However, with regards to my profession, more than advice, an anecdote that I would like to share, regarding a conversation that I had with the director of Graphic Design on my first day of classes. He made me understand that there are no good and/or bad designers, but rather designers with knowledge and those that lack knowledge. Design is an inherent quality of all humans. This can be seen in the way we present ourselves in the environment, meaning, how we dress ourselves, how we decorate our houses, the music we listen to, etc. We are a personal and constant design project.
What is your take-away message from this discussion?
This conversation helped me understand that the university would provide a space to learn the different design tools, but that each individual was responsible for finding a specialty that would help to define them as a professional, and that would relate to personal and unique aspects and characteristics. In some ways, it helped me to calm the intense feelings of competition that the academic circuit of the publicity field had caused in previous years, and it made me understand that, whether as students or as professionals, we are all part of a big team, there is a work field for each one of us, and collective development by means of different styles, tools or forms was the most important thing.
Behind your artworks there is always a rather philosophical concept or meaning. You deal with the questions related to what it means to be human, for instance. Where do your interests stem from?
From an early age, about 14 or 15, I was attracted to and had a desire to learn about fields such as philosophy, literature, numerology, astronomy, history, etc. These things still interest me today, and they can be seen in my work in different ways. The basic questions related to human beings and what it means to be a human have provided various sources of information and inspiration to learn from.
Please exemplify what you could learn from them.
These fields of interest have helped me to understand the importance of the conceptual development of works, meaning, I personally do not have a natural liking for drawing as a trade, but a passion for the development process of a piece, the research, conceptualization, mock-up, design and development.
You’ve mentioned that the questions related to being a human being provided you with varied sources of inspiration. What else inspires you?
One of my main sources of inspiration and information is related to the literary movement of symbolism. I have taken different guidelines from that to tell a story, and the challenge is always to do it through graphical means. As the design process is similar to cosmological and literary fields, it is based on that. You will never find me drawing or sketching in my free time. I tend to write and read, and I have pages and pages of written material with a ton of information about politics, science, philosophy, sociology, art, personal relations, etc. I have been writing a book for years (the book of Saturn), which through personal letters narrates my experience on this planet. From there, from the text, I get inspiration for the majority (if not all) of my personal illustrations. It could be said that my works are not based on a graphic sketch, but a written, literary, conceptual outline.
I’d say there is a possibility that one (potential clients, for instance) might find your work slightly disturbing. Has it ever happened to you that a client wanted to convince you to do something radically different from you usually do? If so, how did you handle the situation?
Initially, I had this type of discussion with clients more frequently, because I hadn’t developed a defined illustration style. This lack of my own style gave way to the client attempting to translate their criteria into the required pieces. Currently, this problem is less and less, and the majority of clients search me out for this exact reason: the style of my illustrations. In this case, the discussions tend to be more conceptual and developmental, instead of trying to convince me to do something radically different. If this were to be the case, I firmly believe that all problems can be solved through communication.
Your success is manifested in winning awards, too. In 2016, for instance, you won a Silver Pentaward for a package design created for your own brand Tawasap. What does this (and other) award(s) mean to you?
The Pentaward and other awards, such as the Behance appreciation medal or biennial mentions for design and other circuits, do not only mean the recognition of colleagues or the design medium of the award giver presented, but for me the satisfaction comes from the personal recognition resulting from the effort and sacrifice invested in the profession. It’s not like awards aren’t important to people. I believe that we all like to be recognized for our work and it is something that I greatly appreciate, but for me, this type of award is another element that ratifies the personal convictions of the work being performed. It is just another reason to keep working on what I like.
You write regarding your brand: “For some of the original tribes of the Ecuadorian Amazon, a Tawasap represents the feather headdress that only the bravest and wisest members are allowed to wear.” Minority rights issues have finally become a hot topic in the media lately. Do you think designers also have the responsibility to draw attention to issues that need to be solved or addressed in the world?
