Xavier Viñas is a widely talented artist that specializes in branding, brand identity, logo design, and illustration.
With nearly two decades of professional experience under his belt, Xavier has truly become a force in designing for private consultancies, graphic design for corporations, and marketing campaigns alike. If it's related to digital or print-based media, marketing, or illustration, X's hand is somewhere in the creative pot.
We took some time to catch up with X about his creative process, and to get more insight about what it's like from his perspective.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and what you currently do as an artist, designer, etc?
I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, and moved to Marietta, GA when I was 13 years old. I went to Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, and started off as a painting and sculpture major, but switched to Industrial Design in my Junior year, as I felt the Fine Arts department lacked structure. However, during my summers, I'd come back to Atlanta and worked as a figurative sculpture assistant to Martin Dawe of Cherrylion Studios. That four-year experience with Marty was an amazing practicum and supplement to my education for the rest of the year. I then started my professional career as an Industrial Designer, working at Bresslergroup, a product development firm in Philadelphia, for about four years.
But soon after the birth of my first daughter, we moved to Atlanta where I began freelancing as a graphic designer, and later working for Whole Foods Market (WFM) as a store artist and graphic designer. It was at WFM that I started to develop myself as an illustrator, first on chalkboards for specific stores, then illustration work for new stores across the South region. I left WFM about six years ago and had them as my first freelance client for about 3 years until they were bought by Amazon. I'm also very involved in doing marketing work for the Waldorf School of Atlanta, where my three daughters attend school.
My graphic design client work is varied and ranges from large corporate work to small start-ups. Over the years, I have also tried to maintain my painting and sculpture on the side, with different degrees of success, although I'm being more deliberate about consistently devoting time to that work. I'm working towards having a gallery show - somewhere - by mid-2020!
"Having constraints stimulates creativity"
You’ve done work for some familiar household companies, i.e. Whole Foods, Emory University, etc. Do you ever find more enjoyment / creative freedom working with smaller companies as opposed to working with larger ones?
Great question... I have not felt that the size of the client/company has necessarily mattered. What does matter, in terms of how creative and harmonious the project turns out to be, is having a client that appreciates the importance of visual branding or art, and the effort that goes into creating and maintaining it. All that said, I think the idea of having total creative freedom with a client project is neither realistic nor something I necessarily desire. Having constraints stimulates creativity... although there is such a thing as having too many. I've always hated the expression "thinking outside the box". If I don't have a box to push against, the creative solution is not actually a solution to the constraints.
Are there any artists (current or past) that you look to for motivation?
The last 20 years have brought forth a renaissance of formalism that I have really loved. Some of my current and past artistic influences: Francis Bacon, Inka Essenhigh, Moebius, Jaime Hernandez, Hokusai, Roberto Matta, Lucian Freud, Hergé, Carlos Castaneda, Henry Moore, Alex Grey, Gabriel García Márquez, Aldous Huxley, Terence McKenna, The Flaming Lips, The Bauhaus (the German school, not the band), H.R. Giger, David Lynch... I know I mentioned some musical and literary influences, but these have also informed my aesthetic and how I approach the image.
What media/software do you use in your process? How is that process affected when you’re preparing artwork for screen printing?
If we're talking about screen printing, it all starts with paper and pencil. Bunches of thumbnails, then full-page sketches with rough shade and/or color blocking done in marker. Although it doesn't take very long, I find this stage to be really important as it helps me to understand lighting, which in turn becomes the foundation for how I set up my Photoshop file. In Adobe PS, I start with a scan or pic of my sketch, and I draw each color per layer with a Wacom tablet. This part can become an exercise in balancing the technical intensity of the software (which are vast!), and remaining loose and fluid, and keeping the image alive. The bulk of the work is definitely done in Photoshop, and if I've set up my file correctly, then vectorizing in Adobe Illustrator is a breeze. I know printers appreciate it when they get a print-ready file!
How does the tangible print of your artwork make you feel as an artist?
Oh man, whether it's a poster, t-shirt, block print, there's no comparison between the print and the on-screen version. The medium is indeed the message. Between the feel of the paper or fabric, the texture, opacity or sheen of the ink, any tiny imperfections in the printing, all affirm a kind of legitimacy that the digital just doesn't have. I think this may be, in part, because I'm always trying to visualize the finished piece - and I can only do that if I understand the medium and its limitations - and so the image that I'm developing has, from the thumbnail stage, within its DNA, the expression of the final result. I hope that made sense!
What’s your most used tool as an artist? Your favorite? Are they the same?
I have to say, I'm not terribly loyal to my media. I have 3 kids, who invariably get art supplies for Xmas and birthdays every year, so I'm always looking for ways to use what we have, which is a lot! Recently I've been liking using markers (ink and paint) on mid-toned paper. I'm also working on a series of sculptures where I'm trying to use as many found materials as possible. I sometimes think that I ought to choose a medium, and really commit to it, and push myself to understand it deeply, but I'm also motivated by not wanting to be constrained - not by the inherent constraints of the medium itself, but - by the availability of a given medium at any given time. I really feel I can and should be resilient and flexible.
How do you think your work/craft has evolved throughout the years?
I have always had a very representational approach to my work, but I don't agonize or deliberate as much anymore, and I often go with my first vision from the get-go. I used to think - somewhat subconsciously - that I needed to study, sketch, mock-up, and question every stroke, paint dab, or design decision before I could commit it to the "page." What I've come to realize is that the work has to happen on the "page" and that I can't adjust or change what is floating around in my skull. This may seem obvious to some, but having had a Bauhaus-based education, and then working in product development, where the approach to design could feel overly analytical, trained me to question myself too much in my 20s and into my 30s. As far as my imagery, here I also don't question myself as much, and I try to remember a quote from Barnett Newman when asked why he painted:
"Because I want something to look at."
Any advice for up-and-coming artists in Atlanta?
You just have to do it. And do it every day. Don't overthink it, but also don't cheat yourself by not doing it the right way. And you always have a sense of what is the right way for you, it's a matter of whether you're going to listen to yourself.
What projects are you currently working on?
I mentioned the sculptures (which also includes some paintings), I have client work (environmental graphics and branding), and I am putting together a project to create furniture out of recycled plastic. That last one may require its own interview.
Is there anything specific you’re NOT good at that you’re currently towards improving?
UGH... yeah, tons of stuff. My finances immediately to mind, as they are still a huge challenge and burden. The honest truth is that they bore me, and so I do not put the effort and attention into them, in order to acquire some tools and skills. It's embarrassing that this is still a challenge, but I mention it because it motivates so much of what I, and I think most people do in life, for better or worse, which in turn affects my work. I also mention this in part to dispel some of its emotional weight, and to hopefully connect to other artists or creatives who struggle similarly.
What’s your ultimate end goal?
To have 100% of my income come from my own art and my own design. Again, the answer is greatly about money, but I see it as being about how to live. It's about sustainability for my family, and to create a good example for my kids, that you can do and live off what you love.
To learn about Xavier's work please visit xaviervinas.com
José takes pride in printing your posters and fine art prints. If he’s not in the shop you can find José at a photo session, drawing and designing at home, or spending time with his loved ones.