Troy Doolittle

Top Dog Illustration - Bell Helmet Cutaway

Top Dog Illustration - Bell Helmet Cutaway

Troy Doolittle is an award-winning illustrator by profession & outdoor adventurer at heart, and the artist behind Top Dog Illustration.

What is your background? How did you get into technical illustration?

I grew up in Iowa and for the first 8 years of my career I worked as an illustrator for a fairly large ad agency in Des Moines. I learned a ton there and it gave me a good sense of how to run a business. It also taught me how important the client/agency relationship is and what kind of pressure agencies are under to do good work and deliver on time. Missing a deadline is not an option and that discipline really helps me focus on my day-to-day work.

Top Dog Illustration - WTB Grips

Top Dog Illustration - WTB Grips

Are you a freelancer or in-house illustrator?

While I was employed at the ad agency I started doing a lot of freelance illustration work for companies in the area. Once it got to the point that it was interfering with my day job, I decided to strike out on my own and start TopDog Illustration. Within a couple of years I decided I needed a larger metropolitan area to feed off of so I moved to Mountain View, California. That’s also about the time I started marketing my work nationally in the source books and that really helped diversify my client list. Since then, I moved a few miles south to San Jose and continue to do work for clients on the east coast as well as here in the Bay Area.

What software do you use to create your work?

After I do sketches I render everything in Adobe Illustrator. For my high-end cutaways I’ll then import that work into Photoshop, piece-by-piece. This helps me create the layers I need for rendering shadows, texture and highlights.

What are your favorite types of projects?

Over the last several years the bicycle industry has become a very important part of my business. I’m also an avid cyclist so it’s a great opportunity for me to combine my passions. When I look back at my work and think about which projects turned out the best and why, it’s almost always work for the bike industry. I attribute this to a couple of things; their passion comes through over the phone when they talk about their products and they completely trust that I’ll deliver what they want. Very few clients in other industries exhibit that kind of confidence. When someone believes in your work, you believe it yourself and the end result is a better illustration that in turn helps their company sell more product.

Top Dog Illustration - Helmet Cutaway Process

Top Dog Illustration - Helmet Cutaway Process

Any advice for illustrators just starting out?

There are a lot of headwinds facing content creators these days and it can be tough for artist to see how their individual decisions impact their fellow illustrators. But every decision every artist makes collectively has a tremendous impact on our trade. The only way to have a say in the future of illustration is to retain the copyright to their work. This at least gives you control over your creative content and won’t cheapen the future value of everyone’s work.

Whenever I have to review a contract for a project, I ask myself this: Could this potentially limit me in whom I can do work for or what I can create? If the answer is yes, I don’t sign it. If the answer is no, I sign it. Because if you want to protect the long-term value of your creative work and your business, you can’t let companies dictate who you work for or what type of creative work you hope to do in the future. Retaining the authorship rights (copyright) to your work is the only way to protect that.

Troy’s portfolio can be found at TopDog Illustration, and further information about his process at his blog.

Alan and Beau Daniels

Oasis of the Seas - Alan and Beau Daniels

Oasis of the Seas - Alan and Beau Daniels

It’s always good to hear that working technical illustrators are keeping busy, and even though they’ve been neck deep in work, Alan and Beau Daniels were able to submit this questionnaire to me. You can check out their site here at beaudaniels.com.

At what point did you guys become involved with drawing? Both recreational and professional; try to give me the who, when, where, and hows…

I have drawn for as long as I can remember, professionally I started to make a living with the Young Artist agency in London, mostly science fiction illustration. They had tremendous publishing contacts, but no one would give me a break in England until I got the cover of Anarchistic colossus, an American publisher took a chance with me and that helped with the English publishers. There was a lot of work commercially and I was still able to pursue the fine art side. Beau was and is really a science major and business person, the passion for Beau is in chasing the job and managing the process, this works very well for us.