The responsibility of not only designers, but of everyone who works in the communication field, is based on the common goal that we share, and this is to create an adequate environment for the message to directly travel from the transmitter to the recipient, causing the desire impact, searching for solutions to communications problems. Communicators are called on to provide an opinion and criteria about the world in which we live — not only regarding matters related to their field of specialty or profession. I truly believe that communicators must have knowledge of general aspects that provide structure to society, and therefore reveal and provide evidence of any type of injustice or social problem that is occurring. In the end, communicators handle tools and knowledge to make a call for attention, create awareness or directly help to resolve social problems.
Well said! What motivated you to launch your own brand?
The development process of my brand didn’t occur because of the desire to have a personal brand, but from a case study based on a problem that I found in the local work environment. Years ago a client asked me to design these multifunctional bandanas (a triangular or square piece of cloth tied around the head or around the neck for protective or decorative purposes) as a corporate gift for their employees. My mistake at the time was to accept the job without doing preliminary research on the local industry. After having designed the bandanas and entering into the production phase, we found out that this product was not being manufactured in the country. Due to the urgency and tight deadline, we had to resolve the problem in the best way possible, but the product did not come out as expected.
As a result of this, I began to ponder different questions as to why I could not create this piece as I had designed, and I began to study the local textile industry. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to import some of this type of material to make some samples. Personally, I am passionate about the different types of printing systems, and in my workshop we’ve worked with different printing techniques, such as offset, serigraphy and digital. Once the process started, we began studying its printing technique, sublimation, which is a magnificent system due to the chemical and technical knowledge and the performance it implies.
How did you proceed from there?
As time went by, and with a sufficient supply of imported raw material, I started thinking again about two scenarios: having the opportunity to offer this type of printing service and this product to clients, or the opportunity to develop a brand myself. I found it interesting to take on the latter option, as people are accustomed to developing their own personal brands with products that they are familiar with. In this case, while I knew about the product and the different uses, I had never experimented with it personally. It was an amazing personal exercise to study and develop a brand from the ground up. Currently, I am designing new collections and developing proposals for upcoming seasons.
You travelled to Beijing, China to accept the Pentaward, and you also explain that, “that [China’s ancient culture] has served me as a source of inspiration at different levels and moments. A trip that would serve to reaffirm my convictions as a professional but furthermore as a person.” What are the aspects of Chinese culture that caught your attention in the past?
Those are related to art and the devotion with which they perform different trades, in addition to that, the worldview and historical knowledge of a millenary culture. It has always seemed to me that it is a culture with an immeasurable philosophical and theological framework that can adopt certain information to contribute to creative processes. My visit to China helped me to reaffirm certain personal and professional convictions that I was beginning to question. I was able to discover that my work was valued and followed in a country far from home, through these invisible strings that unite all living things, and it was a way to recharge my positive energy.
Looking at your portfolio on Behance the lack of colours or the use of only a few colours are obvious, and in the case of your project Mantra you also write about the challenges you have faced in terms of the application of colours. Please tell us what it exactly means when you talk about the challenges concerning colours.
For me, the application of color is a direct challenge due to my initial approach and contact with the illustration. I looked for a formal structure in different examples that would help me to understand illustration and its different characteristics, such as composition. One of the strongest examples or sources of reference that I had at the beginning was, and continues to be, sculpture, primarily baroque, without negating other movements or styles.
It is wonderful to think about the works of role models, ranging from Bernini or Pietro Tacca, to the magnificent compositions of Stanislaw Szukalski. Initially, I tried to understand how these masters were able to work with difficult materials, such as bronze or marble, and were able to forge the noblest or subtle textures and volumes, such as human hair or skin, without the need to use color. That is when I understood the value and attention put into the sketch and the harmony that is created with light to achieve the aforementioned. In some way, when I began to develop my illustration work I tried to emulate these aspects by only using black ink on a white canvas, providing added attention and value to the sketch and its fluidity within the general composition. Similarly, this love for baroque and its narrative and conceptualization characteristics began to work together with the bases of the symbolism movement that I included in my texts.
How has your approach changed in recent years?
