Monday, June 6, 2016

Artist Spotlight - José "Tony" Arocho

Who is Tony Arocho? Although for some he is the man behind the covers of the Human Cycle, he is also a wonderful friend and a kickass artist. To give you a bit of background, I met Tony when I was on my fourth job in advertising (yes there is a lot of turnover in that industry). He was part of a select crew that shall forever be to me the group of people I know I could have survived anything with. Simply put, if they dropped us in the middle of a jungle, the collaborative effort and camaraderie we shared meant that not only would we make it out alive and intact, but wearing crocodile shoes and drinking a local brew.

Having known Tony for a long time, I had a good grasp of his skill and when I decided I wanted to give this writing adventure a go, I needed someone I trusted to assign them the hefty task of making the cover for my first novel.

Tony was the guy.

We sat down, discussed a couple of ideas, and I told him to do some rough layouts on paper. Second time we sat down, he showed me the layouts… and I saw the beginnings of the cover. No second-guessing, I knew which one it was, and that’s how we worked. Communicating, sharing ideas, fine-tuning, until he did the impossible, he took a crazy idea and helped me bring it to life.

I asked Tony some questions some time back and he had sent me these answers long ago, so my apologies to him and to you, dear reader. Here’s a bit more of Tony.

How long have you been an artist?

Wow, it’s been so long that I don't even remember. The earliest I remember drawing was Ghostbusters with my older sister’s markers. I used to love drawing how the rays from their guns intertwined with form and color. It was awesome. Ghostbusters was a big thing in 1984 so I guess you can say that more or less since I was in first grade and yeah, I can say that I became an artist thanks to the Ghostbusters.

How would you describe your style?

An amalgamation of the techniques and styles of all my favorite comic book illustrators and fantasy artists from the 80’s and 90’s. It’s fascinating how each of them can solve visual problems in different ways.

Tell us a bit about your process when crafting your art.

It depends. If the work is somebody else's vision, I use pencil on paper sketches in a thumbnail fashion (small 2”x2” squares). I try different approaches while exploring the same idea. The one that works best in composition is the one I develop further and submit to get approval from the client. Once it is approved, I take a picture with my phone and upload it to the computer to later work on top of that. It’s the best tool for that particular job. In the case of the cover for Only Human, I used Photoshop.

How was your experience developing the artwork for Only Human?

It was really fun! It took me a couple of months from talking about the concept, showing the rough sketches, and how the final piece was going to look. But in the end it worked out and I feel I got the vibe he was looking for just right. Since I knew the style that we were going for, the second cover was a lot easier. 

[For comparison purposes I'm including both covers so you see how he not only upped the game, but was still true to the original cover.]

I used to paint by looking at artwork just for myself. I honestly think nobody had ever seen that kind of work from me, but when J.D. told me that this was what he wanted I jumped at the challenge and the rest is history. I'm really glad that he liked it and that people seem to respond to the cover. Although I like it, in the end I'm not that crazy about the first one. True, I enjoyed working on it but as an artist, I see a lot of my insecurities and shortcomings. But I guess that’s pretty normal for me, I probably hate 95% of what I do until I see it with fresh eyes.

Compare that experience to your work on the cover for Dark Strands.

The cover for Dark Strands was actually right up my alley. I was really comfortable working on it and J.D. told me what he wanted and at the same time I could see it clearly in my head. Because of the nature of that particular job I decided to use Adobe Illustrator (a vector based program) which is incredible at generating clean and crisp lines and that's what I wanted. I’m happy to report I nailed that particular cover on the first try.

What are you working on now?

I’m always working on many things, but right now, settling down in a new job, although I always love to work on something creative and fun. I normally work on artwork when I get a request, but when the mood takes, I’ll happily draw something. Who knows? Might eventually do something bigger one of these days.

As an artist, what do you want to accomplish in the coming years?

As an artist I struggle with drawing on a regular basis, but I’m working on that. It’s that whole work life balance. To be honest, I see myself in the future drawing regularly and focusing more on what’s really important to me. That may very well include other projects with JD, and who knows? I might follow the desire to write my own story.

Where can people find out more about you or get in contact if they’d like to work with you?

Right now I have a Behance page where people can see my graphic design work and some of my digital illustrations.


I’d like to thank Tony for sparing some time to share a bit more about the artist behind the Human Cycle and Dark Strands. Expect much more work from him and feel free to contact him on his portfolio page, or if you need, I’ll hook you up in case you need a book cover or two.

For now?

Peace, love, and maki rolls

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