NPCA Poster - Alan and Beau Daniels

NPCA Poster - Alan and Beau Daniels

What would you consider to be your first BIG GIG as an artist? That is to say, what piece or body of work got your foot in the door of Illustration? Who was involved? What happened after that?

Big break, moving to Los Angeles to work on Blade Runner.  There were a large number of illustrators brought over from the Young Artists agency, to work on the film; they had a connection with Ridley Scott from his commercial filming. It was not an easy time working for the Ladd Company and all the other English artists eventually stopped working for them and returned to England. We had already made the commitment to stay, but if we had had the money in the first year we would have returned also. Working for the movie industry you are at the mercy of too many egos, they had the ability to twist you around. But, this was probably the best thing that happened to us work wise. We made lots of contacts, built our credibility and worked out which field of illustration would suite both of our work habits.


Did you guys have a mentor/s? Who were they?

Neither of us have had mentors, but we have been lucky in meeting people who have helped our careers. One collector of my fine art work, on finding out that we were moving to the USA. bought our entire collection of commercial artwork from us, it helped in the expense of moving. He ran Museum Gallery and was  a coin merchant in London, and a bit of a philanthropist. A very good man, who we are still in contact with today.

Atlanta Art Building - Alan and Beau Daniels

Atlanta Art Building - Alan and Beau Daniels

What did school do for you? (I know that sounds naive, but some say school did not give them much, others say a lot, whats your take). Any particular instructors, classes or groups that propelled you into doing Illustration professionally?

School taught me self-discipline and motivation. Again I was lucky at school, the teachers we had were David Hockney, Roland Piche, David Hall, Phillip Glass, Billy Apple, it was a very progressive college that believed in developing skills not only in your chosen field but also survival skills for the work environment.


Any regrets? If you could go back and do anything differently what would you do?

None at all.


How did you and your wife go about ‘selling/marketing yourselves’? How do you continue to do so?

Beau does the marketing, we have advertised in Workbook, Graphic Artist Guild Book, and Medical artists Book for many years. This form of advertising is being phased out as we get most of our work through our web sites. We have about twenty sites The reason for so many web sites was to narrow them down in content so that they are more specific, e.g. Cutaway-illustration.com — Essentially a simple teaser site to get people to go to the beaudaniels.com site, but also a way of covering a lot more ground on the web.

Ghosted Car - Alan and Beau Daniels

Ghosted Car - Alan and Beau Daniels

On a personal note…. what is the philosophy behind your craft and work? Are there any deep reasons for why+what you do? Or is it just to pay the bills? What is your philosophy on the ART world in general?

We always do the best work we can; even if as sometimes happens you have underestimated the complexity of the illustration. Sometimes from your own fault, sometimes just misunderstanding and sometimes the client not quite telling the truth at the onset. The latter reason is easier to rectify in that we will ask for a budget increase if we have not been given correct information up front. Once you have committed to a job, the money no longer matters. Try to get something creative wise out of every job you do, that can be difficult!  Attitude towards the illustration business is changing, we are finding more and more agency contracts to be unacceptable in their demands, Copyright ownership, work for hire etc. we will not work under either of those conditions, and fight strongly for artists’ rights to their work.  I will always draw whether or not I get paid for it, but what I draw, that would be different. Having been on both sides, working commercial illustration and trying to produce fine art. There is now so little difference, fine art through the marketing process has attached itself to the commercial realm. I dislike intensely when the fine art “world” criticizes us for being commercial illustrators. They really don’t like the fact they can’t control you because the commercial work has given us financial freedom.

Curtis Sayers

Curtis Sayers - Lotus

Curtis Sayers – Lotus

Tell us about your background?
I live in Newton, which is just outside of Boston. I took art classes at Hofstra University but actually majored in English. After school I got interested in illustration and design while working at an ad agency, so I took a lot of classes at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I started working as a graphic designer for high-tech companies about 15 years ago, and this allowed me to create technical illustration in-house and begin to build a portfolio. I decided to focus on illustration about five years ago and that’s the core part of my work now.

Are you a freelancer or in-house?
I freelance out of a home studio.

