In Interview: Rafa Alvarez

We sat down for a coffee and a chat with one of our long-time coworkers, renowned illustrator Rafa Alvarez. Rafa is a Spanish illustrator, living and working in Berlin.

E: Hi Rafa,

How did you start your career as an illustrator?

R: I always enjoyed drawing, but I ended up with a degree in Economy and working in marketing longer than I should have, since there were a lot of painters in my family and they were not crazy about me following their steps! It wasn’t until I bumped into ‘Illustration Now!‘ (the book by Taschen) that I decided to pursue an art career. Many of my favourite illustrators from that book were faculty of the School of Visual Arts of New York, so I applied and luckily got accepted. I moved to the US and started a career in illustration.


E: What was your preferred medium to work in, and how did that develop?

R: Being a late bloomer, I started directly in digital, that allowed me to mix media (analog, vectors, textures) in a more forgiving way. Of course once you find your voice (or your style, if you want) as an artist, there is nothing as satisfying as working with brushes and paint or ink, but unfortunately there is rarely time for that.

I am a big fan of Moebius, Will Eisner, Belgian comics, Istvan Banyai, Tomer Hanuka…what is usually called “ligne claire”, a well-defined linework drawing with bright flat colours (although I always end up messing up with textures somehow!)


E: How would you describe your style?

R: My way of drawing is very simple and pretty close to classic comic-books: black linework and flat colours, trying to set up a good composition, almost like a movie still frame. Since drawing always contains some element of storytelling, I like to create some foreshadowing in my illustrations, and pack them with details, so that the viewer can fill in the gaps or at least feel interested enough to look twice.
 ‘The Paradox’ | Personal Work |  © rafaalvarez


E: What inspires you to develop new ideas in your work?

R: There are certain topics that I seem to be drawn to, personal relationships in social networks, the current political situation…today things happen so fast that it is almost impossible to find time to turn all this input into visual work. Sometimes I like to twist things a bit, but nothing too creepy, I´d like to think my illos could hang from a living room wall.

Of course movies, music and coffee are a must. I am also trying to read more real paperback books, I kind of miss it, although with family and work it’s actually a luxury.


E: Do you think Berlin is a good place to work as an illustrator?

R: Berlin has a fascinating history and a crazy cultural scene…I won’t get into how much cheaper it is, because that’s actually not the case anymore. It is indeed a progressive and solitary city, where you can go by bike everywhere and nobody will get judgemental with your lifestyle. Sometimes I do miss the insane rhythm of New York or Madrid´s sunny days, but no place is perfect and I am happy here.

One of the benefits of working remotely is that you can work where you feel at home, but actually have your clients elsewhere.

‘The Wild West Spectacle’ for GEOlino Magazine | © rafaalvarez


E: What do you enjoy most about your work, and what is your least favourite aspect?

R: Well, the best part is the job itself! You start the week biking to the studio and doing fun stuff (most of the times) surrounded by friends. For me this is a real privilege. I also like to make other projects outside, like teaching workshops or making live paintings.

What I like the least (probably like any freelancer), is to deal with all the paperwork, the German taxes, insecurity in the long run, etc. Also, when you do something creative it’s difficult to separate your work from your very self, so you can end up taking things too personally.


E: You spend a lot of time with Sports Illustration, was that an intentional move?

R: Not really, my drawing style is conceptual but quite cartoony – that seems to fit well with the content of Sport, Music and movie Magazines, so I became a regular for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. I actually love it, it’s always about cool stories, even for sports or bands I had never heard of! Luckily other newspapers like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal still keep me in mind for other types of content, so I can keep a good balance.

Rafa working at ESDIP Berlin | © rafaalvarez


E: How did you originally discover ESDIP?

R: I knew the original ESDIP art school in Madrid, actually I dropped by to check it out when I was thinking of making a career change. In the end I decided to move to New York and study abroad but the facilities and the skill level of the students and faculty was pretty impressive. When I moved to Berlin and found out that ESDIP was running a coworking space here, I didn’t think twice.

In Berlin there are plenty of great coworking spaces and shared studios, but ESDIP actually doubles up as art space with exhibitions, life drawing, the possibility to make workshops…which definitely makes it pretty unique. Also, such a chilled out environment and good vibe (here you can find everyone from programmers to illustrators, NGOs or motion graphers) is not easy to find!

You can see more of Rafa’s work here:

Are you interested in becoming an illustrator like Rafa? Then check out our upcoming Illustration Intensive Course here at ESDIP Berlin!

‘Chicago Cubs Special’ for Sports Illustrated Magazine | © rafaalvarez

‘Behind the Patriots’ for the Boston Globe | © rafaalvarez


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