Brussels-based freelance illustrator Phil Constantinesco has created stunning artwork for the likes of Bvlgari, Martell and L'Illustré. We caught up with him to discover how he switched from motion design and why nature is a constant source of inspiration in his work.
Like many artists, Phil's love of artwork is rooted in his childhood. Trips to the restaurant with his parents often resulted in him asking them for a pencil and paper, and his spare time was spent copying comics for fun. And up until middle school, he thought this passion would manifest itself professionally in an architectural role. Creative careers are rarely so straightforward, though.
"After passing a scientific baccalaureate (not without difficulty), I entered a school of Applied Arts in Strasbourg (LISAA)," Phil tells Creative Boom. "I did an upgrade in applied arts and then a BTS in visual communication. After that, I started working as a freelancer."
Phil's working life started with a 10-year stint as a motion designer. And despite the longevity of this role, it was something he fell into by accident. "I had created a collective (Zurich29) with a friend (Dorian Gourg), and we contacted MTV France," he reveals. "They hired us, and that's how I learned motion design.
"I worked on some interesting projects during that time, but in the last few years, I did too many institutional projects, and in terms of creativity, it didn't suit me." Phil's interest in illustration hadn't been dimmed during this time, and he was thrilled when he had the chance to incorporate it into his motion projects.
"Little by little, I didn't keep up with the updates to After Effects plugins, and I started to get left behind," he adds. "I was doing some small illustration projects on the side, and then around 2016, my wife encouraged me to do only that. So I stopped doing motion design to focus on illustration."
Motion design's loss is illustration's gain, as Phil's James Jean-inspired artwork is a joy to behold. "I've always loved his universe, his techniques, his renderings. I am less of a fan of his current works, but I continue to watch his previous productions with great pleasure."
Another huge inspiration for Phil is nature, whose impact can be seen in images of nude figures feeding hummingbirds, models surrendering themselves to the forest floor, and fish who appear to swim through the sky alongside birds. It's the duality of calmness and violence in nature that speaks to him the most.
"The poetry that emanates from nature also provokes in me a feeling of plenitude," he says. "I also think that the fact that I have always lived in the city, including a part of my life in capital cities (Paris, Brussels), makes me look for nature which I don't have access to daily.
I have read several adventure novels about nature, but deep down, I don't know if it would suit me to live in a rural area. I like to imagine it, though. And visually, there are so many different shapes in nature, not to mention the wildlife, that I find it inspiring."
Another appeal when it comes to being an illustrator is the freedom it affords Phil. "Even if it means financial worries and an unstable situation, I like it. I love to draw all the time; it's a real passion. When I don't draw for a day, I miss it. I like to say that my illustrations support or explain a text and that there is no limit to learning or experimenting."
The bulk of Phil's commissions come from editorial and brand work, which often focuses on this sense of freedom due to the nature of tight deadlines. Luckily this doesn't sound like it phases Phil. "I don't usually procrastinate much. I'm more of a 'one-idea' person."
He adds: "I read the brief, look for inspiration on the internet by typing in keywords, and start sketching. Sometimes I make several sketches before presenting one. It all depends on the time I have and the budget too. Then I look for reference images. As I work towards a realistic style, I need these images.
"In general, I manage by myself, but if I don't find good ideas, I talk about them to people around me, and sometimes that allows me to unlock something. When I have time, I look at Pinterest, Instagram, and other illustrator's websites, and even walk on the street to help think of ideas."
As Phil suggests, growth and experimentation are key motivators for illustration. And his latest project saw him explore an all-new territory. "I am currently finishing a collaboration with a French clothing brand. It was very interesting because I don't often work with textiles, and the media and printing techniques are not the same as in publishing. So it allowed me to think about other conditions and answer new questions."
Out of all his previous work, Phil is stuck when it comes to choosing his favourite pieces. "Out of my digital work, I would choose the Bulgari series," he reveals. "I had the chance to work for this brand, and the Tokyo theme was very inspiring. And because I went on vacation there, I could also work from my own photos, which was really nice.
"From my traditional work, I'd have to go for a lion I drew," he concludes. "I don't think it's necessarily my best drawing, but it's the one that has generated the most enthusiasm. It ended up in a horoscope magazine, printed on T-shirts in New Zealand, and then displayed on a very large wall of the advertising agency Publicis in Paris!"