Alfonso de Anda is an illustrator based in México City working in almost every kind of medium from 2d print, 3d wood carvings to publishing zines. His work consists of charming characters, nice pencil thin lines and a lot of fun. We first “met” Alfonso on instagram when we shared a photo of an Alebrijes from the V&A on our stories which he responded to with suggestions of more artists to check out. Read on for the full interview and a sneak peek into his sketchbook at the end.
1. Hello Alfonso, please tell us a bit about yourself!
Hello! Well, my name is Alfonso de Anda. I’m a Mexican illustrator and I live in beautiful México City. I really enjoy the versatility of my profession and how it allows me to take part in all sorts of projects.
2. What’s your illustration process? Analogue/Digital?
I mix both analogue and digital. I’ve been trying to go back to analogue as much as I can because, even though I can make the final image look the same if I work fully digital, I’ve come to realise that I enjoy the analogue process a lot more. At the end of the day I feel happier when I sit in front of pieces of paper for hours as opposed to sitting in front of a screen. Also, it’s nice to have drawings on pieces of paper that I can look at and touch, sort of like tangible documentation of what I worked on. That being said, I do use Photoshop a lot.
It usually goes something like this:
– Sketch on paper. Not really worrying too much about aesthetics but exploring ideas and concepts, trying to surprise myself with something.
– I choose a sketch that I feel works best and flesh it out a little bit either on paper, or sometimes I scan it and mess around with it in Photoshop.
– I either continue to do line-work and colouring in Photoshop or (which is what I’ve been doing) print out the refined sketch and do a final drawing on paper.
– Scan the final drawing/pieces of the drawing and colour in Photoshop.
This can sort of change if let’s say I’m working on a painting of a mural.
3. We are particularly big fans of your small carved wooden character pieces, how did you get started making these? Are you a trained woodworker?
Thank you!! It makes me really happy how well these figures have been received because I am not a trained woodworker at all BUT it’s something that I’d been wanting to do for a long long time…. Actually I am a little bit trained, not necessarily in woodcarving, but in having a sense of how to work with the material since I studied Industrial Design for undergrad. Anyway, at the end of college I started having a very heavy interest in the carved wooden figures from Oaxaca, México (they are commonly known as Alebrijes, but in reality Alebrijes are paper maché sculptures that originated in México city); this was back in 2013 and it was not until 2018 that I decided to get proactive about it. Took a trip to Oaxaca to do some personal research, visit some OG woodcarvers and spent some time in a production shop learning how they do the work and carved a few pieces of my own. It’s amazing how talented they are; they carve insane pieces with machetes and kitchen knives. Also the history of the craft is super interesting, I can talk about this for hours, I really geek out about it. The pieces I’ve been making are somewhat basic figures but it’s something I really enjoy doing and I’m looking forward to getting better at it. It’s been such a fun exercise to figure out ways of translating my flat 2d work into three dimensional objects, also, to a certain level connecting to a native craft that I really admire. Feels nice.
4. Can you tell us more about your research trip and the woodcarvers you met? Was it just practical skills you learnt from them?
Like I said I was/am really interested in the figures carved in Oaxaca, not only because of the “technical” aspect of the carvings but also the creativity and character design. So I got in contact with carver Zenny Fuentes, whose figures I really like, to see if I could hang around his woodshop for a couple of days and booked a room for a week and a half in Oaxaca city. In the mornings I would do a 30 minute commute to San Martin Tilcajete, one of the 3 main carving towns, where Zenny and his wife Reyna have their woodshop. I’d spend the morning and afternoon in the woodshop carving next to Zenny’s brother Beto, who would give me tips and stuff and by 5pm, (when the woodshop closed) I’d go walk around San Martin talking to different carvers asking them about their story and digging around to see if I could tie any knots together about who came up with what in the collective design pool you see in Oaxacan wood carvings. For the most part I did not; but it doesn’t matter, just having the conversations was amazing to me. I talked with Margarito Melchor Fuentes and his son, with Martin Melchor Ángeles who has a super distinctive style and Zenny and Beto Fuentes of course. All of them from San Martin Tilcajete. I also met with Luis Pablo, from Arrazola (another of the 3 woodcarving towns) and a bunch of other carvers who I don’t know by name. I have still yet to visit La Unión Tejalapam (the third carving town) but it’s further away from Oaxaca city and harder to get to.
