TheeBlog Q&A Sessions: Raul Alejandro

TheeBlog_RaulAlejandro-Draw_ul It is no secret that I am a huge Type and Lettering geek. And as such, I make a point to always follow or connect with artists I admire and whose work continually inspire me. Raul Alejandro, also known as Draw_ul online is one of these artists, and since I’ve known him for a while, I invited him for a fun interview I want to share today. I’ve been connected with Raul via Instagram for a couple of years, and we’ve always exchanged messages or emails about his work, inspiration, and this interview as I’ve always wanted to share his work, his story and his impressive evolution as a lettering artist. If you are a Type geek like us, and even if you’re not, I am sure you will enjoy this interview and fall in love with his work. Enjoy!

Thanks for accepting my invitation Raul, we’ve talked about this interview a couple of times and I am glad we’re finally here. Now, for those readers who may still not know you – or that probably don’t have an Instagram account – could you please introduce yourself and describe what you do?
My name is Raul Alejandro and I’m a typoholic. What people usually don’t know about me is that everything I draw, I do just because I’m inspired and because I genuinely love to draw letters. My full-time job is Art Director for On-Air and Off-Air Graphics at BET. During the day I’m designing logos or promotions, commercials etc. Whatever comes down the pipeline that the network needs. I don’t usually get to really use my illustration skills all that often if at all but I just wrapped up designing the 2014 Hip Hop Awards campaign and I got to make a handwritten typeface that ended up really driving the whole look and feel of it which I was happy about.

By Night… I draw letters. It’s an obsession. One that I hope I don’t get over. Ever.

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- For those of you who haven’t seen Raul’s impressive motion work…

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How would you describe your lettering work?
I’ve always loved tattoos and I’ve always loved manuscripts. I guess I just throw both worlds together and then sprinkle on top what feels right to me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m a letterer or typographer of sorts. I am a designer for sure. I take into account things like space and scale, etc. but for the most part I just wing it. I never know what something is going to look like until it’s creating itself right in front of me. There are times I look back at something I’ve done before and wondered how the hell that got there.

What i will say about my work is that I’m a little OCD about it. I don’t think everything should be ” perfect ” ( and everyone has a different definition of what perfect is ) but I like things to be crisp and sharp. I think that comes from my work in Motion Graphics. In Motion, I make sure that all my frames are perfect because I’m scared that someone will scrub through something I’ve animated and catch a mistake. I feel the same way about my illustrations. I know it will never be as sharp as something that’s printed but I try to get close, regardless of the medium. I guess in a nutshell i’m very meticulous. I owe that to myself to be. If i’m not worried about the details then why am I doing it all?

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Completely agree with you there. It’s ALL in the details! So, when and how did it all start for you?
I’ve always had the ability to draw. When I was younger I could remember me picking up a pencil at like 5 or 6 and just drawing for days. As I got older, I got interested in graffiti and letters and haven’t stopped drawing them since. The ability to draw doesn’t really mean you can draw letters though or be creative with how a word or letter flows. I struggled a lot when I first started to find my style and way of doing things. Eventually I let what I felt was right take over and focused on getting that to a good place and always trusting that.

You are very active on Instagram and with your followers (major props on that btw!) But, do you practice on a daily basis? Do you set up goals?
I try to draw everyday. Even if I don’t post it chances are I’m drawing at least 3 -4 things a day. Not all like full blown epic pieces but sometimes drawing a curve or an outline is enough for me. I have this fear that I’ll forget what it feels like to draw a line or forget how to draw all together. That fear I guess keeps me going. It’s like when you’re in love with someone. You trust that you are with that person and that they are with you but when you’re really in love theres always that fear of loss. That’s how you know you love them , because you wonder what you would do without them. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t draw or express myself through my work so I do it constantly to make sure that I never have to answer that question.

I also think its important for me to interact with the people that follow me. I don’t get a chance to say thank you to every single person but I really try my best to. I owe them that. I’m not entitled to have people follow my work or think it’s great. They take the time out of their lives to say something positive about my work and perspective. I owe them to take the time out of mine to at least say thank you or address them specifically. There are some people on Instagram who’s handle I remember because they’re always super supportive and for that I’m extremely appreciative.

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Do you follow a process?
I really don’t have a set in stone sort of process. (this might sound crazy) but I create challenges for myself. So I’ll say to myself ” can you draw on a napkin and freehand something that’s multi layered?” Then that becomes what I want to do for that particular piece. Or sometimes I’ll be feeling a certain emotion or something and I know I want to get this word or phrase out. The degree of what I’m feeling is how complicated the piece is. Spoiler alert. My most complicated looking pieces are the ones that have happened when I’m feeling something very intense. Sometimes I start out with pencil other times i just wing it and waste like 10 pieces of paper until I can get something I’m happy with on the first try.

To add to this, you’ve mentioned before that some of your pieces are inspired or reflect feelings, moods or situations you or people close to you are going through. Is this your constant inspiration?
It’s definitely one of the more constant sources. I tend to create the most work when I’m stressed out or going through something. Thats when you’ll see me post like 3 pieces a day or do something like that 24 hour challenge. I just need to get emotions out and the paper and pen are always there to listen to me. Never judges me, never asks me why or tell me no etc. It’s just always there.

