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18 agosto 2022

Arturo Elena, an international reference in fashion illustration

Arturo Elena is the Aragonese illustrator who has put the name of the community on the international fashion scene. He has worked for brands such as Loewe, Chanel Spain, Roberto Verino, Lemoniez, Inditex, L'Oreal Paris, Carrera y Carrera, Audemars Piguet, The Extrème Collection, Tejidos Rafael Matías, Benetton and Custo Barcelona, among others.

You have an innate ability for drawing. What was your first drawing?

I’ve liked to draw since I was very young. I used to draw non-stop and there came a time when I realized I wanted to dedicate myself to it. My parents supported me and that’s when it all started. My first drawing? I don’t even remember, I drew everything, what I was taught in class and then on my own what could attract a child: the Smurfs, I copied comic characters I liked, and also things on my own that I don’t even remember… If you want, let’s go to Teruel and open the trunks.

Were you self-taught or did you have academic training?

Self-taught, because I only received, like anyone who has done an elementary school education and in my case up to COU, the plastic training of academic type, but not aimed at what I have become my profession. The same drawing or art classes were given to others, but I finished them three months earlier, and this is not a joke. It’s the truth, that happened in the fourth year of high school, which is what it was called at that time.

What happened?

Well, I finished three months earlier the discipline that had to be fulfilled to finish the course. I remember that in that course I was doing technical drawing and it wasn’t as much fun as the plastic arts class, but I got the hang of it and enjoyed it just the same.

You are from Teruel, like Pertegaz. Where did your interest in fashion come from? Did you have him as a reference?

No, I discovered him when I started working in this world and I began to know about already established personalities. My getting into the world of fashion was almost accidental, because I started to like fashion and attracted me when I became aware of my body, which I guess is in adolescence, which is when you start to think about what to wear or what not to wear. Together with the fact that I liked drawing, I began to make figurines and I realized that I liked the world of fashion, but then came the evolution of my personal circumstances within that world.

You started working as a design assistant in Barcelona until Victorio y Lucchino came your way. That was your first assignment as a fashion illustrator.

I started working as a designer’s assistant and it got to the point where I discovered through some commissions from Victorio and Lucchino in Seville that when I enjoyed the most was when I was working as an illustrator. As a designer you have to make a flat drawing so that the pattern maker understands what the garment looks like and where a cut, a darts or the shape of the contour has to go. That was the technical part, but when I enjoyed it was when the drawing of the garment in perspective was made with the girl inside moving the garment, which is when it is made for the catalogs. When I received commissions from Victorio and Lucchino, with whom I became friends and began to frequent their studio, I discovered that my vocation was not to be a designer but to draw other people’s designs.

When did you take that step from fashion design to illustration?

It was more or less when Victorio and Lucchino in 1992, coinciding with the Seville Expo, launched a runway collection called Carmen and at the same time presented a perfume with the same name. They required my work to make two press kits, one for the perfume and another for the presentation of the collection. That folder reached all the press and among them Cosmopolitan, who contacted me in summer and proposed me to make the cover of the fashion pages of their magazine. I was doing it from 1992 to 2008, when the crisis hit.

You have collaborated with many other fashion publications, which are they?

Elle, Telva, Mujer Hoy and Yo Dona… and outside Spain with Angeline’s in France and many other editions that came to me not to commission me, but to talk about it. In Italy, France, China... I don’t have the accountant for all of them.

Which brands do you start working with when you begin to be recognized internationally?

Although in 2008 I finished with Cosmopolitan and the work was very restricted in that sense, which for me was still a monthly salary, far from going badly it was quite the opposite because firms like the Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet, Bodegas Viñas del Vero, Citröen … and many brands with which I did work for signature image that is much better paid than for editorial work.

How did you go from gouache to marker?