Software of choice?
I use Illustrator, Photoshop, and Luxology’s modo for 3d work.

Favorite clients/jobs?
Being an Air Force brat, I’ve enjoyed some military-themed projects for clients like Raytheon and Agility Logistics. I’ve also recently completed some projects in the renewable energy industry, which is very satisfying. Overall, clients that provide solid art direction but allow some freedom to create images that have marketing appeal are ideal.

Curtis Sayers - Tire Cutaway

Curtis Sayers – Tire Cutaway

Any advice for illustrators just starting out?
Always try to create your very best work. Of all the illustration disciplines, ours is perhaps the most demanding as far as accuracy is concerned, so be a perfectionist. Digital tools have allowed us to get lazy to some degree, so be methodical in your execution and scrutinize your work. The results will show for it.

When appropriate, use some creative license in how you approach a project to help it accomplish its communication goals. Sometimes people starting out are too rigid with how they execute an image and they don’t allow themselves to play with the subject matter and compose something that really resonates as a piece of art.

Curtis Sayers - House Wiring

Curtis Sayers – House Wiring

Curtis Sayers’ work can be found at Studio Sayers.

Mike Fraser

Mike is another one of those illustrators that’s been a big influence on me. Just deconstructing his work has been a big help in my transition from working in the auto industry to working in soft goods for the outdoor apparel industry. Mike has done a ton of work for companies like The North Face, Gerber and Boa Technology, just to name a few.

Mike is one of those guys you won’t see much online, he’s too busy working, so I’m very happy to show his work here.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

What is your background in Illustration?

After I finished college in 1972, I was a high school art teacher for 3 years before I started
free-lancing. During the summer after I left teaching, ( 1975 ) I put together a PITIFUL portfolio
and started calling on people around town. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing! …but people were nice, and helpful, and pointed me where I needed to go.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

The North Face Back pack

I was lucky and was offered studio space to rent ( not a job, just a studio )…fortunately, there
were a bunch of other artists working there who taught me what I needed to know, a little
at a time. They also sent me “overflow” work. I did mostly print production, and occasionally an illustration here and there. Along the way, I learned a LOT…about art and printing, and picked up clients of my own, and by 1979, I was sending work to some of the other guys.
Over the next 18 years (from 1979 until 1997), I got more and more “illustration” projects, and fewer and fewer “print production” projects…

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

I divide my “career” into 2 parts…“Before” computers ( 1976-1997 ), and “After” computers…
I didn’t get my first computer until 1997, and didn’t get any “good” at it until after 2000.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Boa Lacing System

Until 2000, I always had a studio “downtown”…and then I moved my office home. From 2000 until 2006, I worked in our “guest bedroom”, using it as as my studio…it was way too small, but I made it work. In 2006, I finally had a contractor build me a “real” studio in the backyard ( built into the garage ) with skylights, vaulted ceilings, and lots of ROOM! Even though it has gotten “smaller” as my work load has grown…it is the greatest workspace I’ve ever had!!!!

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

What’s your setup?

I’m working on the Macintosh Platform, using the Adobe Software Suite…I think my background in “traditional” art media really helps me to maintain image “integrity” when working in the computer…after 12 years working on the computer, I’m very comfortable and confident taking on just about any assignment…

Mike Fraser Illustration

Mike Fraser Illustration

Any advice for other illustrators starting out?

My advice to artists just starting out is to talk to as many people actually working in the field as you can…school is great, but it never seems to quite prepare you for the “real thing”…
Always try to learn as much as you can, and constantly try to improve your skills.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Look at the work of artists whose work you admire. Then, once you get going, ALWAYS meet your deadlines…whatever it takes…and NEVER be satisfied to let a project go out of your studio that is not the very BEST you can do. As an artist, your reputation for quality work, and your dependability are what you sell.

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

What have you been up to lately?

