SpaceX

SpaceX has some great technical illustrations on their website, showcasing the design and features of their current and future spacecraft.

SpaceX Falcon 9

SpaceX Falcon Heavy

SpaceX Dragon

I especially like the use of scrolling animation on the Dragon page. It’s so simple and intuitive, using static artwork and a little bit code to create subtle movement that grabs the eye and really helps tell the story.

MacBook Redesign Video

Yesterday’s post reminded me of this video about the redesign of the Apple MacBook released last year. This one is a bit more informative in tone and has some great visualizations of otherwise invisible features, the pressure-sensitive trackpad, for example.

This really shows the selling power of information.

Microsoft Surface Studio Commercial

This promo video for the just-announced Microsoft Surface Studio really caught my eye, beyond the hardware itself and what it could do in the hands of a tech illustrator. Watch starting at 0:25 at 0.25x speed. It’s not the most informational example of technical communication, but it certainly makes you marvel at the precision and sophistication of the product’s design and assembly beyond what the consumer would normally see.

Hans Jenssen

Millenium Falcon Cutaway - Hans Jenssen

Millenium Falcon Cutaway – Hans Jenssen

Hans Jenssen is a UK-based technical illustrator with over 30 years of experience. He is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Richard Chasemore on the Star Wars Incredible Cross-Sections series of books. He continues to use traditional methods and materials, pencil, pen, gouache and acrylic paints to create his intricate, accurate and textural images. He is currently working on a new collaboration with illustrator John Mullaney about the Halo video game franchise. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

What brought you to the field of technical illustration?
Simple! As a kid I loved drawing and I loved comics like Eagle and Look and Learn here in the UK which featured colour cutaway illustrations. I was always trying to copy them and create my own so becoming a technical illustrator was probably inevitable.

Cutaway Illustration by Walkden Fisher for Eagle Comics

Ferrari Testa Rossa cutaway illustration by Walkden Fisher for Eagle Comics, 1959

How did you get started with Dorling Kindersley (DK Books)?
I was represented for quite a few years by the Virgil Pomfret Illustration agency who got me my first job with DK back in the early 90s. It was a good break for both of us as DK kept me so busy all Virgil had to do for a few years was write an invoice now and again. At first I worked on a series called Look Inside Cross-Sections based on the hugely successful Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-Sections. I did three titles and this was when I met Richard Chasemore who also worked on the series and with whom I later collaborated on all the Star Wars books and a very successful advertising campaign for United Technologies in the USA.

Rescue Helicopter Cutaway - Hans Jenssen

Rescue Helicopter Cutaway for the United Technologies campaign – Hans Jenssen

Any unique challenges/experiences working on the Star Wars books?
Gosh, where do I start? Star Wars, with its legions of fans was quite a prospect. When we first started, (working with author David West Reynolds who at the time had a day job at Lucasfilm) we were treading very carefully. Using old reference which clearly hadn’t been very carefully thought through and different sources which often contradicted each other created many challenges. Where there were gaps in the reference we were able to create new technology and machinery and Lucasfilm were so pleased with the results that we were soon redesigning and re-imagining other parts of ships’ interiors to try to make coherent systems which logically explained the abilities of each craft. Parts which were seen in the movies were of course drawn and painted as accurately as possible, right down to the scratches on the paint in many cases.

AT-AT - Hans Jenssen

AT-AT – Hans Jenssen

Skywalker Homestead Cutaway - Hans Jenssen


Skywalker Homestead Cutaway – Hans Jenssen

What changes or challenges have you faced in your career? What opportunities do you see for the future?
Well, of course, since I started there has been a digital revolution. I personally have never really taken to the computer as a means of creating art but I am the first to acknowledge there are plenty of super-talented digital artists out there who do incredible work. But for me, one of the things I love most about my work is the physical connection between pen and paper, pushing paint around until things look just right, and being able to look at the physical artwork and see the colours, the texture of the paint, the linework, all done by hand. That is such a huge part of the joy for me. Of course, in the old days if you made a mistake, you could be in a whole mess of trouble whereas now with modern digital retouching, no sweat! Of course my stubborn refusal to let go of traditional media does make me somewhat niche in this digital age but I still think there’s no substitute for ink and paint when creating the kind of richly textured colour illustrations I specialize in and thankfully there’s still some work out there. As long as there’s work and my eyesight holds out, I’ll keep going!

