Hile Design: Today it is my pleasure to showcase my good friend and talented award-winning illustrator, Thodoris Tibilis. Thodoris, based in Athens, Greece has worked for leading advertising agencies throughout Europe and the USA, including McCann Erickson, Saatchi & Saatchi, BBDO, and Ogilvy & Mather. His clients include Coca Cola, Fiat, Procter & Gamble, Heinz and the 2004 Olympic games as well as many others. He specializes in commercial assignments that call for funny, energetic, and humorous characters aimed primarily at the childrens and young adult markets. If you are like me, you may not have a clue about what the advertising world (or daily life) is like beyond the shores of the USA, so let’s find out.
Hile Design: Hi Thodoris. Let’s start with the fact that you live and work in Greece, a small country compared to the United States. Can you tell us about what it is like to make a living as a commercial illustrator in Greece, and a bit about the overall advertising industry in your country?
Thodoris Tibilis: Hi Dave! As you know, it is amazing to be an illustrator, if you really love what you do! It is a childish dream that is becoming reality wherever you live! Though Greece is a small country, many international ad agencies have departments based here. From my experience working with ad agencies from other countries, things are about the same. The main difference is an issue of exposure. When you work for an ad agency based in Greece your main target, most of the times, is only the local market. Of course there are exceptions. I have done illustrations for Greek based ad agencies which have been also used on many foreign markets too. It is no need to explain that when you work with a US ad agency the exposure is grater, the main target market is much bigger and the benefits don’t stop there, because you have the opportunity to resell rights to a bigger market many more times and through different kind of markets than in a small country. It is important to mention that my answer concerns only the commercial illustration, because things are not optimistic if we talk about Greek book publishing houses, which pay very small amounts of money and demand to have all the rights for ever! it is outrageous but , sadly, it is common! That is why the majority of the talented Greek illustrators are working as freelancers worldwide or for Greek based ad agencies and not for book publishers. There are in our local market many illustrators but only a few in the commercial field, because the market is small and there is a lot of competition. It takes time and effort to became one of them, but when you succeed you are rewarded. The overall advertising industry in Greece it has a very high quality, things are getting better year by the year, some projects are used internationally and many ad agencies have been awarded in international competitions.
HD: Besides Greece, you work for clients in other European countries as well as the USA. What are some differences that you experience when working with clients outside your country?
TT: The main difference working for an ad agency in a foreign country are many miles separating us, but thanks to the internet this issue has been easily resolved. Unfortunately sometimes you might not have the opportunity for interpersonal communication. Another thing is that the contracts have differences from country to country mainly due to different laws. One more issue is that different countries belongs to different time zones and (if not every day) especially when a project is in progress you have to be available many hours of the day. Also the currency is different, but this is a minus problem. The last difference that I have experienced, is that in ad agencies from different countries you have to promote yourself in a different way for each one.
HD: Growing up did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator? And what was your education?
TT: No, I didn’t knew what exactly I wanted to became professionally. From my early childhood I always enjoyed drawing and making sculpture and handcraft. Even though I successfully graduated from Economic University… the only thing that I learned is that I finally knew what I should avoid! I am self-taught illustrator. It took me many years after school to realize that I wanted to be an illustrator, mainly because I didn’t even know whether there was such a profession.
HD: You have such a great style. Your figures have a lot of vitality and energy, and they definitely appeal to the kid’s market. Is this the subject and style you have always worked in, or did it evolve over time?
TT: As self-taught artist I have tried many mediums that I was finding in art stores without even knowing how to use most of them. Different mediums led me to different forms of art. Through this procedure my main stylized cartoon style evolved through time.
HD: I know that you have recently been experimenting with creating characters in clay, which you then photograph. What led to trying the new medium?
TT: I like to experiment! It is fun and I believe that it is extremely helpful to spend some time trying to express yourself in another way. At least it will charge your batteries and give you some new ideas even for expanding your main style if not creating a new one.
HD: Being an illustrator myself, I know that life can be filled with industry ups and downs. Depending on the project, one day I can feel on top of the world and the next I can feel like no one in the world likes my work. Can you share with us what was the most enjoyable and rewarding project you have ever worked on, and conversely, what was the worst, most horrifying job?
TT: It is nice to know that I am not alone in this world. I have the same ups and downs (fortunately more ups than downs) but I know now, after 15 years as a professional, that this is the reality of being an illustrator. I feel lucky enough that I have done many enjoyable and rewarding projects. I wouldn’t want to choose one of them, but I can definitely say which was the worst and really horrifying (as you correctly said). It was a book that I did 13 years ago. The deadline changed to the half time of that we had agreed and though the client was happy, I was not satisfied. After a couple of months, when I saw the published book I felt so disappointed that I promised to myself never to do something like this again. It was a great lesson and since then I am trying in every project to get out my best.
HD: You and I email a lot about how we market our illustration services. Tell our readers about how you reach new markets and obtain new clients. And I never asked you whether you have ever used a talent rep – have you?
TT: Advertising and showing portfolio are my promotion tools. I am trying to have a strong presence in the internet as well as in publications with illustrators ads. I have never used a rep, but I am thinking of finding someone to represent me only in US.
HD: I have always been impressed by the amount of work you turn out. It’s a testament to your talent. But a downside of being so busy for extended periods of time is “Illustrator Burnout”. Earlier in my career (when I was much younger) I pulled a lot of all-nighters. It’s just something I had to do to build my business. I know that you have experienced similar stresses due to your workload. How do you deal with burnout, and has there ever been a time that you just wanted to get out of the commercial art business?
TT: I have been through a Burnout three times (fortunately, for small periods of time) and the symptom was a miserable feeling, without willing of illustrating. I just wanted to go on vacations and spend my day doing nothing. The way I am handling it is just to listen to myself and do nothing and get over this. It doesn’t happen when I have projects in progress, only on vacations period, because then is the time that I allow myself to relax from the hard work. I think that it happens because of our love to illustrate. We love it so much that we accept all these nice projects coming, without keeping in mind that we also have a need to rest. It is a love issue…
HD: What is there to do as an illustrator that you haven’t done yet?
TT: One goal is to do the character design for a cartoon movie 2D or 3D. Another goal is to learn better the 3D software that I am learning and create 3D illustrations as well as 3D animations. I am sure that when I succeed these goals I will create some more and this is the way it goes.
HD: Thanks for sharing with us, Thodoris.
TT: Thank you too Dave!