The first time I met illustrator, Blake Suarez, I was sitting at a wine bar in Charleston SC, with his lovely girlfriend, Olivia. Blake walked in, introduced himself and joined us for a wine. It wasn't long before Blake began drawing. We were talking of his and Olivia's love for the pacific north west, and seeing as I was about to head there for my very first time, they began sharing their knowledge of places to visit, things to do and the very best of eats. Blake promptly began making a list, jotting down Seattle must do's and drawing little pictures next to them to better describe each suggestion. I smiled. Ahh, attention to fun creative detail, I thought. I'm going to like this guy. Moments later, a couple of Olivia and Blake's friends walked into the bar. One of the guys was wearing a t-shirt with Blake's illustrations on it. A design he had created for the branding of this new friends business. It wasn't long before I started noticing Blake's illustrations all over Charleston town - on salt tins, on cocktail syrup bottles, on favourite local websites. A quick look at some of his work over at Fuzzco, will show that his illistrations go well beyond his current home town. Quite impressive indeed.
The thing is, Blake is much more than an illustrator. He is a really nice guy. Reminds me of my family, really. He has that type of attitude - generous amounts of time and energy, ever eager to be happy and to please and a willingness to go completely out of his way to do kind things for you. He is also dead keen for foraging. An interest that we quickly realized we have in common. So, when Blake offered to give up part of his weekend to take Jakob, Taj the dog and I out foraging for mushrooms, of course we said yes please. Although the season was at its end and very few (edible) mushrooms were found, we still had a swell time. It helps when you lend your trust to such talent. None of us were poisoned - just thankful to be in Blake's fun, willing and ever generous company.
What projects are you currently working on?
We’re working on quite a few projects at Fuzzco, but most of the time I’m jumping back into files for Bittermilk and Bulls Bay Saltworks; two amazing clients that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and two companies that everyone should check out. They’re making some wonderful products and they are incredibly genuine people! I wish I had more of a drive for personal projects these days, but to be honest, coming home and removing myself from design is such a breath of air. So instead I’ve been taking up other projects, like growing kombucha mamas, learning to forage, and fermenting mustard.
Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?
Walking and road trips are a good start. Getting away from the computer and driving towards nature is the perfect way to recharge. I’m fortunate to live so close to some decent trails and the sea. The mountains are only three-ish hours away as well, and nothing is more stimulating than waking up in the Appalachians.
Why an illustrator?
I’ve always drawn. I used to fill up the blank pages at the end of my parents’ textbooks when I was little and as I got older I realized I was decent enough to sell some work. After realizing biotechnology was not my thing, I finished up with a BA in graphic design. My first year out of college I was fortunate enough to work with Patagonia and Warner Music, but most of the work they hired me for was illustration-based, rather than design, so I started focusing my efforts on illustration.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, would you be so kind to share some of your favourite artists?
Yes! My friend got me into Shakey Graves a couple years ago and his new album has been on repeat for the past few weeks. For a while I was listening to This American Life, but I can’t remember which ones I’ve heard because I was jumping around.
Do you have a morning ritual?
Olivia and I try to get a walk in before work. This is most always a walk to our first cup of coffee.
What's your idea of a perfect Friday night?
Tucking into the Belmont on my walk home for an Aldo Raine for starters and meeting the lady for dinner. This'll either be Chez Nous for some of the best Bon appétiting around, or Two Boroughs Larder for some damn good noodles. I love it when Olivia cooks, but she deserves Friday off. Afterward meeting Frankie (the pup) back at home and letting us scratch her belly while we zone out on the couch with some Underberg to settle down.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Venezuela. My papa is from Venezuela and left when he was about 25. I still haven’t been, and haven’t met about half of my relatives, which is sad.
Best piece of advice you've ever given or been given?
Don’t take yourself too seriously. My parents always told me that. It’s too easy to forget, but honestly, cuss it, what’s the point of being serious?
What's for dinner?
As in, what did I have for dinner before jumping into the interview? Because it was an embarrassing amount of tuna on toast... If you mean, ideally... I would have rather had a glass of wine with some sunburst trout stuffed with chanterelles or a beer and a pile of brisket.
The best part about being a creative?
Getting to meet some amazing people that are excited to invest in their brands. I don’t mean that monetarily, but just giving us the chance to prove what we can do for them. Also, this might sound a little braggy, but it is pretty awesome to see the work you’ve done around town. I remember the first time I saw one of my designs in Whole Foods and I was pretty proud to say the least. Definitely sent a couple photos to my folks.
The worst part?
Having to be on at all times. It is impossible and doesn't get in the way too often, but nothing is worse than having a block when you’ve got two more hours to finish a presentation.
Day or night?
Old or new?
Most times old. Everyone tells me I have a hard time with change, and that may be true. I never update my computer…
City or Country?
The country is a pretty romantic place, and I definitely prefer it. I love exploring a new city, though.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, every morning.
What do you enjoy most about living in Charleston, SC?
This town is full of a lot of energy and independent spirit. People are pretty driven to follow their dreams and I love that and I love the pride and support this city has for its locals. There is a strong sense of community here, a lot stronger than I expected moving three years ago, and I can only see it getting tighter and more collaborative.
Thoughts for the future:
I’d like to finish this dang children’s book I’ve been sitting on for two years. I have the structure of the story down and most of the characters; I just need to start illustrating it all! I’d like to start making beer next year, just to see if I can make anything half decent. I also want to get a little deeper into the foraging world. I can identify some edibles here and there, but I’m not impressed with myself, yet.