San Antonio native, Rafael Gonzales was looking for a creative outlet while he was at home during quarantine with his wife and five-year-old daughter. Gonzales, a self-taught graphic artist, turned to his art and created an illustration of COVID-19 based on a traditional lotería card. He called his card La CabRONA, and this is where his pandemic success story began.
What started as a way to de-stress after working long days at home as a lab manager for Incarnate Word University, has turned Gonzales into somewhat of a celebrity. He has been mentioned by the likes of Oprah, and Texas Monthly. He even has a feature in Italian Vogue coming out soon.
I caught up with Gonzales to talk about his art, success, and what comes next.
How did Pandemic Lotería begin?
It didn’t start as trying to make a whole lotería game; I was looking for a creative outlet because of everything going on right now. Lotería, in its original form, is very recognizable because it uses an image and text. I wanted to give the virus a name, and I used the image of the actual virus and named it La CabRONA. I called it that out of my frustration with everything that is going on right now. I set a goal to create a new image each day, and everything has snowballed from there.
How did people discover you?
When I began Pandemic Lotería, I had a whole backlog of ideas, and I worked pretty much 24/7 to create my art. I would slowly get them out on Instagram, and a local San Antonio newspaper saw my page and mentioned me. After that article came out, that is when people started discovering my art.
When you first started this project, did you think it would get this much attention?
Not at all. When this first started, it was a project for myself. I only had about 250 followers on Instagram that are friends and family. Previous to this, my biggest project had been a sticker that was sold in a local San Antonio shop.
What did it feel like to be mentioned in Texas Monthly
That was a big deal. My family has deep roots in Texas – my great, great, great grandfather fought in the Battle of the Alamo. When I found out about the article, I had to pinch myself. The same thing happened when I was mentioned in Oprah’s magazine – I told my wife that I should get to meet her now.
There are 54 images in a full lotería set – do you have that many?
At first, I had no intention of creating an actual lotería set. People kept asking for it, and I didn’t feel comfortable releasing anything until I had 31 images. I felt that if people were going to be playing lotería using my cards, they needed more images to make the randomization of the game better. I wanted to make sure they would enjoy their experience.
What merch do you have available centered around Pandemic Lotería?
I have t-shirts, mugs, and prints available through my Instagram page. I also did a pre-order of the Pandemic Lotería intending to print about 200 units. On the first day, we exceeded 600 sets. The support has been incredible.
How have you been balancing your time between your regular job and this new side hustle?
It has been hard, to be honest. I told my wife that if there is ever another pandemic and I have a grand idea – she shouldn’t let me do it. I work full-time at my regular job, so I work on this project in the afternoons, evenings, and I wake up early before my family to work, as well. We have launched a business from our home that we had no plans for.
Do you have more ideas for Pandemic Lotería?
I don’t think I have reached the end of this. I do have more ideas that I am working on, so I don’t want to put a hard deadline on my art. At some point, I will concentrate on other art away from lotería.