Our introduction to the work of Rafael Esquer came, as it did with many people, by catching a glimpse of his Iconic New York Illuminated poster on social media (see below). Never before had we seen such a complex, vibrant use of foil stamping and metallic ink in one place. Creative people crafting love letters to the Big Apple is nothing new, but there was a playfulness to this work that matched the passion it conveyed for the great metropolis. It is that same mix of playfulness and passion that Rafael brings to Alfalfa Studio, which he founded. From Nike to The New York Times, the design studio has done work for many household names, many of them New York institutions. It’s a privilege to hear firsthand what inspires Rafael.
1. What other designer(s) truly inspire you?
There are too many who inspire me for different reasons but the two who come to mind are Eiko Ishioka and Rebeca Méndez because of their uncompromising attitude and incredible work. How lucky am I that they were both my mentors?
2. Of all the different papers out there, what is your absolute favorite?
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Slide produced by Gruppo Cordenons in Italy. [Editor’s note: Neenah distributes Slide in North America. Order their Design Collection: Soft Touch swatchbook – featuring Slide – right here.] When looking for a luxury paper to print my Iconic Illuminated Poster, I looked at some of the finest papers out there. I settled for Slide 120 gsm because it’s deep, rich, soft-touch black. It contrasted beautifully with all the foils and metallic inks the Iconic Illuminated Poster required.
3. When the ideas just aren’t coming, do you have a particular thing you do or place you go to get the creative juices flowing?
I’m lucky to live in New York City where visual stimulation is everywhere. This city never gets old. It invites you to discover something new every day. New York City has been the inspiration for some of my most notable work, including the Made in NY mark, the New York City Football Club badge and, of course, the Iconic New York Poster series.
4. What is your favorite printing technique?
I have a soft spot for letterpress [PRO Guide].
5. If money were no object, what printing or finishing technique would you love to experiment with more?
It’d be fun to experiment with laser cutting [PRO Guide].
6. Do you have a favorite type of project to work on?
I’m not elitist so I love designing for the masses, for the everyday person. That’s why designing for sports fascinates me. It’s thrilling to see people on the street wearing a Houston Rockets jersey or a New York City Football Club hat, in the same vein of other favorites, which include murals and posters.
7. Is there a productivity tool or piece of advice that you would recommend to other designers?
Google tools keep getting better and better and easier to use, too. Being a right-brain person, I need all the organizational help I can get. So thank you, Google, for Sheets, Docs, Slides, Drive, Calendar, Gmail, and … keep’em coming!
8. If there was a fire in your office, what non-living item would you grab on the way out the door?
I’d be very sad to see my books go up in flames. If I had to save one, I’d pick my copy of “Eiko by Eiko” [see below].
9. What is a favorite saying or mantra you live by?
“Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.”
10. What is your favorite color?
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