Fernando Baptista, National Geographic

The Society for News Design is excited to announce that Fernando Baptista is joining our lineup of speakers for the SND Charlotte workshop on April 19-21 in Charlotte, N.C.

The Spanish-born artist developed and defined his graphic skills at El Correo in Spain. Upon moving to America, Baptista accepted a position at National Geographic as Senior Graphics Editor. This position gives Baptista a platform to freely experiment with a varying number of mediums and collaborators, including sculpture. The two-time, Emmy-nominated artist has also won the Peter Sullivan Award — sometimes referred to as “The Pulitzer Prize” for infographics — from Malofiej.

SND.org’s Greicy Mella caught up with Baptista and talked to him about his sculpting, his creative process and the goals he’s hoping to accomplish as he continues to define excellence in visual storytelling through his work.

CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR DESIGN AND PRODUCTION PROCESS AT NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC? First, I am assigned a story. I review it to find the main concept for an infographic. Ideally, my graphics serve as an explanation that a reader can’t understand through photos or even reading the story. Next step is to pitch this idea to the executive team of the magazine. Once approved, I determine if I need to travel or not. I begin to sketch ideas, to sculpt, to pull whatever references I need. But I mainly sketch. Sometimes I produce two or three sketches per project, and other times I can produce 20+ sketches to get the right design and concept. Once this sketch is finalized, I check back with my team and supervisors and begin production. The next step is to refine, refine, refine. That is the key. The extensive revision process at National Geographic is what allows us to achieve maximum level of quality on each project, so I welcome all revisions.

YOU WORKED AT THE SPANISH NEWSPAPER EL CORREO FOR 14 YEARS. WHAT IMPACT DID YOUR NEWS DESIGN EXPERIENCE  HAVE ON YOUR CAREER? I started working as a designer for El Correo in 1993 and would occasionally create small graphics and charts. During my time there, I slowly started taking on more and more complicated projects. I will remind you, this was back when everyone was creating graphics with a computer while I was making them with a pencil and a piece of paper, or even better, with my hands. El Correo gave me a platform to experiment with different mediums — like sculpture — to create graphics at a time when I was still defining my style.

WHEN DO YOU DECIDE TO USE SCULPTURE AS A MEDIUM FOR A PROJECT? I loved spending my free time building models when I was young, usually Star Wars and superhero models. When I began working for a newspaper, using 3D models wasn’t very popular but I liked to sculpt, so I would do it whenever time allowed. It’s  become something that moved from my free time to my work routine, and now 80% of my graphics have a sculpture that I use as a reference. I sculpt very quickly and often. It helps me get a fresh point of view and understand how light behaves, which is very important to the type of work that we produce. 

YOU’VE TRAVELED ACROSS THE GLOBE TO RESEARCH AND COLLECT INFORMATION FOR YOUR WORK. COULD YOU TELL US A PLACE YOU’VE FOUND YOURSELF THINKING “WOW, I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM HERE?” I think my favorite trip was to the Amazon. I spent one week close to the city of Manaus in the rainforest, sleeping in a hammock in the middle of the jungle, and in the Amazon River on a boat. It was hot, and we had the cameras and experts looking for species of trees and animals. I felt proud at the end of that trip because I survived. I got the info we needed and managed not to get sick. It was particularly special because we went to some places you can only go to with experts, not open to the public. Traveling to the location, meeting up with researchers, this is all crucial for my work. Sure, we have the internet, we have books, but it’s not the same. When you travel to one place, that’s when you can really explain what happened.

IN SPEAKING TO YOUR STUDENTS, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THEM? WHAT DOES THE YOUNG GENERATION OF DESIGNERS AND INFOGRAPHIC ARTISTS HAVE TO SAY? I have learned that young people are really well-prepared. They have a lot of technical and visual information. This sort of thing used to take more time before, probably because we had fewer tools and resources. I try to work with younger designers any chance I get because it is always motivating to be around that level of enthusiasm. The thing I feel most comfortable talking with younger designers or students about is style. When you start out as a young designer, you want your work to look a certain way, so you experiment. You often copy things around you or that simply inspire you. That’s very important but always remember to be you and work relentlessly on trying to find your own creative style. Then refine, refine, refine.

WHAT’S AHEAD FOR FERNANDO BAPTISTA? To tell you the truth, something that has been around my head recently is to do something in the movie industry. I understand there is a high bar, but I’d love to do something with either DreamWorks, Pixar or Disney. I want to do more work in animation or special effects or concept art. It’s something that is always around. I’m always buying books and watching “The Making Of” or “Behind The Scenes.”  I love this kind of stuff, so it’s something I use for reference in my work. I would like to experiment and see if it’s possible to work in movies, animations,  concept art or special effects. I would like to try the movie industry and then later in life, teaching. Those are my next goals.  

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About SND Charlotte

• Don’t miss your chance to UNITE & REBEL, register today: Register
• Book your hotel room (before they run out!): Use the SND discount link
• Check out the lineup of speakers we’ve announced for the workshop. What a team!
• Don’t miss the Think Before You Make pre-conference day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center