Beto Alvarez is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist who is the graphics and animation director for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Literally growing up in a newsroom, his talents have moved him all around the country; from the Dallas Morning News, to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and back across the country to San Diego. After winning an Emmy Award for four San Diego In-Depth features, he took a few moments to speak with SND about himself.
Can you tell us what you experienced being exposed to a newspaper art department at such an early age?
The first Art Department I was exposed to was at The San Jose Mercury News. My dad, Lamberto Alvarez, worked there after his first paper, The El Paso Times. Back then the Art (Graphics) Department was a much more illustration-oriented department. Information graphics were part of their daily duties, but all the artists also made amazing illustrations. This was back in the early ’80s and they were still using airbrushes and amberlith on a daily basis. I got to see how my dad and his colleagues, including the amazing James Hummel, did their work when I was a little kid. It’s something that still stands out to me.
After the Mercury News, my dad took a position with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I would stay with my pops during the summers when I was around 10 years old and he would take me to work with him a couple days a week. While I was there, he would set me up at random vacant drawing tables and let me use an airbrush next to artists like Steve Wilson and Don Cook while they made awesome illustrations every day on deadline. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. My most accomplished airbrush piece at the time was of a St. Louis Cardinals’ football helmet – but some of the red dripped through my amberlith. Does that date me?
My dad moved to The Dallas Morning News around 1989-’90 I think. At the time, Ed Kohorst was the Art Director. I remember that job meant a lot to my pops. By the time I got to join the ranks in 1996, Kathleen Vincent was running the shop. I owe a lot to her for giving me a chance to work at such a great paper when I was still in high school.
The Morning News artists I got to work with are world class — Lon Tweeten, Matt Pinkney, Chris Morris, Jeff Goertzen, Smiling Dave Wilson, Guillermo Munro, etc. On top of all that, my pops re-joined the staff as Illustration Director in 2001. Those were some of the best newspaper days for me.
What was it like working with such a highly regarded man as your father, Lamberto?
Working for/with my dad never feels like work, it always feels natural. He’s my mentor, for sure. Maybe that’s why it always feels comfortable. We share a very unique bond that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I’m his biggest fan.
When did you know that you had a talent for illustration?
I wouldn’t call it a talent as much as a passion. I think people can learn to illustrate if they are really focused on it. I was passionate about drawing for as long as I can remember. But both my parents had a lot to do with that. My mom is also an artist, and she made sure my first word was “draw.” Thanks mom!
How did you nurture and develop it?
I was very fortunate to have a ton of art supplies around me while growing up because all my parents were artists. I just scribbled as many pencils to the nub as I could. I still have boxes of sketchbooks from middle school and high school.
What technology did you use when you began as opposed to what you use now?
Adobe Illustrator on a Macintosh. I hated it at first. I crashed my dad’s Mitsubishi Eclipse the Friday before spring break when I was 16. As punishment, he made me learn Illustrator so I could make some graphics for a science book he was illustrating. I was grounded until I could make enough graphics to pay off the
damage. I think I was done with my graphics by Wednesday, so I was still able to salvage some of my spring break.
Illustrator is still the backbone of most of my work today. The biggest difference is that now most of my illustrator work ends up in After Effects.
What can you not live without right now?
My best girl, Tiffany, and our vivacious daughter Emersyn Alessandra.
What did you learn from working with your father?
Where do I start? Everything. The most recent lesson has been as a manager. He taught me that it doesn’t matter if some folks don’t like what you do as long as they respect what you stand for.
What do you do just like him and what do you avoid doing?
My illustration style has been (by design) a complete ripoff of his my whole career, so I guess I still want to draw just like my dad.
What do I avoid? My pops never wants to be pigeonholed into one style. I’m alright with that.
Where do you see your newsroom heading in the near future and how does it mirror or go against the industry standard?
Our newsroom is looking to embrace new avenues of engagement with our digital community that can help people help each other. Increased digital news consumption provides a platform for precise data visualization that isn’t always translatable through the print product. We see video as an effective tool to help us tell data-driven stories. I expect a lot of newsrooms have come to the same conclusion. I look forward to seeing a lot of great animated graphics from all sorts of sources in the near future.
Who has influenced you both in and out of the industry?
Lamberto Alvarez, Julie Couture, Rick Couture, Tiffany Jackson, Lon Tweeten, PJ Joughran, Chris Morris, Guillermo Munro, Cristina Byvik, Gloria Orbogozo, Neko Burke, Dave Wilson, Michael Price, Bill Neff, Matt Perry, Alan Baseden, Theo Caviness, Aaron Steckelberg, Kerri Abrams, Barbara Davidson, Matt Pinkney, Kevin Burkett, Will Rhoten, Robert West, Ryan Donnell, Matt Rourke, Bob Shema, Noel Gross (“Just think about what you’re doing.”), etc. Additionally, both music and skateboarding taught me how to find fun in the process instead of the failure before success. Let’s go skate!