Artist Interview: JUAN LEGUIZAMON

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JUAN LEGUIZAMON

I wouldn’t be surprised if one day Wes Anderson was inspired to make a movie about this week’s featured artist, titled something like “Mr. Leguizamon from Colombia” or “the Bold Italic Artist”. Juan Leguizamon doesn’t see the world like the rest of us; his roles as an Artist and Art Director never shut off. His aesthetic vision and comprehension are the chutzpah legends are made of. Even when we attended DSOA high school together, if you were lucky enough to receive a mixed CD from Juan, it wasn’t just a great mix of songs, but a fully developed product that could be sold in stores. It’s no surprise he’s currently working for the huge ad firm Saatchi & Saatchi as an Art Director for their NYC branch. Juan has done freelance work for companies like WIRED magazine, The Bold Italic, and NPR; he was one of the 25 featured artists at our art exhibition “Tooth & Claw”.

-Shanon Weltman

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SHANON WELTMAN: Name everything you’d be sad to live without, as in all of your favorite things.

JUAN LEGUIZAMON: All of my favorite things?? Wow, to live without? That’s a hard one. Things that I love… okay… The first thing that comes to mind is so broad, it’s definitely music. That’s the only thing I’m really addicted to and cannot live without, obviously, the iPhone and my personal playlists. I’m like, 24 hours plugged to music. That’s probably my main inspiration that gets me day dreaming. I can’t live without psychedelic rock, British invasion, records, zines, graphic novels, if I don’t have inspiration I’ll be dependent on all of that.

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SW: What do you listen to while making art?

JL: Classics! Oldies. The Monkees, The Zombies, The Kinks. There was this one radio station that is no longer available and I guess could not be part of the first question, because that’s the thing that they took away from me– this radio station on itunes called the Psychedelic Web of Color, and they had like the most awesome, obscure psychedelic songs, and that was the only thing that kept me up all night. That’s definitely my inspiration, whatever I listen to is what keeps me up. I don’t know why I’m obsessed with the 60’s, it’s something weird.

SW: What’s been the most exciting part of your career so far?

JL: Getting peoples responses on everything. If they like something that I do, meaning like an “I saw your thing!” it’s awesome, that’s enough for me. Very specific, I just did this thing for the San Francisco Treasure Island music festival, it’s kind of like a Coachella kind of thing. I did the visuals for them and it was cool seeing people–

SW: Oh yeah! I saw that you posted that [online], it was awesome.

JL: Thank you! I wasn’t expecting it to be everywhere, they asked me to just do this one thing then they had their art department put it everywhere, on their banners and things like that so, it was nice to see people react great to it, y’know buying posters or t-shirts, liking it, it felt awesome. I was like “Wow, I did this one night and now it’s everywhere.” That’s one of the highlights, because when you do art for a magazine or something like that, or for blogs you see comments, you notice that people like it, but when you actually see the physical people, they’re actually there, and they see your work, it makes you feel like you’re part of the band! Not like a “Hey look I did this, everyone!”, but it was great.

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SW: What do you miss the most about San Francisco?

JL: The people, the culture. San Francisco is like this weird place where people come and go, it’s not a place that is meant to be a place that you stay forever, everyone goes after something. They either leave or they just die there not finding it… like the gold rush. A lot of people founded the Levi’s state, they came there to find gold, they made jeans but they never found gold, but though the goal was to find gold. The hippies went there, they left, the dot com people came and left, it’s just this one place you have a great experience, every gets together for something. There’s a sense of community of everyone supporting each other, life is just so simple there. Being in New York gave me a better perspective of San Francisco in terms of like no one rushes for anything. They’re just like, “Yeah… it’s Tuesday… what’re you going to do today?” “I dunno.” And here it’s like, “Ahh! We have to do this! We have to survive!” People don’t care about anything. I miss that a lot. And avocados, much better than the east coast. That’s what makes burritos awesome.

SW: What’s better in NY than SF?

