Illustration is one of the many forms of art that basically surrounds us everywhere we go. With the digital advancement today, many people have thought about becoming an illustrator and have wondered how their daily lives would turn out and how can they go about acquiring the skills needed.
The Designer Wall interviewed Denis Zilber, a freelance illustrator who fell in love with art at a very young age, had his drawbacks at some point in his life, and found his way back into it at the perfect time, just when digital art was born.
Starting as a graphic designer at the age of 26, he has gradually developed into becoming an illustrator for about seven years now. He shares with us his wheel-like journey with art, his thoughts and advice for other illustrators and artists who aspire to be successful, and how he’s still a regular guy by profession.
“Think story, not image. Think content, not technique.”
TDW: Hi Denis, welcome to The Designer Wall, how’s it going?
Denis Zilber: Not bad, not bad at all. Thanks!
TDW:Tell us something about you and your work.
Denis: Well I draw and paint things digitally on daily basis for different clients around the world. That’s more or less what I do for living. I am talking about editorial and advertising illustration, character design for commercials and animation, illustration for children’s books. I even worked on a card game once. Pretty wide range of jobs, I’d say. Basically I work for every client that finds what I do suitable for his needs and where I can find some artistic challenge for myself and potential boost for my career.
TDW:Who or what inspired you to be on this field right now? In line with this, where do you get your inspirations?
Denis: I was born in an artistic family, both of my parents are professional artists. That means that I started drawing and studying art at age of 5. My first books, even though I could not read back then yet, were art books. They were big, so they didn’t fit into regular shelves, and my parents placed them on the biggest and lowest shelves near the floor. Exactly where I could reach to. It was obvious that I choose an artist’s career when I grow up. However, you’ll be surprised but I was stupid enough to decide at certain age that I don’t have any future as an artist and completely dumped doing art. I thought it wasn’t practical. Gosh I am happy I came back to my senses at age 26. A bit late, but better late than never, right?
As for my inspirations today I do have my list of favourite artists that I look up to, as any artist, of course. J.C.Leyendecker is my life-long beacon, I love absolute everything about his art, especially his warm colour. Jean-Baptiste Monge, Roberto Innocenti, Frederic Pillot, Wouter Tulp, Poly Bernatene – all these incredibly talented artists inspire me a lot, they are my North Pole, something where I am desperately rowing to in my humble boat. Besides other artists I draw inspiration from many different sources: movies, books, basically everywhere. Classic fairy and folk tales are my favourite books. Even good comic artists and their performances could be a great source of inspiration. It is not about direct inspiration, not something I could actually draw, but more of a subtle vibe of intellect of particular performer, something that shows you certain boundaries between funny and sad, smart and silly, gentle and rude.
TDW: Do you have a favourite among your illustrations? Can you tell us why you picked it?
Denis: I am not sure I have. I like my illustrations about couple of days after I complete them and then I start liking them less and less until I almost hate them. I believe it’s a natural part of creative process, when you always try to achieve things beyond your reach and each time you make a very small step. You might have moved forward, but definitely not enough, you’re not there yet. That disappointment gives you a drive to make new attempts, jump a bit higher. Anyway, had I choose something that I am not too much ashamed of, those would be probably few of my recent works as Big Fish, Jack-O-Lantern and Pulcinella. Especially the Big Fish. It has something that is very important to me, a story.
TDW: Your designs have that style and distinction that sets it apart from other artists. How do you keep your style consistent? Is there a Zilber personality drawn in every illustration you make?
Denis: It’s funny, people tell me that I have a style, while I almost every day tell myself ‘Hey, you’re 37 and you still have no style of yourself. Work harder damn it!’ I guess things from my point of view look way differently. Ok, let’s assume I do have some style, hypothetically. How do I keep it? I try to stick to certain principles that I find important and to styles and themes I like most. It’s even more about what I don’t do than about what I do. For example I almost never paint any sci-fi, fantasy, horror, pin-up or caricature. I think these fields are too crowded, too many artists around the world paint spaceships, busty girls or creepy monsters. Why shall I interfere? I’ll find something else to paint:) Is there my personality involved? Of course. As every artist I paint basing on my life experience, books I read, movies I watched, people I met, thoughts I thought.
TDW: Why is this personal style/individuality important?
Denis: I don’t think it’s important, I mean in global way, for humanity. It’s important to me, of course. It’s important in terms of things I would like to achieve. I am slowly building my career, illustration by illustration, moving towards something I’d like to be in the future.
TDW: What do you think are the struggles you have faced and are still facing along the way?
Denis:I believe it’s all about bad choices. Bad, non-challenging projects, stupidly signed contracts, wrong people along the way. Now I hope I am a bit smarter than I was 7 years ago, I try to stick to things that important for my self-improvement as an artist, not making detours. I try to pick projects very carefully, and I am pretty lucky that I have such an opportunity, to actually pick projects, without jumping on every possible job. I am a lucky guy.
TDW:If you’re not in this business right now, where will you be and why?
Denis: Technically I could teach Martial Arts, I do them for more than 25 years now, it’s my second skin. However speaking of a bit more intellectual occupation, I think I’d dedicate my life to science. I am a man of reason, logic and scientific method, things like nuclear physics fascinate me more than any sport. When they found Higgs boson in CERN it was a mind blowing moment for me. On the other hand I am a huge history and anthropology fan. I think I could make a historian majoring in Western European history. Something around Napoleonic wars. That would be marvelous.
TDW: What’s the one thing you can give as the best advice to everyone aspiring to become a successful graphic artists and illustrators?
Denis: Think story, not image. Think content, not technique. In fact story is something that defines illustration, nothing else. Without a story illustration is just a meaningless image. World is overloaded with beautiful, technically perfect but meaningless and empty meaningless images. No need to multiply them.
TDW:Last question, simply describe to us how Denis Zilber’s regular day goes.
Denis: Oh, it’s rather simple, even dull. I read emails in a morning, then I work. I watch movies at night. Once a week I do horse-riding, 2-3 times a week practice Martial Arts, read books if I have time, play video games. Nothing special:)
TDW: Thank you Denis for spending some time with us. It was a pleasure to do an interview with you.
Denis: Thank you The Designer Wall.
Denis Zilber is currently working on his new website, a book cover, advertising projects, and his own story for a picture book. Get to know him further through his illustrations in his official blog, Behance, Facebook page and don’t miss his upcoming projects that will definitely take breaths away as if watching world-renowned animated movie in still art.
Lynx Manalo is a 21 year-old writer who has recently started expanding her skills to online content marketing and blogging for graphic design blogs. She has been writing novels, fiction, fan fiction songs and prose, just about anything. Follow her Twitter for her micro blog in 140 characters.