An Interview With The Illustrator: André Carrilho

Great Design July 11, 2012 0
An Interview With The Illustrator: André Carrilho

The work of a good illustrator will ask more from your eye than many other visual mediums. When the work comes from André Carrilho, it will also ask more from your brain.  Visceral, immediate, charming, sexy and political…André represents the essence of great design through the honest and direct use of his imagery and imagination.  I am honored to have his work and words live this week at GreatDesign – JN

Oi, André, como vai você?  Thanks for taking time to answer these questions for  Tell me how you got started with the pencil and paper?  What age?


I guess I started drawing at a pretty young age, but so does everybody. In my case the turning point was at about 11 years old. That’s when I found out that I could copy some things well, and I could also do some caricatures that people recognized. The feedback I got from my mother and my friends made me feel good, so I kept on drawing. It got girls interested, and that was huge.


Obama Political Illustration © André Carrilho

School?  Mentors?

One of my uncles was a caricaturist and drew very well. That caused an impression. My mother is very talented for drawing and although she never really got into it she was very supportive and taught me some techniques, especially watercolor. I had a wonderful visual arts teacher in high school that was very influential. In University I didn’t learn anything except for what I picked up from my friends, who were generally older than me and very, very talented.

Then I have lots of influences, mainly from caricaturists and comic books and movies. The list is endless.


You’ve been identified as a cartoonist, an illustrator, an animator, a caricature artist, even a political illustrator…which is it, or is it all?  Anything you might add to that list that we might not know about?

I’m also a VJ… But I guess I do a little bit of all that. I think the most generic term could be illustrator. For me illustration is a graphic art that couples visual work with other artistic expression, like music, text, sound. Also, it deals with reproduction processes (print techniques, online distribution, etc), the final work is intended to be distributed and reproduced, not confined to the original artwork.


Bono Caricature, Patty Smith Caricature © André Carrilho


Give me an example of how you work with publications?  If you are hired to visually support and enhance a story, do you read the story first or stay within the parameters of the visually iconic?  Example, where did you start when you were commissioned to draw Charles Dickens for the Christopher Hitchen’s piece in Vanity Fair?

I got an email from Vanity Fair with the article attached and a briefing on dimensions, intended tone, etc. I read the article and sent a sketch by email. Upon confirmation I sent the final art a few days later.

Only a few publications send you the text, because normally they ask for the illustration without having it. More often than not I get a general idea of what will be written, sometimes just a sentence, and I have to come up with a visual idea. For example, one day one art director just told me “do something about intellectuals”. That kind of challenge is common.


Can you draw sensual?  Elegance?  Idiocy?  Brilliance?

Yes. But I’d have to think about it first.


Great Design quote by Andre Carrilho


For many of us, exposure to an illustrator is someone at an American theme park, sitting on a small chair with an easel, paper and chalk, drawing people.  Is this the same in Lisbon?

Well, I guess what you call illustrator differs slightly from country to country. We call what you described a caricaturist, a portraiture artist. Some caricaturists are not good illustrators (or good caricaturists for that matter), and good illustrators are very often not good caricaturists. But I guess that in a broader sense, which I use often, a caricaturist is also an illustrator. Caricature is peculiar in a sense that it has to look like the person you are portraying, there’s no debating. Its’ a specific visual game, and everybody, and I mean everybody, has to get it. In other kinds of

visual work one has some leverage, one can argue a specific point of view, a specific taste and aesthetic reasoning. In caricature, it’s not a matter of opinion or taste. A good caricature HAS to be recognizable, independently of the style of the artist.


Caricatures, Queen Victoria, Steve Jobs, Katherine Hepburn © André Carrilho


To expand on the last question, and on a broader level, many of us have grown up with television cartoons, Disney movies and more recently, Pixar.  How have those image based disciplines affected your work and your art?

Some of my main influences are movies and animated cartoons. The list is also endless, but I guess I grew up fascinated with Warner Bros cartoons, Disney movies (the classical ones like Pinnochio, Snow White, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland), Anime movies (Akira, Ghost in the Shell, any movie by Miyasaki) and more recently Pixar movies. For me the movie UP is a modern masterpiece.

These influences are more apparent in my animation work, but I guess they are always in the back of my mind some way or another. Someone has said that one should be influenced by all the art disciplines except your own. I agree.


Have any of your political illustrations upset anyone, either in your country of Portugal or elsewhere?

Yes. My biggest problem has been with the Israel embassy in Lisbon. I did a cartoon that made them furious. But normally the people that are more upset are religious fundamentalists, independently of the religion.


André Carrilho free-hand sketch


How is your work different now than it was 5 years ago?

I think now I tend to focus more on having a strong idea behind the drawing, instead of just trying to do a beautiful image.


I believe you’ve mentioned in the past that, at its roots, both visually and technically, graphic design is at the basis of your work.  Talk a little bit about that.

Well, I went to University to study graphic design, mainly because people kept telling me that drawing was not a profession. And I ended up liking it, graphic design I mean, not the course. For example I learned that drawing technique doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know composition. Also, I like knowing about all the printing processes, about typesetting, all that stuff. So when I do an illustration I tend to think how it will look on the printed page, and I think that’s how it should be.


Quote André Carrilho Political Illustrator


Talk about your relationship with the music of Jimi Hendrix.

Well, it’s like the relationship with anything or anybody that I think is a genius or the work of one. It inspires me to do better, to transcend. I just love it, like I love the comic books of Chris Ware and Hugo Pratt and Hergé and Carl Barks, or the portuguese guitar of Carlos Paredes. Or the work of Portuguese cartoonist João Abel Manta. People that are able to do something exceptionally tell us that it’s possible to do it, and that maybe you’ll be able to do it too.


What music are you listening to lately?

I listen to a few different genres, from Bossa Nova to White Stripes, from Queens of the Stone Age to Leonard Cohen. I also love Hip Hop, but not the more commercial artists.


Caricature Marilyn Monroe © André Carrilho

Last question — our magazine celebrates great design across numerous areas and fields.  In your mind’s eye, how would you define great design and how does it affect your own life?

That’s a tough one, because the definition of great design often ends up being a matter of taste. But I guess what defines great design is what defines great art: the ability to transcend cultures, creeds, ages and societies. A timeless quality that speaks to something more fundamentally human.

In my life, I try to find it. Don’t know if I’ll ever succeed.


Thank you, André.

André Carrilho is a professional designer, illustrator, cartoonist, animator, caricature artist and VJ. His work has been published in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Independent on Sunday and Vanity Fair, among other publications.

Video: 25 de Abril: Em Diferido

The above video directed by André Carrilho; Script by Spam Cartoon; Animated by Ana Nunes and André Carrilho; Sound Design by José Condeixa; Produced by João Paulo Cotrim and André Carrilho.