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Illustrator Yo Az: ‘always try to create something unseen’

There are few people with such a distinctive style as Yo Az. With mind-bending geometrics and acute attention to detail, you can get lost in one of his illustrations for hours. We spoke to him about his processes and how he developed such a unique look.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started as an illustrator.

My name is Yohann, I am from Paris and I studied visual communication in Paris. I started by drawing portraits just to improve my skills. Then I started to take on commissions to encourage myself to work as a freelancer and it made me realise that my passion could actually be my full-time work.

What inspires your illustrations?

Well, a lot of things. It can be a movie or a drawing I see in the street. I also watch what other artists do. Nowadays a lot of talented people’s work is easily accessible. You just need a phone to see amazing stuff. Even though it’s always better to see the artwork in real life.

Your work is incredibly detailed and complex. How did you develop this style of illustration?

Well, I have always been amazed by detailed and complex drawings. I like to take time to observe an artwork and discover new elements that are less obvious (unseen) at first glance. This led me to start working in a detailed style.

“I have always been amazed by detailed and complex drawings.”

Maybe another reason is that I never really had drawing lessons. So I guess I wanted to do more and to develop more elements to my work to hide that, and then it developed into my style.

How long does one piece normally take to create?

It depends, sometimes it can be really fast like two days and sometimes two weeks, but that’s when I’m working very slowly.

How do you decide when a piece is finished? Is it tempting to keep adding more detail?

When I do an artwork I first add all my elements very roughly and then I refine the drawing and add more details. After doing that, I try to find the best colour harmony and make all the lines perfectly clean… and then it’s finished.

Talk us through your workflow; how do your designs tend to develop?

I spend a lot of time doing research on paper. Then when I have something that I think could be nice, I start to do it on the computer. I am always working on multiple illustrations at the same time. It gives me a comparative between the two illustrations. Sometimes I feel more inspired to work on one illustration than another, so when I feel that I am slow or less inspired, I work on one of the others.

We love the illustration you submitted for 100 Days. 100 Commissions. Tell us more about this piece and what inspired you to create it.

Thanks a lot. I am glad you like it! Well, I wanted to make a kind of totem. I always like to work with symmetry, it gives a good equilibrium to the picture. So I wanted to play with animal faces and have a kind of esoteric, shamanic aspect.

“I wanted to play with animal faces and have a kind of esoteric, shamanic aspect.”

You’ve been using Affinity Designer since the earliest days. What first impressed you about the software and why do you continue to use it?

It’s really easy to use and very accessible. I’ve always liked the colour tool, it makes it easier to choose colour combinations. My most used features are the Pencil Tool and the Shape Tool for geometric shapes.

You’ve created illustrations for some of the world’s biggest brands. Of all the commissions you’ve worked on in your career which is your standout favourite and why?

I really liked working for Converse, it was a nice project. But overall I have enjoyed all of my commissioned work because the clients always come with their own visions and have a particular aspect of my work that they like and they want me to develop for their campaign. Plus, most of my clients give me a lot of liberty. So most of my commissioned work has been enriching and helps me to grow.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a freelancer? And how have you overcome them?

Well, the difficulties are probably the same for every freelancer—sometimes it’s a little bit unstable. You can have a very nice month with a lot of income and then the months after you might have less work. So even if I have less commission work I try to work on my personal projects just for pleasure but also to show people some new artworks.

Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring freelance illustrators?

I would tell them to be patient and curious and to always try to create something unseen and maybe don’t listen to the dictator that is the “like” button to find their own style.

You can see more work from Yo Az on Behance, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. His art is also available to purchase at Society 6.

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

Images copyright © of Yo Az and used with permission.