Spotlight on: Gary Villarreal, Artist

Talk a bit about the process of Kickstarting and printing Villarrte Sketchbook Vol. 1, a Locus Recommended Reading List title. What was the experience like? Highlights and hindsights?

My wife and I were extremely nervous about launching the Kickstarter during the pandemic. Too many uncertainties. So there were a lot of doubts about whether this was going to be a success. One of the highlights, though, was going through with it and having faith that everything was going to play out well, which it did. After pushing launch, the project was up to $10,000 in less than an hour, and that was an amazing experience. I can’t thank my supporters enough for believing in this project.

You have some great expressive characters in Villarrte. What brings you the most joy about character design, and what inspires the pro­cess for you? (Technical elements you want to explore, emotion, real-world sources, narra­tive?) To what extent do you consider yourself a storyteller?

Every character within my book was a reflection of what I was feeling. Designing characters, espe­cially personal characters, gives me the ability to communicate an emotion or an experience that’s depicted through the characters’ actions and ap­pearance. With this in mind, by adding a story, it not only immerses the viewer in the characters’ worlds, but it can emotionally connect them, too.

Are you excited or concerned about the impact digital media and digital books might have on traditional crafts and the role of the cover artist? How do you use digital media in your own workflow?

I think digital media is a beautiful medium for artists to utilize. It not only speeds up the process, but helps tremendously during the ideation phase when changes often occur. I personally use digital tools while designing and fleshing out concepts during preproduction.

How do you keep it fresh for yourself and keep learning new techniques and improving your craft? Have there been any recent changes or discoveries in your art process, or do you feel settled into something that’s really working for you already?

I find myself struggling with this, since it is easy to settle with what works for you as a creative. However, I try keeping a curious mindset, often asking questions to better my work flow and making time to discover what’s new in the art world. This puts my mind in a consuming mode to later process and create. Though too much consuming without creating can lead to a dark cynical and self-doubting path if not controlled.

Is there one thing you wish you could have learned early on about making art or work­ing as a commercial artist, from someone who was experienced in the field?

To focus on being better than the person you were yesterday rather than comparing yourself to others in your field. Too much of this would drive a human insane, especially a creative one.

Gary Villarreal graduated from the De­partment of Visualization at Texas A&M University, and has worked for more than five years in the film and game industries. He’s currently a visual development artist for an up­coming game releases. Though his full-time job is in the digital realm, his passion outside of work is traditional graphite. He wanted to take a different route and nurture the old-school way of art. Want­ing to take it a step further and develop a style he could be known for. Through years of grinding, he found his art voice, a cross-hatching style that allows him to project volume in his characters and is achieved through the use of various lead weights used in perfect combination. Over the years, he has grown an audience for this unique rendering style and storytelling, both of which add depth and purpose to his characters further immersing viewers in this fantasy world he has created. His illustrations have been published in multiple magazines, books, and he has also published an art book of his own.

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