Luis Fitch is an international artist, designer, mentor and creative entrepreneur who is currently the founder of UNO Branding — a multicultural, strategic visual communication agency based in Minneapolis, MN. Born in Tijuana, Luis has made his livelihood creating art that crosses and connects the border. His exhibit, Day of the Souls caught our eyes, so we reached out to him to find out a bit more about his work. What we found was a wealth of wisdom about living the creative life, being an entrepreneur, and a drive to create cross-cultural, catalytic art that is as abundant and alive as his work. Below is our interview with him.
BeVisible: When did your journey as an artist begin?
Luis Fitch: Ever since the age of four, I have been drawing. I never went to school for fine art, but learned just by doing it. I went to school to become a graphic designer, but have always combined fine art and illustration with graphic design. I am self-taught.
When I was young, my mom was really into taking me to museums. Growing up in Tijuana, we used to cross the border to go to San Diego to visit the museums at least once a month. This was a big deal for me. I was able to experience the masters like Picasso and see the original pieces.
BeVisible: Was there a particular moment when you knew that this was what you wanted to do with your life?
Luis Fitch: At 14, I won a national painting competition in Mexico. I represented my school among 20 schools; then I represented Baja among the regionals; and then I went to the nationals and won second place. From there, I knew.
It was during that competition that I realized that it wasn’t about how realistic the painting was, but about the concept behind it. I was really about the concept. While there were others who were really into realism, there was no message. I was doing things that were more abstract and modern that had a message.
In Tijuana, there was no graphic design school, so I had to go to San Diego. I had to start with the basics of design, and learn English. Design was something I discovered because I thought I had wanted to study architecture. I took 3 years of technical drawing in Tijuana. I was really good at it, because it was the closest to fine art. For others, it was really boring, but I liked it.
So, on one end I was doing fine art that was very experimental and on the other end, I was doing something that was very technical and clean.
BeVisible: Was there a turning point for you moving from architecture to graphic design?
Luis Fitch: After my first year studying architecture at San Diego State, I wasn’t doing very well. My professors told me, “You aren’t doing well in the basic stuff like math and English, but you are doing really well with drawing, perspective, and all the creative things.” They encouraged me to go to a community college to get the basic stuff under my belt and then come back. So I went to San Diego City College, and that’s where I discovered graphic design. That was the perfect fit for me — a combination between the technical and fine arts. I started to do more commercial illustrations. I would take the originals and frame them, and sell them as fine art.
People started buying and collecting my art, and then at 16, I had my first art exhibit. It was then that I discovered a creative side that was also commercial. It was my launching point for me to do more freelance and commercial work. I’ve had friends who graduated and became architects, and struggled to make money for years. But early on, I had an entrepreneurial spirit. Right away, I started selling t-shirts and posters. I created art that was for the market on both sides of the border.
BeVisible: What is your advice for young creatives?
Luis Fitch: I tell the young designers, illustrators, and creatives I mentor to discover your own style. Art is a language, and people are always looking for the uniqueness of your language. Once you create your language, you have to figure out how to capitalize it. Have a niche.
If you aren’t doing well with that niche, than you can be a generalist, and do other things to survive, but always go with your gut feeling on what your niche is, where your heart is, and what gets you up everyday. My whole thing was creating bilingual communications, for Mexicans living in the United States. I stayed focused on that.
There is a lot of talent out there, and people out there doing a lot of good stuff. The problem is that good is not enough. You have to understand the business side. You have to understand how to promote yourself everyday. I went to an art school in Pasadena and learned the business side. That’s what makes one artist better than the other. It’s not the talent, it’s that he promotes himself better. You have to learn how to promote yourself, meet deadlines, understand budgets, make an estimate, and how to do an invoice. Those are the things they don’t teach you in school. It’s equally important as your talent.
I learned how to do this by going to get books from the San Diego Library. I would go the fine arts section, and right next to it, was the graphic design business section. I would spend hours there. It was my internet. Growing up in Tijuana we didn’t have libraries or books. I loved books. I was and am still one of the few people who buys books. They were always a good reference point for me, and that was really how I learned a lot of things. I also always had mentors who believed in me, trusted me, who gave me different jobs and opportunities. They also guided me so I knew which schools to go to and where to work.
BeVisible: Tell us how the Latino community has been important to you as an artist?
Luis Fitch: At 20, I was able to attend the prestigious Arts Center College of Design. It is an expensive school, but I was very lucky and got many scholarships to attend. My grades and portfolio helped. There were also few minorities who went there, and there were donors who wanted to make sure that minorities had the opportunity to go.
Right after college, I started getting offers from corporations like Nike, Disneyland. I decided to go with a place in Columbus, Ohio that allowed me to travel the world. I worked for them Monday through Friday, and on the weekends, I would do freelance work for the the Latino mom and pop businesses in Columbus.
It was interesting, because here I was doing all of this corporate stuff, and it was not winning awards. The stuff that was winning awards was the stuff that I was doing 2-3 hours on the weekend for burritos. There was a guy in Columbus, Ohio who had been selling burritos for 5 years and wasn’t doing well. I came over and rebranded everything and changed the menu, and he made a huge profit. He believed in me so much he opened another restaurant that was more upscale and has done so well. I have many case studies like this. No matter where I go, I am always trying to help the Mexican and the Latino community. They are the ones who need it the help more than the corporations. And I know they can’t pay, so I am always really flexible with payment, and exchange for food.
BeVisible: Why do you think the art you created for Latino communities has been so successful?
Luis Fitch: I am bringing culture. People want culture. Americans love the Day of the Dead. In the last 10 years, it’s become so trendy. But it’s okay — in a way — I think this is what we need more of right now, Americans understanding the Mexican culture. With all the stuff that his happening right now with Trump — dividing borders, dividing people, and dividing cultures. It’s where art becomes transcendent.
I did some work with Cheech Marin from Cheech and Chong several years ago, who happens to own one of the largest collectors of Chicano art. He was working with Target to display his collection around the country because he believed Americans needed to see the Chicano culture. He believed that people felt safe to experience the culture in a gallery. In places like Columbus where the barrios are still very segregated, people who wouldn’t go into a panaderíawould probably go to a nice museum to experience the Chicano culture.
BeVisible: Last question! And my personal favorite: What makes you want to create?
Luis Fitch: I don’t know anything else. For me it’s like breathing. You wake up and you just have to breathe. Creating makes change. It makes things move forward. We create in different ways — with our hands, with technology — but, it’s in my blood. My education supercharged it. It’s a simple question, but I don’t know anything else, but to create.
You can connect with Luis on BeVisible at https://www.bevisible.soy/users/12863
Interviewed by Nicole Castillo
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