Since graduating from Middlesex CRISTIAN ORTIZ (a.k.a Crom) has gone on to become an award winning freelance illustrator and animator. His work has been featured in the AOI Annual and is the creator of the British Comics Award nominated Golden Campaign comic book series. As well as this he has worked with clients including Fox and Warner Brothers.
1. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to since graduating from the Middlesex?
After I graduated from MDX the credit crunch hit (2008) and everyone was panicking. I had a job lined up with an animation studio for the beginning of 2009 but they went under with many other companies at the time.
I held onto my bar job in Camden Town while working in different collectives, organising exhibitions with people from uni and applying for jobs that could let me afford living in London. I was still doing the odd commission here and there but in general the recession vibe kept most clients and companies scared of hiring and spending money.
I’ve always had a love for animation so I was very versatile with the use of animation softwares of the time, like Flash and AE which gave me a bit of an edge when I started applying for jobs in advertising agencies. I worked in a couple of ad agencies for a few years, while publishing my own comics and growing my online presence. I quit the ad industry in 2014 to dedicate myself fully to my work and my projects.
2. How do you go about producing your illustrations and is there a part of the process you particularly enjoy?
I keep a moleskine notebook where I sketch all my ideas with biro and when I have something I like, I re-draw it in pencil, clean it up and scan it. then I “ink” it on my cintiq and add colours if needed. It really depends what piece I am working on. Sometimes I go fully traditional, do pencils, then real inks, etc.
When I’m working on comic pages, I notice how much I enjoy working on the pencil roughs. After the line-work is done everything feels a lot more mechanic, not as organic as getting good fluid lines on paper.
3. What does a typical day of illustration work for you look like? Do you have any tricks to keep yourself motivated?
I try to have a relaxed and productive start to my day. After a few years of full-time work I really appreciate what I have now, so I tend to take the morning to ease into work. I drink my coffee in bed while catching up with emails and messages from around 7:30, I’m at my desk at around 9:30 everyday after exercise, breakfast and getting ready.
Depending on the day of the week I have to spend an hour or so getting orders from my online shop ready to be posted. I always try to keep at least an hour a day to work on ideas in my sketchbook.
I wouldn’t say I have tricks to stay motivated but there are certainly tips that help me stay focused:
- Keeping a to-do list is essential. That feeling of crossing things off makes you feel great and at the end of the day you can see how productive you’ve been.
- Taking time to play games, watch films, read books and comics that you like is great to get over the dry patches of creativity.
- Looking at what other artists are doing usually gets me really pumped up to try and be better and to work harder on my craft.
4. As well as working as an illustrator you’ve also written and drawn several issues of The Golden Campaign. How did you get into self publishing? What advice would you give someone looking to get into producing their own comics and graphic novels?
I have always made comics for the fun of it. Even when I was at Middlesex I used to publish a comic about my tutors and peers on Myspace which was really fun to make. To have people in the class coming to ask when the next pages were going to be out was a big thing for me. I enjoyed how easily accessible it was for everyone to read the comic online. I started Golden campaign as an online comic back in 2012 as an exercise to keep my skills sharp while spending 8 hours a day doing design work at the ad agency. As years went by, costs of printing comics, in decent quality, got lower and I finally had money to invest in my own work so for me it was a no brainer.
My advice for anyone looking to get into self publishing is just to go out there and try it. Enquire into the costs of printing and means of distribution.Nowadays everything is out there for you to do it, easily accessible information online and the UK has a vibrant and friendly indie comix scene.
If you’ve never made a comic before don’t get yourself into an epic 7 volumes project that you can’t finish. Start small, shorts stories or a condensed one-shot but make sure you finish it. That way you experience the full process from pen and paper all the way to printing press.
5. Are there any projects that have felt like milestones in your career so far? What made them stand out and why do you feel they’ve been important?
Yeah, there have been a few that meant a lot to me, at the time, as they were signs of my progress towards what I wanted to achieve in my career.
I did a big project for the Arts Council England
a year after I graduated which was the first illustration job I did that paid professional rates. I had to do all the illustrations for a graphic novel/rap-opera which was really exciting and taught me a lot of things that could only be learnt on a project of that magnitude.
Finishing volume one of Golden Campaign felt like I managed to prove to myself that comics could be done from beginning to end by one person. This encouraged me to continue with bigger projects and to find ways to improve my work.
Overall, while these were important projects at the time, I’d like to think the actual milestones are yet to come.
6. How did you find the transition from student to practicing illustrator? Do you have any pointers for new graduates who may be in that position right now?
I found it to be long and too gradual for my liking. things took longer than I expected and Im not a very patient person.
What I usually say to new graduates and those still at uni is not to wait for the graduation day to start getting things moving. You are an illustrator now! Go out, find projects, get commissions, arrange internships during summer, make contacts and be aware that we all learn on the job. The earlier you start the better, just be open to new things and have flexible plans.
Find more of Cristian’s work online;