Illustration West 54 Chair Marc Scheff Interviews Goñi Montes, our Call for Entries Artist:
- It’s very hard to dissect the process that lead us to our styles. In my case, that realization came about when everything felt right. How it got to feeling right was built mainly over two strong pieces of advice.
At the time, I was still interning for Bill Mayer and taking my last few courses at SCAD. All my classmates seemed to have figured out their markets and styles and I wasn’t exactly catching up. Yuko Shimizu was visiting the school and reviewed my portfolio. She complimented my skill, but had trouble placing me because ultimately my portfolio was all over the place. Then she bluntly asked me something I had never been asked before: What are the stories you want to tell? I had honestly never thought of this. Most of my college experience was me trying to catch up to everybody else’s skills. Yoko told me “I want to see your stories and your personal views”. Her advice was was to focus on that for a while.
The second advice came from Bill Mayer. While going through one of my many self-deprecating rants, he jokingly told me to lower my standards in a shrugging manner. It clicked. Suddenly it was easy not to have the pressure to make every single painting a masterpiece. It made my relaxing, fun, and selfish. For the most part, it was remained that way. I draw things that I like to see, I make marks that please me, I paint with colors that feel right to me, and once it’s all done, I hope that people like it.
Your use of color is incredibly bold, often using colors that challenge and engage the viewer. How do you come up with your color palette on a piece like the Illustration West 54 poster?
- Growing up in the Caribbean gets you used to a lot of bright colors. It’s an inevitable influence. My dreams help a lot too. The closest way to describe them is as if I was listening to an audiobook while staring at endless fractal colors. Yet another inevitable influence.
There’s a lot of back and forth in Photoshop while I’m still searching for a color scheme. It’s one of the allowances that makes digital so right for me. I have an idea of what colors I’ll use at the beginning of every piece, but seldom does that original plan make it to final without some tampering. Some of my best color schemes have been a bit accidental. Again, another aspect of my work that’s not easily dissected. That won’t stop me from trying though.
I’ve got three rules when it comes to colors. First, no primaries. I’m no good with those. Second, bright colors can be used liberally on focus areas, those areas that carry the story, and sparingly in resting areas. It’s the same rule used with contrast when setting up lights and shadows. Third and last rule, I have to like it. Color is the aspect that excites me the most when creating an illustration. If it doesn’t click you feel it right away. And when it clicks, you get kind of a rush. This also makes me very reluctant to changing colors once I’ve found something that truly attracts me.
In recent years there has been a blurring of lines between Editorial illustration and Fantasy work. You do both quite well, and have clients in both camps. Do you approach these clients differently? If so, how?
- Actually, it’s the other way around. Clients from those markets approach me differently. Editorial is faster. The deadlines are shorter. They’re more likely to lean out a concept. They kind of tend to go for brighter colors and simpler compositions. When I first started, changes were not common. Nowadays it’s the opposite. Changes are more like those of advertising. Unfortunately, the deadlines are still the same. Nonetheless, there’s still a satisfying rush when you get a tight deadline and pull through.
Fantasy is very laid back in my opinion. I find myself more attracted to that kind of work now. There’s more time to tell the kind of stories I like to tell. There’s time to create crowd scenes, action, strong lights, and details that may not directly add to the concept but still make the piece more attractive. Ultimately, fantasy art directors allow me the chance to get really weird and I love it!
On your social media, you often bring up non-art topics, around race, gender, and equality. Why are these issues important to you? Why is it important to discuss them on social media?
They’re important to me because they’re part of my life. Being latino and queer is a very particular experience. We are born and raised in environments that are harsh to us. I was a shame to be fixed. It was an identity forcefully given to me. I accepted it. Then one day, it was too real to ignore. I tore it out. The roots were deep. It took time and a lot of help. Then I faced a scary void where all those hateful schemes once were. And I had to rebuild anew. It turned out to be one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.
I started sharing and bringing up these topics as a way to vent off frustrations. Then I found comfort and solidarity within the illustration community. To my colleagues, I am Goñi, an artist. And that IS my life. But to many outside of our community, I’m a queer latino and although I stand firm as one, I am nothing more to them.
Then it was evident how being an illustrator gave my words weight. As visual communicators we get used to the constant promotion and circulation of our art. But a tweet or a comment on Facebook? It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to get around and spark conversations when the vast majority of your followers are interested in your art. Or so I thought. I’m glad I was mistaken.
What is your #1 must-read book recommendation that is not about art and not fiction?
Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. If it weren’t for that book, that would’ve been a tough question. Most of the stuff I read is fiction. Now… this may not apply, but Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is probably my favorite book.