Campaign Spotlight: Jorge Colombo
by Anne Telford
Illustration Voice.com, Summer 2009
Giving a whole new meaning to the term “finger painting,” New York City-based illustrator Jorge Colombo produced the June 1st cover of the venerable The New Yorker magazine using the Brushes mobile painting application on his iPhone. He painted the cover in less than an hour. The $4.99 application records all of your actions, which are stored in a .brushes file that can be downloaded directly from your iPhone or iPod touch via Brushes’ built-in web server. The hue/saturation color wheel allows infinite color choices, including transparency, and several realistic brushes and the extreme zooming feature allow artistic flexibility.
Jorge Colombo was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1963, and moved to the United States in 1989. ("It's pronounced 'George', by the way -- it's not a Spanish name,” Colombo explains.) Since 1998 he has lived in New York City with his wife, artist Amy Yoes, who like her husband alternately employs painting, photography and film in her work.
Colombo has variously been the art director of Chicago’s Newcity.com, San Francisco magazine, and Jungle Media in New York City. He began working on digital videos in 2003, starting with one-minute movies and evolving into longer projects. His keen eye captures the colors and personalities of a city and its denizens, with affection and humor.
Earlier this year when he purchased his first iPhone, he started to make drawings on it, culminating in his technologically revolutionary New Yorker cover. Colombo finds that it’s easy to work in the dark, using the phone’s lighted screen, and he does not use photographs for reference, but rather works on site, often standing in front of storefronts that he finds compelling, such as the Strand bookstore and neighborhood eateries. Although he has found it a bit of a challenge to draw outside in the cold, he works quickly and believes that this type of art creation will not long remain a novelty. It’s just another tool in his artistic arsenal.
What motivated you to begin drawing and painting? Were you one of those children who could always be found sketching?
My brother and I were always sketching. Being Europeans, our first inspirations were graphic novels of French/Belgian origin, which were often quite sophisticated. (We never really got into the American comics tradition.) And during my short-lived stint at a fine-arts school, I realized I was more interested in commercial, published art, rather than the exhibition circuit and the commerce of originals.
What was your previous relationship with technology, vis-à-vis your illustration work?
When it comes to photography, to movies, to design, I live and die by the MacI hate to remember my pre-digital years. For drawing, not so much; I always found the ergonomics of a Wacom tablet (draw here, look there) flawed, so I avoided it. In recent years though, I started coloring my line drawings in Photoshop, not so much for speed as for color intensity, but that was it. Most of what a computer does could always be done by hand, although not as quickly; the things you can not have in real lifeand I deeply appreciateare "Save As" (create five versions with a few clicks, compare and choose) and "Undo" (make a huge mistake, revert to the right way!).
What gave you the idea to draw using your iPhone? (I have to say, I am still trying to demystify some of the regular features on my iPhone, so I find it all the more impressive that you’ve created art on yours!)
Everything feels confusing at the beginning then it's just a footnote: We no longer discuss early instances of desktop publishing or pioneer camcorder work, we're past that. The same will happen with iPhone art: it'll be just one more tool. In my case, I saw on Flickr the beautiful iPhone sunsets of Stéphane Kardos, so when I got my first iPhone in February 2009 I jumped at the chance to use Brushes myself.
Can you speak a bit about the Brushes app and the technique you used to create the cover, and your other iPhone drawings?
The great thing about Brushes is, it doesn't try to do too many things. It's a wonderfully restrained instrument. Even with the 800% zooming capability, it's still a bit dodgy to work on details or precise lines, so I resorted to a style based on broad strokes and color layeringthe app's strengths, basically. Part of an artist's job is always finding the way to take the best advantage of the tool.
If we can create art on cell phones and instantly send it to a client, how do you think this may impact the illustration field? And, what might be next?
A lot of illustrators can finish a piece by hand faster than I can on my iPhone, it depends on their style. And you can't actually send a hi-res from the phone yet: a crucial conversion step requires a Mac. But the big revolution took place years ago, when the Internet became a standard tool for illustrators and clients. Hyperlink replaced drop-off, PDF replaced the fax, FTP replaced FedEx... And Google Images changed our lives: when I'm not drawing from life, I use it all the time. In that sense, being able to create a spot or even a cover on an iPhone may come in handytechnology has helped deadlines become much speedierbut it's probably just a footnote.
Q: You’ve had more varied experience than many illustrators, given your work as a graphic designer and photographer. Which discipline do you prefer, and do you find that your background as a designer influences your illustration work?
I always prefer the one I'm working on the most at the moment. But I tend to get restless, so it's good to have a quick escape valve and (sort of) switching careers on short notice.
Do you draw inspiration from the different environments you’ve lived in?
I love cities, more than anything. Any city can be inspiring, but the main ones I've lived inNew York, San Francisco, Chicago, Lisbonhave spoiled me, they all offer such rich aspects. But the game is to find interest in things most banal.