Ricardo Martinez was born in Santiago, Chile of Spanish immigrant parents. He then moved back to Madrid with his family in 1969. An expert in various fields, Ricardo is more than an illustrator and creative director who has worked for numerous editorials and newspapers. His specialty is caricature art and drawing political cartoon/comic strips. Today, let’s read and learn from an experienced artist who has been in the industry for more than 20 years. Enjoy!
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? How did you end up in this industry?
I was born in Santiago, Chile. My parents were from a town north of Madrid, Palencia, They went to Chile after the Spanish Civil War. The whole family moved back to Spain in 1969.
As a child I wanted to be a painter. I admired El Greco, Velázquez… But somewhere in my adolescence I decided I wanted to do comics. I moved to the US in 1981 to be with my future wife, Hazel. When we married and I obtained my resident work permit I started working for The Miami News. I was responsible for the front page color. In my spare time after that , I did
illustrations for the newspaper.
Most of your creations are caricature art. How did you develop it?
Once that it was obvious that my style was going to be scratchboard, and my area of work was going to be Opinion pages, I had to start developing my caricature techniques. I’ve never been fond of caricatures, and I still don’t think I’m that good at it. First I started doing the classic caricatures deformities,: long noses, big teeth, etc.. Little by little I tuned those deformities down until I got the style I use now, which is minimum exaggerations, but I work around some distinctive facial features so that my “victim’s” portrait almost looks more like himself than in real life!
Who or what has inspired you? How did it change your perspective at the start of your career?
My inspiration comes mostly from comic strip artists, specially Hal Foster and Will Eisner, illustrators such as Gustave Doré, Frank Frazetta, James Montgomery Flagg, and cartoonists as Don Wright and my very favorite, T.S. Sullivant. Each one of them inspired me in a different way. The strength of all of these artists is the drawing. I always considered the “pencil”part of the art the most important, technique is secondary. But my main influence has been my father. He was a wonderful watercolor/oil painter.
A lot of your illustrations are for editorials. Can you describe your commercial work vs. personal projects.
Editorial work for Opinion pages is limited by the subject of the illustration. I’ve been illustrating these Sunday Opinion pages for the Managing Editor of El Mundo for 24 years. The subjects are about Spanish politics 99% of the time , which is very repetitive, and I have to make an extra effort to create “exciting” images with the same characters every week. Lately, I’ve been illustrating a Viewpoint section with two writers’ different points of view, like the ones I was doing 25 years ago at the Miami Herald. Now the subjects are more fun to illustrate. Other than that, I do illustrations for the entertainment magazine “Metropoli”. There I can do basically whatever I want, even decide what movie I want to illustrate for the cover. Besides the Editorial page and “Metropoli” I’ve been doing some illustrations for myself, wildlife animal scenes. These are larger illustrations, 36 by 24 inches, but I do them in scratchboard. These illustrations have been so challenging that I think I’ve learned more about the scratchboard technique in these last two years, than in the rest of my professional career.
Advertising art doesn’t leave you as much freedom as these illustrations I’m doing for myself or for “Metropoli”. Once in a while you get an assignment where lots of minds are involved, and it is kind of frustrating, because of conflicting messages. But I think the client knows what they want better than you do, and the final result is usually very pleasing.
As a caricature artist, your illustrations always portray a vivid message. How do you go about creating a piece? Do you inject personal opinion in commercial work?
When I’m doing an illustration for someone’s point of view I have to make sure that the viewer of the art is seeing what the article is expressing with words. But you always tend to show a little of your personal views in the final illustration. In commercial work, advertising, I just try to capture the message the client wants to transmit.
Which among your illustrations is your favorite? Why? How did you come up with it?
My favorite illustrations are the ones were I was reaching a point that I didn’t know I could reach. I remember an illustration I did for The Miami Herald about censorship in Britain, for which I did a lion with a crown with a flag binding its mouth. When doing that, I remember the adrenaline flowing. It was as if I was discovering new worlds and new civilizations as they
say in Star Trek, going where no one has gone before. Ha, ha! Of course it wasn’t that, but what a great feeling. Lately I’m enjoying those large animal illustrations because each of
them is a different exploration of the possibilities of scratchboard.
What are 5 tips you can give to other illustrators that are just starting in the industry?
Develop a personal technique, something that makes your work stand out from others; Work on the sketch thinking that in it lies a great drawing. There are schools of illustration and comics and commercial art, but the best way to learn is looking at the work of the great artists around you and from the past. Spend lots of time developing a concept that is different and that it hasn’t been done before. This is hard, and sometimes impossible, but you can try. Looking at the ILLUSTRATORS annual is very inspiring, but NEVER steal the ideas of other artists.
Over the last years you have been dedicated to your style of illustrations, what do you think about this media and what can we expect from you in the future?
I used to keep an archive of visual information for the illustrations. Now with Google you can get any image you want really fast. Web pages, apps, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. are wonderful tools to have. But the artist has to try to use these tools to create a personal atmosphere. I work on paper or scratchboard, but I know most artists nowadays are using computers to do the final art. That’s fine, but make sure you keep it different from others.