Lots of cool stuff going on the past few weeks leaving me wishing I was at least ten thousand times better at what I do. Last time I did this, some people seemed to pick up on some stuff they hadn’t seen which is great! Hope that can continue!
X-Men: The Animated Series (1994)
In prep for Day of Future Past, I’ve been re watching the X-Men cartoon of the 90’s. Nothing new to me, but certainly in a new perspective as I haven’t seen in a handful of years. The X-Men in general are super inspiring from a story and ethical point of view, but the artwork in the cartoon, and comics, the design of it all, and a whole damn world created. You can really consider each main mutant (X-Men or otherwise) as a design that can be broken down to unique fundamentals and represented in one quick figure, color combination, power, etc. Of course this takes years to create and master, but I really hope I can someday contribute just a bit to a world of my own.
Grant Morrison’s New X-Men: Omnibus
Oh man. The Holy Grail. Years ago my brother bought me the first book of New X-Men and I did certainly enjoy it, but that was almost.. 10 years ago now. My appreciation for story telling, artwork, and a well designed book has easily quintupled. With artwork done by my favorite Frank Quitely, this things a powerhouse. Sure I can’t keep it on my lap for more than 10 minutes without losing feeling in my toes (its about 10 pounds) but it’s definitely a library of inspiration.
Past few months I’ve been back at it, seeing the sun, getting outside, and playing on (and eating) concrete. Summer’s here and I think it inspires us more than we know. Just moving around freely on a skateboard, seeing how much more there is to do with your body than you expect.. everything, it really takes you home at night after a long day of skating with a new drive of motivation.
Keith Haring x Habitat Skateboards
Alright so the boards too small. I normally ride an 8-5/8” but this is 8-1/4” but damn is it beautiful. Nice to see more collaborating on in skateboarding. Not that it’s never been done before, because it has. Skateboarding and art have gone hand in hand since day one, but this line of boards really seems premium, from an all over vinyl print on the top of the board, and the beautiful and powerful illustration work on the bottom as always from Keith Haring, these boards are a work of art in themselves and remind you that we can print on more than just paper and web.
Here’s some very cool background art that any cartoon modern fan can appreciate. Props to Brenden Small for creating a cartoon with bare minimum production value. Despite it’s somewhat.. unsightly animation, the show does an awesome job with this sort of retroscripted style full of stumbles and mistakes making it a real cartoon. Showing polished isn’t always the best. Something you can laugh at, identify with, and enjoy. Not to mention the artwork is totally abstract and fucked. Right up my ally!
I’ve just finished ‘The Art and Flair of Mary Blair' The past week and while I can't say it's blown my mind in any way. But her story is interesting. It's always cool to remember that a lot of what I'm inspired by is real, traditional painting with dry gouache brushes. These are the styles I try to mimic with my stuff and it's important to remember where and why they came about. Reading her story has certainly reminded me that success can come at anytime in your life and there are SO many project out there ready to be tackled more than just editorial illustrations.
This dude’s the paper kraft king. I don’t know if there’s anyone around that I like more. Then again, I don’t really know much about krafts but this dude kills it. He brings a graphic design background into these 3d objects that you can now build on your own for 20 bucks. I got this killer screen printed 3D poster of Shredder (printed by Mama’s Sauce). Thanks for making something unique I can hang on my wall and take down and spin and turn every so often. Now you gotta do something that can hang from a string in the middle of room, homie!
Ikea’s minimal & clever approach
I try to live my life simply in a lot of ways. Yes, definitely my geeky background clashes with that. I have complex scripts running on my computer, absurd organization going on all over the house, super duper picky and specific rituals I do each day, but I also try very hard to live simple in many many ways. I ditched my big giant sectional couch for something from Ikea in it’s place. The design of this is what’s made my life easier. Compartments for storage, easy to turn into a bed, lower profile, easier to clean, etc. Everything about this choice has made my life easier. Let’s remember if something’s bothering us, we get rid of it or fix it. The biggest loser is someone who sits there and wallows in their own problems.
Workmob and I worked together to bring their brand to life with what is now this clever little fox mascot. Lots of thought has gone into his creation and I thought I’d share some of the process both in thought and creation. Keeping things very informal and non technical. The mindset is always if in doubt, take it out. These are some of the steps I take when creating a character.
First the brief I received, then I’ll talk about my points of focus and try to break it down a bit. The client needed a character to not only represent their company, but become a companion to their customers. What WorkMob does is pair freelance developers with employers and projects. The mascot’s job is to inject life to the company, stand strong by the freelancers side, and make sure the freelancers are getting only the best work that’s matched up specifically for them, acting as a bouncer for any unfitting projects.
