Ryan Kirby

Ryan Kirby - Snakebot

Ryan Kirby’s career as both an illustrator/designer and wildlife artist is a balancing act. He finds stability somewhere in between solving problems for clients like Popular Science, Outdoor Life and Field and Stream, and defining his own challenges through his fine art. Ryan took the time to answer a few questions for us about his work, education and life.

What’s your background? How did you get your start in illustration?

I’ve been drawing and painting since I was in elementary school, and my goal has always been to one day paint full time. But I also knew that once I graduated college, I would need some marketable skills to buy some time before I could paint. So I studied Graphic Design and Multimedia at Bradley University in Peoria, IL and graduated in 2005. I was a farm kid, and we didn’t have access to the software and Mac computers growing up, so college was my first experience with Photoshop, Illustrator, and any real form of print and digital media. I learned to apply my drawing and fine art skills to these programs, and did fairly well in school.

Upon graduation, I headed south of the Mason Dixon to Edgefield, SC to work for the National Wild Turkey Federation as a graphic artist and illustrator. I spent roughly seven years there learning print design, magazine production and editorial illustration. Those were good years, and I learned a lot. Eventually I started freelancing and painting on the side, always pushing myself and trying to learn new programs and techniques. Soon the freelance workload became heavy, and I had to make a decision whether to launch out on my own or stay an employee of someone else. I chose the former.

I’ve been on my own for three years now, and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s not always easy, and as a one man show you wear a lot of hats initially, but I thrive on challenge and love learning new things. Most of my clients are in the outdoor industry, and I primarily focus on print ad design, photography post-production work, illustration and wildlife art.

Ryan Kirby - Deer Anatomy

What’s your favorite subject matter or type of illustration?

The how-to hunting pieces are my favorite. I have a passion for the outdoors and really enjoy hunting and fishing. So to illustrate a hunting scenario that I’ve lived out in real life and help a magazine better communicate that concept with a reader, that’s something I enjoy tremendously. It’s one thing to enjoy the technical side and the creative process of illustrating or painting, but to actually care about the subject matter, that’s a whole new level of job fulfillment. And I feel it shows up in my work, which is why I’ve been successful in the outdoor arena.

Ryan Kirby - Target Shooting

What’s your process for a typical assignment?

Even with good scrap material and reference photos from a client, I always like to do some more research on my own. Most of my work starts the old fashioned way with pencil and paper. Once I get a rough sketch with potential, I’ll take a cell phone pic, email it to myself and from then on, it’s all digital. If I’m working in Illustrator on a technical piece, I’ll create vector art over the top of the sketch. My humorous work though is done 100% on paper and scanned in to create a digital file for the client. In this day and age, everything has to turn into a digital file at some point to send over to the client.

Ryan Kirby - ATV

What’s the relationship between your illustration work and your fine art?

There’s a dramatic difference in the way an illustration is created vs. a fine art piece, and the business side of things is run differently as well. But artistic principles like contrast, edges, focal points, composition, color, etc. apply to both fields. For example, when I want a hard edge on my subject matter in a painting, I paint a clean, hard line with contrasting values. When I want a hard edge on a vector illustration, I simply bump up the stroke width in Illustrator and choose contrasting colors. Same concept, two different ways of accomplishing it. And as with any great fine art piece or technical illustration, the more you can refine a subject down to it’s core essence, the more you simplify it, the more powerful the resulting image.

There are differences though. My illustration and graphic design work is done on a sketchpad and an iMac in my office. It’s clean, precise, orderly. My paintings are done in a separate painting studio. It’s messy, more chaotic, a little more of a mad-scientist atmosphere. In addition, the illustration and graphic design is a service industry, where I solve a client’s problems for a fee. The painting, on the other hand, is a hard good. It’s my own creation, and after I create it I have to find a way to market and sell the piece. It’s more of an entrepreneurial venture than sitting back and handling client requests.

I’ll always do a balanced workload of graphic design, illustration and fine art. But these days I’m shifting that balance to more fine art. There’s no client revising my work or limiting what I can and can’t do. I have more ownership of the creative process, and that’s important to me.

