Illustration by Ignasi Monreal

The boom of Catalan illustration

After years of being relegated just to children's literature and fashion, medical and technological literature and the world of comics, illustration is experiencing a real boom thanks to social networks: haute couture, the walls of galleries and hotels, at the headboard of our bed. Catalan style has, in addition, its own recognizable stamp: vivid, Mediterranean drawings, intellectual, with just the right dose of humor.

Until recently, as with Mathematics (one of the most sought after degrees in the last university entrance examinations), Fine Arts was considered a degree without a future, with teaching and the publishing world as the only professional outcome. Indeed, publishers opted for illustration almost exclusively in children’s and youth books, and in any case, when there was no budget for a photographer. The rise of image banks made it easy to use low cost snapshots, but it entailed and still poses a risk: that competitors—another publisher—might choose the same image. It’s not so inconceivable, since for many topics, such as yoga or even tapas time, the images on offer from Getty or Thinkstock are more typical of photojournalism or, in the case of tapas time now so in vogue, there is not much more than a hundred images to choose from.

However, thanks to Instagram, illustrators have found a vehicle, one of enviable speed and traction, to spread and promote their creations.

Lara Costafreda

Looking at the figures, just five years ago it was still more expensive to commission a photographer for an exclusive image for a magazine cover or a fashion story than contracting an illustrator, but illustration has now entered a golden age at all levels and not just for the kids, say the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna (ABABO), the city that annually hosts the largest world book of children’s books.

Today, most independent publishers have made illustration one of their marks of identity, for all genres and audiences.

“The new technologies offer a space with global interconnections where we can make our work known and where we can find customers and/or consumers in any corner of the world,” explains Lara Costafreda (Llardecans, 1988), who studied Fashion Design at BAU school and today works for the main fashion magazines, as well as putting together collections of house linen and covering hotel walls”

The fashion world has curiously dragged its feet in this case, only staking on illustration when the social networks have enhanced its value and profitability. A clear example is that of Barcelona’s Ignasi Monreal (Barcelona, 1990), the author of much of the advertising by Gucci, as well as of their different prints on pieces going for at least at €250.

Manuel Moranta in a Pechacucha

New technologies, tablets, 3D printing and, above all, the democratization of the Internet, have made illustration keep its artisan spirit, but it is a growing business. “The new technologies offer a space with global interconnections where we can make our work known and where we can find customers and/or consumers in any corner of the world,” explains Lara Costafreda (Llardecans, 1988), who studied Fashion Design at BAU school and today works for the main fashion magazines, as well as putting together collections of house linen and covering hotel walls with with her dreamlike world of plants, like at Motel One in Barcelona, near the Ciutadella Park. Lara failed illustration in her third year at college, but spent the summer perfecting her technique. “Drawing is the result of the movement of the hand. However many images you see in your mind, it is impossible to draw them if your hand does not follow the necessary rhythm.” When she graduated, she went to Brazil where she studied retouching, collage, etc. When she returned to Barcelona, she made fashion drawings for weeks on end and sent them to magazines around the world. “It was not done in a flash. It was like, two years before I was commissioned by Marie Claire Mexico,” she says. Later, there would be work with Carolina Herrera, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Chanel and Hermès, among others.

Bet Moret

One of the big names in Catalan illustration is Paula Bonet (Vila-Real, 1980), selling over 45,000 copies of her books Qué hacer cuando en la pantalla aparece The End—What do you do when The End comes up on the screen, or 813, dedicated to the life and work of filmmaker François Truffaut. In addition, Bonet has developed a niche market merchandising her work and, like Costafreda, has workshops all over the world.

Manuel Moranta, who studied law but is currently devoted to Advertising and teaches at the IDEP design school, also saw how illustration was a key tool for expression: “What makes humans and animals or machines different is that we understand jokes, lies and whims. I think this world of human subtleties is best expressed through the gesture of the hand.” His drawing-phrases appeal to the reader, something that is also a mark of the identity of Catalan illustration, as well as clean strokes, “freehand, with no margin for errors, simple and flowing. It transmits beauty, attitude, style,” explains Bet Moret, who, along with graphic design, has found her professional vehicle in illustration.

The figures with a ‘k’ on Instagram seem to indicate that, rather than a boom or a fad, we are dealing with a new batch of neo-craftsmen who, thanks to technology and a disposition for freelancing, they have turned a skill into more that a profession, since their work is not only exhibited in galleries, but they are already, and will be for at least a few generations, part of the Catalan collective imagination.