10 Questions with Concept Artist Rafael Lopez
- When we spoke, you told me that you love starting your work with a feeling or emotion or even working from a memory and how something felt as a kid. Can you tell me how this plays out in your work, and why you prefer to start there?
When I start a big personal project I tend to think about what's happening in my life at the moment. Am I sad, angry, happy or feeling maybe lonely? This all will play out into my project. If I’m feeling a bit lonely maybe my project will include a lot of blues, pinks, and whites. This to me is a great starting point for myself because from there I can move forward with a color pallet and I can start to build a story as I finish each painting. However, I don’t work like this all the time. Sometimes I just paint things because they are cool. It's not all that deep all the time.
- You are a relatively recent grad from art school just getting started in your career. Can you tell me how you feel about your experience at school and how you feel it is supporting you now as you move forward? Do you feel differently about the decision to go to art school(s) and pursue a degree now that you are done with it than you did going in, and if so, in what ways?
School was great for what it was, I have some really great memories from school. I had some really awesome teachers as well. I made sure to learn everything I could from them. There really wasn't a major for Concept Art at the school I attended and the school was very unsupportive that I wanted to learn Concept Art. Honestly, if I could do it all again I would have either gone to another school which supported me or just learned on my own. Most of what I do professionally, I had to teach myself because my school didn’t offer what I needed. They offered everything else but what I needed.
- Let’s talk about student loans and debt and what it means for young artists in particular as they start out in their independent lives and careers. How have you dealt with the very real challenge of debt as you look to launch your art career?
Student loan debt is stressful. Period. I’m sure everyone can agree with that. It’s literally something no one likes to bring up. Especially when you are looking for industry work and you are just barely making it by with what money you are making through a part-time job or whatever. Very stressful. Do not recommend. You can’t start a life with the amount of debt they throw you into as soon as you graduate. Especially if the job market is dry.
- What does it mean to you to be an artist? How does your decision to pursue your art as your means of income influence your identity and how you perceive yourself?
To me being an artist means a lot of things. Obviously, in this case, it means to have an excellent skill in drawing or painting. However, that's not to say someone that writes poetry or plays an instrument isn’t an artist because they are. Right now in my opinion being an artist is defined by the skills that I have and what I can craft with my skill. If I can make you feel some type of way while you are looking at one of my paintings, my job is done. If I can catch your eye just for a second to look at one of my paintings, my job is done.
- You told me that you were working for a studio, but that the studio went under and laid everyone off last October. What was that experience like for you, and how are you handling the transition from being an in-house artist to becoming a freelancer? Are you hoping to land another in-house position, or do you like the autonomy of freelancing?
Yes, I was laid off my first-ever studio job in October of last year. It did suck, but the experience was great and I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had. I’m still looking for another studio to call home but in the meantime, bills have to get paid I have to eat and take care of my health which means money has to come from somewhere. Right? So I’m trying to search, network, email. You name it - I’ve probably done it. Still not succeeded. I work a part-time job down the street from where I live until I get picked up again. I hope to find something soon.
- As a working artist, where do you feel the most inspired lately to dive in and create new work? Is it in projects that you are creating for others or personal pieces? Why do you feel that way?
I usually find inspiration from the video games I’m currently playing or if a really cool movie comes out! Or sometimes I just draw random shapes onto a piece of paper ( I know it sounds weird) and somehow that inspires me, don’t ask me how it just naturally does. I see into negative shapes a lot of the times.
- We all have strengths, and too often we are taught to hold back and not brag about them. Here’s permission to give yourself some much-deserved praise! What is something that you are really amazing at? What do you like about it, and how have you capitalized on that?
I really like Concepting out Environments!
- On the opposite coin, we all have weaknesses, too. What is something that you feel you are bad or unskilled at? Why does it concern you? Have you taken steps to counteract the situation or improve your ability in this area?
One of my weaknesses would have to be the fact that I often compare myself to other people who do what I do. Like I know you literally can’t compare your entire life to someone else's but somehow my brain won't shut up and it will insist on still doing it from time to time and it drives me nuts. When you get into that mood, and I know you know what that mood feels like. You just feel drained and you start to feel like, “Is what I’m doing even worth it”
- Now that you’ve been so brave to share an area you want to improve or feel a bit insecure about – what would your advice be to other artists who might be struggling with the same or a similar problem?
Just don’t do it! I even have to tell myself that all the time!
- Reaching out to your connections and keeping the lines of communication open with people who might help you advance your career and get your foot in the door is super important. How do you approach peers and potential employers? For those of us who haven’t been great at remembering to reach out for help and to remind people we are there – how would you tell them to talk to others that might help them get their start?
I honestly don’t know and I’m still trying to figure this out myself. I guess the best advice and honestly the advice I would give to myself is to never give up and to keep trying. I’m really new as well to all of this, too.
- BONUS: What is a dream project you’d like to work on, and why?
It would be such an awesome dream to work at a studio where everyone is treated the same. I love positive work environments and I know I speak for a lot of people because we all grow from positive environments. There is no greater feeling than coming to work being surrounded by people who are passionate about what they are doing. I definitely know every day isn’t sunshine and rainbows but in the grand scheme of things. It’s definitely a dream job that people like myself are fighting for.
You can see more of Rafael Lopez's work on his personal website. I'm rooting for you, Rafael! Your work is beautiful and your heart is in the work.
When the unexpected happens and we get laid off, work is dry, or the education we paid for isn't serving us how we had hoped, it can be really hard to get our of our heads and come at our situation from a space of hope and good expectation.
If you feel lost, in need of some support or unsure what to do next, please, reach out for help. As a life coach, I specialize in helping artists deal with the setbacks we face and the emotions we feel as we travel through our careers. You can learn more about my work here.
And, here are some resources that can help with positivity and combatting anxiety, too! In this article, you can learn from other's experiences how they handle and overcome anxiety - there are lots of great tips and there will be sure to be something you can try that can boost your own results with regaining calm and soothing stressful moments.