JL: New York is definitely the epicenter of everything in the universe… meaning like, you’ll be exposed to so many things. If you want a little bit of Portland, or Austin, or London, anything, you’ll find it in NY. I’d definitely say I’m more into Brooklyn than Manhattan. I think Manhattan is a graveyard, with all respect, but Brooklyn is great. The people are awesome. I feel it’s a town that’s reinventing itself and people are wanting to start new businesses, like you guys wanting to create something instead of being part of something bigger. If you want to be a part of something bigger, you go to Manhattan and work for a bigger company. If you want to create your own shit, this is the place. It’s kind of like a SF mentality, like in DUMBO they have all these start ups, people are doing their own things, opening restaurants to bring new stuff in to the city. That’s why Manhattan often goes to Brooklyn to find the cool thing, what’s new… And everything dies in Manhattan, but that’s just my opinion.

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SW: Walk us through your technique. How do you start? What’s the process?

JL: The first step is thinking. I cannot start drawing without a concept. I need some context, meaning there’s a story or background of something. I cannot just draw anything, not out of beauty, I cannot just copy someone else, though copy can be good – call it inspiration.

So first of all is concept, then you take all of your influences then you mix them, kind of like cooking, a little bit of that-a little bit of that, then The Kinks and The Zombies, all that stuff and boom, I get this thing. Right? Once I have an idea, I do a sketch by hand, show that to a client. Do they like it? Yes. Now execute it. I used to do everything by hand but now I do everything by vectors, which means shapes, faces, characters, the majority of the things people like from me are characters. I always limit myself to 4 colors, if I go over 5 colors it’s got to be fucking amazing. It’s got to be 4 to 2 colors. If you do something in 2 colors, you are a *KING*, cause it’s hard to do, being so minimal.

 

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JL: Once I have the vectors done, I take those files, make a decision on what needs to have more emphasis and texture. Like a background deserves texture, that’s when I divide background and subject. When I transfer to photoshop is when I do texture or something. Sometimes the easy thing to do is just like have a texture, like you scan paper with wrinkles and try to blend it in so it feels like it wasn’t done on a computer, it was done on paper to give an illusion. Everything is fake. When I do illustration, everything is fucking fake. I wish everything was done by hand, but I’m just like I’m going to fake everything I like that I can do with my hand. I don’t have the patience to deliver something over night, so I let the computer spoil the process of making it so easy. Vectors is the easy thing. To change a color, the texture is just a layer. From illustrator to photoshop, then in my free time whenever I can I try to scan or find high res textures. It could be paper, it could be a wall, it could be anything just to fake something that I want to do. My next step is to fake paintbrushes, because I’m not really good with the ones that you can find in Photoshop or Illustrator. I want to be able to actually get those textures and make that. Oh god, it makes me a feel like a bad guy to “fake” these things, but oh well, that’s my job. [Laughs]

SW: Since you moved to SF and started to do stuff digitally, I was like “how’s he doing this?”

JL: [Laughs] It’s just being spoiled. I remember taking graphic design classes, that’s what forced me to use vectors, even though they encouraged me to do everything by hand. They’re like “the computer should be a tool that you learn after school, but that is our opinion. We cannot tell you that, you have to use the computer now.” Your brain and your hands, that’s the prominent tool. The computer is just secondary. Do everything by hand, but then on top of that they taught me how to do everything with vectors, and I practiced, practiced, practiced until I got it down. I wish I could just go back to hand stuff, but I don’t have the time or the patience to do awesome stuff.

SW: It takes a lot of time.

JL: It does! And passion and patience, but it’s awesome. I notice people react better to stuff that is done by hand. I never find value in selling my work if it’s digital, because I don’t find it fair printing and selling it. I see other people feel the brushstrokes that are painted and they find it more precious. A lot of people will do prints of things that are digital and pull it off printing it on canvas paper, but people have been telling me they react better seeing the sketches in my sketchbook. I’m all like …but that’s not what I do! I do vectors!

 

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SW: Last question: Favorite Beatle.

JL: Oh my god, don’t do this to me. What’s funny is I think everyone has a favorite Beatle but once they grow old they just go through so many phases. I remember when I started with Lennon, then Paul McCartney. I don’t think I was ever into Ringo Starr but I’m finding a lot of sympathy for him. I gotta say Georgie. He’s the dude, what I like about him is he’s the quiet Beatle and sometimes I feel I’m very shy and quiet too. I see him as a hero, because you can still be a rockstar and be quiet. George Harrisson is awesome and he’s done awesome work after the Beatles, the folk stuff he’s done is great. He’s my favorite Beatle, at the moment.