Lately, I’ve been doing mostly “product” and “technical” illustration and even some photo retouching…one gal I’ve known for years told me that most of the old airbrush retouchers around town never made the switch to the computer. I used to do quite a bit of airbrush work… but after I got used to Photoshop, I never went back. ( my old airbrush is hanging in the corner… I haven’t used it in years! ).

Illustration by Mike Fraser

Illustration by Mike Fraser

If you would like to get in contact with Mike, send an email to mike_fraser@comcast.net

Josh McKible

Josh McKible - Method of Exercising a Cat

Josh McKible - Method of Exercising a Cat

Tell us about your background?
I’m currently living in a suburb of Tokyo, Japan but I’m originally from Upstate NY, from a town called Newburgh thats about an hour north of NYC. I did my undergraduate studies at SUNY Purchase, I went in for painting, but came out doing sculpture. Mostly mechanical, kinetic kinds of things that tended to break down or explode (sometimes on purpose). I think that’s where my fascination with how things work started. I then went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for an MFA. I came out doing sculpture and kept at it for a few years, until I discovered the Mac. That gradually lead me into graphic design, first as a hobby then as a profession. I art directed a few different magazines in NYC for a few years, until I started doing illustration full-time in 2004.

Josh McKible - Car Exercises

Josh McKible - Car Exercises

Are you a freelancer or in-house?
Full-time freelance, although technically I’m an employee of my own company, MCKIBILLO, INC.

Software of choice?
Adobe Illustrator, plus Pixelmator for sketching and blocking out rough ideas. I’m on a 21.5″ iMac with a second 24″ monitor setup and a Wacom tablet. And SomaFM.org continuously streaming in the background.

Favorite clients/jobs?
The kind where I get to work in the most visually appealing way, “prettiest” for lack of a better word, but where the information is still clearly presented. I love it when a client trusts me enough to push the edges a little. I also like to inject some humor when I can and where it’s appropriate.

Josh McKible - Car Exercises

Josh McKible - Car Exercises

Any advice for illustrators just starting out?
It’s trite but true… follow your bliss, do what you love. Your style and technique will follow from your interests. I took a pretty winding path to find out what I both enjoy doing and what I’m good at. What that means in practice though is to not do anything half way…. find something and then work at it as hard as you can until you really master it.

Tell us about your Nanibird project? Where did it come from and where has it taken you?
As much as I love pushing vectors all day sometimes I just have to make stuff. And if I can collaborate with other designers, even better. NaniBird is a free papertoy I designed, but that also acts as a platform for other artists to work on. So far it has attracted about 100 submissions. Personally though, it’s been a really great outlet and has allowed me to collaborate on a number of projects that otherwise I never could have. It’s been published in 2 books already, led me to organizing a show of papertoys here in Tokyo, I designed a poster based on it for display in Shibuya station in Tokyo (Shibuya is one of the busiest transit points in the world)  and I’ve been invited to submit designs for an upcoming book of Papertoy monsters. And I just recently designed a custom NaniBird for a 40th Anniversary of Woodstock held in San Francisco. It’s led to a lot of very fun and interesting side projects. It’s also just really nice to work in a style and medium so different from my usual work.

Josh McKible - NaniBird

Josh McKible - NaniBird

Josh McKible aka MCKIBILLO’s work can be found at mckibillo.com, Drawger and Nanibird.com.

Max Gadney

Max Gadney - Spitfire Infographic

Max Gadney - Spitfire Infographic

What’s your background? Where do you live, where did you go to school, how long have you been illustrating?
I live in London and went to Middlesex University. I trained in graphic design but have always been interested in information graphics. When I led the team at BBC News Online, half of my team were info-graphics people, so I got into it again in a big way. Towards the end of my time there I started doing work for WWII Magazine, after meeting their editor at a conference (luckily with a load of pre-drawn graphics – including the assault rifle one.)

Are you a freelancer or in-house?
At BBC News, I was in-house. Most info-graphics people who work in the news that I know are in house. My WWII magazine work is freelance.