Ryan Kirby - Outdoor Life Cover Painting
Do you have any advice for illustrators just starting out?

Absolutely. As an illustrator or designer, you are in the business of solving problems. Your clients have problems that they need solutions to, and the level of problem you can solve for them will determine your level of success. For example, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn product photography and new illustration techniques, to understand branding and retail settings, and to craft powerful messages with copy and images. If something is beyond my reach, I seek advice or hire it out. The more problems you can solve effectively for your clients, the more valuable you are to them.

Also, be great to work with. Under-promise and over-deliver. Hit deadlines. Go over the top, not because someone asked you to, but simply because you wanted to see if you could do it. You can be the most talented illustrator in the world, but if you can’t hit a deadline or you’re a jerk to work with, clients will find somebody else. And always remember: emails are forwarded and what you put on Facebook lives forever.

Ryan’s illustration work can be found at RyanKirbyIllustration.com and his wildlife fine art at RyanKirbyArt.com

Vic Kulihin

Vic Kulihin - Space Shuttle

The vector illustrations of Vic Kulihin are fresh, bold and contemporary. So you might be surprised to learn that his freelance career began in 1988. Vic was kind enough to answer a few questions about how the industry has changed in that time and give a few tips on having a long and successful career.

What’s your background? How did you find your way into illustration?

I started out as an engineering major at Rutgers University, but graduated with a degree in art education (long story). After college I worked as a paste-up artist for a small ad agency, which folded not long after I started. I then found a position as a technical illustrator for Bell Laboratories. This was back in the day when we used airbrushes, technical pens, straight edges, French curves and typesetting machines. During my stint there these tools were gradually replaced with Macintosh II desktop computers using Adobe Illustrator 88 software.

After a decade I left Bell Labs to start my own freelance business. The timing was right. I was able to combine my work with being a stay-at-home dad for my baby daughter. At that time I focused on colored pencil illustration, but eventually gravitated back to the Mac and vector art.

Earlier in my career I took classes at Parsons, the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League of New York to make up for my lack of formal art training. I still take classes periodically, but the beauty of it nowadays is that they are readily available online.

Vic Kulihin - Shelves

What is your favorite subject matter or type of project?

Although I’ve had the opportunity to draw a great variety of things, I think my favorite subject matter has always involved mechanical devices…tools, machinery, that kind of thing. I enjoy creating assembly instructions, exploded diagrams, cutaways, schematic drawings (I think I’ve always been an engineer at heart).

Vic Kulihin - Electronics

What’s your process for a typical project?

I start with a thorough discussion of the project with the client: project specs, style, number of iterations of sketches/final art, timeframe, budget, etc. When the project involves a product I ask the client to supply me with reference photographs and, whenever practical, the actual product itself. For projects involving people I will often photograph live models and/or use software like Poser or DAZ.

I currently work on a Mac Pro with a 30” Apple Cinema Display; I also have a Wacom Intuos3 tablet that I use infrequently (oddly enough I feel most comfortable wielding a mouse). Software of choice is Adobe Illustrator.

Tools like Skype and GoToMeeting have allowed me to work closely and “in person” with clients globally, something I never would have envisioned when I first started out.

You market your services in a number of illustration directories. What has been your experience with that?

I find that of all the portfolio sites I use the majority of my work comes from three directories (theispot, Directory of Illustration, Workbook) and the assignments from these have covered the gamut of illustration. The income that results from these projects generally justifies the expenditure for these sites. I also periodically do a direct mailing campaign. Recently I’ve expanded my online visibility and interactions through social media such as Behance, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Vic Kulihin - Dirt Devil

You’ve been illustrating for 27 years, what do you think makes for a long and successful career?

The biggest challenge has been dealing with the “feast or famine” syndrome…drumming up business when things are slow, or trying to deal with the onslaught when things get very busy.

As for the future?… For some years it seemed like photographs and video were “where it’s at”. But I’ve noticed more recently a big increase in the use of illustration across media.

