When you work a story into your eye candy filled design or illustration something becomes possible that otherwise would not have: you get a chance to really touch the viewer.
I’ve asked two of my favourite up and coming designer/illustrators to talk to me about mixed media illustration, specifically about the importance of telling a visual story with your pieces and what makes them tick. I’ve highlighted some of their best pieces and asked them to explain the deeper meaning behind them.
This multi person interview is a new type article on Designfeedr, if you want more of this stuff you know what to do, comment and let me know!
Thanks for taking the time to do this feature article. For starters please introduce yourself to the readers.
First, a big thanks to designfeedr for having Kode and I for this little dialog. My name is Anthony Harmon, I’m 25 and currently living in San Diego, California. I surf, snowboard, fly fish, eat a ton of chile relleno burritos, do my best to stay up on the latest discoveries with science, enjoy philosophy and discussions revolving around consciousness and claim The Big Lebowski as my all time favorite movie.
Names kode, I’m 23 from melbourne australia i run the company BossLogic. I have been a graphic designer well over 5 years now but I’m also studying Communication design and photography to expand my skill set.
It seems the line between design, illustration and art keeps on blurring. Blogs are calling illustrations “designs”, illustrators are referring to themselves as artists and artists are suddenly all over design sites. What is your take on this?
I think a distinction in language is important especially from the artist/client perspective. There needs to be a mutual understanding of what the client is asking for and what he/she should expect from an artist. That being said, I think this “blurring” of terminology is stemming largely from the fact that many artists, illustrators and designers are themselves putting their hands in several creative cookie jars. The dynamic flexibility offered in today’s applications lends itself to experimentation and the crossing of creative fields. It’s a natural and necessary progression that is/will continue to produce fresh approaches to design.
I agree with Anthony on this though I also believe that clients need direction at times and as designers and creative minds we should listen and paint the picture of their image, be that design, illustration or anything in between. That way we can go from pitching to actually producing.
New illustrators often focus solely on style and forget to imbue a piece with a concept or story. What advice can you give in this respect?
That’s where I found myself when I started. These days I can only do design if it means something to me or the person viewing it. Style is what divides us from other artists but I can’t do a piece anymore without incorporating it with story.
My advice is that eye candy design is great to look at but with a story behind it you’ll feel something which puts the work on a whole other level.
I think lots of people view coming up with a concept as the expendable cherry on top while it’s actually the essential foundation for any successful piece to stand on. I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of aesthetically rich pieces without a concept, but when we “separate the men from the boys” the great designers consider every aspect of a design. The concept ties a piece together. It stitches the individual elements into one cohesive piece. It gives a sense of richness and completeness sometimes even on a subconscious level.
Getting into the habit of coming up with a concept as part of the initial design process will pay off in spades as you progress as an artist. It’s something that won’t go away and is certainly worth your effort, so do it!
Once you’ve found the inspiration for a new piece how do you proceed to flesh the concept out?
I’ll usually start with a very rough compositional sketch. Then I spend hours upon mind numbing hours searching for good quality stock photography (the fun part!). Next I crop out the elements of each image I’m going to use (the other fun part!). I then put the piece together layer by layer like a delicious 7 layer bean dip. After that I work on blending, the lighting and end with coloring and color correction.
See, Pen and paper for the win :) I too always start with my best friends the sketchbook and the pen. I basically draw out what I call blueprints, kind of like how movie makers do story boards. I then get the resources I can find online and bring out my Canon 5D MKII for the ones I can’t find.
What is the one piece of advice you’d like to give struggling illustrators? Struggling how?
I know they’ve have heard it a million times before but don’t give up if you love doing it. Trial and error is what makes you great in the end, even if you keep getting bad feedback on your work build off that point and challenge yourself to do better on your next project. I have done hundreds of pieces I didn’t like in the end but still learnt a lot from since trial and error is key.
If you are struggling for ideas, can’t quite get things to look the way you want or are feeling plum out of creative juices (no pun intended) it may be time for a break. I have days where I’m so utterly upside down in what I’m doing that I drastically overwork a piece or waste hours upon hours “polishing a turd”. Sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back, take your mind off of art and go do something that makes you happy. Sometimes I drop everything and go surfing for an hour or two, come back and gasp at the monstrosity I thought was a stroke of genius hours earlier. Take a break and come back to it later.
How important are trends in design and illustration? In your opinion does embracing the hot new thing as it comes along get you more exposure or can it actually work against you?
I think trends are an inescapable part of anything creative and they have their place and value. Trends help to propel the industry forward particularly from the consumer stand point. Personally I enjoy keeping tabs on the mainstream circuit. Experimenting with popular techniques and aesthetics keeps me in touch with what I am often asked to produce from clients. I see it as another trick in my bag, but am careful to not become absorbed or lose track of personal style. Depending on how you walk the fine line, trends can either put you in the lime light or sink your battle ship. Watch yar step mateys.
Exactly. It’s a double edge sword, you can get exposure out of it or you can be labeled a trend follower. In my opinion it’s the trend setters that shine in the end.
Fast forward five years into the future: What will illustration be like and how will you have adopted to this?
I think we are on the cusp of some serious revelations within the world of technology. I’ve been seeing more and more on the multi-touch screens that Microsoft claims will replace the need for keyboards and mice. Obviously this would open up a pandora’s box for software developers everywhere. I foresee much more hands on, interactive, animated design taking the front lines. I hope the good people at Adobe are having some serious brainstorming sessions as how to best utilize something like this.
A lot of designers are converting to 3D which is seeing more and more use. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just that it will possibly be what design is in five years.
Thanks for the time guys. Be sure to check out the portfolios of both Kode Abdo and Anthony Harmon.