Rafa Alvarez

Interview by Sarah Kilcoyne

September 2018


Rafael! (and Maia)

Photo credit: Sarah Kilcoyne

Rafa is a professional illustrator from Madrid, who has been working with us at ESDIP since the beginning. Some of Rafa’s clients include ESPN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Apple, Billboard, plus many more. We sat down with a cup of tea to chat about coworking, babies and editorial illustration. 

Sarah: Hi Rafa! We’re gonna start at the start – what is your profession?

Rafa: I am a Freelance Illustrator, mostly editorial and advertising but I also do comics, some 2D animation and actual painting from time to time.


S: Living the dream! Did you study art/illustration at some point?

R: I quit my job in my early thirties to become a full-time artist. I was pretty rusty after 8 years of business meetings and powerpoints, so I burned my savings to move to New York and get a degree in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts.


S: Was it always the dream to become a full-time illustrator?

R: I guess it was, but I found out this job actually existed a decade too late!

‘The Paradox’. Image credit: Rafa Alvarez

S: There’s a little girl photo-bombing your portrait there. Do you find that being freelance makes juggling work/family life a bit easier?

R: Ummm, I am not sure if easy is the word! There are no boundaries between personal and professional life, only the ones you set. It’s awesome to spend a lot of time with the family when the workload is manageable, but it can get pretty stressful when you have deadlines chasing you.


S: Where could we find some of your work on display? 

R: I do mostly editorial illustration…with the industry shifting more and more to online and mobile, my work only stays out there for a few days at a time. Sport, Children’s books and music magazines, mostly!

Image credit: Rafa Alvarez 

Image credit: Rafa Alvarez 

S: New York or Berlin?

R: Berlin, actually. There is a time for everything and no city is perfect, of course. New York is a city full of opportunities but as a creative you can rarely afford to take a break and that takes a toll on you after a while. I want to keep on growing as an artist and do cool stuff, but having a clean apartment, affordable kindergarten and a chill commute also makes an artist’s life much easier!


S: And now, to show off a bit! What was your most ‘successful’ client, in your eyes? The one that made you say, “YES! I’ve made it as an illustrator. Fame and fortune awaits”.

R: Although The New York Times was my first big client (until then my career change didn’t look like the smartest idea), I owe a lot to sports magazines. Especially ESPN but also others like Men’s Health or Sports Illustrated have become a regular home for my illos – and I have a blast drawing football stars, wrestlers and such!

Speaking of fame and fortune – how does it feel to win the esteemed Coworker of the Month award?

J: Ha! Well I have been coworking here at ESDIP for 5 years already so I was running out of ways to get noticed.


S: Do you prefer to work digitally, or ‘analog’? 

J: Analog, but turnarounds are so fast (hours, sometimes) that I always end up working digital.

‘Fresh Disinformation’. Image credit: Sarah Kilcoyne

S: I know that often in the illustration biz, artists struggle to find a way ‘in’. Would you have any advice for people starting out?

R: Luck seems to play an unsettlingly huge role in the whole process, so the more chances to get noticed, the better. Just post stuff in as many social media as you can. Some might even enjoy it or be a natural talent for social media (I am not!), but I see it working for peers and starting students every day. Also, don’t wait to get a perfect portfolio, sometimes a few loose samples can do wonders -we tend to judge ourselves too seriously.


S: You make a regular appearance at our Life Drawing Sessions here in ESDIP – do you especially enjoy figure-drawing?

R: Yes! I love the sessions here at ESDIP and also themed sessions, like burlesque, for example. My art education was awesome, but short and late, so I try to take advantage of any chance to practice my drawing skills.

Some Burlesque-themed Life Drawing sketches from ESDIP Berlin. Image Credit: Rafa Alvarez 

S: Any other illustrators that you look up to, or that you’d suggest we check out?

J: Sure! I am a big fan of colourful linework art so here are a few ones: 


S: Tell us an hilarious story about a terrible client!

R: I am pretty lucky with my clients, so I don’t think I have any horror story to share. Well, not so long ago a classic erotic/lifestyle magazine hired me to draw an orgy in the most elegant and diverse way I could, which sounds awesome, because it’s exactly the opposite of my typical sports gig.

But, it turned out to be really tough to draw all that anatomy and poses right (Rafa is trying to keep a straight face right now), so it took me forever. Also, doing online research about the topic in ESDIP was pretty awkward and often ended up with stuff I didn’t really need to see, so I drew the whole piece at home, sneaking to my desk like a teenager to work at night! Once the huge sketch was almost done, the feature I was going to illustrate got cancelled right before I had the chance to show it to anybody.  Cold shower feeling…


S: And finally! What is your most favourite illustration you’ve ever made?

R: That’s a tough one, I hate them all after a couple of days!! I guess I still dig the hipster riding a dinosaur and the rockstar with his baby strapped at the back!

(Here they are:) 

‘Pulso’. Image credit: Rafa Alvarez

Hipster on a Dino. Image Credit: Rafa Alvarez 


You can check out more of Rafa’s work for yourself here.



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