Playful editorial illustration by Matías Prado

Santiago based editorial illustrator Matías Prado creates distinctive yet versatile illustration.

Playfully scribbled portraits and monochrome drawings of folks in their every day settings; Prado works in a mix of water colour and coloured pencil on pure white backgrounds. This white space becomes prominent within his work as he designs crowded yet clutter-free compositions, allowing him to depicts sleek, modern settings such as sparse galleries and minimal interiors.

Before going full time with his illustration work two years ago, Matías worked for a range of international skateboarding brands and advertising agencies as well as owning his own brand of skating merchandise names SAVES. He now works from his Providencia based studio and focuses on editorial illustration work for a range of platforms both online and in print.

We caught up with Matías to delve deeper into his process and inspirations.

How would you describe your working process? What materials do you most enjoy working with?

I have a consistent, disciplined and structured work ethic. Although I am self-employed and have no typical work commitments, I do have a work routine which I comply with. I get up early every day, I play some sports and then I go to my studio. Every day I stick to my schedule and write up an agenda with my work commitments to third parties.

I have realised that although my work is artistic, inspiration doesn’t come easily, it’s developed through consistency and discipline. When I get to my studio, I check that everything is organised in the way I like it, because this way I can stay focused. In terms of the way I work, I usually don’t sketch, instead I like to start painting as I enjoy it more this way.

For me it’s very important to like your job, to enjoy doing it and to be happy with what you are doing.

I like my illustrations to have “mistakes” and feel very comfortable working with watercolour. It’s a material which allows me to convey things which others don’t and it’s very intimate and gentle. However, I also like the mix of other materials, such as highlighters, graphite pencils, and recently I have been using coloured pencils.

We’ve spotted a lot of black and white illustration in your portfolio – what do you like about working this way? 

I prefer monochrome, I feel that it helps to synthesise the image more and makes it less complex. It’s interesting how attractive an illustration can become with such a limited colour scheme. It’s not an easy decision, sometimes I am attracted to the wide variety of colours and I really want to use all of them. However, for that reason, before painting I always decide to make a palette with fewer colours.

Yes, we notice you often work in watercolour..

I really like watercolour, but it’s a difficult material to control as it can be quite unpredictable. However, you can achieve and demonstrate a lot at the same time and you never stop learning. It’s a very delicate and gentle technique. In my case, I think that watercolour helps a lot with what I want to say, show and inform people, since my illustrations are generally personal and day-to-day life situations. I like the subtlety that I can achieve with this technique which is why I use so many white spaces as this helps to imagine the surroundings.

I prefer to emphasise the situations more than developing what is happening in the background. In this way the imagination is left in the eye of the beholder and I am not giving away all of the information.

Can you tell us a little bit about Chile? What’s the creative scene like over there?

I really like what is happening in my country in terms of the art scene. People are becoming more interested and it is valued more. In illustration, the area in which I am most dedicated and committed, I see a great change amongst the new generation. I see drive, potential and very talented people. There are also more events, fairs, exhibitions and talks surrounding this topic. It is very important for people to learn and value illustration and to value them for what they are, not just as “beautiful drawings” but as “drawings that have content.”

Do you travel often?

I usually stay in Santiago, I have realised that I like this city, its rhythm. I keep up with the rhythm as otherwise I would feel strange, but at the same time, the chaos stresses me out. However, as I have said, it nourishes me as everything inspires the work that I do.

When I am outside of Chile I feel strange, but in a good way. It’s almost like a wave of information, like I am being overfed with information. I want to see and do everything. As I don’t know the city, its rhythm nor its codes of conduct.

I feel paralysed and I find it difficult to sit down and illustrate. Therefore, I always start by looking for peacefulness and from there I observe as much as I can. I feel very weird sensations, I want to have all my materials with me, even if I am not going to use them. For example, last July and August when I was in Madrid, I forced myself to do a drawing every night, in order to remember a moment from the day. This helped me to illustrate the trip as once I am back in Chile I automatically have another stance, therefore, I find it difficult to illustrate exactly what happened during the trip.

However, after a few months, I feel like the ideas come back to me when I look at the notes or the photographs. In my opinion, for inspiration, it is very important to be in motion and to see things, this helps greatly. Creativity then follows through calmness, order and method.

Is there anything you have seen, read or watched recently which has inspired you?

The last play that I saw was “La vida es sueño” (“Life is a dream”) by Calderón la Barca which I learned about from the film “Éxtasis”. I really liked the script, which was taken from a great text from the Spanish Golden age. I liked the way in which it was acted out, the outfits, the passion and the poetic language which were all very current and universal. These elements can all be integrated to any imaginary situation and inspired me to draw.

How do you overcome creative block when it strikes?

When I am stuck for ideas I go out for a walk to observe the people and I almost feel myself becoming invisible so that I can hear their dialogues. I look at what people are interested in, how they look out of windows, how they stand in front of paintings at museums, how they are dressed, the way they eat, smoke and the way that they are glued to their phones, wrapped up in their lives.

Can you tell us anything about how you stay creative?

My points of reference are constantly changing. I really like many different artists and illustrators’ work, I usually try to look at everything as I think this is part of my job. At the moment, I am observing Edward Hopper’s work, because when I was in Madrid I had the opportunity to see his paintings in the Thyssen Bornemisza museum. I was stunned, never have I stood for such a long time looking at a painting.. I had goosebumps! Since then I have appreciated his work a lot more and I look at it more often. I like his melancholy, nostalgia, variety of colours, naturalness, the technique which he uses to catch moments and the silence in his work, it really surprises me.

If you could see into anyone’s studio who would it be and what would you expect to see?

I love rooms full of paintings, but they must be organised. I would like to visit Decur painting workshop, an Argentinean illustrator, to look at the characters on his sketchbooks and to learn more about his inspirational process. I would like to take a look at his desk, look at his old fashioned furniture, as well as his equipment and toys and see what he sees as he looks out of his window. He is one of the illustrators that I like the most.

Finally – what’s next for you? Do you have any creative projects lined up you would like to mention?

I have been working on a comic called “En Retiro”, which tells the story of a solitary man who finds himself. It has been an enriching process because it is the first comic in which I have worked on. In addition, I am starting to work with Riso, a duplicator that I have in my studio as I want to learn more about its function. I also want to learn about the different types of paper, as well as seeing the variations of prints that can be produced. Together with the artist Lourdes Salgado, we have formed a new studio called “La Fabril” where we are giving our own workshops and where we want to do exhibitions and sales as a team.


Posted on Sep 14th, 15 by

Greg McIndoe - also known as Headless Greg - is an illustrator and design writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. He regularly writes for design magazines and online platforms, interviewing fellow illustrators and leading creatives.

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