The Courage to Follow a Dream

By Jenny Carless

Changing professions takes courage, hard work, and a little bit of luck, as Lisbon-based illustrator Tiago Galo knows very well: a few years ago, he took a leap of faith and turned a hobby into a successful career. 

Working as an architect but still harboring a life-long dream to be an illustrator or comic book artist, Galo entered a major comic book competition in Portugal—and won.

“I took that as a sign that I should embrace my dream once and for all,” he says.

The decision seems to have been a good one, if measured by the clients he has attracted in the past four years—including Google, National Geographic Travel, GQ, Time Out, and the Financial Times. Galo also sells his work as a premium contributor on Adobe Stock.

Galo is self-taught, because when he was starting out as a young artist, few options for studying illustration existed in Portugal.

“The only possibility was to attend some workshops here and there and start your own path,” he says. “That worked well for me, as I was pursuing my own style and techniques.”

A Nod to the Cubists, with a Little Humor 

Galo’s style is simple and colorful—featuring geometric shapes and exaggerated proportions.

A four-part mural he created for the Estau 2018 street art festival is a good example of Galo’s distinctive style. Each section illustrates an ancestral craft of Portugal’s Estarreja region. 

This series of illustrations pays homage to the ancestral crafts of Portugal’s Estarreja region.

He enjoys projects that enable him to show an ironic and often humorous side, too—such as illustrating a book by Portuguese radio personality Inês Meneses.

“It´s a series of illustrations set in between short, funny sentences,” Galo explains. “The book is divided between possible and impossible love situations—and it was a really fun project because of the book’s witty mood.”

Illustrating a book about possible and impossible love gave Galo the chance to show his humorous side.

Another of Galo’s recent illustrations takes an amusing look at what it takes to get kids outside and away from their video games.

The exaggerated proportions typical of Galo’s work are something he admires in the work of the early Cubists.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the way they represented the human figure, and I wanted to explore that in my illustrations,” he says.

Galo also wanted to try to replicate the Cubists’ use of limited color palettes.

“They typically limited themselves to just three or four colors, so I wanted to challenge myself to do that, too,” he says.

The use of exaggerated proportions and a limited color palette are elements Galo admires in Cubism. 

Even in the short time Galo has been illustrating, he sees an evolution in his style.

“The characters, the geometry, and the colors are different today—simpler and cleaner,” he says. “I think it´s been a labor of subtracting rather than adding things.”

Tools of the Trade

Galo always works on a hand sketch before moving to the computer. He usually scans the sketches and uses them as reference, even though he does a lot of experimentation while on a digital interface before starting to draw the final composition.

Illustration for Time Out London.

He uses Affinity Designer as well as Adobe Photoshop to create animated GIFs and post-production—and for quick sketches on the iPad, he uses Procreate.

“Affinity Designer allows me to use vectors and raster tools at the same time, which I find essential for the kind of illustrations I do,” he says. “Photoshop is the most versatile software around, and right now it allows me to explore animation and film capabilities for my illustrations, before jumping into something more complex like Adobe After Effects. Procreate is so easy to use that it resembles pencil and paper, but on steroids.”

Galo encourages new illustrators to explore the many tools available today. 

“I think it´s important to experiment with different kinds of software and explore the assets within each one—like brushes, textures, or tools,” he says. “Sometimes, a new brush you discover or customize can be a game-changer. Experimentation is the key, so don´t settle for what is common or standard.”

Illustration for GQ France. 

He takes time to conceptualize a project before beginning to draw.

“After getting an idea or a client assignment, I actually try to stay away from the sketchbook and computer until everything’s clear in my head,” he says. “It´s important to my work process to live with the brief for a while without giving it too much thought—to wait until a concept develops. Only then do I start sketching.”

Illustration is popular because of its applicability to so many fields, Galo believes.

“Right now, people don’t see illustration as limited to children’s books or posters. From advertising to editorial, to graphic design or clothing, it’s everywhere as something mutable and adaptable,” he says.

He enjoys the possibilities that brings.

“It’s great to receive such a wide variety of assignments,” he says. “I love knowing that there´s always something different ahead.”

And speaking of something different: Galo is ready to explore another dream.

I love what I´m doing right now and want to continue doing it,” he says. “Nevertheless, I want to explore sculpting. I recently bought a 3D printer, and I´m into molding and ceramics. Let´s see what these bring!”

You can find more of Tiago Galo’s work on his website, Behance, and Adobe Stock, where he is a premium contributor.