I started working with tempera, but in my academic training I had received all the techniques and one of them was markers. When Carmen with Victorio and Lucchino came up, which was a job that required a lot of images and a quick turnaround time, there was already a very wide range of markers on the market that were not limited to what we knew at a layman’s or street level, to those required at school. I decided to buy all the markers of a certain brand and I used them to make the work faster and get the same type of textures.

You have a unique technique, no designer uses the marker like you do. How did you arrive at it?

As I was working on these works I discovered that at some points, to enhance the light areas, they need a tool that the transparent markers didn’t give me. I resorted to another line of markers that were opaque ink. I decided to experiment without fear in some points: I put a white to see how it looked and blurred it with my finger… I was perfecting it at my own risk. This way I was controlling the whites in the highlights, it seems very simple when explained like this, but at the beginning I did not achieve the textures that are achieved when you accumulate experience and mistakes. The accumulation of the use of these tools somehow made me find a technique that is not in any book or method, it came out of my own need, nobody told me how to do it. In fact, there are centers and universities that hire me as a professional to show them in practice how I use it, because it is something that is not in the books.

Your disproportionate figures also make you special, why do you resort to this type of drawing?

Let’s say that somehow the definition of the type of model or characters is what gives me the stamp. The technique is something that comes later, the first thing they look at is, as you defined now, a certain type of character, particular or peculiar. That was unplanned. Bearing in mind that we are in the field of fashion illustration, formerly known as fashion figurinism, where stylized, elongated characters have always been used… I didn’t do it with the intention of defining this type of character as an ideal woman, I did it for fun, but at the same time trying to make the movements, perspective, anatomy, movement and texture of the garments as realistic as possible, so that they would look like real characters. In order not to mislead, I did it as a diversion, to make figurinism but of characters that are out of reality. In reality you can’t find a girl like that. But yes, what defines me is the type of character I created.

In an already digital world, extremely fast, with no time to rest or meditate on the designs, how do you adapt such a manual and handmade technique?

In the same question you almost have the answer. As technology abounds so much and the use of tools that are created by a machine, this is how it will happen with haute couture. I guess everyone knows that buying a ready-to-wear is not the same as buying a couture dress. A haute couture dress has handcrafted finishes and somehow, when you wear it, it sets you apart from chain production. Without taking away merit to those who work with this type of more mechanical or computer techniques, I think that what the hand of man does is not comparable to what can be done with or can be done by a machine. If I make a mistake I have no way back unless I then submit it to digitalization, which of course I always have to do to edit the image and remove the parts where you have made a mistake. But still it is not the same to see a handmade original as it is to see a print. On the other hand, I have the possibility of using Photoshop for editing retouching, that’s what I use it for, in that I adapt to new technologies; I use it in steps that I used to have to do on paper by hand and that gives me more time.

You recently did the promotional campaign for Pose, a Ryan Murphy production for Fx. How did it come about?

Unexpectedly, with an email from his marketing and creative team proposing us this job. We had to make a test image to see if it was able to interpret what they were looking for. They liked it and that resulted in eight images that are all in the networks. It was because they saw my work on the web or on social networks and they liked it, without having to leave Zaragoza.

You were precisely one of those people who chose to live in your homeland. You came back to live in Zaragoza a long time ago, but you could have done it in any place with more ties to fashion or that allowed you a more direct contact with the brands. What made you decide to stay in Aragón?

Although I’m from Teruel, I know Zaragoza and I lived here before moving to other places out of professional necessity and coming back for good. I did it in 1998, shortly before digitalization, and the fact of being able to digitalize an image and have it travel through the Internet allows me to live in Zaragoza or wherever. Coming here was a personal matter, but above all it was because it is strategically located between Barcelona and Madrid, which is perfect if you need to be in either of the two places, the two major professional centers for my type of work. Anecdotally, since 2008, my most important jobs have been outside Spain and I have been able to live anywhere. All the work for the United States has left from Zaragoza and it has not been necessary to move from here, not even for the previous meetings.

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