What story is our mascot telling? How will he help tell WorkMob’s story? The initial suggestion and assumption was a human mascot at which point I thought, ‘Gross’. I wanted the mascot to have the ability to be tough and sly when needed when standing up for the freelancers, but friendly, protective, and even cute when he’s being the buddy. Think a mobster. They can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy. That best friend element was missing when thinking human to me. In my opinion, human mascots are best left for bratz dolls and other tacky things of the like. No offense bratz or limp bizkit. But really. An animal told a more interesting story in this case. We decided on a fox, dressed up in his pinstripe suit. He fit the mold pretty perfect. Sly, protective in nature, handsome, cuddly at times, and with great properties like a tail we can play with a lot, a big head, ears. It was a great playground for a design.
As with anything we create, it must be visually appealing. As much as this was an illustration project, it also had a lot of design and problem solving components. Taking proportion, color and shape/silhouette and designing as I would a logo. The mascot needs to be unique enough that he’s recognizable in different environments, small, large, monotone, you get it. So with Foxy (let’s just call him Foxy for now) we relied a lot on the things that made a fox a fox. That was: his big head shape, ears, scruffy fur, and dominant poofy tail. Bright orange and a creme white worked out great and a big tail and big head contrasted by a thin, confident body.
There’s nothing more intimidating than starting a project. First step’s first, start sketching. It never comes out amazing but it gets the thoughts out of your head. I hadn’t even drawn a fox in a while so I had to start with that. Drawing foxes, discovering what made them unique in the Animal Kingdom. In my work, I’m never striving for hyper realistic drawings. They are iconic representations. So it’s good to rely on the peculiar bits. Think Mickey Mouse and his tail, gloves, and of course ears. These are the things that make Mickey… Mickey.
So remember, the mascot has to inherit design fundamentals and be easily recognizable as unique.
Does the fox fit the company’s philosophy? I think so. That was certainly something I took into consideration while creating. I think this is something more to just.. keep in mind rather than worrying too much. Just try to understand what the client wants to portray and how they operate. How does the product actually work, what is their focus?
The online app has a very clean, crisp, interface and aesthetic so I wanted to keep Foxy simple with splashes of intensity. His suit is subtle and classy, like most of him, but his tie can be bright and colorful to fit the UI. It wouldn’t make sense for him to have a tie-dye shirt, or flames coming from his hands.
WorkMob has a loyal relationship with both their freelancers, along with the people paying them. They protect their clients and give them only the best matchups. A fox is a loyal, protective animal by nature, so he fit’s great. They can be sly elegant and beautiful, but scary attacking creatures if need be.
Like a logo, Foxy is going to be the face of the product. He will be on the app to guide users along, giving tips, saying hi, bye, etc. He’s also likely going to be on shirts, icons, badges, social media, etc. Perhaps he’ll be animated in a video to explain how the product works. How about during the Holiday season when we want to dress him up as Santa Claus?
I always try to keep these things in mind. In this tech startup industry, people need things done quick and if he was a highly rendered, furry animal with all kinds of sharp teeth, and stitching in his clothes, we’d have a difficult time redrawing him for all the occasions above. Especially if those tight details were what I relied on as his creator. Changing Foxy from a sitting to standing position will be easy enough with his current build because he’s simple. Black legs, arms, some orange balls for hands.
In fact while creating, I was sure to break down the working model into a very simple almost iconic version every once in a while to make sure he was still unique without all the shading, highlights, and fuzzies. It’s good to keep that in check or you’re going to be spending a long time drawing him in a santa suit. That’s not to say detail isn’t great. Foxy could very easily be hand painted with immense detail and still hold his essence. Let’s again look back to Mickey Mouse, he’s drawn in soooo many different ways but his circular ears, red shorts, and giant shoes / gloves are what make him Mickey.
Digging into a character’s soul is not easy. And for this particular project, it was even more difficult because there was a time line we had to stick with. There’s always a fine line of getting it done, and making it perfect. Some of the best feedback I received from the client was that he seemed a little lifeless, too cold. This was solved primarily with a simple change of the eyes. Giving him some detail, glare, etc really brought him to life and made him someone you can trust and connect with. He looks significantly more trustworthy now. You can actually look into him and at least begin to create your own story of what he has been through, what he does, and what his intentions are.
