Illustrator Ruben Baghdasaryan on Chasing His Dream and Working with Beyoncé
At 26 years old, the illustrator Ruben Baghdasaryan has already worked with some of the biggest names in fashion and entertainment industry, from the the Parisian fashion house Jacquemus to his childhood hero Beyoncé. His deceptively simple drawings brim with life, like the sunflowers he wakes up to every morning. Baghdasaryan, who was raised in Armenia and now lives in Los Angeles, took some time from his very strict daily routine to field some questions lifted from Glenn O’Brien’s 1977 interview with Andy Warhol, sharing his thoughts on critics, facial hair, and working with Queen B.
ERNEST MACIAS: Did you get good grades in art school?
RUBEN BAGHDASARYAN: I got good grades. I was always a good drawer.
MACIAS: Did the professors tell you that you had natural talent?
BAGHDASARYAN: Yes, they said I was very talented and that I’m going to go “very far” with my talent.
MACIAS: What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?
BAGHDASARYAN: I always liked to have a crush. Every year I was going to school I had crushes. I’d invite them for coffee. So for me, that was a whole lot of fun—to wake up every day, go to school, and see my crushes. Sometimes I’d help them with exams.
MACIAS: What was your first ambition?
BAGHDASARYAN: I always wanted to move to United States. I was born in Moscow, but raised in Armenia. I’d imagine living in L.A. as a full-time artist. But the biggest one was to work for Beyoncé, because when I was ten, I was always watching her music videos. She was my inspiration for everything. So when I got a commissioned by her agency, I cried the whole day. I was like, “This is like a dream.” I came to the United States to make this happen.
MACIAS: What did you do for her?
BAGHDASARYAN: I did her merchandise design. It was 2017. I did the whole collection, like sweatshirts, t-shirts for Valentine’s day. I think it was 2018 when I did the Christmas collection.
MACIAS: Who was the first artist to influence you?
BAGHDASARYAN: Richard Haines. He knows how to capture people’s energy. I remember scrolling through Instagram, and every time I’d see his work, it would put a smile on my face. With very simple lines, he could capture the energy and vibe of a specific person. I met him in Paris at a fashion show. I was sitting next to him.
MACIAS: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an artist?
BAGHDASARYAN: There’s a lot of discouragement when you’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to become an illustrator. Just believe in yourself, because if you do, it’s going to show up when you walk into the room. Trust yourself and work on your craft every day. Don’t listen to what people say about your art—on’t take it personally. And every day, share it with the world.
MACIAS: What’s your favorite color?
BAGHDASARYAN: Yellow. I like the sun. When I was in Moscow, it was always cold. So when I moved to L.A. it was very sunny. Yellow has such good energy, plus I’m a huge fan of sunflowers, so I always keep them in my studio. When I wake up, I look at the sunflowers. They give me good energy.
MACIAS: Pepsi or Coke?
BAGHDASARYAN: I’m a very healthy person. The last time I drank Coke or Pepsi was ten years ago. I prefer water.
MACIAS: What’s your favorite piece from your work?
BAGHDASARYAN: The latest one. It was that Dior by Richard Avedon, 1948. It’s one of his famous photographs for Dior couture. It was a big canvas, around my height. It took me seven days to complete. I always use the same size, 11 x 14, and I always use pastels and charcoals. This one was totally out of my comfort zone. It was all canvas. I used a lot of acrylics and new techniques.
MACIAS: Do you draw every day?
BAGHDASARYAN: I always have reference photos that I save to draw for a week. I do two sketches a day. That makes me happy because I know I did something for me first, then I start to do other business stuff.
MACIAS: Do you change your clothes to draw?
BAGHDASARYAN: No. I have my own, let’s say, the same T-shirt, I wear a pair of jeans. When it comes to my art studio, I get very messy. I put my pastels all around, so my pants get dirty. Hands are like all pastels and then I touch the computer with my pastel hands, so it’s everywhere.
MACIAS: Do you think that people should live in outer space?
BAGHDASARYAN: It would have been nice to see what’s out there, but I’m very realistic, so I’m not sure about that one.
MACIAS: Do you like to work?
BAGHDASARYAN: I’m a workaholic. It came from my grandfather. He used to work a lot and I remember my mom telling us, “Don’t work too much and try to always have a balance between your life and your work, because it’s very short.”
MACIAS: What do you do in the morning?
BAGHDASARYAN: I wake up 5:00 a.m. every day. That’s been my routine for the last five years. The first thing I do is make coffee then sit at my desk and draw for two hours.
MACIAS: Do you like to drive?
BAGHDASARYAN: I like to walk a lot. Because I’m a freelancer, I work from home. I don’t like to drive, but I like to be a passenger. I wish I was in New York because when I was there I liked that people use the subway to go out. It’s very European.
MACIAS: How much time do you spend on the phone every day?
BAGHDASARYAN: I would say maybe two hours. It’s not like I’m wasting time. It’s always work-related.
MACIAS: Do you believe in marriage?
BAGHDASARYAN: Maybe for straight people. I’ll say the things that bond together is the kids. And then for gay people, I don’t know. It’s all about having a nice partner for your life and just enjoy as a friend.
MACIAS: Have you ever been in love?
BAGHDASARYAN: I’ve been in love a lot, but I end up heartbroken because I get very attached easily and I’m very picky.
MACIAS: Did you ever hate anybody?
BAGHDASARYAN: Not really. I get mad at people, but I get over it in a day because it’s all about kindness. If you give kindness, it will come back to you.
MACIAS: Have you ever tried to grow a mustache?
BAGHDASARYAN: I did twice, but my friend said, “You look like a German.” So I shaved it off.
MACIAS: Do you know how to dance?
BAGHDASARYAN: I like ’80s music. When I go to clubs, I go to specific ones that play ’80s music. I always like to go by myself so I can just dance.
MACIAS: What’s your favorite scent?
BAGHDASARYAN: I like Oud Wood. That’s a really good scent.
MACIAS: What do you look at first on a man?
BAGHDASARYAN: Eyes. Because for me, it’s like you read the soul, too.