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.

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.

Mr. Murdoch Design & Illustration

Graham Murdoch is the man behind MMDi. Although not strictly a technical illustrator, his 3D renderings of technology and futuristic subjects for clients like Popular Science, Wired UK, Maxim and Bloomberg Markets, should win the admiration of any techie. Graham was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

How did you get your start in illustration?
My background is graphics and it’s still part of what I do today. Four years of college then ringing bells and following up leads. It feels a LOT busier today, there sure are a lot more cars on the road!

The tools of the day were Rotring pens (there’s still some visible ink in my finger from a 0.2 Rotring that was dropped on it about 30 years ago), CS10 artboard, cow gum, spray mount, 10A scalpel blades, gouache, frisk and a Devilbiss Aerograph (which I could never do anything more than gradients and splatters with). Caught the wave of desktop publishing at just the right time. First 3D package was Alias Sketch! (yep, it came with the exclamation mark), then Bryce, onto Lightwave 3D and now MODO (formely modo) which I’ve been using pretty much from 101.

Graham Murdoch - Railgun Scramjet

What’s your favorite subject matter or type of project?
One with time, I’m slow and need lots of it. The more there is the better things get. I’m pretty good at losing it too, though.

What’s your process on a typical project?
Understand what the brief is asking for, reference, more reference, distraction, avoidance, then work, work, work. Sketching, definitely, as a real quick way of laying things out and excersing some different muscles. Hardware has always been Mac-based, from the IIcx through to today’s 27” iMac. In this room there’s also a still operational G3 running OS9, a G4 Quicksilver and a dead G5 (nice job on the motherboard Apple!).

Graham Murdoch - Formula E

 The Formula E Car you did with Popular Science is amazing. What was that project like?
The project was a dream, I have to thank the fine people at Popular Science, particularly Todd Detwiler, for letting me run with that and giving the time it needed. Finding the car’s shell with decals as a purchaseable model was such a big time saver, it meant more attention could be put into the details. As the car was still in development there was next to no reference for the under the hood stuff, so the majority of that is just artistic license. The elements are there; batteries, motor, drive train etc. they just don’t look much like that on the real car.

Graham Murdoch - Formula E Detail

What advantages does working in 3D have over 2D?
The freedom of options and the ease with which they can be realised. Camera angles, materials, lighting, the whole virtual studio thing. Being able to get a 3D print of something you’ve just made, that’s a bit like the leap TV made from black and white to colour, for me. I really should be exploring that! The disadvantage is that there are so, so many options.

The people that did this stuff with pen, brush and board, o my, un-be-(insert expletive here)-lievable!!

Graham Murdoch - Driverless Car

What do you see for the future of the medium?
The expansion of 3D printing and definitely more motion. Total absorption by digital and virtual realities. Of course, we will be assimilated.

You can find Mr. Murdoch’s work on the MMDi website and Behance.

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!

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

Richard Chasemore

Jango Fett

Traditionally painted cross-section of a space ship from Star Wars Episode II

There are many unique forms of technical illustration out there.  Some illustrators from time to time get to expand the realm of technical illustration by depicting not only what exists in our real world and what makes it work, but get the opportunity to reveal the inner workings of fictional vehicles and worlds.

Richard Chasemore has worked for various clients throughout the years producing detailed work and is well known for his works featured in DK publishing and Lucas Books’ Star Wars: Complete Cross Sections and Star Wars: Complete Locations.  I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions:

What is your background? What inspired/got you into the field of technical illustration?

I did a four year course in technical illustration at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design.  I came across the course quite by accident when I jumped on a school bus that took me to the Art College and when I saw the technical illustration department I just said to myself that’s what I want to do.

How did you start working for DK publishing? What were some of the projects that you did for them?

I was working on the See Inside series of books for DK when Hans started work on the Star Wars Project and I was brought in to help out.

