November 15, 2013

Spotlight: Angelica Alzona

Shake hands with your computer screen.

Angelica Alzona is the person you know from the Internet--the one you whose Facebook page you find yourself wandering to when you're poking around through photos of people who always look like their lives are seeping with art. She's the person whose artwork you peel through, click, click, click, and when you see her at a party, you bashfully say hello like you don't already know everything about them. Creepy? Totally. But this is due largely in part to the fact that artists like Alzona pour every piece of who they are into their work, to the point where when you meet them, it's almost like being confronted with a tangible version of the facts you're already so wholly familiar with. It's like shaking hands with definitions from a dictionary.

Not to say that art is definitive of who you are. I'm not sure that's possible, but regardless, Alzona splatters her life (with amazing precision, might I add) onto the screen and makes it into something beautiful. Even the potentially mundane become fantastic and though sometimes her art might not always connect back to something from her life, the familiarity, the recognition of your own experiences aches inside. Alzona's responsible for making our new logo, the cover to our first zine and the poster for the launch event coming up this Sunday, and for this we are eternally grateful. We asked her about her artistic process, titling pieces and animation, and think she is as lovely as she looks in her portfolio.

THE LE SIGH: Your illustrations are created with incredible detail and precision--how long does the average piece take, from conception to fruition? Do you go through multiple drafts?

Angelica Alzona: Way longer than I think it will. I start with a super loose drawing in my sketchbook and just take a picture with my phone. Then I put it in Photoshop and paint and paint and paint over it until it looks right. A lot of adjustment layers to mess around with colors, shadows and lights as well as over-detailing and washing away. So even the simplest drawing usually goes through a hundred drafts all on top of each other! I really need to find a more efficient way to work.

TLS: Each illustration has a really unique, interesting name (and caption). What comes first in your process--name, concept or imagery? And after that?

AA: It varies so much! A lot of the names and captions are just shit I wrote when I was drunk and crying on the subway home. Or things I wish I could say to someone but for whatever reason I can't talk to them anymore. Then I draw something that reflects that concept. Sometimes the image comes first because it pulls straight from a dumb feeling like wanting to rip yourself into pieces out of self-disgust. That kind of thing I just go at. It's as fun as it sounds.

TLS: Some of your images resemble the fantastic and some are more realistic than others. Where do your different ideas for illustrations come from? Are they grounded in reality and/or personal experiences?

AA: They've gotten increasingly personal. When I first started school I was just trying to make "cool illustrations" and it inevitably turned into me telling other people's stories over and over again. It wasn't fulfilling at all, but it helped me practice technique. Now most of my stuff is based on my own reality. I take a lot of photos and they're my greatest personal resource. Lighting and color are what I focus most on in my work and sometimes an illustration simply comes from loving how the light fell on the grass one day and I paint it out of observation and marvel. Sometimes it's more--photos pull me back to a time, a place, a person, and all the feelings that go with it. They help me remember the haze of the air and the bits of dust and the back of someone's arm. Things like that. Atmosphere connects to a mood or feeling, details connect to people I love or used to love. I romanticize everything and make everything precious. I create meaning because it gives me fulfillment and my illustrations pull from that.

TLS: I've been trying to pinpoint the medium you've been using but can't seem to figure it out. What are your favorite drawing utensils?

AA: Traditionally I start with a pencil or a brush pen (the Pentel ones oh my god) or whatever I have on hand. Then I throw it in the computer and it's a whole mess of Photoshop, openCanvas and my Intuous5. oC is a pretty silly program but I have yet to find a brush that blends so smoothly.

TLS: You've created THE LE SIGH's new logo, the poster for our big event and the cover for our upcoming zine, as well as a lot of work for other organizations. How is the work you create for other people representative of your own preference (aside from the obvious)? How do you balance their vision with your own?

AA: It's usually half and half. It was really fun working with THE LE SIGH because you [guys] gave me so much freedom. The site has certain themes and a look to it, but within that I could do anything. Illustration is just a problem that needs to be solved: how can I create this in a way that is personally enjoyable and creative, but also fulfills the requirements of theme, concept, mood, etc? Sometimes it's easier to work within constraints because it allows you to focus and gives you something to work off of. A blank white sheet is honestly overwhelming. Working off of writing (a story, article, etc.) is nice and more of a collaboration because the works have to complement each other without being redundant.
I don't put my own preference in work consciously, it just happens because it's my hand doing it. It usually comes out in the way I paint, the kind of colors and light I use how much I give away. There are definitely times where I'm much more restricted, though. At production companies, the creative director decides the look of the commercial, game, whatever. As I'm only a year into the industry, I'm mostly replicating the style that they've set and rendering out their story. Thankfully they tend to hire you if your style is naturally similar to what they're doing, so I'm usually on painterly jobs. As you move up, directors trust you to make good decisions and you can get more creative control I hope to direct my own team one day, though it seems pretty stressful.

TLS: A lot of your imagery is undeniably dark (in a remarkably love way). Do you find that's just a coincidence or is that more in tandem with your artistic preference? What do you think influences this sort of dark tint? To people ever mistake that for your head being in a dark place?

AA: Oh man, I didn't even think my work was that dark until an art director at a portfolio review told me I'd never get work because no one wants to look at sad things. But yeah, it's definitely a preference. I don't think I could ever draw anything silly or fun. That doesn't interest me. People always tell me my work doesn't really reflect my personality, but that's because being around people makes me happy and gives me energy. When I pull away it's not the same. My head's usually in the place you think it is when I'm drawing. It really is an outlet. I have no need to tell everyone how happy I am with this or that, or how good I feel some days. I'm busy enjoying it. But when I feel like shit I need to throw up.

TLS: You've also done some animated work (which is, um, awesome, might I add). Do you see your art going in that direction? If not, where would you like your art to go?

AA: Oh god no. I hate doing animation. I love being part of the designing--concept art, style-frames, color keys, etc.--but the actual process of creating motion and drawing each frame is so excruciatingly tedious and difficult, I don't have the patience nor the interest. That being said, adding a little animation to my illustrations has always been something i wanted to get into--a light flickering, a hand tightening. Something small. I'd want my work to be pretty quiet.

As for where I want my art to go...I don't know. Somewhere people can take refuge. I don't care about provoking people or pushing the art scene, I just want people to know how I feel and I want those who feel the same way to find some sort of solace in it.

TLS: There are also a few of your drawings that are paired into a series, and I've often wondered how you (and other artists) decide to put pieces together? What makes a set of illustrations go along with one another?

AA: All illustrations tell a story; with a single image, you get it all at once. A series lets you unfold a story at a pace you've set, which gives you a certain control over how an audience perceives your work. It's like a comic--it's a series of images in sequence, and how they relate to each other creates the narrative. Even if there's no set sequence, putting certain images together can emphasize a theme or create a concept that wouldn't have emerged in one piece alone. I just think of a series as a single illustration in multiple pieces.

Check out more of Angelica's work here.

Written by Molly Morris