Interview With ILW61 Judge Orlando Arocena

Oct 26, 2022 | Interviews, News, News & Events

Our eighth and final Illustration West 61 interview is with Orlando Arocena. Communications and Branding Committee member Chad Ewanic, conducted the interview with Orlando.

1.) How do you personally define ILLUSTRATION and why do you think you’ve gravitated toward it?

I define Illustration as the Marketing term used within the commercial industry for anything that is created and published as a static. non animated visual intended to drive awareness and/or deliver a visual representation from an artist.

Having gone from Fine Artist, to Creative / Design Director, to In House Illustrator and then to Consulting Creative Strategist for some world renown brands, I’ve gravitated back to Illustration because for me it’s the culmination of all those past professional experiences.

2.) What aspects from your upbringing or past  have emerged in the images you make?

My Illustration style at times can have visual traits inspired by my Boogie Down Bronx, NYC  + Mexican + Cuban Heritage.

Whether its the stylization of texts and wording (graffiti), to the dynamic angularity of vibrant flares and gradients to surrealistic visual narratives.

I enjoy Culture and History, and when the opportunity presents itself for me to cook the best “Creative Jambalaya”- you can bet I pull and add from Culture that I can serve up with a smile!

3.) What has been the most influential professional experience in your career so far?

The most influential professional experience in my career has to be without a doubt my choice to put a pause on my Fine Art Career and forge a tough yet enlightening 18 year investment into Commercial Design / Advertising. I’ve gone from being an Art Director (1997) for Troma Entertainment, to Creative Director for RZONE Magazine ( toy’ R Us), to being requested to start an in-house Illustration dept PepsiCo, to Design Director for BTL Diageo, to Creative Strategist for Timex (2015)- I learned plenty about “how to build Brand Muscle”, the differences between an Idea and Tactics, and the very best of how to estimate a creative project and how to negotiate its usage, licensing, copyright. Proving to all be benefits that add to my confidence when requested to collaborate with any Brand Client opportunity.


4.) What property that you’ve worked on has meant the most to you personally?

The most meaningful property which I’ve had the honor to deliver and collaborate on without a doubt has to be the 2014 Start up splash page for Adobe Illustrator. I was invited by Adobe that year to be present at their annual keynote known as AdobeMAX and while there, I was paid one of the highest compliments,by Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen – ” Congratulations, You are responsible for having Changed the Look of Vector.” A compliment upon which I proudly display through all my social accounts.

5.) Where did you receive your training?

I went to Pratt Institute Brooklyn, graduated in 1994 with a Bachelors in Communication Design…Fell in love with their curriculum that flows from traditional drawing and painting to in depth Art Direction / Graphic Design and Art History!

But that was before computers were even part of the standard tools within our present day industry- ah jeez, the Internet didn’t even really exist!
So I had worked several retail jobs- even 2 years as a Secruity Guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to save up for my first computer and teach myself the basic 3 ( at that time) Illustrator, Photoshop and Quark.

6.) What advice do you have for artists looking for formal training?

I would recommend practice daily. Fall in love with Art History and the specific area of visual design that you

are so interested in pursuing. There are many schools out there with great credentials and experienced professors.

If you’ve already paid your dues to a college/ trade school and still trying your best to get your foot in the door with Illustration- then

do your best with showcasing your creativity on Behance and then support your post throughout your social accounts. The Behance Global community has really helped with my career in Illustration.

7.) How important are fundamental drawing skills in professional illustration?

I’m a DieHard traditionalist who plays with computers as another tool from my ArtBin. So I highly believe that as a professional Illustrator, being able to DRAW is a reward and a benefit to understanding much more than just interpreting. For me it goes deeper. When I do draw – in analog- i prefer drawing in ballpoint ink.

Hahah yeah yeah, I’m a city boy- mom & pops only had ball points around the home. But for me drawing in ink is taking the opportunity to understand the fundamentals of how I live my life- there’s no erasing. And if an error is made, I’m either accepting it and turning the page, or doing my best to turn a negative into a positive.

8.) What forms of media inspires you most? Are there any that you avoid?

I avoid 3D. Yes, I love how the Pros ( and students) play with it but personally for me, I’ve played with 3D years ago ( macromedia Infini-D, Lightwave, Bryce, Cinema 4D)

and I can positively tell you, I don’t enjoy the laborious time it takes to get something polished or animated. I enjoy spontaneously exploding in real time, especially in vector.

I enjoy my moments when creating in vector and doing so without a net and moving very fast, so much so I call these moments my Vector Freestyles.

9.) How did your innovative use of Adobe Illustrator develop?

Back in 1997, I was presented with either going and starting my career as an art professor in Mexico, or taking an Art Director position at Troma Entertainment in Hell’s Kitchen NYC. I lied about knowing adobe illustrator inorder to score the job. So one day I was asked by Lloyd Kaufman to create and deliver a Toxic Avenger ( Toxie) illustration to be used for the side of the 3 story tall building. When my creative director saw that I was trying to do it all in photoshop, he freaked out and told me that vector was the way to go since it can be scaled up indefinitely annnnd if I couldn’t deliver it by day’s end that I might as well pack up my desk. So in minutes I figured out that pen tool. Next I decided not to over complicate the objective. Resulting in going back to my celluloid hand drawn animation days and following the same principle of separating my tones into layers. And hellz yeah, I delivered that Toxie on time but also realized one major thing….there are plenty of photoshoppers out there and if I wanted to survive and make a name for myself- VECTOR WAS THE WAY! ( Because no one in the industry liked playing with vectors)…

9 -pt. 2)
 Describe the feeling you had when you realized that you were “on to something”.

HAHAHAH I think I answered that above^^^

10.) What characteristics might you identify as being crucial for innovation to occur?

WOW! I’ve seen and delivered on that term ” innovation” throughout my years. In the commercial agency/ Big Brand world, its all about ideas and tactics utilizing the benefits of tech to improve how you conjure up ways to interact with your target audience.Personally for me and my art, innovation come in the forms of breakthroughs and revelations in all things I find interesting and that might be absorbed into my creative voice. For right now its all about VR ( hint hint) …


11.) What must a teacher of the arts possess to be truly special?

True Spirit and Experience annnd a way to encourage the best from their students.

12.) If the entirety of what is conceivably possible (in terms of success) for the professional life & career of an Artist/Illustrator could fit on a pyramid, where on the top was the rarest of opportunity and achievements, and the bottom contained the most common of milestones, How would you define those tiers from bottom to top and where do you see your place on it, currently?

HAHAH pyramids- we would use these in the agency world- especially when coming up with sweepstakes. The bottom and widest part of the pyramid would be the delivery of allowing participants to win, the “everybody who enters gets for free” . And that level elevates as audience participation increases their chances of winning more meaningful things, which also corresponds with their investment of time and energy. Giving more and more gratification and reason to brag ( influence your inner circle)  to also join in. BUt as true with all sweepstakes and contests, there can only be one Grand Prize winner… that’s the very tip top of the pyramid and when it comes to vector, I can say with a smile that the view is magnificent from up here!
All artwork ©2022 Orlando Arocena, not for re-use without permission of the artist.