In the Studio: Rui Ricardo

London, England

Rui Ricardo is an highly versatile illustrator whose work reflects the influences of Manga, vintage travel posters and classic science fiction. The way he combines detailed realism with cartoonish elements is truly captivating.

Describe your working style in five words.

A pencil, a sketchbook, a Wacom tablet, a PC and a brain.

Can you talk us through your process from the time you get sent a commission to the final piece at the end?

The first thing I do after receiving a brief is to familiarise myself with the subject and spend some time doing research through books and on the web. Sometimes I simply use Google for pictures if there’s a particular place to illustrate, for instance, or I do more thorough research to get a deeper understanding on the subject using Wikipedia and reading related articles. I often use my art books for inspiration to find ideas for colour palettes and composition.

After having a strong concept in mind I start working on the roughs to send the client as a first stage to check if the composition is OK. Depending on the client’s opinion I might do more roughs or corrections until it is approved. Once I get a green light from the client, I scan the final rough to then start working on the colours. I start by painting basic block colours to get the composition right and limit the colour variations as much as I can. Ideally I prefer to work with two or three main colours and a few variations. After that it’s time to work on details, highlights and shadows. I always leave every element and colour in separate layers so that I can readjust all the colours and variations in the final stage. Once I’m happy with the results, the final illustration is sent to the client. Until the final artwork is ready, there will be several stages of corrections depending on the opinion of the client and last-minute changes that might occur.

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

Working with Folio has been a great experience. I get to receive all sorts of jobs from several sectors, which maintains a fresh perspective on each job. Some illustrators specialise in specific areas over time, but I feel that at some point the job may get boring, which has a reflection on the result visually. It is always exciting when each commission brings a new challenge, whilst also keeping a fresh portfolio. This helps to make me grow professionally; developing new skills and helping to understand new subject matter. Also, there are a few lovely people who take care of the boring part like making contacts and negotiating fees, leaving me all the fun!

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

Having personal projects is essential to me as an illustrator, adding diversity to my portfolio whilst allowing me to experiment with new techniques or themes that I couldn’t take the chance to try on real commissions. It helps to perfect a specific style and to have a fresh outlook on new jobs. Also, developing specific imagery helps getting similar jobs when a client is exploring portfolios or looking for an illustrator. Not having a personal project might leave you to become stuck in the same sort of visual results with a limited client list.

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

My main motive to work is mostly doing what I love. I’m a grown-up getting paid to do the same thing I did when I was four years old – drawing and painting! Also, managing my projects and working with my own schedules is great.

The main constraint has to do with the dedication the job involves: having to work more hours than in other jobs. I don’t always have the time to relax or do other things. Also, spending long hours looking at the screen makes it much harder and stressful than doing illustration in the traditional form.

Who and what keeps you inspired?

My dogs keep me inspired! They keep reminding me the simple things are the most important in life. The same goes when you are creating an image, having a strong and clear message or idea without getting lost in useless decorations. I try to keep away from checking what other illustrators are doing. Following trends is a trap both for illustrators and designers in the long term; I always try to follow my own path. So for inspiration I try to avoid visual input and would rather read books, watch documentaries and movies for concepts and ideas. Even a walk in the park or cycling by the beach is more refreshing than burning hours on the internet. To get recharged I go away on vacation whenever I can and go backpacking. I never take a computer or even a pencil away with me so I’m forced to go a whole month without drawing.

What three things are most valuable to you in your studio?

Banjo-Ukulele: This is the latest addition to my ukulele collection. I play a few folk tunes everyday, even when I’m working or replying to emails.

Bent Rhodesian Peterson Pipe: I keep looking for old pipes and I restore them as a hobby; I love doing the manual work and bringing them back to life, making them look brand new. Some of them are over 50 years old. I love to work on them while imagining the history of the previous owners. This one is a great smoke too, with a nice Latakia tobacco and a good book… and a glass of gin to make it perfect!

E-book Reader: I take this everywhere with me. Having a whole library in your pocket is an amazing feeling! Besides, I have no more shelves left for more books. I guess I don’t get emotionally attached to material stuff unless it has practical use.

When for you does illustration have more power than words?

That would be the perfect illustration, the one that holds a whole idea, concept or feeling in a single image. Doing an illustration for an article or for a book cover, for instance, will bring that momentary emotional impact that you will never get instantaneously reading a text.

How do you maintain a stream of work to maintain a focus?

Keeping a healthy balance between work and rest is very important. Having a tired mind won’t get you the best results, especially in the creative process. Even if I have to work longer and late at night, I keep taking short breaks to abstract myself from work and avoid creative blocks. I usually get better ideas when I’m not sitting at my desk, when I’m doing something else.