Even after the jitters are out, there’s a lot of refining and revisions to go through. I started with a bit of a menacing look, with a bat and terrible attitude. The original briefing from the client left me thinking they wanted something sort of ‘badass’. I had misunderstood and we softened the sweet thing up a bit. Next issue was, like we talked about, lifeless eyes. Then too many angles, not enough. Like anything, it’s best to keep saving new versions, comparing, sleeping on it, and getting some feedback to see what qualities are working towards your initial goal and what aren’t.
Understand the brief, why are you creating this guy or girl? What makes sense? Male? Female? Animal? Spaceman? Figure it out. Try lots of things. Try to take it as linearly as possible. Once you get your subject matter start sketching, see what is going to make this character a unique design. Refine, refine, refine. The mindset is always: if in doubt, take it out. Come up with something both you and your client are happy with.
Hope this was helpful. It’s by no means a definitive guide, but perhaps will give you an idea of at least how I try to approach my work. Organizing my thoughts just on paper for this blog post has helped me realize what worked in my process, what I could pay better attention to, and what totally sucked. So, I’ll continue to post these for myself and you guys. Feel free to keep up on twitter to know when more posts are coming. Or if you’re feeling real saucy, subscribe to my newsletter. Eventually I’ll email you when I see it necessary.
In my ‘Introversion' blog posts, I am sharing the designs I've created over the past couple weeks that don't get as much attention from me or possibly others, but are equally as important as the sexier, more 'liked' pieces.
My goal here is to show that not everything we do will be an explosion of hearts and retweets or even necessarily something we’re proud of. But we do it with our best foot forward and by staying at it, taking the good with the bad, and iterating on mistakes, we excel.
Now, I don’t dislike popularity. I’m actually guilty of posting primarily the things I’m most proud of and hoping it gets likes on dribbble. I just also watch myself do a lot of work and have it be placed aside. These are all bits of work that progress us forward to the next stage or solve an important problem. We’ve all made our share of landing pages that is are little too sales driven to be showing off, but sell the fuck of out the product. Hell sometimes there’s just too much stuff to share.
There’s a lot to respect in keeping work to yourself, that’s how I spent the first year or so while learning, sharing nothing and just getting better. I’m experimenting here with the idea that the opposite can also be helpful. Both for myself, and hopefully the reader.
Now, this is my first post of this type, so it will be a bit backlogged. But I’m going to try to keep it recent anyway.
Every week my brother releases a new song online for free and I’ve been doing quick (3-4 hour) cover arts for each. I generally don’t get a chance to share them because of their quick nature, but some of these I’m really happy with the result. Collaborating with Prez’s insightful and honest feedback is a dynamic that keeps me improving week to week.
Solving issues is awesome when things are going good, and very rewarding when they’re difficult to crack. With Wagepoint, we have a few apps that are either being designed from ground up by myself, or fixed up / redesigned with better usability in mind. Here’s the onboarding process for our flagship online software ‘Pay’. We want the onboarding as smooth, fun, and easy to understand as possible so we used a simple on screen guide to get them set up. The guide is required to be completed (no action, just reading) and only takes about 45 seconds if you’re reading real carefully. It’s proven to be very helpful so far.
Every so often someone will need a quick illustration for a blog post, usually the deadlines are about… yesterday. So the frustration is obvious, but the takeaway is great; learning to come up with clever, quick, and easy illustrations that can represent what the article is talking about.
Alright, so there’s the first week of Introversion, my blog post that focuses on the projects that may have been missed for any number of reasons, but are still fundamental building blocks in the perfection we strive to never achieve. I’ll continue to post these every couple of weeks so if you’re interested, follow along on twitter and you’ll see when they get posted.
More often than I expected, I’m asked what inspires me and my style as an illustrator. I’ve decided to add another routine blog category called ‘Inspired’. Hopefully this will serve both the resource-ers (you, me) and resource-ees (the people that I will credit and link to) to help keep freshly inspired and discovered. Feel free to skip down to the books and artists if you’re sick of reading yet.
Because this is the first post of it’s kind, I’d like to take a second to talk about what inspires me in general in my work. I grew up on comic books, cartoons, and anime thanks to my brothers. It started with the ninja turtles, I can remember long flowy bandanas and a lot of rough jagged angles in their shapes. It moved to Batman and Spawns’ giant capes and just exploded from there in the comic book world. I’ve always loved absurdities in art that don’t always make physical sense. I think that’s where a lot of my wonky perspective comes from. My rule of thumb has always been to learn the rules (shit i said rules twice..gotta be a rule against that in writing) so that I can break them the correct way. As I got older and more into graphic design and animation as a whole, I started finding that the old vintage disney stuff struck a nerve. The whole mid century era of simplicity just seemed so refreshing and relevant in principle today.
