Cross Connect: How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?
Spencer Afonso: Thick bold ink lines and bright boisterous colors with a subversive sense of humor and exaggeration.
Cross Connect: What is most important to you when it comes to making an arresting image? What makes a great image in general?
Spencer Afonso: For me creating an illustration that solves the problem or task that’s required of it while at the same time is a visual feast of line, color, humor and energy. Making something that draws people in and makes them want to stop and look at is the key for me.
I feel the best images are ones which both solve problems in ways no one else would be able to by showcasing an artist’s unique sensibilities and are also just exciting and compelling to look at.
Cross Connect: Many of your pieces, like Body Swap, Mezmo the Magnificent, and Procenta have a strong pulpy feel that recalls the ads seen in comic books from the 60s and 70s. What is it about that time and style that interests you?
Spencer Afonso: I’ve always had a love for vintage advertising, posters, and packaging and always looked back to decades such as the 70s and 50s to draw inspiration from. Those decades have such a distinct character and essence to them visually. Looking at these decades as someone who was born 20 years outside them, they appear rich and unique with so many avenues and pockets of obscure, weird, and strange sensations and visuals especially when compared to their counterparts in today’s culture which in turn feel very fabricated, safe, and sterile.
Cross Connect: What is your advice for all the artists in our audience that would like to work for high profile clients, who would for instance, like to have an editorial illustration in the New Yorker or New York Times? And, what advice do you have for artists at the beginning of their careers about building their client lists?
Spencer Afonso: As someone who is still in the process of doing this a few things I would say are: focus on your own work, don’t worry about the other artists getting jobs you want or think you deserve with these clients, just focus on what is within your control, your own work and the promotion of your work; get it out there, don’t hold back because you think you might annoy people by being loud and posting your work on social media, get it out there and in front of art directors. Don’t let the fear of rejection paralyze you from getting work, getting a “no thanks” or “not at this moment in time” is a thousand times better than being stuck in the silence of never sending your stuff out there, because eventually those noes will start to turn into yeses, but the silence will stay the same forever. Don’t get complacent, always be striving to improve your work but at the same time understand your portfolio will never and should never be perfect. Finally do lots of research: we have the amazing gift of the internet and the ability to get in some form of contact with almost anyone in today’s world; use that to your advantage to find new opportunities for clients, jobs, and collaborations.
Cross Connect: Your pieces often feature wonderfully lurid colors. Can you take us through your color process for a piece of your choice?
Spencer Afonso: To be honest, for the longest time color was something I struggled with the most, often being the weakest point of my work, leaving me hoping my images could survive off linework and composition to make up for the second rate colors. However, once I started to mix elements of traditional screenprinting with these bright vivid computer generated colors, I began to enjoy the results more.
Although I still do flounder with color, my typical process would be to run through color ideas in my head while I ink the illustration, usually I will have 1-2 options in mind revolving around a key color or color contrast. For example, with my illustration on China’s Super-Rich Children I had decided I wanted a hot yellow to contrast with bright purples and pinks. Once I have the piece scanned in, I quickly fill in the areas with colors close to what I had in mind then spend several hours constantly tweaking saturation levels and secondary colors until it all feels unified.
Cross Connect: How do you overcome creative dry spells?
Spencer Afonso: When I feel a creative dry spell coming on I need to acknowledge it and face it head on. Creative dry spells usually happen because something I’ve been doing is getting boring, not working, or I’m not challenging myself to improve my work. I now look at them as a time period where my mind is telling me something has grown stale or isn’t working and that I need to work even harder and experiment with new things to break out of this funk. I find that you hit creative dry spells right before you are able to reach a new breakthrough or level in your work, and by changing your mindset to look at them as part of your artistic process as well as embracing the fact that you just need to work hard through this tough spot to get to the next level, it can drastically change what is usually a very dark and stressful time period into one of reflection and growth.
Spencer Afonso: When I work on an illustration, I am constantly listening to music aside from points where a playlist or album ends and I’m too focused on the moment to notice I’ve been working in silence for an hour. I find music to be a perfect companion when creating visuals as it fills your senses in a completely different way and can provide sensations and inspirations that you can transform into illustrations. I most often listen to hip-hop and rap as a default while I work, however, I’m often listening to playlists or albums to suit the mood of the piece I’m working on whether that be metal, grunge, punk or K-pop. I find listening to new music and different genres offers new forms of inspiration and insight into the piece I may be working on.
Cross Connect: How do you think about narrative with respect to your work? Do you try to build a narrative with your pieces? Or do you value and focus on feeling over story?
Spencer Afonso: Narrative has always been a strong factor for me. I particularly love character and creating new and weird characters as exaggerations of people or concepts in the real world. My pieces always will have a sense of narrative to them since naturally I have always aimed to create and tell interesting and funny stories. However, as of late I have been looking more into focusing on feeling and sensation of a piece with strong use color and texture; however, at the end of the day I don’t think that will ever overtake my love for stories, character, and narrative.
Cross Connect: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Afonso—do you have any final words for our audience?
Spencer Afonso: I’d just like to say thanks for the opportunity to let me talk a bit about my process and to anyone who enjoys my work be sure to check out my full portfolio at spencerafonso.com and be sure to follow me on instagram and tumblr @spencerafonso for looks at upcoming projects, works in progress, and more!
A big thanks to Spencer for talking with us! Be sure to stop by our Facebook page to let us know who you would like to see interviewed next!