Interview with Emilio Villalba on Becoming a Professional Artist

If you are trying to pursue an art career and become a professional artist, or an engineer looking to develop an appreciation for contrast and nuance (both of which you can do at USV), you will want to hear from Emilio Valalba, a professional painter whose Instagram feed (@emilio_villalba) illustrates his prolific and iconic approach.

As a Southern California native, Emilio Villalba received his BFA from the Art Institute of California in 2006, and his MFA in Painting from the Academy of Art University in 2011. He currently lives in San Francisco and teaches at University of Silicon Valley. In this Q&A interview, Emilio shares his inspiration and thoughts on how to become a professional artist and painter, and gives career advice to someone trying to make a career as a professional artist.

Q: Can you please discuss your personal journey as a professional artist? Where did you start your art career and what have you gone through to become the professional painter that you are today? 

Emilio: Art, in many forms and mediums, is something that has been in my life ever since I can remember.  It’s difficult to say when exactly my professional art career started (as a painter), though there are pivotal moments I can remember that helped lead the way into this direction.  In 2007, I decided to quit my job as a Visual Effects Artist in order to learn how to paint.  I knew that quitting my job was the only way for me to fully immerse myself in art and learn the craft.  I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and Graduated in 2012.  I was content with my ability to paint at the end of my schooling, but it took about another 3 to 4 years of “soul searching” to develop the concept that I am currently exploring now as a professional artist and painter. 

Emilio Villalba-how to become a professional painter
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Q: As a professional artist, what do you base your success off of?

Emilio: As professional artists, success has become something that is very difficult to measure in the studio because it is so personal and is subjective to others.  The combination of deadlines and my personal need to create something that I am proud of is the battle I am constantly fighting.  However, accepting the idea that I have to create something in a certain amount of time that I will be proud of is part of the rush or excitement.  I feel successful when completing a challenge I have decided to confront and have discovered new things along the way. 

Q: Which three people would you consider to be your biggest influence and why? Who are your favorite artists of the century and why?

Emilio: It is very difficult for me to only pick 3 people as my influences, because I have had so many and they have affected me in different ways at different points during my journey as a professional painter.  The first person I think of that helped shape my aesthetic is my teacher and very talented painter Mark Tennant.  Mark taught me the beauty in figurative art, as well as teaching me how to appreciate being patient with the process. Another teacher that really influenced me was professional artist, John Wentz.  He opened my mind to the idea of introducing the Human Condition as a concept into art.  It is something I was always interested in movies and literature but never had experienced responses to the idea in painting form.  Last but definitely not least, my girlfriend, Michelle has played a huge role in my art.  Meeting her and being in a relationship with her has motivated me to work harder than I ever have and she is always inspiring me to continue searching and evolving with my art.  She is the first person to see all of my work in progress and first to see the finished paintings. I trust and value her opinion, even if I don’t agree with it from time to time. 

My favorite artist of this century has to be Alex Kanevsky.  He is my hero as a professional artist, because he represents what I think how a professional painter should approach art. 

Emilio Villalba-how to become a professional artist
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Q: How do you decide what artwork you’re going to create? Where does your inspiration come from?

Emilio: I think that every painting I have worked on has always been a response to my previous painting is some way or another.  My Inspiration can come from anything that motivates me to paint.  My paintings, however, are simply mini evolutions from the original painting or idea that I decided to work with. 

Q: Can you please walk us through some of your processes as a professional artist?

Emilio: As a professional painter, I’m very concerned with presentation.  I am a painter that, for the longest time, did not want anyone to see my work, aside from a few friends or classmates.  I also was not showing in galleries or wanted a gallery owner to see my work.  I think social media was an easy way into allowing my close friends to see my work at first, and over time as my work evolved, my paintings were having a bit more exposure.  Now, that I happen to show my work in galleries, I take into consideration my voice or message in the painting.  I want to communicate my visual language properly in the manner that I intended.  So I spend time really looking at my art work and try to be objective as much as I can which can be very challenging, especially in the beginning. 

Q: Which brushes, pigments and mediums do you tend to use when you paint?

Emilio: I use the same type of brushes for a few months and then change when I feel like I have exhausted it.  I do that a lot with foods, if you can relate.  I am absolutely addicted to breakfast pastries, and muffins etc.  I’ll go about 3 to 6 months of ordering the exact same thing every morning at the coffee shop, and then out of nowhere one day ill change to something completely different and be addicted to that for months.  It is the exact same with my brushes.  My paints and mediums haven’t changed for a few years.  I’ll experiment here and there, but for the most part I stick to the same 4 colors and same medium for my paintings.  I use White, Ochre, Cad Red, and Black.   The medium I use is Turpenoid.  

Q: How do you develop prints out of your paintings?

Emilio: My prints are made by Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco, who also represent me.   The owners are incredible people and they are so helpful.  For prints, we usually have a little discussion about which paintings we would like to see made as prints, and then do a couple of test prints.  From there we narrow it down to one or two and decide on the size.  Brad, one of the owners of the gallery, is a master at making sure the coloring and values are spot on in comparison to the original painting. 

Q: What career tips and advice would you give to a young artist or someone trying to find their voice as an artist? How can they make a career as a professional artist?

Emilio: The career advice I would give someone trying to become a professional artist is to be patient and really spend a lot of time developing your work.  Learn to enjoy the process and experiment as much as you can to find out what it is that you like and dislike.  Set goals for yourself that are achievable, but challenging.  My friends and I always talk about “the challenge meter”. If something is too easy, you’ll get bored and lose interest.  If something is way too challenging you might give up, because it might seem impossible at the time.  You have to experiment to find that sweet spot. 

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