What led you to produce the Star Wars Complete Locations and Complete Cross Sections books as well as  later works for Indiana Jones?  What was it like working for Lucas?

The locations books were incredibly hard work, but great fun as was the Indiana Jones arts.  Everyone at Lucas Films were amazingly kind to us, letting Hans and I work in the art department alongside their amazing artists.  We did meet Mr. Lucas and he was a really nice guy.

What is your process like?

Starting with very simple pencil works, building up to a complicated finished pencil which is then inked and painted in gouache.

What was your favorite thing you’ve worked on or best experience you’ve had so far as a technical illustrator?

I am working on Incredible Cross Sections Clone Wars at the moment which is all done in 3D and is looking amazing.

Any advice to technical illustrators just starting out?

Just keep working, day and night!

Richard’s work can be found at RichardChasemore.co.uk

Jameson Simpson

Illustrator Jameson Simpson creates colourful lineart illustrations for a broad range of magazines and advertising clients. When appropriate, he infuses humour into his instructional style which makes for a witty, more engaging image.

Jameson Simpson - Clover

Tell us a little about yourself. What’s your background?
I’m currently living in Grass Valley, California. I tend to move a lot. I’ve been here 2 years. I never technically studied Illustration but I did study fine art and both my parents were artists so I grew up with that. I painted professionally for a couple of years before transitioning to Illustration. I’ve been Illustrating for maybe 12 year now.

What’s your work situation? Do you have an agent or are you self-represented?
I’m a freelancer. I have no agent. I’ve considered it a couple times but it always ends up feeling like it’s going to be limiting.

Software of choice?
Adobe Illustrator

Jameson Simpson - Rigamorole

Favourite clients or types of project? Subject matter?
I like larger projects I can sink my teeth into. Agency projects tend to be more like that. Humor is very good also. Because of the nature of Infographics, things can get a bit dry at times. Anything with a bit of lightness and humor poking fun at the genre is good with me, especially when I’m given free reign to throw in a little of the bizarre.

Jameson Simpson - Rigamorole

Jameson Simpson - Rigamorole

Any advice for illustrators just starting out?
Advice? Hm. My experience was that putting together a really nice promo card or promotional package is a good start. Then just put yourself out and see what happens. I’ve seen in myself and others in the field that it can be an overwhelming task promoting oneself. In the end though, it’s preconceptions that make things complicated for us. Better to be a man or woman of action and just throw oneself into it (both the work and the promotion) and magic can happen. I always loved that quote by Goethe (which may or may not historically be his words, nevertheless):

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen events, meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would have come their way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!”

Jameson Simpson - Military

All images © Jameson Simpson. You can find his work at http://www.jamesonsimpson.com/

Bill Fehr

Bill Fehr - Equipment Cabinet

Bill Fehr is a technical illustration veteran, with 20 years experience in the field. In this interview, we discuss the technical skills, the ongoing learning of new software and technologies, and the exploration of new business models necessary for a sustainable career in illustration.

What is your background? How did you get into technical illustration?
I have worked and lived in St. Louis my whole life. I graduated in 1982 with an Associate in Applied Science degree in Technical Illustration from Meramec Community College here in St. Louis. I later went back and got my Bachelors in Business Management.

Since I was in High School I knew that I wanted to become a technical illustrator. That idea came to me when I was in drafting class and in the text book we were using was a description of what a technical illustrator does. It was accompanied by a photo of a guy using an airbrush to create a concept rendering of a car. That was it for me.

I was lucky enough to land a job as a technical illustrator before I graduated with my illustration degree. This was in the 80’s mind you so there were no computers. Everything was hand drawn. I was lucky enough back then to work for a small company where I had to learned to wear many hats. It was there that I learned to spec type, create photostats, airbrush, knockout backgrounds in photos, take photos, and paste up documents by hand.

