As our social manager, I’m always poking around Instagram to connect with more great folks in our community, which is exactly how we came to know (and love) José A. Roda.
Based in Spain, splitting time between Barcelona and Madrid, Jose fills his days working on personal projects and a variety of freelance jobs and commissions. Most recently, he was selected to design a Pride Sticker for Instagram.
After following him for some time and enjoying his work on the daily, we wanted to learn more about him, his creative path, and how he manages to do it all as a freelance illustrator and creator.
Have you always been interested in making and creating things? Did you have any early experiences that set you out on a creative path?
The truth is I always have. Since I was little I’ve been interested in creative activities. As a child I enjoyed drawing and working with my hands, I was never into sports or competing. I have always enjoyed exercising my imagination more than my muscles. As a teenager I became more interested in the visual world, I’d take my friends to the river by my parents house, and had them pose as models for my pictures. At the university, I enrolled in film and audiovisual studies and once that was over, just like many others do, I felt lost and didn’t know which path to pursue. As I worked small odd jobs, I studied a master in graphic design. There I met a classmate who was into illustration, my interest in drawing awoke once more, and my whole story began.
What drew you to illustration and design?
What drew me most into design and illustration is you can practice both with little resources and little help, especially compared to the audiovisual world I came from. I’ve never been comfortable around people, I enjoy being alone and I am very self-demanding and obsessive - that’s why I find working with groups somewhat complicated. I believe showing ones own vision of things is hard when it has to filter through various opinions and expensive machinery. Drawing is something one can do in his own room, and this is why I draw.
How did you make the leap to becoming a professional illustrator? Was it a specific decision, or did it happen gradually?
It was a gradual process. There wasn’t an exact moment that I decided ‘I’m going to be a professional illustrator.’ The only decision was to never stop drawing. The idea that this is what I like and what makes me happy, so I’m gonna keep doing it and getting better at it. I’m very obsessive and tenacious - I believe in working hard above everything else. Crafts are mastered through work.
When did you decide to start selling your work online?
Late 2013. I’d had previous experience managing online sales for others, so I didn’t find it hard at all. I guess it was a natural step. Through social media I noticed others’ interest for the things I created, so I started an online shop to sell my work.
What lessons have you learned from selling your work online?
This year I quit my day job and have dedicated myself entirely to my drawing, and fortunately I’ve learned a lot. Sales depend on various factors - some of these you can work on, others are out of your control. My own experience tells me the more time and effort you invest in putting your work out there, the more you sell - just repeating your store’s URL constantly makes a difference.
Managing an online store is already a full-time job in itself, so if you also have to produce what you sell, take pictures, manage social media, supply material to real physical stores, produce, cook, clean, and many other daily tasks, attending your online store can be complicated. For example, I’d love having professional pictures taken of my products, I find it very important and it is one of my pending tasks, but it’s hard to find the time.
The most complicated part is establishing different shipping prices, especially in orders containing very different products, such as ceramics and an illustration.
I want to talk a bit about social media, specifically your Instagram account. It seems like you genuinely enjoy the process of sharing your work there - is that an accurate observation?
Yes! Instagram is very important in my whole story. It is the main display for my products, where most of the visits to my online store come from, and where people meet me and offer me interesting jobs. It has its good things and its flaws. It’s amazing to reach anywhere in the world and see how people enjoy your work, but it’s also sad to see how easily you can be forgotten with a quick scroll down.
Instagram makes everything seem immediate and easy, when the truth is a job well done is the result of a whole lot of work. I also find it interesting because it allows me to study the evolution in my work quickly and visually, which always encourages me to keep on working. It’s like ‘Wow, look at all you’ve done! Keep working and you’ll see the things you’ll achieve!’
You have a great profile and a large, engaged following. How do you cultivate that?
That is also a slow process, at least for me it is. Having followers is important, because it means people are interested in seeing what you do, but one has to give things their exact importance. I center myself on the work, on doing the best I can and displaying it the best way possible. I also try to answer people and be nice, I believe that’s a basic thing one must do. But I try not to obsess over this. Sometimes social media is given more importance than the work itself, and I find that very sad. You better work!
Do you have a daily creative routine? What does that look like?
More or less. I always wake up early, shower, eat breakfast, and start working. Keeping my workplace tidy essential, otherwise it’s impossible to work. I work practically all day - even if something isn’t working out, I don’t give up. I am quite obsessive that way. Work is the only path. I try to rest a couple of days a week, but I hardly do. One never knows when something is going to turn out to be fruitful and make you proud, so I constantly work, because it could happen at any moment.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to pass to a young illustrator out there reading this, someone who may have been in your position five or ten years ago?
The best advice I can give them is to work hard and play fair. Accept their own mistakes. Know this is a learning process which never ends, so there will always be risk and change. Never stop trying.
What inspires you?
Anything can inspire me - I am very visual. I usually draw people using simple shapes and colors, so I guess shapes and colors are what inspire me. I always envision things and try to translate what I see into my head into my composition. I’m also inspired by the work of many other creators in different disciplines: painting, fashion, film, photography.
Do you have a dream project you’d like to work on?
Yes, one which I would have loads of time to work on, lots of freedom to create, and also tons of money to do so. ;)