Encapsulating the eclectic spirit, rich diversity and historical gravitas of San Francisco is no easy task. But the ultra nostalgic and mischievously charming illustrations by local Bay Area artist Willie Real make capturing the uniqueness of the 510 area code look effortless. With street scenes of anonymous pedestrians waiting for the bus and gorgeously detailed drawings of the Victorian structures distinct to California, Real's illustrations pull on the heart strings of anyone who aches for the foggy hilltops of SF. However, you don't have to know anything about the Bay to dig Real's illustrations. The satisfying geometric simplicity and bold sensibility in his work recalls the style of Mid-Century Modern children's book illustrations (think Miroslav Sasek and Bernice Myers) that are universally heart warming. Real's style veers from the trendiness of this mold with a distinctly urban coolness seen through his earthy color palette and edgy characters that are reminiscent of Bay Area street art legend Barry McGee.
We were lucky enough for Willie to grace the pages of Illustoria in our Issue #3: Outside-In, which featured his imaginative 263 Josephine, a story of a Victorian apartment complex with a heart of its own. Since then, we had the chance to pick Real's brain for a bit and get an inside scoop on his process, inspiration and fond memories as a kid growing up in SF. Check out more of Real's work on his website and Instagram!
Hi Willie, tell us a little about yourself!
Hi, my name is Willie Real and I'm a freelance character designer and illustrator from San Francisco. When I'm not working or dabbling on my own projects I go outside and play in Golden Gate Park or along the Pacific Ocean.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished designing characters for an animated movie with a friend! It's a good time when you get to work with people you're close to. I'm doing visual development sketches for another animated project so it's been busy for me which is great. I still manage to get out for some personal sketching though.
Can you talk about your process of creating a work/project/book/zine/product from start to finish, and share some process pics with us?
This is an illustration or a portrait if you will, of a victorian home.
1. This is my favorite part... I go sketch homes outside, all day! I pick the sketch I like and it's ok if it's not perfect, I'll tweak it to my liking later.
2. I scan it in and twek away... finalizing my sketch. I print it out at the final size I want and tape the pieces together.
3. I trace/transfer the sketch onto bristol board using a light box.
4. Once the drawing is complete I'm ready to paint with acrylics and gouache. I establish my colors and values on my palette and paint away. I kept this one simple... yellow for the building, grey for the roof and a few accent colors for the door and the chimney. I start with lighter colors first, filling in all the shapes and colors and build up to the darks. Once the paint dries I add the drawing and details with prismacolor pencils.
5. I scan it back in, make any final adjustments I want and that's it!
Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
I gre up in SF till I was 12 and moved to a small town in Sonoma County where I went to high school and later a Junior College. I live in SF now... the Lower Haight!
What were you like as a kid?
Active. I loved playing outside with friends from the block in the Excelsior, playing tag, baseball and going to the deli on the corner. They gave us salami ends! When I wasn't outside I was conducting these elaborate scenarios in my imagination with my toys... that or always drawing away.
What were your favorite childhood books?
I remember the Highlights magazines from the doctor's office! Those were fun.
Did you have a favorite subject in school? A least favorite subject?
From 1st grade all the way into High School I loved art classes. All of them! Painting, Drawing, Cursive Writing, Woodshop, Computer Graphics, Pottery... they all scratched the creative itch. Math was always tough for me... too many numbers!
Can you describe your first childhood memory?
Can't say this is the first but one of my earliest memories is when our parents would take us to La Taqueria in the Mission. I remember the smell, the mural and there were these wooden stools with leather weaving that looked like they were hand made a hundred years ago. They're still there today! The blue and red tiles along the sidewalks in the Mission are also a fond, early memory.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist and writer?
In high school my English teacher (Mrs. Wolf) pointed me in the right direction and told me that I had a passion I should pursue...and that illustration was an actual profession! I'm eternally grateful to her.
Who or what inspires you?
Oh man, so many things...family, food, walking around the city, art museums, nature...I get so much out of 'the little things' in life.
What is the most challenging part about being an artist/writer/maker?
I get nervous when showing personal work I've created. I think making art is a very personal, honest and intimate practice... an extension of yourself. You're putting yourself out there with your work which can be very scary and empowering as well.
Do you have a favorite project that you worked on?
Earlier this year I made a poster for the women's day march that took me a couple of hours.. short but very sweet. My sign was a portrait of my mom and it said 'Marching for my Momma'. She approved :)
When do you feel your most creative?
Right after I've seen a great movie or an art show. It's very inspiring to see other makers and creatives succeed at their craft. It's a contagious feeling! I want to rush home and get my ideas down.
Do you have a favorite tool (type of pen, or brush, or paper, etc. --- related to your work)?
Grey Tombo markers and black prismacolor pencils. I keep it simple. It's a quick an easy way to get line variation, you can fill in shapes super quick and you get all three values with black (the pencil), grey (the marker) and white (the paper).
What advice would you share with young aspiring artists?
Dedicate time to your work and your craft. Don't be afraid of getting lost or not knowing what to do. Getting lost is an adventure, go on it, explore, experiment, and most of all have fun with it. Soon you'll find what you're looking for and it'll show in your art. And don't forget to go outside!
To see more of Real's work check out his website http://www.williereal.org/. Thanks Willie, and Happy Holidays from ILLUSTORIA to all you readers out there!