5 lessons I learned from Gonza Rodriguez

Presentation of Gonza Rodriguez's art

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“Learn from the masters” and “the only artist you should try to be better than is the artist you were yesterday”
are two excellent tips, even if they seems to contradict each other.
As you learned from any story you have heard since you was a child, in the form of a tale, a movie or a book, anyone who has found the way for his own success has gone through the turning point of the meeting with a mentor. Today, thanks to the internet, the chances of meeting have grown more and more, so the decisive turning point for each of us is easier to find than it was in the past.
For me, Gonza Rodriguez is a virtual mentor. It is an artist from Argentina born in 1978 and specialized in caricatures, generally of sports champions, but which also produces logotypes of great impact. He has a brilliant talent. His talent is a huge talent from my point of view: when I discovered him surfing the internet, I immediately wanted to learn from his style.

The curious thing is that he does not have an active blog, he didn’t write books or handbooks about drawing, he is active only on Benhance, Twitter and Facebook. But his style is so inspirational that before I get to work on the design of a football player I always make a tour of his artworks, which I collect in a dedicated pinboard.
But be careful: the comparison with the masters is a double-edged sword, because realizing how far you are from them in terms of quality risks destroying your ego and your motivation. It is at this point that you need to meditate about the second recommendation, that is: “Never to compare yourself with other artist who is not you of the past”. Tracking your progress is a well-known technique to keep motivation when you are learning to do something, which is a way made of ups and downs.
The balance between the pursuit of inspiration and the need to work patiently to refine one’s technique and talent is the key to learning from others. In this sense the discovery of Gonza Rodriguez was very useful to me. Please, find below five of the many lessons I learned from him.

1. Use the noise

Adding noise to a subject greatly improves the drawing, especially on the skin, which appears more realistic. A design made of flat colors, even if you have worked well to make the shadows and shades, make your drawing too similar to a cartoon, at least for my taste. I do not know how Gonza add noise to his caricatures, I have put into practice my own method to do it through Photoshop. I’ve already talked about it with great detail in this tutorial.
I am sure that the following Gonza’s artworks I chose as an example are much more convincing than my words about the added value of noisy addiction.

Darío "el pipa" Benedetto caricature by Gonza Rodriguez
Caricature of Darío “el pipa” Benedetto by Gonza Rodriguez. The enlarged detail enphatizes the proper use of the noise to make the drawing more realistic

2. Less colors, more contrast

Another feature of the style of Gonza Rodriguez that struck me from the beginning is that it often uses only a basic color for the face and skin. Variations in brightness make the difference in most of his portraits: you will rarely find pink lips, for example. And usually the basic color is not gray, but a dark yellow. And then there is an abundance of white saturated that, distributed in the right places, gives to the drawing an effective contrast and a proper three-dimensionality. There are also intermediate shades, but they are so camouflaged that you do not notice them until you try to reproduce them.
When I can draw the shadows at least similar to those that I find in most of Gonza’s drawings I actually will improved my skills.

Starting from uniformly colored macro areas and blurring the transitions among very different levels allows to obtain effective shades, but doing it is much more difficult than explaining it.
As you can see, everything seems realistic and natural in Gonza’s artworks, even though they are caricatures.
Diego Simeone & Zinedine Zidane seen by onza Rodriguez
Diego “el Cholo” Simeone (on the left) and Zinedine “Zizu” Zidane (on the right) seen by Gonza Rodriguez. Contrast and three-dimensionality perfectly added!

3. Take care of the “gesture”

When I began to draw people my first goal was to keep the likeness and my efforts were all aimed at draw each face feature as accurate as possible. But it did not take long before I realized that the body also matters, while it took a little longer before you give the gesture the attention it deserves. Dynamism is a basic element to be taken care of for a successful drawing, especially if the drawing is a caricature. On the other hand, the way we move characterizes us, so reproduce it in a drawing helps to make the subject recognizable, even if the precision in the somatic features is weak. Again, the following sample images explain better than words.

Carlos Tévez, Roberto Baggio, Luis Suárez Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo caricatures by Gonza Rodriguez
From top to down in clowise orser: Carlos Tévez, Roberto Baggio, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suárez  seen by Gonza Rodriguez. All the subjects are well recognizable not only due to the likes but also for the typical pose.

4. The background matters

As much as you can be satisfied with the result of working hours that have allowed you to transform some pencil strokes into a drawing, you can always improve that same drawing by adding some element to the background. The good news is that it doesn’t require so much work, because, as in photography, a too complex background tends distracting from the subject. Just a little piece of field under the shoes, or some tweaks to the setting is enough to improve the whole scene.
However, if you know what you are doing, there is no reason to be afraid of using a complex background. With practice, your eyes improve and the choice becomes natural, depending on what you want to achieve.


Backenbauer, Sukur
Franz Beckenbauer and Hakan Şükür, two examples with a simple background and little details they say a lot about the subject’s story


Real Madrid stars caricatures by Gonza Rodriguez
Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo: a color spot is enough to refinethe composition
Wayne Rooney and Alex Ferguson seen by Gonza Rodriguez
Wayne Rooney and Alex Ferguson seen by Gonza Rodriguez. Again, the background is functional to the composition, despite the complexity


Lionel Messi and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo caricatures by Gonza Rodriguez
The simplicity of the background is not a dogma, you can break the rule and turn a caricature into a great infographics. These portraits of Lionel Messi (left) and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (right) prove it


5. To recycle is to optimize

The same face can be used in different drawings. The exercise is useful also because it makes you realize how much the body’s gestures can change the expressiveness of a portrait. An obvious recommendation is to be consistent with the real characteristics of the subject. I mean, it would not make sense to put the face of Diego Armando Maradona on a Michael Jordan physique…
Moreover, certain plastic poses capture the essence of footbal and if you can reproduce them once, there is no reason not to reuse them. Using the graphic software it is easy to replace the colors of a shirt or make small changes. Whether you use a copy and paste of the lineart or simply redraw the body of a player to use it with the face of another, the important thing is the final result: there is no reason to limit yourself in this sense. More important is to is that you don’t close your eyes when you see your mistakes. If you realize you were wrong in drawing a gesture or a pose is much better to invest time in correcting that mistake than ignore it, because you will certainly learn something. And you will avoid to make the same mistake again in the future.
Putting together different drawings to create a new one is a great way to highlight their value.
And Gonza Rodriguez often does it.

Andrés Iniesta caricatures by Gonza Rodriguez
Four version of the same caricature of the same Andrés Iniesta caricature: same face, different “gestures”


Joan Cruyff seen by Gonza Rodriguez
Joan Cruyff visto da Gonza Rodriguez with Ajax (top) and Nederland national team (bottom) shirts


Football stars collages by Gonza Rodriguez
Three representative compositions by Gonza Rodriguez

Well, now I just have to assign you a simple task: to look carefully at the work of your favourite artists, copying them or trying to reproduce their style. Not with the purpose to became an alter ego of someone else, but to fully understand these artists that are ahead of you in the journey. And find inspiration.

You will not regret!

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