Hello, Stranger. Engaging in a conversation with someone you don't really know is somewhat magical these days. It's a skill that you acquire and perfect after often being cautioned against it for self-preservation during childhood. A good conversation is definitely a form of Art. Much like starting with a blank page, you have the ability to craft something beautiful out of the mundane. There’s exceptional power in this. 

The Series The Tribe Connects dares two tribe members who don’t know each other well to create a connection, reminiscing memories and sharing common passions. Raquel Costa is an artist, illustrator, and picture book author. Janos Gerasch is a Concept Artist and Teacher.

This is what they had to say to each other.

Janos Gerasch: Hey Raquel! You’re an artist, co-founder of a design studio, and you also teach! How are things going for you? How was last year? And how has your evolution been since then?

Raquel Costa: When you're wearing that many hats professionally, sometimes it can be a bit hard to juggle it all because constantly switching between them may create uncertainty or lack of stability. But it’s a rewarding process because all those things are actually feeding into each other! I try not to compartmentalize too much or consider those roles separate. 
To help me make sense of it all, I think of them as stemming from the same core: on a first level, I always aim to create a positive impact on people’s lives through my work in some way; the way I do that is by telling stories, either building my visual narratives or helping other people tell their own.

It’s about recognizing that stories are at the base of all our human connections, and it’s through them that we relate to and make sense of the world around us. So, whether I’m working as an illustrator on a children’s book, a branding project for a client, or helping my students reach their potential, this still remains true.

Janos Gerasch: You manage to wear different hats and spend your energy in various directions. How do you make sure you spend the right amount of energy on the right hat?

Raquel Costa: That's still an ongoing learning process :)  When working for yourself or as a freelancer with different jobs, the hardest part is figuring out how to best manage yourself and the resources you have at your disposal – time being the most valuable one. The way the world changes so quickly all the time means you have to keep that learning process going throughout your career so you’re able to adapt!

It all comes down to finding ways to bring discipline and structure into your life, knowing they’re the building blocks of a healthy routine and work-life balance. And, in time, they’ll shield you against constantly getting overwhelmed by stress. You feel more in control of your life.

Janos Gerasch: And keeping your sanity!

Raquel Costa: Yes! I always struggled a bit with organization and prioritization, so over the past couple of years, I’ve been focusing on learning and implementing new strategies to improve these skills. I always found planning hard and thus tried to avoid doing it, but I’ve found that I perform much better when I do. Having that bigger picture in mind gives you the confidence to prioritize the right tasks. It also helps you to pivot and adapt more quickly when things change. 

Janos Gerasch: Since this topic interests me as an artist, I’ll do a follow-up question here. How has your artistic evolution been so far? And how do you still ensure that you evolve as an artist today? 

Raquel Costa: Yeah, that sense of evolution, of moving forward and growing as an artist, is definitely important. Also, when I improve my work as an artist, I feed into my other work hats. And when I improve my work as a designer, let’s say, I know that it will also reflect on my work as an artist because, in the end, it’s all about the knowledge and insight you’re building up that affects everything you do. 


Speaking specifically about artistic growth, one thing that drove me into a bit of a crisis a few years ago was that I lost sight of the path I wanted to be on for a while. Most of the work I was developing was for clients, and I wasn’t finding the time nor motivation to engage in either my own personal projects or simply in the practice of playing, exploring, learning new skills, and trying new things.


I downplayed the importance of devoting daily time to personal projects, where you’re free to explore anything you like, free from the strict time and briefing constraints you have when working for clients, and I believe my work suffered for it. In the past, it was always when I pushed myself to come up with something that felt new, fresh, and exciting that I ended up leveling up the overall quality of my work! So last year, I created my first fully authored picture book, which I’ve written and illustrated! It was actually just released in Portugal on April 2nd! This book played a huge part in fueling that flame of artistic growth. 

Not only because I explored a visual style that I want to keep developing further and improving on while finding my voice as an author, but it also ties directly into what we discussed before: how planning and time management are vital to follow through with your endeavors. You stop putting things off indefinitely, waiting for the ideal conditions to begin – which never happens! – and start putting a plan on paper.

Janos Gerasch: Awesome! It's also a big luxury to work on personal work while turning it into a product, serving you as an artist and entrepreneur. As you said, you bring everything under one umbrella, which sums it up nicely.

Raquel Costa: When we met in person at the THU Main Event a few years ago, in our first conversation, I remember you mentioned something about your background that I found interesting and inspiring. You didn't start out as an artist. Do you want to talk a little bit about your background and how you made that leap to where you are now?

