In the Studio: Julián de Narvaéz

Florida, USA

Julián De Narvaéz begins his drawings in pen and China ink, gradually assembling and colouring the images digitally. This process lends his illustrations a contemporary, eclectic feel, though with a surprisingly fine, traditional quality. This quirkiness is sought after for its engaging richness.

How do you feel being part of an agency represented as a freelance illustrator has helped with your work to date?

I started working with Folio nine years ago and has been a constant learning experience and professional development, I find myself always working on different projects that each have their own particularities and require a fresh look at how to achieve them visually which makes my job is in constant development and evolution.

It is also a great way to show my work in the world, because they have a platform of online advertising and a way to reach potential customers very effectively by constantly promoting images in different media graphics, which is important to me as an illustrator.

They are a working team who understands both perspectives of the illustrator, rhythms and times as well as times and needs of the client, which makes a very important factor in the development of a project, establishing bridges between illustrator and client.

They deal with the issues that I would rather have a professional help such as contracts, royalties and other things like that, allowing me to concentrate exclusively on taking the client ideas to live through drawing and colors.

How do you feel you personal work feeds into and influences your commissioned work?

I think the big challenge facing an illustrator is the search for and development of its particular visual language, its personal and characteristic way of achieving ideas visually, in short a personal stamp.

Usually the clients with whom I work with gets in contact when they believe that my work, technique and style are exactly what they are looking for the project. This has allowed me to be consistent in developing a personal style that allows me to enrich the projects I work and constantly learn and evolve within my work.

Describe your working style in five words…

I see my work as a series of bridges linking the past with the present and the future, the illusion with reality, but mostly the real and the imaginary.

I like to think of my work as a dream world in which there is no time, and where the past and the future collapses at the same moment, perhaps as a walk through a lucid dream.

Working within illustration and creativity can have its highs and lows. What are three motives to work during the day?

I prefer to talk about the things that motivate and enrich the work output. I travel constantly searching for inspiration, eventually I think I’ve become a keen observer of small things, and in the different cities I visit I become an explorer of ideas and inspiration lost in the streets.

The bicycle also inspires me, over the years I’ve lived in different cities including Argentina, Bogota, New York and Miami and now all I get around by bike is not only more practical but to experience the city like that gives you another perspective and oxygenates your brain to return to drawing.

I have always considered that the drawing is very grateful yet is demanding and requires rhythm and consistency, when I stop drawing for 3 or 4 days I notice that the line becomes tight and I have to get back on track, the best way to keep up is doing freehand drawings in my sketchbook, they are quick sketches, ideas that I capture on paper and probably evolve later or probably only exist in that picture, does not matter, most of these drawings are part of an exercise more than a final piece, but most of my characters are born in this handbooks and it is nice to go back and see the first versions from time to time and being able to see how they evolve in the next pages.

The constant search for visual references is a very important part of my job, I am constantly looking for images that file into different categories and that serve as a bank of images that I check when I’m working a particular topic. I think there are many things to try and do to avoid a period of low production, but definitely music, coffee is a key element in that process.

I like those coffee shops with a big window to the street where I can spend hours just watching the people go by. I have found a great source of inspiration in the day-by-day routine of people; it is amazing the amount of characters and ideas that we will found when we observe while drinking coffee.

Who and what keeps you inspired?

I’m inspired by the artwork that allow me to have a space to interpret and reflect on what is happening in that sense, I’ve always had a great interest in classical illustration in England, I never tire of seeing and studying the works of the great masters of the illustration as Arthur Rackham as an illustration, Cicely Mary Barker, Stanley L. Wood, John D. Batten, Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, naturalized British Edmund Dulac, Charles Folkard, Francis Donkin Bedford among many others.

I’m also inspired force of contemporary works where the image is almost like an icon and arriving directly at the viewer with a quick and forceful reading these are two different ways of understanding the image and constantly invites me to find a common point in my work.

When for you do illustrations hold more strength than words?

When you can find in an illustration things that are not written in the text, enriching your reading, when the picture becomes a compliment full of mystery, intrigue, subtlety, more than a decorative element is when the illustrations acquires its true dimension, illustrations have the ability to suggest what is not explicit, there lies the strength of subtlety in an image.


Tell us a little about your most recent commission with the tea fairies for the underground campaign? The work was visually stunning and a great treat for those commuters and tourists travelling London.

It’s great what they tell me that subway passengers can see the images on the Subway, I have not had the pleasure of seeing the work printed because I live in another country, so it is exciting to imagine how it look. When I’m creating the image and characters I can’t imagine how at some point it will become part of the daily lives of the people and their daily routines, it is nice to think that each of these fairies are flying around in the underground stations doing their fairy things because when I’m drawing I always try to give each character individual characteristics and occasionally I’m surprised to discover discovering that they have their own character and unique and individual personality traits.

This was a project that took around 3 months in total, and it was a great challenge studying the work of Cicely Mary Barker, her drawings, lines and colours, which became a great learning experience, on the other part to achieve a more accurate representation of each plant on direct observation, which was a very nice reminder for me of the work of the former botanical illustrators. It was a project full of pleasant scents.

Finally, pick two things that are most valuable to you in your working studio and explain to us why you have chosen those and what story there is behind them.

I appreciate the illustrations hanging on my wall; friends who are dedicated to the illustration in South America and other parts of the word have given the artworks to me. As I see these images in my working place it reminds me of the passion and dedication with which illustrators works and it always a nice motivation to work harder.

Now I realise that my sketchbooks occupy an important place in my working place, over the years I have accumulated many of these notebooks that I consult constantly trying to reconnect with lost ideas and all those characters that I have draw in its pages over the years are always a nice company.

One of my favourite things is the encyclopedia Larousse from 1900 that I found in a second hand bookstore the basement in the Bogota downtown, to explore its illustrated pages has become an amazing surreal journey that I have began some years ago…