After being exposed to the work environment of illustration, mixed with graphic design, I have learned a lot of new things in this field. Taking part in it, and how to conceive and think about a new graphical piece, is a real challenge in and of itself, as is with most things in general, directly linked to how to do things. However, the desire to continue learning is something natural, in which I understand what it means to be a designer. I think the application of color, or the beginning of understanding the application and the use of color, was something that was unavoidable. Even when talking about a completely different manner of conceiving an image, the techniques and applications of color are influenced by the close relation to one of the printing systems I like the most. It is the technique of serigraphy, where flat colors are used, and overlaying colors is key in the use of the color. Thus, I tend not to use shading or blurring techniques, but rather have an overlaid color palette that provides different results.
The development and execution of Mantra are also very interesting, and it is worth discussing it. Please walk us through the process.
The truth is that I didn’t have the pressure of a deadline imposed by a client, which gave me the luxury of taking the necessary amount of time to define an idea or concept. Thus, this piece began to take shape based on the desire to develop a composition that symbolically dealt with different aspects of the relationship between humans and the environment. Based on a heat and pressure transfer technique, the final result was 108 glass slides printed by hand with this illustration, each one signed, stamped and numbered.
Please tell us briefly about the elements of it and the meanings behind.
If you were to breakdown the piece and its different elements, and study the meaning of each one, you would be able to identify and discover different messages hidden in the piece. I was trying to create a graphical narrative that speaks to us positively about our true situation or these unique characteristics that I think make us special, such as spirituality and consciousness. The symbols make us remember that the relationship between humans and the Earth is not solely and exclusively linked to a physical condition, meaning I truly believe that we are beings of pure energy that make up part of this universal spirit that inhabits all things, and through a transition process we are experiencing this physical dimension on Earth and that feelings of loss or pain are nothing more than illusions, or this fire that forges us to confront the infinite spiral path that we are all passengers on. Rituals are important, as they provide structure and weight to our natural learning process as human beings. The use of mantras, whatever they are, whether they come from culture or religion, they are vital to be able to generate a counterweight that balances certain emotional and spiritual aspects that could become a burden during our life.
The projects Castor & Pollux and 01 PASSENGER also reflect upon human existence, but have sci-fi as their main theme. Please give us a concise and succinct description of the projects.
I really like science fiction, astronomy, astrology, numerology, science, history, etc. They are fields that provide an immense amount of information that fosters the creative process. In the case of Castor and Pollux, I tried to fuse these fields of interest. I am a Gemini, and that was part of the base concept of this piece. This speaks of the astrological aspects or the ancient legends based on this Zodiac sign, going hand in hand with a narrative closely related to science fiction, and the concept or idea of man in space.
On the other hand, the illustration 01 Passenger came about after studying more about the theory of ancient astronauts, the work of Zecharia Sitchin, and ancient Sumerian texts that in one way or another contribute to the folklore of these ideas or hypotheses of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that were responsible for the creation of human beings.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently developing a second version of my portfolio. The first was designed under the name Afterglow: The Log Entries for the Dark Matter Mission, and presented in the Behance portfolio review. I won the appreciation award in the illustration category. This portfolio helped me present my work more completely, as each illustration was printed on individual pages that I personally stamped, providing additional information about the tools used or the technique, but primarily the texts of the book that I am writing that served as the concept for each piece. In this case, and thanks to this presentation, I had the opportunity to begin designing a book that will go on sale. The book, by the way, will have special printing techniques in an attempt not only to provide a book full of information, but also a collector’s item. At the same time, I continue to work on my studies for different clients that are related to various products or services, contributing designs for branding or packaging.
What are your plans?
In the upcoming months I will be launching a new local gastronomic concept, along with a specialized group of partners. Although my participation is directly related to the design and brand management, the challenges that we’re proposing will quickly result in a small break from my work as a designer. I will also take the time and ensure the resources to finish some personal illustration projects that I’m planning. As far as immediate plans, I want to spend some time with family and take advantage of the beautiful beaches that Ecuador has to offer.