Janos Gerasch: I started with art when I was 23 - so, relatively late. I played American football in Germany, and my goal was to become a professional football player, which didn't work out. After that, I studied Management but wasn´t thrilled with it. After spending a lot of time researching, I found concept art as a possible job direction. But I had a problem: I couldn’t draw or paint.

I started researching what concept artists did professionally. Most of them studied design or would have a design background at the time. I began doing portfolios for design curriculums and got into Industrial Design after 3 declines. I was learning to be a product designer but focused on working 8 to 10 hours daily on my milestones. It took me 4 years to get a studio job!

My first real job was in commercials. I was the only concept artist, and I would do all the concept work. Eventually, that led to my first animation movie, which ended up on Netflix. From there, I went into working in games for 5 years. In 2018, I also started my YouTube channel, which led me to produce a weekly video, teaching people through mentorship sessions and building my own program! After working over 100 hours per week, I had to decide which path I wanted to go down, so I decided to leave the studio and now I´m my own boss!

Raquel Costa: Do you think your training as a professional athlete directly impacted how you worked in such a focused and intentional way? I've discussed this with people who were professional athletes in the past, and whatever they ended up doing professionally, they’re very performance-oriented. Do you think this is the case for you?

Janos Gerasch: Absolutely. I was a teenager when I switched from a lower-league team to the highest possible league in Germany. That big step took courage because everything was harder, faster, and stronger. Suddenly, I had to train six days a week! Eventually, I became a national champion in Germany and, after that, in Europe. This made me realize I could achieve anything I wanted: I just needed to set myself a goal and make a plan. And then it’s working hard to hit that plan! The necessary focus, combined with my natural stubbornness, helped forge this mindset and fuel the things I am passionate about.

Raquel Costa: You said you've been switching more to teaching and working as a mentor and educator, and it's wonderful that you're now also giving back to the artistic community in that way. What advice would you give someone who’s just starting out in, let's say, concept art? Especially in a world where things like generative AI are developing so rapidly, and it absolutely impacts the future of work in these industries.

Janos Gerasch: I would say you should have a clear vision of yourself in the future so you can focus on going in that direction. I recently met Franziskus. He was so motivated, following my every advice. He put himself into a kind of “pressure chamber” and became fully immersed in improving his art and, in one year, he ended up as an environment concept artist at Keen Games. I still get goosebumps when I think about this because I know how far he came. I think it's important to set a goal, make plans, and don't get influenced by the outside world. I know there's this huge red tail with AI art and everything, but don't let that get in the way of your goals if you’re really passionate about them.

It's also kind of really crucial to think about what the actual thing you want to do is because I know a lot of people who want to do a bit of everything, but at some point, it becomes too hard if you don't specialize, if you kind of do a bit of environment, do a bit of characters, a bit here and there. You’ll never reach the real quality you can bring because the industry is becoming brutal, the quality stamp gets higher, and technology catches up. Make sure you deliver quality in a good direction.

Janos Gerasch: After checking your Instagram, I'm curious. Do you sometimes get inspiration from teaching people? Do you ever use your students’ input to inspire your work?

Raquel Costa: Over the past 6 years or so, I’ve taught a few different illustration-related classes to first-year university students, and, of course, when you’re teaching, you always have to make sure that you know what you are talking about. And that’s a different kind of knowledge about the work than doing the work itself. While engaging in the creative practice of illustration, an instinctive process unfolds in the background, sustained by everything I’ve ever learned or experienced in my life. The process seems to be guided somewhat by intuition, in a not fully conscious manner.

But when you teach someone how to do it, you must be comfortable explaining the concepts and rules that sustain that practice and use the correct terminology.

So, I felt the need to deepen and clarify those reflections about my practice. It was about making sure that when I was teaching about the rules of composition, visual storytelling, or applying a certain technique to achieve a certain effect, I was able to explain how those concepts work and how the techniques should be applied.


When you’re forced to speak about your work process and explain it, there are always some “Aha! moments” when you realize, “Wow, I had all these thoughts in my mind about this subject, and I hadn't realized it!” 


I also enjoy having these kinds of conversations with my studio partner or with other creative professionals because I’ve found that talking about the nature of work fleshes out your thoughts on it. Just by saying them out loud, you’re giving your ideas a concrete shape, organizing them, and fitting them into your mind's wider knowledge structure.

