Carles Salom is an artist and encyclopaedic illustrator living and working in Barcelona. Below, Nickie Shobeiry speaks to him about his past, and about drawing for work and drawing for himself.
Where were you born?
In a town 25 km North-West of Barcelona called Terrassa. It was part of the textiles industry so most of the city consisted of factories – like Manchester, but smaller.
How old were you when you first began to draw?
Since I was very small. I was a somewhat sickly child, and spent many hours alone at home. It was due to this that I picked up pencil and paper, and started creating fictional worlds to help me through times of loneliness. The comic books of my brothers did the rest. Even at the time I couldn’t read, but I was looking at them with great attention.
Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
I always knew I wanted to draw. My first job consisted of working with my hands – I spent just over three years working in a jewellery workshop. It was from here that I realised the 3D concept, and I became aware of the passage between two dimensions, and the volume of objects. The chief designer made drawings and we, the artisans, transformed them into the corporeal. I think this greatly helped me in finding the ‘hidden face’ of a drawing – that which isn’t seen, but is still essential to understand and to adequately capture the thing you are drawing.
After my time there, I entered the illustration department of a leading publisher in Barcelona, where I made drawings for an encyclopaedia of many volumes. This meant I was creating technical and scientific illustrations, which is basically what I had been exercising throughout my professional life – with a break devoted to advertisement illustration.
How does this work differ from the work you do for yourself?
So, the basic difference between the two is the fact that publishers or advertising illustrations have a very specific, well-defined order. Don’t forget that my speciality is encyclopaedic drawings, including fields of science, technology and history – so it’s obvious that I cannot invent anything! Everything has to be clear, didactic and absolutely correct. I must say that most of my drawings are intended for school text books in most levels, except the initial stages of primary education. This does not support big artistic license. Very different from these are the pictures I do as a hobby. They are free, and allow me to create fictional worlds (to the extent that my creativity is capable). In spite of this, as you can see, I don’t reproduce too much of the reality around me. I reinterpret it through my mood, which influences my work.
You focus a lot on landscapes, capturing beautiful scenes in black and white. What is it about a particular landscape that attracts you to it, and makes you want to draw it?
My landscapes are often easily recognizable. Many sites are reminiscent of fragments of my memories. Normally, my drawings are recreations of a good part of my memory. Many times I find it easy to find parallels between what I see and what I remember.
I don’t copy my drawings directly from reality. Some landscapes I’ve seen in pictures, eyeing me from a magazine, and I memorize the basic structure of the site. Others are caught with the ‘camera of the brain’ when I’m walking through the streets. Sometimes, I sketch some doodles on a notepad. I’ll note some details of the situation, or perhaps some ornamental element or a functional object – a pipe or a sewer or a lamppost, for example. Later and elsewhere and maybe another day, I will recreate it further.
Does living in Barcelona affect your work in any way? If so, how?
I guess if I lived somewhere other than Barcelona, my work would not be substantially different. I could do these from anywhere in the world. Recall that as I said, I seldom use my memory to draw or redraw my landscapes. It is true that I have some references clearly related to the city, but I think it would not affect the drawings. On the other hand, sure , it would affect my mood. It would be hard for me to live in a place that is far from the sea. I find it almost vital to see or know that the sea is there, near me. In my house, it is the first thing you see every morning when we open the blinds on the terrace. Other things almost indispensable to me that Barcelona offers are its usually benign climate, its city landmarks, and the daily life and culture that is forever attached to its streets and people. I like Barcelona.
Could you tell us about your creative process – which tools you use, any particular habits you have, how you create your beautiful pictures?
As mentioned before, the creative process that generates these images are usually associated with my memories, and the crossing of these stimuli with a landscape that suggest and sustain my feelings. Maybe what I’m trying to say is a little confusing, but I can’t think of another way to explain it. I guess I’m saying that just to draw a beautiful landscape is not powerful enough for me. I need something more. I also need a certain complicity within myself, and I can only get this from my own ‘reserve tank’ and memories. It is an essential ‘partner’, for without it I’m lost [laughs]. From there I can work and recreate my worlds. When this doesn’t happen, I stay engrossed in looking at the environment – the park, people doing nothing – and in those moments, I feel unable to generate even a small stroke of paint.
Do you have a favourite scene/place to draw?
I don’t know if it’s a preference, but I usually do as I said: sit in the park, some parts of my neighbourhood, leaning on a railing or really, anywhere I can sit! I often use a notebook, pen, and sometimes a marker or crayon. These are very basic, practical tools, and give me freedom of location. I just need a light and suitable climate, meaning that it does not rain, or become extremely hot or cold – which is rare for Barcelona.
Still, I could draw from the refuge of a doorway, if something interests me at the time. I can even take notes about the thing that inspired me, and keep it for later development. However, if I am painting something larger, or with mixed media, I do it in my studio where I work in a professional manner.
Of all your pictures, do you have a favourite of your own? If yes, then why that picture?
I don’t have a favourite, but I do enjoy seeing a piece which reflects the mood I have at the time. I can remember it very strongly from the time I was drawing the piece, and the sensations returns. This doesn’t necessarily make for a favourite picture; when you speak of memories, not all are good – but hey, that’s a part of life. Nothing unusual. We can also “enjoy” this, if it’s managed properly.
Who are your artistic influences?
My artistic influences are many and varied, with many being deceased. Besides the classics (such as Canaletto, Brueghel, and many more), I have found some online which have left me surprised, as I didn’t know they existed! More modern painters include Edward Hopper, David Hockney, Escher, Franklin Mahon, François Schuiten, Anton Pieck, Frans Masereel, Paul Gallo, the German Expressionist movement and many others. I’m sure I could make a very long list. I am convinced that all of them have planted a seed in my brain, which eventually ends up germinating.
And of course they are more than welcome! The current, modern advantage is that you can download a huge number of images and create a museum-exhibition that fits you. I have hard drives full of creative images of all kinds. I’ve really made a very satisfactory virtual exhibition that fills me with energy and activates neurons positively. I always thrive on ideas that act as a ‘starter’ or ‘ignition’ to new images, as my personal reserve is lazy.
What advice would you give to someone who also wants to be an artist?
It is very easy to give advice to others, and very difficult to apply them to ourselves. I don’t think much about advice. I think that as art teachers have been saying for centuries, it is best to work continuously without even realising it, to go forward and find ways that suit you. We must make many mistakes to have successes. Observe the work of others carefully, absorb its positivity. Above all, as Picasso said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” I think Charlie Chaplin said something similar, too.
What is next for you?
My future includes art projects, and just to keep drawing. I have no specific projects. I leave it to chance and with that I am happy. I am aware that in this way there will be many ups and downs – but that’s normal, right?
Interview by Nickie Shobeiry