Last night I received the worst news, that my dear friend of 9 years, Ismael Roldan passed away at the young age of 45. This is very difficult for me to accept, I'll try to keep this brief, but I just want to share a little bit about Ismael and what he meant to me.
Years ago, when I was first getting started as a professional artist, I was really struggling to figure out how to get work, how to develop my art professionally in a way that would grab the attention of art directors. I wasn't getting the kind of work that I wanted and I was getting tired of seeing the same artists being published over and over again and not understanding how they got where they were? I had a handful of artists at that time that were my inspiration. I would collect they're work out of magazines and hang them on the wall in my studio. I thought that if I surrounded myself with excellence, I would eventually pick up some of this excellence.
One of my most favorite artists at the time was Ismael Roldan. His work was inspiring to look at. Great exaggeration and likeness, great structure, humor, draftsmanship, perspective, you name it, he was what I wanted to be like.
So one day I gathered up the courage to write him an email, I basically told him that I was a big fan of his work and that I would love to work for publications as well, I thanked him for the inspiration and I attached a piece I had just finished that I was really proud of (to show him what I could do).
Well, I wasn't sure if he would ever write back, but to my astonishment, he wrote back that very same day. I remember being so excited and nervous to read the email. The email was straight up IN YOUR FACE truth about how horrible my work was! A very harsh and blunt critique. He told me my hands sucked, that I lacked knowledge in structure and form, and he actually went on and on. Even though the critique was harsh, he was able to somehow be very kind, he said one good thing, he said I could render like non other, but that won't help any if I can't fix the rest of my problems.
I was crushed, but at the same time, I was motivated to prove myself to Ismael. I didn't want this artist that I looked up to so much to think I was horrible. So I began to work on the things that he pointed out flawed in my work. I drew hand after hand after hand. I worked on skulls, and bone structure, I studied cross hatching and form. I sent him email after email, everything I did, I would send to him. And every time, he'd slam me harder than the time before.
I kept coming back for more, time and time again. Eventually, we became close friends, and slowly, we also became "peers" and we began to exchange work with each other seeking perspective and ideas from one another. I still remember the first time he sent me one of his paintings and wanted me to be honest and tell him what I thought about it. As time went on, we began more and more to talk about our kids and how important they were and how blessed we felt to have kids. Occasionally we'd talk about art, but mostly about life and what we were up to that week.
This is me with Ismael last year at the ISCA's 17Th Annual caricature convention where I won the Gold Nosey as well as many other awards, including a Guest of Honor Awarded by Ismael. That award meant more to me than any of them, and receiving that award from Ismael felt like coming full circle as an artist. I remember seeing him in the crowd as I received my awards, he looked like a proud older brother. Ismael told me that the first email he sent to me was so harsh, because he wanted me to know the truth so I would improve, but mostly he didn't think I'd ever bother him again. It was to his astonishment that I wrote back again and again. He tried to get rid of me, but instead fused a friendship that I hold very dear.
I will never forget the kindness and time Ismael shared with me. He took me under his wing and I wouldn't be where I am today as an artist if it wasn't for his talent and kindness. I feel as if I have lost a friend, a mentor, an inspiration, but mostly, a brother.
Throughout the years, Ismael and I exchanged caricatures of each other. This is the most recent one that he did of me, and the most recent one that I did of him. We also exchanged originals, I own several originals of his. He also sent me books throughout the years of artists that he thought would inspire me. The man was generous.
Ismael, you will truly be missed!