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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
It’s similar to the scale-shear-rotate method we’ve talked about before. You start by drawing straight-on orthographic views of the top, front and side of the object, then distort each onto their respective isometric planes.
What’s cool about this technique is that it uses Graphic Styles to apply the distortion. This way the artwork stays dynamic, meaning you can edit the straight-on flat projections to update the isometric version. They also use Astute Graphics’ Phantasm plugin to apply shading to each plane at the same time.
This technique would be really handy if you had to create a large detailed locator map, especially if you might have to change the design of elements down the road.
Full disclosure: As a beta tester for Astute Graphics I receive complimentary products.
Matt Jennings has been hard at work adding to his stock technical illustration component libraries [previously]. New libraries include Workshop – Lifting, Workshop – Automobile and Office Stationery. The illustrations look well constructed, have great line quality, and are super affordable at £7.50 to £10.00 ($12 to $15 USD). If you have a relevant project, these could save you a huge amount of time.
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 Time, Wired, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Ninian Carter has put together another a great step-by-step of his isometric illustration process, this time of a tomb dating back to the era of Alexander the Great. Like his isometric aircraft illustration, he makes great use of the Scale-Shear-Rotate technique. The Live Traced textures really bring this one to life!
The illustrated elements were then taken into Adobe Edge to add some animation and interactivity.
Thanks for sharing, Ninian!