When I think of the term ‘Mid Century Modern’, first I think I’m a guy that wishes he was cooler than he is, dropping cool-guy terms like that. But then I think, essentials. Not over simplicity or minimal or anything, but essential. The 1930’s-1960’s (super roughly) had a breakthrough that showed such courage and new ways of thinking.. that really dated back to the basics. Why draw a thousand lines to make a tomato when you can just draw a red circle with some green on top? Change that to brown, ditch the green and its a potato. Widen it out, put 4 lines, make it orange, put that green back and its a pumpkin. Same applies to the characters. Does the character have a trumpet in his hand? why not just make his hands into a trumpet. It’s implied he’s holding it, right? This is when illustration started taking the form of design and learning from design principles to really portrait a thought and tell a story as simply and out of the way as possible.
Now, I’m not sure if any of that is actually true, but it’s a lot of what I take away from the era and it’s even more of the inspiration I take. I’ve got a book here called Cartoon Modern that has been a great resource for some proper education of the period. It’s teaching me the real principles and history of what I just made up in the previous paragraph. The visuals are stunning and it fits in great with all the other Chronicle books I’ve got here like the Art of Pixar stuff.
On trend of Mid Century, I’ve got some old cook books I’ve found in a combination of old flea markets, ebay, etsy, and friends giving them to me. Actually some of these are from a little dumpster diving as well. Best case I’m able to find something that you couldn’t buy on amazon anymore and is rare, undiscovered inspiration. This cookbook I just got on ebay is probably one of my best finds yet. It’s got over 400 color illustrations in it, every one totally unique and fucking absurd. It’s called The Fireside Cookbook and it’s illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. I found it cheap about $10 but it’s worth whatever you gotta pay.
One more book that’s in current rotation is The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design. It’s a book my brother got for me for christmas that I’ve only now gotten around to start reading. It’s teaching me a lot about something I’ve had a really difficult time getting the hang of, backgrounds. Making them simple and ambiguous enough as to not detract from the main focus. The principals come from animation. We all remember the Wile E Coyote episodes and certainly can recall the landscape desert backgrounds, but for sure the more prominent things were the acme explosives, the purple road runner, and the red rocket rollerblades on the coyote. This is a great example of supporting the scene, without taking away from the story. I’m very excited to continue reading and learning about this philosophy. At the very least it’s filled cover to cover with full color beautiful sketches and illustrations.
Moving to a new direction - Lately I’ve been focusing on appreciating others’ work more than my own. A few years ago I was someone who always said they’d never have someone else’s work on their wall. That was because I was sort of an idiot, and also because I hadn’t had the chance yet to realize I can’t make everything. I was hot headed. I thought I was amazing at art. But I didn’t have the opportunity to even try to suck yet. Once I started opening up and learning to bomb, I began to appreciate others and found inspiration in diversity. Even if I was amazing at what I do (I’m not) then I still wouldn’t be able to create something so diverse week to week to keep my workplace looking great. That’s why I’ve started buying prints small and large from people like Scotty Reifsnyder, Lydia Nichols, and Brian Edward Miller. There’s more but let’s focus on them for this post.
Most recent in the mail I’ve gotten this beautiful print from Lydia Nichols that has really inspired made me happy. She’s got so many things to her work that mine never will, but it’s something i’ve been focusing on for a few months, and that’s simplicity. There so much to learn from this eagle print. It’s important to note and remember, if in doubt, take it out. She’s got about 3 colors here, and maybe 5 shapes but the way shes organized them creates an absolute unique illustration that’s perfectly identifiable, but completely abstract on it’s own. The package came with some fun goodies and a doodle on the envelope, nothing but great presentation all around. Check out her shop and pick something up.
I’ve also got a print from Scotty coming in the mail soon that’s going to have me drooling. The best way to learn from this is to probably get in his skillshare course here. He does a damn good job teaching you how and why he creates the things he does. He’s got storytelling down to a science. I do wish the class was longer but for the price it’s absolutely worth it. He teaches you the technical know how of designing with all of these sort of styles in mind and keeping illustrations uniform to each other in their own set.
I’ve got a whole lot more to show right now but I want to get this out the door, see how it goes, get feedback, and continue to post these every 2 weeks or so. I try to find unique things that aren’t always intended for illustrators, keeping my eyes open whether it be hikes with my girlfriend and her dog, the way ice hockey players skate on the ice, or the shapes of the skate park down the street.
I’ll continue to find books, pictures, artists, and other things to share that can help us all along so if you’re interested you can sign up below and I might email you every month or two about what’s cool. If that’s too much of a commitment, just follow along on twitter.