YouTube channel Learn Engineering is a great series of videos explaining how everyday objects work. The 3D animations of different gears, motors, coils and fields are clear and really help illustrate the easy-to-understand script.
This Uniqlo promo video is a great example of combining technical information with beautiful and engaging visuals, highlighting otherwise invisible features and demonstrating their benefits to the customer.
In a market where branding is often just a graphic silkscreened on a generic garment, Uniqlo places the emphasis on the comfort, performance, sophistication and simplicity of the product itself. Armed with that information, the customer’s decision is made easier.
This series of short videos from the Science Channel reveal the hidden workings of our everyday world with photo-realistic 3D graphics to explode appliances, products and machines into their component parts.
The combination of video footage, CGI, interviews, and of course, overly-dramatic narration really pulls you in and gets you interested in the topic.
For his posts, Grimwade pulls together contemporary infographics, historical examples and samples from his prolific career working with newspapers, magazines, books and corporate clients. From his mission statement:
I’m trying to promote infographics that engage the general public. There is a trend towards elitist visualizations, that seem like they might be designed for data geeks. Of course, visual communication is a powerful way to help people understand, but first we have to get people on our side. Be inclusive, not exclusive. And never forget that a sense of fun is an important component in getting our message across. Infographics for the People!
He critiques his old work with self-deprecating humour and encourages readers to learn from his mistakes and to think critically when creating our own work.
Freelance illustrator Remie Geoffroi creates a wide range of work—from portraits, lifestyle, sports and business editorials to infographics, exploded diagrams, instructional illustrations and architectural drawings. What unites it all is his clean, technical use of vector artwork and a mastery of line quality.
It’s probably this combination of versatility and consistency that keeps art directors calling. Remie has worked with clients including AARP, Sports Illustrated, TIME, ESPN, Men’s Health, Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appétit, and advertising clients including American Airlines, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Microsoft and Volkswagen.
How did you get started in illustration?
Drawing was all I ever wanted to do. Through high school I took part time jobs at an animation studio, a screen printer’s art department, etc. I went to college for graphic design because I was pretty hazy on what a career as an illustrator would look like. I ended up being hired as a clip art illustrator right out of college, and set out as a freelancer shortly afterwards.
What is a typical day for you as a freelance illustrator?
I regularly work with magazines (Billboard, ESPN, etc.), and occasionally advertising agencies, Sid Lee, DDB, etc. I recently illustrated “Tools of Titans” the new book from Tim Ferriss, and a book for Gold’s Gym, coming out later this year.
I have a shared studio space where I work from, or I’ll sometimes choose to work out of my home office if the weather is bad or my workload is light.
How do you create your illustrations?
I work almost exclusively in Adobe Illustrator. Many of my illustrations that people have assumed are raster (Photoshop) are actually vector. I like the versatility of being able to tweak the lines. I’ve developed a very streamlined, comfortable process for creating vector artwork. I appreciate being able to revisit files years later to harvest and reuse elements.
You work in a range of styles, how do you choose the style for a particular project?
The assignment usually dictates the style. Art directors usually point to one example or another from my site that they’d like to see. Repeat clients don’t usually request a particular style, as they usually trust where I’ll take a particular project.
What challenges have you faced in your career? What opportunities do you see for the future?
Like most freelancers, workflow can ebb from time to time, and those can be nerve-wracking periods. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid any true work droughts in my 17 years of freelancing.
I’m optimistic new opportunities will continue to appear. App development wasn’t even a thing a few years ago, and it’s become a major place for illustrators to create and find work.
Magazines were supposed to be dead years ago, and yet they continue. That said, I’ve been sad to see a few fall away recently.
Any tips for illustrators starting their careers?
A successful career as a freelance illustrator is built upon relationships. Recognize that you’re building relationships with your clients, primarily art directors. Be ready and willing to accept their criticism and make changes. Be professional and on time with your work. Be courteous and understand that there are many other illustrators out there, so your attitude can be a big factor in who wants to work with you.
Big thanks to Remie Geoffroi for his time!
SpaceX has some great technical illustrations on their website, showcasing the design and features of their current and future spacecraft.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
See more at Hartman Illustration.