What It Takes To Be An Editorial Illustrator

We sat down with Editorial Illustrator, Rocco Baviera to learn what it takes to make it in this industry. Rocco Baviera’s digital, earth-friendly illustrations combine a stylish, retro aesthetic with a modern, sophisticated color palette, bold shapes, pattern and texture. Rocco’s work is ideal for posters, annual reports, packaging, apparel, retail applications, corporate and editorial projects for print or web. His list of clients span the globe from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Agency Access: Tell us about yourself. How did you get started as an illustrator?

Rocco Baviera: I’m a freelance illustrator from Ontario, Canada. I live with my wife, Colleen O’Hara, who’s also a commercial illustrator (specializing in digital portraits), along with our young daughter and cat.

I started straight out of college doing freelance editorial work for the local newspaper. My very first assignment about the “ideal man” (with the looks of Robert Redford and the mind of Woody Allen) had to be finished the same day in order to be printed for the next morning’s edition. You have to remember, this was before the digital revolution. It was stressful, but rewarding. It was exciting to see your artwork when you opened up the morning paper. 

AXS: How did you find your style? And has it changed since you began your career?

RB: I still don’t think I’ve totally “found” my style. It’s constantly evolving. I started out as a more traditional illustrator doing quite realistic paintings. Now my work is much more stylized and completely digital. I actually started out doing a lot of work for the children’s market. It allowed me to be looser and more whimsical in my approach, without worrying about things looking too realistic. I’m able to work more from my imagination, which is very liberating.

AXS: Briefly explain your creative process.

RB: I still do all my preliminary sketches with old fashioned pen and paper. It actually allows you to work much faster…to work out ideas to see if they work or not. I start out with very small thumbnails to work out the composition. That forces you to simplify and make immediate decisions. I find that if you start out directly on the computer, you get caught up in details. Working initially in just black and white also helps establish your tonality. I will often develop the chosen thumbnail to a more refined sketch. This is what I scan and use as a template for my final artwork. This allows me to block in color very loosely since you have an established framework underneath. It’s like the foundation of a house…if it’s not solid, everything will collapse.

AXS: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

RB: I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. My favorites were the Warner Bros. (Looney Tunes) cartoons from the 40’s and 50’s, especially those of Chuck Jones, who also animated The Grinch. What really drew me in were the worlds that were created with those fabulous backgrounds (many by Maurice Noble)…so abstract and larger than life. That made a big impression on me. That whole era has so much style. Everything is so generic now. With the popularity of Mad Men and the whole Mid Century Modern resurgence, it’s given a new appreciation for all things retro. I just recently discovered another great mid century artist Mary Blair, who created a lot of the backgrounds for some of the classic Disney animated films. Her work looks as fresh today as it did over a half century ago. I also draw a lot of inspiration from the natural world, which is the ultimate teacher as well as one of my great loves…music.

AXS: What is the best/most fun part of your job?

RB: I love the fact that each project is different. I get to explore different subjects, so it’s rarely boring. I really enjoy starting on the final artwork…all the hard part is done and I just get to have fun with color. Working digitally allows me to experiment and not worry about making mistakes, since you can always “undo”. I really believe that if you’re afraid of making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.

AXS: Do you have any current/future projects you can share with us?

RB: Here’s some recent editorial work…

Becoming Alumni Magazine

Sketch and final cover art for an article about the importance of having a plan. The image depicts trimming the branch of a tree, but being on the wrong side. It’s a humorous approach showing someone who actually doesn’t have a plan. It reminds me of the old Road Runner cartoons, where the Coyote would always be the victim of his seemingly ingenious plans.


Trends Quarterly

Cover illustration for an article titled “Shaping the Future of Philanthropy Through Innovation,” focuses on the theme of innovation in a harsh economic climate as it pertains to charitable donors.


Habitat Magazine

Cover illustration for an article about the burden on Condo board members. “What makes a good conceptual illustration work is playing with the sense of scale.” I believe René Magritte was one of the first artists to alter reality in this way.


Self Promotion

Self Promotion Workbook 37

Workbook 37

3x3 Directory

3×3 Directory

Workbook 38

Workbook 38

Highlights Press

Cover illustration that is part of a story puzzle book. People who see my editorial work are often surprised by this other facet to my work.


To see more of Rocco’s work, visit his site.

Rocco Baviera

Rocco Baviera's digital, earth-friendly illustrations combine a stylish, retro aesthetic with a modern, sophisticated color palette, bold shapes, pattern and texture. He draws inspiration from the mid-century modern era of Mad Men as well as the old Warner Bros. cartoons of his childhood. "What really drew me in when I was a kid, were the worlds that were created with those fabulous backgrounds...they suspended all reality, yet were totally believable." Rocco's work is ideal for posters, annual reports, packaging, apparel, retail applications, corporate and editorial projects for print or web. His list of clients span the globe from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

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