 Work-in-Progress - Hans Jenssen

Work-in-Progress – Hans Jenssen

 Work-in-Progress - Hans Jenssen

Work-in-Progress – Hans Jenssen

Do you have a dream project? Any subject matter that you’d love to illustrate?
If I could choose one thing to illustrate, it would be one (or all!) of the giant Russian civilian and military Ekranoplans from the 1960’s and ’70’s. Ever seen the “Caspian Sea Monster”? Getting reference might be a bit tricky but that would be a dream project.

MD-160 "Caspian Sea Monster"

MD-160 “Caspian Sea Monster”

Do you have any advice for new illustrators or students?
It may be a cliche, but I am always reminded of a Q&A Richard and I did in America some time ago when a young chap asked, “How did you get so lucky that you got to work on Star Wars?” Rich answered, “I’ve always found that the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

P-51 Mustang Cutaway - Hans Jenssen

P-51 Mustang Cutaway – Hans Jenssen

See more of Hans’ work at his website and be sure to check out his cutaway illustration process.

John Hartman

John Hartman is a technical and scientific illustrator who seamlessly blends traditional media with 3D and digital techniques to create  images that are fresh and contemporary, yet warm and inviting. His work can be seen regularly in Fine Woodworking, Woodcraft, Fine Home Building and more. John agreed to answer a few questions about his work and career.

John Hartman - Paslode Nail Gun

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

It’s a long story but here it is in a nut-shell. I have always been interested in drawing and painting. My early education was in fine art. I also found technical illustrations like those in Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and Fine Woodworking inspiring and they appealed to my interest in art, science and technology. Since my school days predated the personal computer, technical illustration was being created strictly by hand. As a student I was impatient, rebellious and seeing how fastidious hand drafting and airbrush painting was I decided to go another route and become a fine artist.

I found myself living in Brooklyn, working odd jobs to pay the rent. Being a starving artist wasn’t for me so I decided to learn a trade. I also had an interest in music as well as art so I re-educated myself as a piano technician. Fast forward a few decades and I am running my own business rebuilding grand pianos. Knowing of my art background the editor of the Piano Technician’s Journal, the trade magazine for people who tune and repair pianos, asked me to come on board as their illustrator. I spent the next six years teaching myself technical illustration. Starting with traditional hand methods and eventually developing digital techniques that emulate the handmade artwork I loved in my youth.

The pianos are now gone and I am working full time as a freelance illustrator. I’ve converted part of the piano shop into my studio, and have kept the woodworking shop as my man cave. I love this work and wish I would have started earlier. There’s a lesson in this somewhere.

John Hartman - Water Tank

You work in a range of styles and subject matter. How do you choose the right aesthetic for a project?

Well I think the right aesthetic is the one that gets the job done and also appeals to me personally. I have never hidden the fact that I work digitally but my personal taste in art and illustration is rooted in traditional analog techniques. So generally I don’t want my work to look like it popped out of a computer program. I think in my case what comes off as different styles is really a result of my penchant for experimenting with a wide range of tools and methods. Typically I may blend together 3D rendering with hand drawing and a little vector work as well. I love learning new software and trying to come up with different ways to create illustrations. Sometimes I attempt to emulate a particular analogue drawing style, the results vary but I always learn something new. For me, it’s more of a challenge to stay consistent and on track. Except for my personal taste, experience, and craftsmanship the style chooses me rather than the other way around.