Software of choice?
Illustrator. Wacom tablet. SketchUp for 3d basics (that I then trace). Being a freelancer and doing this around my day job, I’m finding the iPhone good for drafting scripts on the go & in cafes. I also carry around various sketchbooks. I also made a book of magazine templates ready to scribble on using InDesign created PDFs uploaded and printed as sketchbooks at lulu.com.

Max Gadney - Process

Max Gadney - Process

Favorite clients/jobs?
Being at the BBC for 10 years of major stories was very good. Iraq wars, Elections, London/NY/ terror attacks/ tsunami etc all made for important moments to use visual storytelling. Some of the best infographics were done for the daily small stories. A newsroom lives by its ability to do the smaller stuff well – not just the big specials.

WWII Magazine is a great team to work with – Bill and Caitlin in senior editorial are really constructive with their feedback and Wendy the Art Director always edits a little too. The final results are always better than what I first send – any creative person needs a good editor – a good second pair of eyes. We have a simple back and forth of iteration. Any major disagreements would be hard to resolve with remote working at this distance (I’m in London – they are in Virginia) – so it’s great that I totally trust them.

Max Gadney - Silent Wings Over Normandy

Max Gadney - Silent Wings Over Normandy

Any advice for illustrators just starting out?
Focus on an area that interests you as you will only be top class if you can alter the editorial story of the work. Don’t just be a drawing robot. Seek to inform, to question, to understand first what you then intend to pass on as edited and better articulated knowledge.

Hang out where people are – go to conferences – go to the bar at conferences – talk to people at conferences. That’s what I did and that is why I have the WWII gig.

I think video skills are becoming important – but most important is the ability to understand a problem – to be curious and ask questions about what readers or viewers would want to know – no just figure out how best to draw the thing(s).

On business – The writer Drucker said that the purpose of a business is to make customers. You will need to get out there. Read The E-myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber, all about creating your own business. Designers can be very insular, you will need to get our there and hustle for work.

Max blogs about his process, infographics and visual communication at MaxGadney.com. His work can also be seen on Flickr.com.

Jim Hatch

Being into motorcycles and cars I’ve been a big fan of Jim Hatch for quite a few years.
He’s been a big inspiration for me and I’ve often sought his advice regarding my own illustration career.

Jim was kind enough to take the time to answer some of my questions and I’m thrilled to learn more about this extremely talented illustrator.

How long have you been an illustrator?
– I was first paid for my work in 1991 while still in college, so 18 years now.

Are you a freelancer, do you have your own business or do you work for a company?
– I built my own studio at my home in Santa Barbara, CA

Jim Hatch - Wind Turbine

Jim Hatch - Wind Turbine

Software of choice?
– I am on a Mac using Photoshop and Illustrator on a 30″ Apple monitor and use a Wacom tablet.

Favorite clients jobs?
– My favorite job is the one I’m working on at the present time.
Jim Hatch - Helmet

Jim Hatch - Helmet

What’s your background, how did you get started?
– I went to Otis/Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles from 1987 to 1991 and majored in Illustration so that was the formal start I guess.  My senior year I met with my mentor Kevin Hulsey who offered me a job while still in school and that launched my professional career as well as being an incredible learning experience.  From there I became the Exhibit Designer and Art Director for the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles where I got to create many Illustrations, posters and did tons of graphic & exhibit design.   I left the museum and went freelance and have been on my own ever since.


Jim Hatch - Dunlop

Jim Hatch - Dunlop

Any advice for illustrators just starting out?
– I feel like I am still starting out compared to the people I admire like Kevin Hulsey, David Kimble and Tony Matthews.  I think everyone’s experience is unique but hard work, tons of practice and a true passion for Illustration should translate into results over time.   For me the traditional drawing skills & theory I learned early in my career using ellipse templates, proper perspective and subtle line weight techniques have proved invaluable and form the basis for everything I do.  I see many people coming up that don’t understand what they are drawing and just draw shapes and hope it works out.

Check out the rest of his work on his site, Jim Hatch Illustration