I also get inspired by the people that follow my work. When my account really started taking off I took it as an opportunity to really have a voice, a platform. I could write stuff like “fuck” or all this other stuff but I thought if all these people are connecting with my work then let me connect back by creating things to make them feel like they’re not alone in life. We all have dreams, bad days, good days, people that put us down, people that lift us up, etc. If I can make someone happy, or relax or rethink something just by posting a picture of something I drew then I really feel like i’ve made a difference on this planet even if its on a minute scale like Instagram but none the less I have.

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What/Who else inspires you?
It might sound vague but literally everything. Anything can trigger something I want to draw / create. People, situations, a color, MUSIC. Oh man. Music just has this way of putting me in a place…

What are your top 5 favorite Designers right now?
Top 5 Idk. I’ve never been one to say ” OH man I loveeeee this person’s work ” I’m the type of person that if you ask me ” oh have you seen this dudes work? etc ” I would most often then not say NO because i might just not know their names but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and admire peoples work. There are SOOOOOOOOOOOOO many talented people. Right down from my homie Ricky to the 15 year old that left a comment on one of my drawings asking me to check out his work. Everyone that takes the time to put something out there that they’ve created and believe in I admire because not everyone has the guts to do it. Especially on social media where there is no filter.

You’ve done a couple of great collaborations with other very talented artists. Who would you like to collaborate with?
Hmm… I really want to do something where I work with someone young. Like a kid in middle school or something that needs to do something for a school project. Haha, I promise I’m not even joking. My next collaboration will probably be something more along those lines.

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Considering your motion background, have you combined your lettering with motion? If so, when can we see it?
I haven’t really worked with any of the illustrative type of stuff in motion yet. I think I did it once with this quick little Friday illustration i did but other than that I’ve kept both worlds pretty separate. They come from two different places.

Going back to Instagram, you get a lot of feedback and messages on a daily basis. Does this motivate you to keep drawing or do you feel some sort of pressure to ‘deliver’?
I definitely don’t feel the pressure to deliver. All the work I’ve ever created has been to fulfill something inside of myself. Even the things I give away to random people or a special person its because I’ve genuinely wanted to do it. I think I’d still put out the same volume of work with 1 follower or 60K. The integrity of why I do something is more important than who I do something for. I’m very fortunate to be very self motivated. It doesn’t take much for me to want to draw 90 million things ha. Sometimes I tell people that its like a drug to me. I really feel this sort of high off taking this vague image or feeling in my head and then being able to make it tangible.

And since we’re on the Instagram subject… (You know I had to address this) I want your honest opinion – promise I won’t tell. Most of us know that there’s a fine line between inspiration and straight copy. Unfortunately, some people decide to ignore this in order to get a few likes, and this must stop. How do you deal with so many people imitating your work and style on Instagram and passing it as their own – until someone brings up your name and they diffuse the situation by dropping the “inspiration/influence” line?
I used to get mad about it but I can’t control it. People always say ” oh nothing is original anymore, everything is a copy of something else…” thats not true. At all. People make the mistake of thinking that because they can draw they can create, that because they know photoshop that they’re designers. That’s not the case and that’s what I understand. Someone can copy something I’ve done or take a lot of the elements that I use and create something but it will never be their own because they’re not bringing to the table what comes from inside me innately and any other artist they are trying to emulate. Thats where people go wrong. They try to create something based on something they like versus creating something based on something they feel.

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A couple of months ago, you began dropping original pieces of art at random places around the city and posting them on Instagram for your followers to find. Where did this idea come from? Tell me about #randomrauli
#raondomrauli came from my followers to be honest. So many asked me to just draw something for them. To me, honestly it’s endearing because who am I, you know? I just make stuff, so for people to want to own something I make is beyond me. So I thought ok, let me make something and just throw it up for grabs. I don’t like to make anyone feel alienated so I give people a fair chance to just own something I make. It gets a little difficult with some of my followers that live in other parts of the world but hopefully there will come a time when I can do this on a larger scale. There’s something about finding a positive message or just something nice to look at that can change someones outlook for that particular moment. I like to be a part of that. I don’t value myself high enough to think that my work is worth gold or enough where I can’t give away for free every now and again.

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Do you have any advice for designers, letterers or type lovers out there?
Trust. Trust in your abilities. At first things won’t come out the way you want them to. They’re not supposed to. If we were rock stars from the beginning then we could never grow as people. I’ve been able to get good at what I do because i’ve had times where I wasn’t good at all. Don’t look at all the hurdles as failures, look at them as just another step toward a goal. When you want something bad enough you’ll move heaven and earth to make it happen. Move some clouds and stir up some dirt.

Thank you again, brother! As a long time fan of your work, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest and being able to chat. We’ve talked about this interview for a while and I am glad I finally am able to share your work and your story, and at the same time, inspire even more people…

As tough as it is to pick one favorite piece of work from Raul’s collection, I think this one is my favorite and the one that not only puts things in perspective, but also inspires the hell out of everyone out there as it shows what practice, dedication, passion and a strong will can achieve. I’ve been connected with Raul on Instagram since 2011/12, and to see his impressive progress is mesmerizing…

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