That’s great news for the likes of us!

Isometric Action Tutorial from Astute Graphics

Isometric Action Tutorial from Astute Graphics

Iaroslav Lazunov has a great isometric illustration tutorial for Adobe Illustrator on the Astute Graphics blog.

It’s similar to the scale-shear-rotate method we’ve talked about before. You start by drawing straight-on orthographic views of the top, front and side of the object, then distort each onto their respective isometric planes.

What’s cool about this technique is that it uses Graphic Styles to apply the distortion. This way the artwork stays dynamic, meaning you can edit the straight-on flat projections to update the isometric version. They also use Astute Graphics’ Phantasm plugin to apply shading to each plane at the same time.

This technique would be really handy if you had to create a large detailed locator map, especially if you might have to change the design of elements down the road.

Full disclosure: As a beta tester for Astute Graphics I receive complimentary products.

Isometric Illustration Libraries

Isometric Illustration Library - Workshop Lifting

Matt Jennings has been hard at work adding to his stock technical illustration component libraries [previously]. New libraries include Workshop – Lifting, Workshop – Automobile and Office Stationery. The illustrations look well constructed, have great line quality, and are super affordable at £7.50 to £10.00 ($12 to $15 USD). If you have a relevant project, these could save you a huge amount of time.

Isometric Illustration Library -  Auto Workshop  Isometric Illustration Library - Office Objects

Industrial Artworks Technical Libraries

Chris Philpot

Open any magazine on the newsstand and inside you’ll likely find an illustration by Chris Philpot. He creates humorous how-tos, conceptual illustrations, infographics and animations for some of the biggest and best, including TimeWired, Popular Science, Outside and Men’s Health .

I got in touch with Chris to ask him a few questions about his work, how he got his start in illustration, and what the future may hold.

Chris Philpot - City of the Future

What’s your background? How did you find your way into illustration?

I wanted to be an illustrator in high school but read articles from practicing illustrators predicting the demise of the profession. I decided I should get a degree in design to ensure a more stable income. That lead me to a job as an editorial art director for about 12 years. While I grew to enjoy design, I still really wanted to illustrate so I started freelancing on the side. Five years of moonlighting gave me enough of a base to make the switch. It was a scary transition, but my wife was incredibly supportive. I’ve been illustrating full time for the last six years. It’s been great. I make more money, have more autonomy and am much more fulfilled creatively.

Chris Philpot - Visual Quiz for Esquire

What are your favorite subjects or types of project?

A technical approach is surprisingly versatile. You can add a subtle joke to dry stories. You can take irreverent or taboo stories and make them presentable to polite society. You can take a really funny story and the art can play the role of the straight man. I read a lot of Gary Larson cartoons growing up and would turn every job into a one-panel Far Side cartoon if I could. My favorite types of projects involve subjects that are fun to draw like monsters, robots and octopuses.

Chris Philpot - Oculus Rift for TIME

Your style is really consistent, how important is that? How did you develop your aesthetic?

The consistency comes from a few places. Mostly, I need to produce a lot of work to meet my income requirements each month so the volume dictates a certain formula. I try to improve with each job. If a new technique works, I add it to the list of best practices. I’ve also found that art directors are coming to me for the work they see in my portfolio. If I send something too different they often direct me back to the look and feel of my portfolio (I still send in variations if I think they’re better.) I also use a lot of 3-D models for reference. That definitely adds to the consistency, especially in the proportions of people. I’m pretty lanky so using myself as reference wasn’t working out.

Chris Philpot - Humvee

What’s your process for a typical assignment? What hardware and software do you use?

I take the brief from the client and request any missing information like story details, budget and schedule. I try to get as close as possible to a final draft by the sketch deadline. It puts the art directors and editors at ease and I think everyone is more inclined to approve things. Revisions hurt profits and the end of the time line breeds a revise-happy anxiety. This is sometimes unavoidable of course.

