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Insights of an Eco Artist

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In conversation: Leonardo Flores

Joana Alarcão

Professional illustrator Leonardo Flores creates illustrations depicting
the relationship between the animal and the industrial. And how that is expressed both individually and collectively. We had the chance to interview Flores, who lead us through his experiences as an artist.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1974, Leonardo Flores is active in the áreas of editorial illustration, drawing and concept art for cinema and TV.  After having published comic strips in «El Tony» and «Nippur» magazines and working for 5 years as a Cartoon Art Director in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the year 2000 he decides to live in Barcelona, Spain.

His illustrations are published in diverse publications such as the magazines SÀPIENS, JAÇ, CUINA, LA MAREA and the newspapers LA VANGUARDIA, EL PAÍS and PÚBLICO.  He has created hundreds of book covers for publishing houses such as Ediciones B, Planeta, Minotauro, Timun Mas, Random House Mondadori, Suma de Letras, Ikusager, Ara Llibres and others.  As a book cover illustrator, he has created images for authors such Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Dan Simmons, Noah Gordon, Stanislaw Lem, Greg Bear, George Martin, Mary Stewart and others.

He has also collaborated with advertising agencies, cinema producers and campaigns for brands such as Nesquik, Bank of Boston, Clarín newspaper, La Nación newspaper, Buckler, Heineken, Mitsubishi, Arcor, etc.

1. For the ones who are not familiar with your artistic practice can you describe it?

I move between commissions for clients (with quite exhaustive conditions about what I have to illustrate), and the freedom to draw improvising in my notebooks or simple white papers. Sometimes I find a midpoint between these two extremes, that is when I collaborate with a magazine or newspaper and I am not required to convey a certain concept.

2. In some of your artworks, you focus on the relationship between the animal and the industry and how that is expressed both individually and collectively. Can you tell us what motivated you to focus on these issues? How do you apply these concepts to your illustrations?

Well, two key moments happened to me. One as an art director and the other as an illustrator, where my work became very hard to do, due to the number of hours and the intensity, and I felt and I saw myself as an "industrial animal". I felt forced to produce and with a clear destiny, to get sick or wear myself out. I felt myself full of industrial mechanisms and gears inside, always generating the same movements. From there, I began to work on those concepts in my drawings. Not always explicitly, but it is something that is constantly within my work: routines and mechanical movements, cyclical... At first all that seemed like the devil to me, but then I discovered that they were part of me, and if I wanted to overcome it I had to accept and even enjoy them, as long as they didn't act excessively or dominant. Today I feel good with my work routines, as long as they are accompanied by physical exercise and some meditation.

3. Previously you mentioned that due to the accumulated stress of your work you began to immerse yourself in mountain and forest walks. How important is it for you to be able to be in contact with nature?

I basically became a different person, especially when I started taking long walks through areas where there are no signs. This activity sharpens the sense of smell a lot and gives a feeling of freedom. It also increases lucidity, and it prepares one for the unknown, because unexpected weather changes and sleeping at night in a sleeping bag in a forest, listening to all kinds of strange noises, greatly affect one's character.

4. Can you tell us about your series entitled, Personal Diary? What is the concept behind it? How did you reach the final visual aesthetics?

I discovered a process of improvisation and deconstruction, during my drawings in notebooks. It happened naturally when I began to enjoy the process of drawing more and more. Instead of creating from a finished image in my head, I would start playing around, smearing, and making random lines- Sometimes I would use memory to draw something specific, but then I could erase it or superimpose other images on top of it. Looking at the drawings as "documents" of my own emotions allowed me not to "build", and not to look for an "ideal image". Over time it became a therapeutic process, without intending it.

«Red Cop», 2022 (personal diary) / pencils, pastels and ink on paper. Image courtesy of Leo Flores

5. Occasionally you work on commissions for the film and TV industry, in the roles of concept artist and art director. How do these projects differ from your personal practice? How do you think these experiences impact your practice?

During my moments of stress, as I explained earlier, I began to be annoyed with my work as a freelancer. So I started spending more time on my personal projects and my personal journals. And everything was going very well until at one point I ran out of ideas. But then an interesting thing happened when I got an order from one of those high-demanding customers (which usually happens in movies and TV), the pressure I felt was refreshing. It was no longer something stressful but became a healthy challenge. And that spark of challenge also helped ignite my freer work. Both things began to feed each other, and that continues to this day. I need contact with clients who demand a lot from me.

6. Can you lead us through your day-to-day? How do you manage your multiple projects?

I have always been one of those who work long hours. And I like to combine very different projects with each other. It helps me feel mentally sharp. I alternate this with several days off... 3 or 4 for example. Once recovered, the tendency is to work more relaxed, and I tend to need less variety but more depth. So I focus on a single personal project or a single client. But after that, a new streak of work always begins which again requires being able to move between various projects more dynamically. In this way, I am exploring different methods of working, different possible rhythms and modes of creativity.

7. Several of your illustrations are published in Spanish and international magazines. What can you tell us about your experience?

The best thing that has happened to me in these areas has been collaborating with the Barcelona magazine Sàpiens, in the culture sections, and with the NY magazine Nylon Guys. In both cases, they have let me work on my own, without any type of conditioning. And that has been great. I am grateful to the two art directors, Álex Novials and Chris Segedy. In both cases, it has been a great opportunity to achieve that great challenge, for me, which is to collaborate with a client but gain the confidence to be able to express myself.

8. Besides creating illustrations, you have also created hundreds of book covers for publishing houses such as Ediciones B, Planeta, Minotauro, Timun Mas, Random House Mondadori and many more. What can you tell us about the process of creating a book cover?

Working on a book cover with my clients is something completely different from what we've been talking about. When I do this, it's usually a very driven way of working with what the editor needs. And it also responds to a more technical and less creative approach. I often work with stock images and the descriptions of what is needed for each cover are very precise and detailed. Although on some occasions, when they are science fiction or fantasy covers, it usually happens that they let me work freely, and I can leave a more personal stamp on the book cover; I have been able to do all this with authors like Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Noah Gordon or Stanislaw Lem.

«Female Elephant in Trouble», 2021 (personal diary) /charcoal on paper. Image courtesy of Leonardo Flores

9. Do you have a network of other artists you rely on or team members that you work with?

No, but it's something I'd like to do.

10. What's your biggest barrier to being an artist? How do you address it?

My biggest barrier is the fear of not earning enough money if I work closer to art and not illustration. I have always lived off my income first as a full-time art director, and then as a freelance illustrator. Going to a new stage, and just making art, is a challenge that I'm not

ready for yet. And I don't know if that's what I want! But this is the doubt or barrier that I currently deal with.

11. Where do you see your art practice evolve in the future?

I do not know. It is a mystery to me. In addition to personal professional challenges, the fact that we are living through a moment as shocking as the current one, in a global post-pandemic, with a war as important as the one in Ukraine (and others), and also with new scientific paradigms that open up new possibilities for humanity, makes you see everything as an enigma. The social and ecological challenges that we face are so immense that I cannot envision the future for me in a specific way. I feel that every year everything changes very quickly. But the need to connect with others is important, and I will probably collaborate on more group projects, with people with similar value systems.

Cover Image

Posters for Det Poetik Fonotek, Copenhagen (2021). Image courtesy of Leonardo Flores.

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