Welcome back to the Artists of Color series. This may be the last interview of the year, unless I find time to edit one more before 2018 is out. I want to thank each of you who took the time to read, share, and support the work of these incredible artists! And the biggest thanks of course goes to all 19 artists who said ‘yes’ to an interview request from an obscure fellow artist without a big platform or podcast. Thank you for generously devoting your time to give such inspiring answers and for graciously sharing your life stories and beautiful artwork with us.
Now, on to this week’s artist, Rhode Island-based illustrator and character designer Evan Monteiro. I first discovered his work on Twitter, and was struck by his gorgeous shape design, imaginative worlds, and badass characters. I hope you enjoy his interview and his work as much as I do!
1). Tell us about yourself! What is your background, and how would you describe your work?
Ah, these are always difficult. I guess I would describe myself as someone in love with the act of imagining for others. Of the many ways to do this, I was most drawn to the visual language, but I still really enjoy writing, poetry, and even DMing sessions of DnD as outlets for this. I find a lot of fulfillment from showing people there could be more to something than their initial impression, and maybe even something they would love if they did the digging to find it. I like to think of my art as a communication of my digging, hoping to inspire others to love what I love, or to at least dig to find more of what they do.
2). When did you first fall in love with art, and realize that you wanted to pursue it as a career? Did your parents approve or disapprove?
My father came to America when he was 17 and pretty immediately fell in love with comic books, and later animation. By the time I was growing up, he had every episode of X-Men, Dragon Ball, Macross, and others on VHS. My aunt gave me my first manga (Vol. 1 of Akira, which I'm not sure she fully understood the graphic nature of), and my mother bought me my first Ghibli movie (Kiki's Delivery Service!) I can confidently say my love for animation was planted, and nurtured, by my family.
That said, while my love for anime runs deep, I think it was fantasy illustration that convinced me to pursue art seriously. I still remember the moment I picked up the Mistborn books at Borders, knowing nothing about them, off of the covers alone, and found what would be my next favorite book (and author.) That moment was when I knew I wanted to be an illustrator.
3). Are you self-taught, or did you go to art school? How important was this training to becoming a professional artist?
I went to Ringling College of Art and Design, and paid much too much money for my education. I don’t regret that path, as I'm not sure I would have had the discipline to teach myself what I needed to learn. I needed the environment, the competition of my peers (at first), and the support of my peers (later) to learn and grow as an artist. I still have a weird contradiction of opinions around art school, especially now that there are so many cheaper, online sources of knowledge and practice. On the one hand, art school got me where I wanted to be. On the other, it still wasn’t worth the amount of money I had to (and will continue to) pay for it.
Art is weird in that it isn't really taught, so much as it is coached. To get past a certain point you need guidance, yes, but you can really only ever get better at it by doing it yourself. "Self-taught" artists have the discipline to seek out that guidance from books, tutorials, or demos. Art school, ideally, places it all in front of you and tells you where to start. I personally needed the latter at the time, even if most of my advancement was extra-curricular practice.
4). I love the worlds you create in your art, and the personality that comes through from each of your characters. Are storytelling and world-building important to the creation of your work? What is your thought process when you come up with ideas and visual solutions for your pieces?
I try to let my interests freely dictate what I paint. Weirdly enough, it was Kingdom Hearts that showed me any (ANY) two things could be brought together if you had the right glue. So I started to think of the various different things I love, and how I could bring them together if I just find the right glue. African Tribal cultures and Sci fi? What if the glue was 1960s America? A time and place defined by NASA, the Civil Rights movement, and the rotting illusion of America as Utopia. There's more in common than you'd expect, and even more room to invent. What if the hoverbikes were designed like Thunderbirds? What if the metal visors were designed like African masks? What if the people wore suits/ties with ear plates and metallic augmentation with wires that mimic patterned thread? How much can I blur the lines of these individual things I love before it becomes it's own thing? That's kind of where my head's at.
5). What is a major obstacle that you have faced in pursuit of your art career? How did you overcome this, or is it something that you still struggle with?
My desire for perfection is still the biggest hurdle I face at the moment. I still haven't fully internalized the mantra: "Good enough, move on." This desire has killed countless pieces in their late stages of creation, and is largely why I post so little art (other than day job NDAs.) I think if I could shift my mentality away from there, I'd finish more art and, ultimately, be a better artist for it.
6). Does representation matter in art?
Without a doubt! But I also feel like it should be an earnest desire to tell new, genuine stories. Obviously, I want to see more people that look like me on screens or on pages, but I really want to see new facets of me that I don't know as well. I want to see where we align and where we differ, and how profoundly that can change the experience of life. To me representation is most successful when it focuses on and explores the humanity of each subject, rather than attempting to achieve the "ideal ratio."
7). If you could communicate one thing to artists about representing a background or experience that isn't their own, what would it be?
Honestly, read multiple acclaimed books on the subject, listen to the authors talk about their books, and then channel their thoughts/experience as genuinely as possible. Push your ego to the side, avoid "editing to taste" and listen to feedback. If it isn't your own, treat it like you don't know it at all. Because chances are...
8). Do you have a favorite character of color (from film, television, literature, comics, or any piece of art)?
I have to go with Tzipporah from Prince of Egypt, followed by every character from Lilo and Stitch.
Tzipporah from Prince of Egypt (1998).
9). Who is the most underrated creator of color you wish everyone knew about?
Jonathan Djob Nkondo. Dudes a god damn genius. Also Sachin Teng should have their own museum.
10). What piece of advice would you give to young aspiring artists of color?
First: Draw literally anything that will keep you drawing. It is more important that you love doing it than any specific exercise to improve. You improve by doing, and pushing your boundaries. But you can't push them if you don't have a foundation of love for the practice. Find that first. Everything else follows.
Second: Don't forsake the craft for the content. To be great, you need both. Your comic could be telling the most important story of the decade, but if it doesn't look good people will have to fight through it. The better you are, execution-wise, the more likely people will want to follow what you are saying. So say something good, and say it well.
11). Any current projects you can talk about? What is your ultimate dream project that you canʼt wait to work on, or be a part of someday?
Ultimate dream project, huh? Well, I'm hoping to work with Solange one day, hahaha.
I can't talk about the project I'm on at the moment, but I'm really excited for it and I'm excited to see where it takes me when it's wrapped up. Once I get out of the thick of it, I can focus on solidifying my next dream, when it comes to me. I'm a patient person, hahah.
Thank you so much, Evan, for sharing your story and your gorgeous art with us! And thank you, readers, for joining us for this interview series. If Evan's answers resonated with you, please comment and share his interview far and wide.
And be sure to follow, support, and share his work through the links below: