Interlude: Lucas Varela’s Imaginary

From Varoom! 20, Spring 2013

Glance at Lucas Varela’s Blog/Website ESTUPEFACTO and you are assailed. Assailed by a vivid mosaic, beautifully coloured and teeming with—as he himself puts it—an “imaginary of monsters, worms, vomits and semi-naked women.” Kudos, then, to the Financial Times Weekend Magazine’s design team (headed up by Mark Leeds when they redesigned in 2010) for looking beyond the comic book patina to the brilliant narrative strength below when they chose him to illustrate a regular column by Robert Shrimsley—The National Conversation. There is something particularly satisfying as an Art Director to pair two people—one visual, one verbal—and create a partnership that lasts. In the 1990s, Simon Esterson and I put together Jonathan Meades and Paul Slater for the Times Saturday Review and set in train a double act that lasted for twenty years.

In the Shrimsley/Varela case, the Weekend art team were aided by Lucas’ agent. Mark Leeds: “Helen from Dutch Uncle alerted me to him—I’m always very happy to give talent a chance. I thought his illustrations had wit and a sense of narrative so I felt confident he would be able to articulate the column.” So far, Lucas has illustrated over 100 of the columns, a fact that was celebrated on the FT website last December.

Helen Cowley, Dutch Uncle: “On a trip to London, Lucas came to our studio, shared his comic work, and not long after we started to work together on some commissions. Mark Leeds, a friend of mine, approached us about a new column in the FT. I knew Lucas was keen to get his work seen more in the UK and it seemed like a perfect fit. He’s a great artist and draughtsman and has an amazing imagination and wit.”

Hailing from the Buenos Aires, Argentina and now in artistic residence at La Maison des Auteurs in Angouleme, France, doing a graphic novel, Lucas enjoys his regular gig: “I’m in contact with Paul Transley and Shannon Gibson from the design department and the writings of the journalist Robert Shrimsley are brilliant and funny. I try to accompany them with humor and ironic illustrations. I just always hope they can print it a little bigger…”


Two of the many illustrations Lucas has done for Robert Shrimsley’s column

For Varoom, Lucas pulled out a portrait that he had done for XXI magazine and let us into the thought process behind it. The theme for this issue was Rules, hence the last question.


Materials  Pentel Brush pen, Pentel Fountain pen and other cheap pens on A3 paper.
Research  As it is the portrait of a public figure (in this case the boxer Dewey Bozella), I searched for photographic references on the Internet. I didn’t move so much my ass—I just googled it. But I also read about his life, and I saw a documentary about him that really moved me.
Process  The magazine XXI asked me to do a portrait reflecting the life of courage of this man who has spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Every time they asked him to declare himself guilty to shorten his sentence he refused. A lawyer discovered evidence that proved his innocence, so he was freed at the age of 50 years. He fought only one boxing match as a professional, as he had reached the permitted age limit, and then he retired—it’s a very touching story and I was very enthusiastic to illustrate it. I began with a lot of roughs, searching for the correct position and mood. I did a serious portrait with a halo of light like a religious icon. But the art director felt it too solemn for the cover and asked me to do it with a little smile. The inclusion of the beret also helps to correct the mood.

Resistances  Well, I am a comic artist, so it was a challenge to do a portrait with realistic results. I had to resist the use of my usual imaginary of monsters, worms, vomits and semi-naked women but in the end I’m pleased with it.


Insight  I did all the process and final illustration in a trip I made to a very little town in the south of France called Lauris. We had this trip arranged to visit my girlfriend’s father and I was afraid I was not going to be able to do the illustration without the accommodations of my studio. So I took my pens, paper and the computer and the only thing I purchased was a portable LED light table. This proved to be very useful. At the end I worked comfortably with my portable equipment in this very nice town surrounded by fields of olive trees.
Distractions  Not so much, because my internet connection was limited and I only used it for the research. The only real distraction was a very strong wind called the Mistral that attacked
the town and brought down some trees.
Numbers  The illustration was made for XXI and it was the 21st issue, so it was important not only for the numbers but for the manifesto they publish with it, in defense of independent journalism. I was glad to be part of it.
Favourite Rule  I drink mate (a strange South American beverage) when I work. I have a lot of accidents with the liquid and the original pages.


5 thoughts on “Interlude: Lucas Varela’s Imaginary

  1. Very polished penmanship and some very arresting images. As a fellow Argentinian, I am always thrilled when one of my compatriots leaves a transatlantic trail in the world of graphics and commercial art (or any kind of art, for that matter).

    Not only the role of art directors should not be underestimated when it comes to finding and matching talented people with unique points of view; but on this day and age it seems increasingly rare for a sharp-witted artist to get a regular, high-profile outlet for his work within the publishing field. A well-deserved privilege, in this case!

    • Excellent, Mark. Love your work for the FT. Martin O’Neill and Bill Butcher on the Newsweek cover? You’re a one-man illustration industry – keep up the great work! And love the whistleblower cover, I haven’t seen anything that photographically strong for a while…

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