The renowned illustrator opens the doors to his studio to talk to us about his universe and creative process
His first job in Spain was for the newspaper La Vanguardia was "a dream come true". The paper was iconic to him, a place where great illustrators lined its pages. This collaboration started in 1994 and continues to this day in the paper’s Sunday supplement. Its beginning was a pivotal moment in Jordi’s career. From then on, his characters began to form part of the collective imagination, establishing the Jordi Labanda universe.
After a professional career of 25 years, Jordi Labanda (Uruguay, 1968) defines himself as an artist by commission. He currently works with publications like Vogue Japan and Harper’s Bazaar and his illustrations have covered magazines like Vogue USA and The New York Times. He has also collaborated with huge companies such as Louis Vuitton and Tommy Hilfiger, to name a few.
Sat in his studio, Jordi explains his trajectory, his working methods, his characters and the key to being a good illustrator.
Jordi Labanda before Jordi Labanda
Jordi found his voice quickly upon entering Barcelona’s creative scene in the 90s–a time when design, fashion and electronics were transforming the city. Maybe that’s why his rise from industrial design to publishing work in these famous publications was so fast.
At that time I had such a rich inner world that everything came to the surface right away. I didn't have to try too hard to find the voice, it was already there and it came out.
With a folder filled with his work between his arms, he knocked on every door he could until he found his first clients: Catalonia and New York’s biggest papers, La Vanguardia and The New York Times.
His work cuts across generations. As he himself notes, people wanted to see the scenes he drew, as if society was waiting for something like this to appear so that they could like it.
Sophistication and elegance: the aesthetic essence
Many of his illustrations look like they’ve been created digitally but this isn’t so: his process is entirely artisan. From the beginning, he has always used gouache. After that, when the illustration is finished, he scans it and retouches it on the computer. He feels most comfortable with gouache, as it makes his technical skills shine more brightly.
I really like the range of colors it gives me, the powdery tones, I enjoy when the brush slides loaded with gouache, oily and pleasant. It allows you, because of its opacity, to easily retouch and define your colors well.
Jordi Labanda's universe is easily recognizable, although his characters have transcended from illustrations to many other formats. The hedonistic and technological aesthetics of his sophisticated style remain fresh after 25 years, but what inspires it? His creations have a close relationship with the classic illustration of the fifties and sixties, with the elegance that was breathed into advertising by designs like Dior's, which were drawn by René Gruau, as well as the pop culture of the late sixties and early seventies.
The bourgeoisie as a fetish and inspiration
Beyond aesthetics, Jordi has worked a lot on graphic humour through the values and text that accompany his characters. He plays with what his characters transmit and the archetypes that surround them, among which we can detect behaviors such as female arrogance, the tyranny of children, male disorientation, frivolity and the transcendence of beauty–among others–that revolve around a social class: the bourgeoisie. Their problems have always interested him. Between criticism and praise, Jordi admits to finding himself in ambivalence:
To express the things and existential doubts that I want to deal with, which are still first-world problems, I draw the best actors and the best scenarios.”
In this context, reflection always comes first, the drawing must then fit around the message.
Soak up culture: the key for future illustrators
Jordi remains critical about the accelerated speed of society today. It seems everything burns so quickly and he is surprised by the speed in which fashions and trends come and go, while no-one realises that they are just imitations of prior generations.
Aware of the difficulty that some artists have in developing a long career due to this acceleration, he calls for action from within culture itself, for everyone to listen to their inner voice, to take refuge in books and films. This is the only advice he gives to illustrators: more culture, more power.