As you noted, I enjoy working on different subjects as well; there is nothing better than being handed a unique assignment, and doing the research can be fun as well. But I have never consciously linked a style to a particular subject except in the case of my work with Fine Woodworking Magazine where there is an established style. I do try to be consistent within a project and if the art director points me in a particular direction stylistically I make every effort to accommodate. In addition, with art directors I know well I will often discuss style issues to better integrate the illustration with the page design or create something a little different than usual. Some of my most successful work stems from collaboration with a talented art director.

John Hartman - Bench

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

Projects that are complex or those that require a new skill to pull off, or have a very tight deadline have kept me awake at night. Over time I have learned to expect these sorts of challenges and I find myself looking forward to difficult projects. One challenge we technical illustrators face is keeping up with ever evolving technology, requiring practice and self education. I think learning new software is vital to staying competitive. Also I find I need to brush up on core software I already know like Photoshop and Illustrator. Since software is doing more of the heavy lifting I find I need to practice my analog skills and foundation knowledge like perspective just to keep from losing this valuable tool set.

What I see on the horizon for technical illustrators is the increased use of 3D animation. On-line video is becoming the leading media for news, education and entertainment. It may take some time but eventually publishers, advertizing agencies and businesses will seek out talented illustrators to create information based animations.

Do you have any advice for new illustrators or students?

Technical illustration is a broad field of study. It covers any illustration assignment that needs to show the viewer how something functions or how parts are interrelated. At its heart is clarity and precision, and consequently it requires more discipline and knowledge. I believe students need to work longer and harder to gain the skills needed. New illustrators and students need to know it’s going to take passion and dedication to be successful in this field.

Technical illustrators need to be able to draw well. This means being able to accurately depict the world around us with line, tone and color. Don’t expect to gain this by attending a few classes in school, it will take a lifetime of learning, and continued practice to maintain. You need to study perspective, how to render light and shade as well as color theory. Don’t expect computer programs to do this for you. If you wish to include the figure in your work you will need to study artistic anatomy as well.

Working as a technical illustrator is not a passive act, you are expected to research and understand the topics you are given. In addition you will need to solve the many technical and design issues that arise with each assignment. The artistic quality of your work is up to you. Hopefully you have a passion for fine art and can bring flair to your work that is attractive. I believe that technical illustration should be beautiful as well as useful.

John Hartman - Air-Conditioning-System

 

See more at Hartman Illustration.

Mark Franklin

Mark Franklin is a London-based freelance technical illustrator. During his 30-year career, he has illustrated a wide variety of subject matter for clients including Airfix, McDonalds, Tekmats, Rowe Hankins Ltd. and some of UK’s largest publishing houses.

Mark Franklin - Manned Manoevering Unit

Mark Franklin - 4D Cinema Mark Franklin - Dodge Challenger Mark Franklin - Dryer Mark Franklin - F-15 Eagle

Check out Mark’s portfolio to see the breadth of his work: Mark Franklin Arts

Clicheria

Clicheria is a Brazilian illustration studio that seamlessly blends 3D renderings with vectors and digital painting to create beautiful and communicative scenes. Be sure to check out the full size versions.

Clicheria - Product Explosion

Clicheria - Treadmill

Clicheria - Dental Filling

Clicheria - Rowing Machine

Clicheria - Water Tank

Todd Detwiler

Todd Detwilier - Gulfstream Jet

Todd Detwiler is the Design Director at Popular Science magazine and an accomplished illustrator in his own right. At PopSci he is responsible for fusing design, photography and illustration with stories of science and technology’s bleeding edge. As an illustrator he brings his technical aesthetic to the pages of TIME, ESPN and Washingtonian.

What’s your background? How did you get started in editorial design?

My junior year of college I secured an internship with Maxim magazine. It was the result of a funny letter I wrote to the then-art director David Hilton – who got a kick out of the flippant humor and gave me a call. I had interviews at Details and Rolling Stone as well, but Maxim offered me the internship and I moved from rural PA to New York the next week.

