Armando Veve: Devil in the Details
By Brett McKenzie on Jan 25, 2018
Philly illustrator and Young Guns 15 winner is the latest Levine/Leavitt Artist-In-Residence Award recipient
A few months ago, the sold-out Young Guns 15 Ceremony + Party unfolded in Manhattan's Meatpacking District. Hundreds of well-wishers and party-goers came out to celebrate the latest class of 32 young professional superstars as they received this year's rendition of the Young Guns Cube — one of the most coveted creative accolades in the world for the 30-and-under set.
For the fourth year in a row, there was an additional honor to be bestowed that crazy evening: the Levine/Leavitt Artist-In-Residence Award. This accolade earns one extremely talented Young Guns winner a full year of career mentorship and artist representation, courtesy of the New York-based artist management company for which the award is named. The award already has a very high bar, since you have to also win Young Guns to be considered, and after much consultation, Levine/Leavitt selected Philadelphia-based illustrator Armando Veve as its latest recipient. This capped off an already incredible year for Armando, who was also named to Forbes' 30 Under 30 Art & Style list, and won two gold medals from the Society of Illustrators.
We had an opportunity to chat with Armando about his creative upbringing, his career, his highly detailed illustrative style, and what he hopes 2018 will bring now that he's a Young Gun and Artist-In-Residence.
Every kid draws when they're in kindergarten, but very few grow up to make a career out of it. When did you realize that this was something that was more than just casual doodling?
I think there was a shift when I was 7 or 8, when my approach to drawing evolved from random doodles to something more self-aware. I started by copying images that spoke to me. I filled sketchbooks with invented characters and comics. When I drew, something would fire off in my brain. I chased that feeling. These drawings were an escape to another world. I became increasingly more fascinated by the rich imagery in children’s books, comics, and animation. I didn’t just absorb these images, I wanted to know how to make them. I owe a lot to my parents who were incredibly supportive in my creative pursuits. They really encouraged me to follow my passions.
What was your first break, and how did it all take off from there?
My first big break was my first published piece for The New York Times Op-Ed in 2013 (thank you Aviva Michaelov!). It was actually a miracle. Like most opinion pieces I only had two days to complete the piece. I was in a constant panic since I was working in a very slow pen and ink process. Also it was my first editorial commission, so there was the added pressure to not screw up. My art director got in touch a day before deadline to let me know that the story was pushed back and I had another week to work on my final drawing. Another art director saw that published work and it snowballed from there.
How would you best describe your artistic process?
When I begin a new piece, I write lists of words and phrases to find the seed of an idea that becomes my guiding force. The drawing follows the idea. I often use Photoshop (and lots of tracing paper) as a means of planning my images. I collage and rework sketches and reference photos, sometimes recycling motifs from previous illustrations (I love hiding objects from past drawings), to find new visual solutions. Anything really to keep the ideas going. Then I take a deep breath and hope for the best.
Tools of the trade: what are your favorite materials to work with?
Currently, my favorite medium is graphite. Graphite allows me to work much faster and articulate my ideas clearly. There is so much textural variation with graphite too.
"When I begin a new piece, I write lists of words and phrases to find the seed of an idea that becomes my guiding force."
You've practiced your craft in a number of locations, from New England to Italy to Philadelphia. How has environment played a part in your creative process?
I’ve always looked to the built and natural environment around me for inspiration. I am constantly taking photos of objects, plants or architectural details which I hope to find a home for in a new drawing. I never thought I’d end up in Philadelphia, but it has been a surprisingly great fit for me.
What do you do to get out of your own head? How do you unattach yourself from your work?
One of my many new year's resolutions is to keep a regular studio schedule. I think having a start and end to my day will help me to be more present in other aspects in my life. Traveling is super important and I try to get out whenever I see an opening in my work schedule. I also got a gym membership. Exercise has been an amazing way to detach and to jumpstart my brain.
Who are your creative inspirations, both within the field of illustration and beyond?
I pull inspiration from a wide range of sources including anatomical diagrams, food photography, political cartoons, architecture, furniture design, children’s books, comics, ceramics, and botanical illustration. Finding connections between something old and new excites me.
What was it like to be recognized by Young Guns this past year?
Joining the ADC Young Guns community is a huge honor. The Cube represents years of hard work — putting in the hours to get something right and overcoming many challenges. The awards ceremony was a really special evening. It was a great chance to chat with other winners. I’m mostly grateful for the opportunity to join a community of incredibly talented artists, and to share my work with a global audience.
At the Young Guns ceremony, it was revealed that you also won the Levine/Leavitt Artist-in-Residence Award, which grants you a full year of artist representation. I understand that up until now, you've chosen to not to be represented. Why did you initially decide to go that route with your career?
Up until now, I have navigated all of my projects on my own. I think it was important for me to do this since I was able to learn the ins and outs of negotiating a contract and budget. The majority of my work has been editorial, too, which are relatively easier to navigate.
As my studio schedule gets busier I am seeing the value and necessity in delegating certain tasks. I saw the Levine/Leavitt Artist-in-Residence program as a unique opportunity to test the waters and see how representation could exist within the parameters of my current studio practice. I’m looking forward to diversifying my projects to also include collaborations with book publishers, advertising agencies, and record labels. Liz Leavitt and Jeff Levine are incredibly caring people and they want to help me meet certain goals during my year-long residency. I’m looking forward to building a relationship with them this coming year!
What's next on the horizon for you?
2018 is already off to a busy start. I’m currently working on a magazine illustration, a drawing for a show in February, and also some longer term projects. My current favorite project is a group of drawings for a new restaurant opening in DC. It’s been fun to work directly with James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde and LA-based design firm Folklor on these pieces.
I still have a dream to write and illustrate my own picture book. I just need to find the right story.
Young Guns 16 is set to launch in spring 2018.
Photos by Rachel Stern.