So, teaching is never a one-way street. You’ll always learn something from the people you’re teaching—if nothing else, there’s valuable learning in making your thoughts clear and understandable to others.

Janos Gerasch: Regarding that “subconscious inspiration,” I often realize how different people learn but also observe, right? The way you observe or I observe things is completely different. Do you sometimes get inspiration from routine habits like going to the supermarket or stepping outside? How does this feed into your work? 

Raquel Costa: That's a really interesting question! Especially when I was younger, I always saw myself as a really distracted person—which I was and still tend to be. I would pay attention to things that were interesting to me at the time for any particular reason but was very prone to tune out everything else, which is terrible in terms of gathering inspiration for creative work.

During that crisis period I mentioned earlier, I lost sight of that. Inspiration can come from anywhere, but you can’t just sit around and wait for it to hit you in the face. You have to be actively listening and searching for it.

This is not to say that you always have to be hyper-alert but it is good to cultivate a general sense of awareness. I've been practicing meditation for a few years and have been doing it more consistently lately because it has helped me stay grounded in mindful awareness. It helps remind me not to get lost in my own train of thoughts. The goal is to be receptive to what’s happening around me.

For example, while working on my picture book, I often noticed people passing in the street or in the supermarket, how they behaved or were dressed, how they walked, and what gestures they made. Anything can be interesting if you look at the world with childlike curiosity.

When you put yourself in that awareness state, you start noticing little things around you, whether it’s the way light fills up a room, fog circling the trees, or what a person is wearing and how it reflects their personality. If you want people to relate to your stories, you need to draw from life and the things that resonate with them. It's about finding interesting and fun ways to incorporate the little everyday experiences we all share as humans into that creative work. This way, you build a visual library of ideas, so when you need to create something in the future, that little bulb will light up! 

Raquel Costa:  How about you? You consistently practice sketching and drawing. What’s your source of motivation? When art becomes your job, it may be hard to keep the joy of creation from becoming a tedious chore, right?

Janos Gerasch: Yeah. When I was working in games, I still managed to produce personal work on the side and also keep the YouTube channel going. I eventually decided to leave because I was very burned out. Finally, after a one-on-one talk with my inner artist, I quit. I went to Korea to visit the SuperAni studio and met some THU friends there. Then I went to Paris to the Kim Jung Gi Museum in 2023. I realized there that I wanted to focus more on drawing again. I designed a schedule for myself and started to draw every day, prioritizing drawing from my imagination.


I wish I had learned this before I started, but oddly enough, it's not really taught on the mainstream learning platforms. I think that's one of the reasons people were so fascinated by Kim Jung Gi's work!


So, I currently draw for 3 hours a day, every day, with a topic in mind. I must have filled 6 sketchbooks over the last 10 months or so. I'm just in my happy zone right now. Sitting in front of the easel or enjoying drawing on my Sketchbook feels more like a diary entry of my emotions and my inner self.

Raquel Costa: Yeah, just trying to enjoy the journey and not be super in control of the direction!

Janos Gerasch: My mom became a painter when she was 40, so you never know what's around the corner.

Raquel Costa: I think it's vital that you keep challenging yourself. We humans get too comfortable with what we already know. If you want to evolve, grow, and be a better problem solver, you must put yourself out of that comfort zone and be receptive to those surprises.

My final question to you: You mentioned that your artistic practice was tied to an experience of work-related burnout at some point, and I think it's an important topic to mention. Everyone faces periods of extreme stress and pressure at some point, and it's easier to fall down that slippery slope. What would you say was a good strategy to pull yourself out of it, recover, and avoid it in the future?

Janos Gerasch: First, you must recognize that you work too much. Although overworking is ingrained in our culture, too much of anything is never good. The keyword is balance. When I get into work mode, I sometimes tend to shut myself off from everyone. Being successful is great, but no money can make up for losing people you love. I think we always need to put things in perspective. 

Raquel Costa: Yeah, we definitely have to stop glorifying overwork. No dream job will be a dream forever. It will become a nightmare if it puts you in that state of pressure.

Janos Gerasch: did you experience something like that?

Raquel Costa: I did, yes. I was working way more hours than I needed to, which circles back to what I mentioned earlier about prioritizing and organizing. I just wasn't looking very clearly at the bigger picture: “This fits here. And so this should fit there, and I will dedicate this amount of time to this and this amount of time to that”. I had a hard time planning my work-life balance. I burned myself out and eventually learned that change will not just come by itself. You have to be active and intentional about it. We are creatures of habits and like to do things the way we’re used to. It can be challenging.