In the eighties we didn’t have the advantages we have today of tracing digital photos or importing CAD data. Illustrations were created by extracting dimensions from blue prints or measuring actual parts. We would draw out the illustration in pencil first on a sheet of velum. We would then lay over that a sheet of mylar and “ink” the illustration using technical pens and templates. Inking was an art all by itself and one that I still miss to this day.

I have seen many changes over the 20-plus years that I have been doing this. The one thing that has never changed is the need for visual communication. The only difference between then and now is how it is created and how it is delivered.

How do you work? Employed, freelance or somewhere in between?
Currently I am employed by American Power Conversion as a technical writing manager. Our department creates installation, operation, maintenance, and service documents, just to name a few.  In the evenings and weekend creating stock illustrations and photographs. I do very little freelance work. It requires much more time than I am willing to give these days.

What’s your favorite kind of project?
I still find black and white line art to be the most fun. Though at first it seems like it would be the easiest I find the opposite can to be true. You don’t have color, transparency, or animation to get you out of tough situations. All that you have to use to communicate is a black line. What you do with that line, now that is what makes all the difference.  To me it’s very Zen-like.

Bill Fehr - Parts Identification

Any advice for technical illustrators just starting out?
Experience with software is secondary to technical knowledge. Anyone can learn software. The ones that can get themselves out of tough situations without using software in as a crutch are the ones that I respect the most. That’s not to say the you don’t need to know how to use Illustrator, or CorelDRAW, or whatever. In fact, the better you know the software the better you can illustrate because the software is not “getting in your way.” I’m just saying that you shouldn’t rely on the software to replace technical knowledge. There were many times where I had to rely on my technical training to get me through projects that had no reference photos or CAD data. All I had was a rough prototype and some napkin sketches.

Bill Fehr - Syringe

What is your software of choice?
Everyone has their favorite software. This is usually the software that they have used the most and are most familiar with. For many years I have used CorelDRAW exclusively.  Once I started getting into stock illustration however I started to migrate over to Adobe Illustrator because stock agencies require an Illustrator version 8 compatible EPS file. It was much easier to make the transition to AI than it was to go through the process of exporting Draw files over to Illustrator, make correction, then export to EPS. I also moved to an iMac recently so that drove my decision to move Illustrator as well.

I have used a few vector illustrations packages over the years, CorelDRAW, Corel Designer, Xara Xtreme, IsoDraw, Deneba Canvas, and Adobe Illustrator. I also have used Solid Edge, SoldWorks, AutoCad, Maya, 3D Studio Max, and Blender for 3D modeling and rendering work.

Most of my experience has been with CorelDRAW. It has, I believe, one of the best toolsets for technical black and white line art. It allows you to draw with much more precision and at a higher rate of speed than other programs. I have also created a custom technical illustration toolbar that I use within DRAW which helps me get through an illustration pretty fast.  I also like that the overall file size is small. CorelDRAW is great for those just starting out because it is inexpensive.

The downside to CorelDRAW is that it is a bit buggy and will crash at the drop of a hat. I have learned to save versions of the file that I am working on just in case of such a crash. CorelDRAW does create backup files and crash recovery files but they are not always usable.

Bill Fehr - Padlock

You sell stock illustration via iStockPhoto, Shutterstock and Dreamstime. What has your experience been with this?
I love the microstock business. It’s kind of the best of both worlds. On one hand I can create what I want when I want and still get paid. Of course the more your work aligns with the needs of the customers the more money you will make.

The stock photography and illustration business can be tough to define. What is going on is your trying to guess what somebody might need. You want to create images that can be incorporated into design pieces, film, advertising, mailers, etc. You can try to communicate concepts or ideas like space travel or a health care. It can be fun and challenging.

I think creating stock images fits my personality and lifestyle better than doing freelance work. I am under no pressure and I can work whenever I want. I have done my share of freelance and I don’t care for having to find the jobs during the day then working evenings, weekends and holidays to get it done.

Bill’s technical illustration work can be found at TekART Technical Illustration, and his fine art and photography at BillFehr.com.