By no means I am an expert in the field and you can only learn so much in a week and a half, but this trip was a game changer for me 100%, it was the catalyst for me to start making my own figures. I was amazingly inspired by the skills they have and the tools they use (mostly machetes and kitchen knives), the creativity behind the pieces and all of the stories.
5. Do you listen to or watch anything while you work? Music, TV, podcasts, etc?
I do! I listen to music most of the time and also audiobooks, sometimes documentaries and podcasts. It’s like, depending on the part of my process I’m in or what I have to accomplish I choose what is best. I know that if I’m brainstorming music works best, and music without vocals. If I have to buckle down and crank out coloring or work on something in which I already have the idea, then documentaries and audiobooks work great, also podcasts; I guess anything that has some sort of narrative that I have to follow. I have a pretty flimsy attention span so having something to entertain the part of my brain that is constantly looking for stimuli really helps me focus and do something for a long stretch of time.
6. Tell us what your typical working day is like…
I wake up at around 8-8:30 am. Chill on the couch while I sip on a cup of coffee, hang out with Piraña and Hendrix (cats), shower, eat breakfast and bike to my studio by 10:30 am. I have a planner in which I write the things I want to get done each week and what I need to work on each day. I work on whatever is on my plate and by 2-2:30 pm I bike back to my apartment to cook myself some food. Lunch is the biggest meal in the Mexican meal hierarchy. I then take a 25 minute nap to sort of restart my brain and by 4-ish pm bike back to the studio. I work until around 8pm and then I decide if I wanna continue working, just chill, hit up my friends to see what they are up to, head back to my apartment, eat or do whatever. Sleep at around 12-ish am, wake up and do it all over again.
7. You have an impressive list of clients on your site, how do you balance all of the admin of looking for commissions with doing the actual creative work?
Thank you! It’s something that I have to be conscious about. Being a freelancer is pretty much being a one person business and it requires you to fulfill a lot of different roles that are not art-making. Being organised helps me a lot with that. Trying not to multi-task and focus on one role at a time as opposed to jumping from one thing to another; easier said than done. I sometimes set up timers and I work on only one thing for that certain amount of time with a piece of paper next to me to write down things I have to do when they come to mind. As far as looking for work, I really enjoy the business part of the profession, so I’m constantly thinking about projects by nature. I also send out emails and reach out to art directors. Something I had to learn to do is to not care if I don’t get any email responses though; growing elephant skin in that regard for emotional sustainability. I’m very happy though that for most of the past year, I’ve been getting client work without having to look for it. This is the first time in my life that work has been somewhat steadily coming in.
8. Do you have a dream project that you’d like to work on?
I feel super stoked that I’m now working on some projects that were dream projects once. That being said; I’ve been chewing on the idea of opening up a self publishing hub down here in México city. A place where people can go and produce their publications and zines from start to completion. All sorts of printing processes. Maybe there will be some sort of classes and workshops there too. That is a dream project for sure.
9. Where would you take us for a fun day out in Mexico City?
We could go have breakfast at a classic spot here in México city called “El Panquesito Concha” where they have delicious coffee. Then depending what you feel like doing we could go to the Museo de Arte Popular (Folk art museum), walk around downtown and eat hen soup for lunch. Perhaps ice-cream for dessert and at night try to go see some live music somewhere where we can also drink beer or go to a restaurant where they have a delicious zucchini flower pizza.
10. Who are your favorite creatives?
I feel lucky that I am continuously surrounded by artists and creatives who do amazing work and I find super inspiring, so this is a tough question. I share a studio with David Rocha and Pablo Díaz and I get constant inspiration from them since we spend lots of time in the same room. I’ve been friends with David since we were 13 (now 31) so definitely one of my favourite creatives. My buddy Raul Pardo makes really really good work and I really appreciate him too. Jimena Estíbaliz and Pamela Medina. Diego Freyre’s work blows my mind and we also have really good art conversations. I could go on but this list would get very long.
11. What are you currently working on? Do you have any exciting new projects coming up?
Yea! I am working on an edition of wooden figures with a woodcarver from Oaxaca. Another project that has me super excited is Flat Joes Publicaciones, my small publishing project. We are putting together a collection of zines by 7 artists from México: Raúl Pardo, Pamela Medina, Katia Alvarez and Pablo Díaz, Diego Freyre, Ana Karina Cervantes, Daniel Shepard and myself. The collection was going to debut at Toronto Comic Arts Fair 2020, but the fair got canceled a couple of days ago, it’s crazy how things are changing day by day. Anyway the project still has me pumped.