A chance family move to Chicago subsequently did two things for artist Luis Romero: it motivated his art career, and opened his eyes to the vibrant and influential art he left behind in his home country of Panama. Today, inspired by Panama’s artist culture as much as his peers, he continues to pursue his self-described “silly doodle” aesthetic, releasing a series of designs through his brand new Threadless Artist Shop. Part of our Threadless family as the Artist Relations Assistant, Luis sat down to share more about his background, his experience at Chicago’s Columbia College, and why his cat deserves a personal shout-out.
Hey, Luis! Welcome to Artist Shops. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Luis Romero, an illustrator that was born and raised in Panama and relocated to Chicago a few years ago. I have a fat cat named Alex and I like pizza and long walks on the beach.
How did you get your start in art?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawing. I used to spend a lot of time tracing Saint Seiya and Dragon Ball images over and over again until I was able to draw them from memory; those were probably my earliest artistic inspirations. It was really my brother who pushed me to do more stuff and introduced me to comic books. Then at some point in high school I decided to take it seriously, but it wasn’t until I spent a few years in college that I started considering it a viable career path. Then I moved to Chicago, and the rest is history.
You grew up in Panama. In what ways did the culture of your childhood hometown affect your creativity?
It didn’t until fairly recently, at least not consciously. Panamanian culture and art is very vibrant and colorful and that always helped me get a sense of color and what works with what. If you look up pictures of Panama, you’re bound to find images of our buses, called Diablo Rojos, which are essentially old school buses painted in crazy colors and patterns. Then there are the more traditional crafts like molas, worn by the native Indians here, and Panamanian artwork in general tends to have an interesting use of color.
Why did you decide to relocate to the US, and how has it helped your art pursuits evolve?
Long story short, my family dragged me here. After I found a good school though, everything clicked into place. I think living in the States, and in Chicago specifically, has certainly helped expose me to different things that I otherwise would not have seen. The people in the city of Chicago are diverse and amazing, and being in such a great place has really helped me grow as a person and an artist.
Specifically, you attended Columbia College in Chicago to earn your BFA. How did attending art school affect your approach to your own work?
It helped me get more serious about art and see it as a viable career choice, and made me driven and gave me the discipline to get work done without someone having to give me a deadline. There were a lot of skills, technical or otherwise, that I picked up during my college career that come in very handy as a “professional artist”.
What advice would you have for those looking to pursue art academically?
Be open to new ideas and approaches. Look at what your peers are doing for inspiration and always keep practicing, and learn to impose deadlines on yourself and keep them. Overall, never settle and always try to keep moving and pushing yourself to do new and different things.
What is your typical process for creating a piece?
I start small with thumbnails on a sketchbook; I like the loose quality of a quick sketch and I try to bring that to finished pieces. Sometimes, I’ll go over it with some ink. Next I snap a picture with my phone and bring it into Photoshop. Provided that nothing needs fixing at this stage, I’ll then trace it digitally and start adding color, and finally texture.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Is silly doodle an aesthetic? If so then that’s probably it. That or 5-year-old with box of crayons.
What steps do you take as an artist to keep your ideas fresh and relevant?
Threadless has taught me not to get too hung up on ideas and to keep moving. The best way to stay fresh is to continue making stuff, no matter how stupid the idea may seem.
If you could name one piece as your favorite, what would it be? (Feel free to share an example!)
That’s a tough one. I tend to not think too much about something once it’s done, but I’d say whichever one makes me smile the most, which in this case would be “Sunblock.”
What are you most excited about with your new Artist Shop?
I’m really excited about the freedoms provided to the artists. I’m super excited about tweaking the look of my shop and seeing the sorts of stuff other people decide to upload on their shops!
Any other shout-outs?
I gotta thank my girlfriend and my mom for supporting me through everything, I literally would not be where I am without either of them. My cat for being cool and keeping me company on all-nighters. And a big thanks to Threadless and the community for the drive and inspiration to keep making cool, weird art.