Digitizing Lisboa: A Q&A with Illustrator Gonçalo Viana

Gonçalo Viana's illustrations bring to mind a simpler time when postcards were a thing, yet his subject matter is very much of the moment. And his clear, child-friendly technique means that his illustrations go perfectly with the articles he's commissioned to illustrate — and, of course, children's books.

Gonçalo Viana’s illustrations bring to mind a simpler time when postcards were a thing, yet his subject matter is very much of the moment. And his clear, child-friendly technique means that his illustrations go perfectly with the articles he’s commissioned to illustrate — and, of course, children’s books. This combination of strength and simplicity, Atlas found out, runs through Viana’s approach to everything, from how he came to his profession to choosing the perfect place to work.

Born in what he refers to as a “retro European town famed for its bright light and custard tarts” in 1974, Viana has returned to the motherland after living and working as an architect in Macau and London. Ultimately, in 2002, his inner art geek won out over the responsible adult and Viana traded in the life of an architect for that of a freelance illustrator. He has spent the last 16 years working in editorial, advertising, and children’s book illustration, so judging by his work, he made the right choice. The New York Times thought so too when they published his illustration in 2015.

Aside from exuding a dream-like quality, his work introduces geometry, strong colors and textures, and a sense of movement that made us fall in love with it at first glance, so we just had to know more. Here’s what he told us:

When did you start taking an interest in art and illustration? My interest in drawing started very early on when I was a small child. Like a lot of other illustrators, when that time arrived when other children usually lose interest in drawing, I carried on, sometimes obsessively! From then on, it’s all I have ever really wanted to do.

Why did you choose to return to Lisbon? Here is where it really feels like home. Lisbon, in terms of European capitals, is really in the Goldilocks zone – not too big, nor too small. It’s beautiful and laid back. If only summers weren’t so damn hot, it would be perfect.

What’s your favorite medium to work with? Because I studied architecture, not fine arts, I never really went through the process of learning how to properly work with the various mediums. Also, while growing up, I was fixated on the work of Quino, namely his cartoons. They were just line drawings in black and white, and so were mine. I only started coloring my work when a fellow illustrator taught me how to do it in Photoshop, so I’ve been doing it ever since.

Thus, I don’t really work in any other medium than digital. In terms of the visual look of it, I prefer what one would call dry media. I like texture and grittiness so that would be coloring pencils, dry brushes, chalk, and the like. Nowadays there are excellent digital brushes that cater to those tastes, and I use them extensively.

When and where did you last exhibit? My work has been exhibited in various collective exhibitions, in Lisbon and elsewhere, but never in an individual exhibit. Nowadays, you can always find it in Galeria Malapata, in Chiado, where I have signed Giclée prints available for sale.

I’m mostly an editorial illustrator, so you will find my work in magazines and newspapers, both here and abroad. Every once in a while, a children’s book will come out. You can always find it on my website, and I try to keep that site updated as best as I can.

Are there any projects you are currently working on that you would like us to know about? I have two interesting projects in the works, but I’m afraid I’m obliged to keep them under wraps for the time being.

What is the most Portuguese thing about you? Excelling in last-minute panic.

Lisbon has changed a lot since you were born. What, to you, has changed the most, and what’s your opinion on the changes? After so many years ransacking the city’s oldest buildings in order to build concrete boxes, there seems to now be a greater effort to preserve the city’s identity. A lot more restoration than demolition, which is great. Also, the city is now a lot more cosmopolitan!

Is there a place you go to find inspiration? When I need inspiration, I just go to a café. Any will do, really, something about caffeine. The tiles that cover the buildings are a great source of inspiration as well, and they’re all around.


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