How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?
I grew up in a 2.5-generation Mexican-American household. Both of my parents spent time as kids working in the field, neither went to college. Art was not an understood career choice and I had no knowledge that it could be or what it might even look like until High School. An art book by fantasy illustrator Michael Whelan, "Works of Wonder," which I bought my sophomore year connected the dots. The entire book featured his covers for Del Rey Books done through the 80s, with the text it put together a picture of what an illustration career could be, and pointed my way forward.
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
I attended the California College of the Arts in Oakland, CA for three years as a Drawing major. I left without finishing my degree. I front-loaded the studio courses I needed and the humanities courses I wanted and then left to pursue work. I couldn't afford such an expensive private college (tuition in line with Ivy-League schools) so did what I could and moved on. I don't regret that decision.
Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?
I live in the wine growing region of Northern California, a small rural town in Sonoma County. I grew up a few hours south in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley. The path north three hours was via a longer route that had me living away for ten years in Italy, England, Spain, Asheville NC and Manhattan! And then I ended up a few hours from where I started, in an area of stunning beauty.
Have you always loved to draw?
As long as I can remember, yes. My older brother was a gifted young artist as well, and we encouraged and competed with each other throughout our school years to improve. He chose a non-art path after High School, but I kept going!
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
More middle-grade than children's, in 7th grade in the mid 1980s I was sitting in the school library and my eyes fell upon a spinning rack of paperbacks across the room. I was instantly captivated by Richard Corben's covers for the "Fighting Fantasy" series of fantasy game books (a bit like if Choose Your Own Adventure and Dungeons & Dragons had a child). I darted over, checked them out, and devoured the entire series eventually, making copies of covers and interior illustrations.
What was your first commission as a professional illustrator?
Wizards of the Coast, who publish Magic: the Gathering--a game I've been honored to have worked on for 20+ years--produced another card game called Vampire: The Eternal Struggle in the 90's. That was my first professional job, done during my last months at art college. From there I went on to work on Magic.
Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.
I was a Drawing major in college because I couldn't find teachers in the Painting Department who could teach representational painting. As such, I am entirely self-taught as a painter. I began with Acrylics and worked mostly with them my first years as a professional. Realizing I was trying to make them look like oils I eventually switched to oils and have been honing that technique over the years.
Do you offer more than one style, if so – talk us through the different approaches and the audience you are targeting for each.
Oil painting is my preferred medium but I also offer a hybrid technique where I create a painting in black and white and then color digitally or I render a traditional pencil sketch and then render digitally, creating a look that mimics my oil paintings or other traditional media like watercolor. The technique and approach chosen all depends on client preference and time / budget available.
Outline your dream project.
I absolutely love creating book cover illustrations and have had the pleasure to work on some amazing titles such as The Ether Series - Vero Rising, Pillars of Fire, The Dragon's Descent. I have spent years devouring fiction novels so to be able to bring these stories to life is amazing - I really enjoy having the opportunity to read the manuscript and activate the interpretive aspect of my creativity.
Are there any children’s classics you’d love to illustrate and/or re-tell?
The aforementioned Fighting Fantasy series saw some reprints over a decade ago and I had no idea, so missed an opportunity to reach out to the publisher and try to work on it. Since that series was so impactful to my younger self, I would love an opportunity to illustrate the covers for them down the road if they are ever reissued again...and actually I see that Scholastic is currently reprinting this series again, although they've opted for a more comic book style this time. Oh well, maybe next time!