Interview: Unicorns, Illustration, and Using Your Imagination

NeonMob interviews Isaac Montemayor on his approach to character design and his world of unicorns

After releasing his epic collectible set of several hundred unicorns inhabiting a world called Unicorn Empire, we sat down with Monterrey, Mexico-based artistIsaac Montemayor and asked him some questions.

Say hello to Isaac Montemayor

Say hello to Isaac Montemayor

NeonMob: Looking at your work across TumblrDribbble, and your portfolio, you obviously love creating characters. It must take an incredible amount of imagination to constantly come up with new characters. Have you always had a very active imagination?

IM: I can’t really complain. It’s important to pay attention to your own imagination and encourage it to take you places.

Luckily we live in an age where there are many triggers for your imagination. Usually they are found at the click of a button.

Imagination definitely plays a part in coming up with new characters. It’s like summoning something from a place that can only exist in your mind.

NeonMob: Where do you get your inspiration for characters and do you ever feel like you’ll run out of ideas?

IM: I do love creating characters. Sometimes I come up with unexpected ideas and that’s always fun and surprising to me. I am inspired by video games and books, or by simply staying idle in the hopes a great idea will come to me. I hope I never run out of ideas for characters. I have dry spells, of course, but then I always have a few things I like to draw if I’m out of other ideas.

If I’m blanking, I always fall back on skeletons, ghosts, and crocodiles.
A skeleton created by Isaac

A skeleton created by Isaac

NeonMob: Most of your work is character-based, but one piece that’s not that we love is Some Cells. What are the good and the bad about expanding your subject matter beyond characters?

IM: It’s not that easy for me to draw things that aren’t characters.

So I try to approach drawing an unliving thing as if it were living.

I like doing this because it transforms an object, like a chair, from something basic to something with characteristics and features it ordinarily wouldn’t have.

Some Cells, a non-character piece of artwork from Isaac

Some Cells, a non-character piece of artwork from Isaac

NeonMob: You come from a family of artists, your brother being a graphic designer and mother being a painter. What was that like, and because of that, have you always considered yourself an artist or wanted to become a professional artist?

IM: Growing up I didn’t want to be a professional artist, it felt out of reach to me. In retrospect, becoming an artist has always been my fate. I have been drawing since I was very little, wasting my mom’s art supplies and filling my school books with all kinds of doodles, comics and the like.

A small collection of characters based on candy and clouds and Isaac’s childhood

A small collection of characters based on candy and clouds and Isaac’s childhood

NeonMob: Shifting gears a bit, tell us about the modern art scene in Mexico, and how do you feel you fit into it? Where is Mexico on the scale of embracing graphic design and digital works?

Mexico is filled with artists! Some of the art that gets created here is quite astonishing. Unfortunately some of these gems get lost to the outside world, since reaching the outside world can be hard in Mexico.

Mexico has also been a bit slow to adopt graphic design. Graphic design is steadily becoming something you have to keep in mind when you’re developing a new service or product, so I guess it can only get better with time.

NeonMob: The life of an artist can be hard, but artists do it because they love their craft. What do you love and hate about being a professional artist, and where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

I don’t think I hate anything about being an artist, really. If I had it my way, though, it would be for art to take less time to make, so I could make more of it in the limited hours I have each day. I think I am lucky to have made illustration my career. It’s a job that doesn’t lack choices and from month to month and there is great variety in what I find myself doing.

I mean, if I spend all day drawing an orc, that seems to me infinitely more satisfying than spending a whole day sitting in front of a spreadsheet.
Grok, an orc in The Factions, another set on NeonMob

Grok, an orc in The Factions, another set on NeonMob

NeonMob: Tell us about the process for creating each character in Unicorn Empire. This was a monster-sized set and took a ton of planning and creativity. What’s your favorite unicorn?

More than a process, creating Unicorn Empire was a fun couple of months coming up with all these unicorns. Over that period, I would ask friends and family for help coming up with more ideas. I would walk into my parents house and get bombarded with comments like “How about a cloud unicorn? Have you done a cactus unicorn?” So it was almost like a team effort. A funny anecdote: when I was about to send off the final collection, I did one last check and it turned out that one of the unicorns (Felix) had no horn. So in essence it was a simple horse that was about to become part of the unicorn set.

Felix, the unicorn who began life without a horn

Felix, the unicorn who began life without a horn

I think my favorite unicorns are the pun-based-ones, like the manycorn named Malo.

Malo, a “Manycorn"

Malo, a “Manycorn"

I also loved creating the robot and the centaur unicorns!

Robot Unicorn

Robot Unicorn

Centaur Unicorn

Centaur Unicorn

NeonMob: Shamelessly plugging, what do you think of NeonMob? Have you been a collector at all in your life?

I have never been a collector in the traditional sense, but I definitely liked gathering CDs and DVDs way back, and so on and so forth. Nowadays I find that NeonMob covers that need nicely.

I love NeonMob, I think it’s one of those fresh ideas that is made possible by technology. I like a lot of the art on NeonMob and I’ve discovered a number of great . Of all the sets, my favorite is Confictura by Rob Cham— I am this close to finishing it!

NeonMob: Thanks Isaac! We’re a big fan of yours too. ☺