Regarding software, I use a lot of inexpensive models from Daz3d and Turbosquid for reference when I can and trace the renderings out of Poser or Blender with Illustrator. For hardware, I buy a top-of-the-line iMac every 4 years and use a Wacom intuos4. The tablet was the single best addition to my work flow. I’m not sure how I ever drew with a mouse.

Animation started in Flash but is now done exclusively with After Effects.

What challenges have you faced in your career? What opportunities do you see for the future?

Transitioning from a full-time job to full-time freelancer was a challenge. I worked a lot before going to the office, during lunch breaks and after I got home. Now my biggest issue is working from home with three kids. I love being available for them and I need to be productive so it’s a balancing act sometimes.

There are always opportunities for illustrators to pitch or generate their own content. When the iPad came out, everyone in the editorial world started experimenting with video for the app version of their magazines. I’ve always toyed with motion so it was a good opportunity to try something. The business etiquette series for Entrepreneur magazine (written by Esquire Articles Editor Ross McCammon) was supposed to be a simple illustration with some movement. I asked if I could take on the larger sidebar and to their credit they let me try. Once the longer video was approved they agreed to a fee I proposed. I asked a friend and former coworker Tyrrell Cummings if he would help me with the storyboards. It came together nicely and we’ve done a one-to-two minute short video each month for the last three years.

Chris Philpot - Speed Data for Car and Driver

You’ve worked with some of the biggest and best clients. Any tips for illustrators starting out?

It was uncomfortable at first, but I put myself out there with an online portfolio and 4 x 6 postcards. I was turned down by representatives so I had to go it alone. The initial images were primitive. I did jobs for friends and for the in-flight magazine I worked for at the time. That gave me enough of a portfolio on which to build.

If you’re starting out, just keep producing the work you’re excited about and make it visible. Keep updating it. The days add up, and if you stay active you’ll get somewhere. I didn’t enjoy instant gratification but I did get eventual gratification.

 

Chris’ work can be found at ChrisPhilpot.com

Isometric Cutaway Infographic Walkthrough

Isometric Cutaway Infographic Tutorial

Ninian Carter has put together another a great step-by-step of his isometric illustration process, this time of a tomb dating back to the era of Alexander the Great. Like his isometric aircraft illustration, he makes great use of the Scale-Shear-Rotate technique. The Live Traced textures really bring this one to life!

The illustrated elements were then taken into Adobe Edge to add some animation and interactivity.

Thanks for sharing, Ninian!

Cutaways on Tumblr

Subaru Levorg Cutaway
CUTAWAYS on Tumblr is just that—and endlessly-scrolling gallery of automotive cutaways and ghosted illustrations. Some are new, some old, some good, some bad, but still quite an impressive collection. Sadly, most are missing credit to their respective creators.

Honda S2000 Cutaway Illustration

Honda Civic CVCC Cutaway Illustration

McLaren F1 Owner’s Manual

Mark Roberts, Design Operations Manager at McLaren, reflects on his technical illustration work for the owner’s manual for the revolutionary McLaren F1.

It’s really inspiring to see a company take it beyond technical documentation to something of a brand statement or a collector’s item. Something you’d put on a shelf or frame rather than leave in the glove box.

(via Clint Ford)

Adobe Updates Mobile App Lineup

Drawing made with Adobe Illustrator Line on iPad

Drawing made with Adobe Illustrator Line on iPad

At its Adobe MAX conference today, the company has announced new features for its iPhone and iPad app offering. Potentially of interest to tech illustrators are:

  • Illustrator Line Create vector sketches freehand or with the help of a selection of shape guides and axonometric, isometric, or two-point perspective grids. Work can be brought into Illustrator CC or Photoshop CC via Creative Cloud.  [Video]
  • Shape CC Auto-traces photos captured with your device’s camera, creating vector artwork for use in Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC or Illustrator Draw. [Video]
  • Color CC Generate color palettes from photos, then mix, edit and sync via Adobe Color service. [Video]

All apps are free, but require a registration for a free Creative Cloud membership.

Do you use mobile apps in your creative process? Does professional work require a desktop? Sound off in the comments!