I was really at Maxim at the right time. Felix Dennis had brought his lad-mag over from the UK and it was lighting the magazine world on fire. It was there that I met people who would shape my career in magazines and illustration. I graduated a year later from Kutztown University and started working for Maxim full-time. Along with some junior design work, I was the resident icon artist and occasional spot illustrator. I was cheap (free) for the company, and I was just happy to have some work in print. It was a win-win really.

In 2005 I left Maxim and started working at Rolling Stone before being offered an attractive Art Director position with Hearst working on the development of a new Men’s Magazine. The project didn’t pan out and I started a freelance design career which took me around the publishing houses of New York and abroad until I settled down with Popular Science in 2011.

Todd Detwilier - Anatomy of a Water Park
What do you do as Design Director at Popular Science?

As the DD of Popular Science, I led the team responsible for the 2014 redesign, along with an overhaul of the logo and brand guidelines. On a day to day basis, I do all the typical art department work loads – hire illustrators, design pages for features and front of book, brainstorm photo concepts, etc. It’s a small but talented art team at Popular Science – and I give them a lot of credit for making the magazine smart and efficient.

Todd Detwilier - Anatomy of Home Delivery
What makes for a good illustration? What can illustration do that photography can’t?

The best illustration communicates an idea quickly and clearly with some personality. I would also add that the process of commissioning the illustration makes it a “good” illustration. If deadlines are met and the work matches what is expected – that makes everyone’s life easier.

Photography can be expensive. With an illustration you can build a world that is immersive at a fraction of the cost. You can also build uniformity with illustration that can be a struggle with photography if you are using pick-up art from multiple sources. Both have a place in Popular Science, and we are very conscience of the balance in every issue.

Todd Detwilier - Luggage Checkpoints
What do you think makes the technical illustration aesthetic so popular in magazines?

Well, it’s been around for awhile, hasn’t it?! I was just looking at an instruction manual from the 60s the other day that was amazingly drawn. My hat goes off to the illustrators that were so meticulous with ink and pen. It’s a lot easier with a mouse and “command+z”..

Regarding the aesthetic, I think the thick rules on the outside give the objects separation and weight, and the thin lines detail and clarity. People love exploded views because they can see what’s happening on the inside – something the PopSci reader loves. Ultimately, I think the style of illustration removes clutter and anything unnecessary to reveal the essence of the subject. It circles back to direct communication, free of any additional interpretation for the viewer.

Todd Detwilier - Car Buyers
In addition to your role at PopSci, you also moonlight as an illustrator. What drives you to illustrate?

I love illustration as much or if not more than editorial design. But what actually drives me to create illustrations is seeing the work of others. I’m constantly impressed with the level of design being generated by artists, and I can’t help but be inspired to create and learn.

Todd Detwilier - Ninja Warrior
What do you see for the future of publishing or illustration? Any advice for new illustrators or students?

The future of publishing is digital with print declining over the next 5 to 10 years. Illustrators need to be quick and consistent. I see enormous opportunity for illustrators in the digital News sphere. When breaking news happens, how fast can you turn out an editorial perspective, or even better – a comprehensive breakdown of what has happened or is happening. The world demands answers immediately and if you can act quickly, you’ll be very successful. Also, take your phone out of your pocket – that’s your new canvas – get used to it!

Popular Science - April 2014
You worked with Graham Murdoch on the Electric Racecar project for PopSci. What was that like?

He’s just the best. I’ve been working with him since the Maxim days and he has always made me look good. For the Formula E assignment I sent him a bunch of scrap art and he was able to build out the entire car based on the reference I sent along with his own research. When it came to “exploding” everything apart, I know he spent a lot of time meticulously unscrewing every bolt and washer. The result was amazing, and it set the bar high for everyone in the magazine.

Big thanks to Todd for his time. You can find his work at ToddDetwiler.com and on newsstands everywhere.