Illustrator Goñi Montes on the Joys and Challenges of Editorial Work

Goñi Montes is a freelance illustrator from Puerto Rico, who is currently based in Decatur, GA. He is primarily an editorial illustrator; his work can be found in many prominent publications and online outlets, including the New York Times and Wired. I reached out to him to find out more about him, how he got into his line of work, and his advice for others who are just starting out.   

How did you get your start as an artist?

It was a little different than what I do now. My very first experience illustrating was for a federal grant called SeaGrant of Puerto Rico. They needed a scientific illustrator and my two backgrounds, a seemingly unrelated combination of microbiology and art, finally became useful. 

After about four to five years, different opportunities presented themselves. I moved to Atlanta, GA to pursue an MFA in illustration. It was then that freelancing sort of fell into my lap. While interning for renowned illustrator Bill Mayer, his influence inevitably rubbed off. He is immensely generous and spared no chance to show my work to all his friends and most trusted clients. Soon those clients started calling me for jobs. 

How would you describe your own style? 

I’ve learned to detach myself from describing or categorizing my own work. Mainly cuz it has its own sway. Attempting to control its direction ended up frustrating me. But now it has become fun seeing where it takes me as an artist. The only word I can safely use to describe my work is colorful. I’d like for it to be perceived as active and fun, but you cannot control a viewer’s perception as much as you think you can. That aspect I let go of a long time ago. 

Ultimately, I don’t think about my body of work much. Future projects are much more fun to think about. Once a project is done, I only love it for about five more seconds. Then it dies. Then I look for excitement on a new project. This leaves the artist in me with little self-awareness, but it’s one of the many ways I control my neuroses. 

Who are your favorite contemporary artists right now? Who's doing something new and exciting that you're really inspired by these days?

The list is gigantic. I’m a huge fan of a bunch of friends. Many of them became friends because I love their work so much. First is Edward Kinsella. His work is sublime. Victo Ngai, Scott Brundage, Kyle Stecker, Tyler Jacobson… it goes on and on. I love the work of Jillian Tamaki, Tomer Hanuka, and Frank Stockton, but I have to avoid looking at [their work]. It can heavily influence me and I respect them too much to inadvertently rip them off. 

I really love your Process Blog. Why do you share the steps of your process? – what do you hope people get out of seeing the behind-the-scenes of your art.  

Process is where the excitement of a project lies. I share my processes to relive them one last time before I bury a project. It also seems to get a lot of attention, which I’m not ashamed to say I love. 

Professionally, I share my process to show potential clients precisely how I work. It can’t be easy to blindly choose an artist that you’ve never met before. I try to give a lot of information to let them know about me. I’m not sure if my sharing process has helped me get work, but I surely hope so. I’ll never be sure.

I know you got a BA in Fine Arts at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. If a young artist asked you whether or not they should go to art school, what would you tell them? 

This is a tricky question. Both schools were so different. The only thing they shared was a very dedicated faculty. I’m thankful that all of my teachers tried their very best to turn me into a successful artist. In University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, the resources were very limited, thus so was my experience. On the brighter side, my BA was completely covered by scholarships. At SCAD Savannah, the resources were plentiful but the school was so darn expensive that even my scholarships could not cover the full cost. I had to take out some student loans. 

My advice to potential students is to thoroughly study their circumstances. If they can find ways to attain a future without the use of student loans, it’s very likely that’s the best path to take.

You've worked with an impressive list of clients, including Adweek, Dwell, Entertainment Weekly, Intel, The New Republic, The New York Times, Wired, etc. How did you get into editorial work? What are some of the challenges of that field? 

The people are kind and wonderful to work with. The pay is good. But the deadlines have left scars. To pay the bills, you end up signing up for loads of work. When those deadlines start lining up and coinciding, it can get stressful. Every freelancer should develop some intense organizational skills. My agenda is my best tool. It allows me to focus on what should be done right now while alleviating the worry for future tasks. I’d ultimately say my biggest challenge would be staying focused and organized. 

You moved from Puerto Rico to Atlanta, GA. What was that transition like? Why did you decide to stay in Georgia instead of move back to Puerto Rico (or move somewhere else)? 

The transition was a little harsh. My culture is more direct in many aspects, so I was perceived as rude by southern standards, some of which are still alive and kicking in Atlanta. Eventually, I fell in love with southern hospitality. Maybe I’ve become a Southerner myself. I don’t know.

For a time, I really wanted to move to New York. So many of my friends live there and I only get to see them once or twice a year. Unfortunately, I had to take into consideration that a flight back home to Puerto Rico from Atlanta is short and cheap. I am one of the youngest siblings in my family and my parents are a little older and slightly more fragile now. I need to be able to able to get on a plane and be home quickly if anything were to happen. 

I can’t move back to Puerto Rico for personal reasons. My moving back would be very uncomfortable, perhaps detrimental. Although there has been progress, the social environment in Puerto Rico is still too harsh towards the LGBTQ. 

Like many artists these days, you use platforms like Behance, Society6, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. to get exposure and sell your art. Do you feel like these platforms work for artists? 

I currently use Twitter, Behance, Tumblr, Facebook, and Society 6. They really work! I get tons of fun projects from Behance. Tumblr and Twitter have gotten me in contact with some really awesome people, artists, and clients. Facebook… Facebook just gives me stress but it’s big so whatever. 

What are the greatest challenges of being an artist in this day and age? 

Staying focused and finding your place. Art is so heavily integrated into the markets nowadays. It’s a very exciting time to be an artist! The opportunities are huge! But it also means that you can attempt to try it all. It messes up with your focus. 

What's next for you? Are you working on anything new that you can share with us?

I certainly am but I can’t say too much yet, but I can hint a bit. Telling stories is one of the main reasons I got into this business. I’m moving closer to more independent and personal ways of doing so.