John Grimwade: Infographics for the People

Illustrator, designer, and educator John Grimwade has started a great blog on information design and data visualization called Infographics for the People.

For his posts, Grimwade pulls together contemporary infographics, historical examples and samples from his prolific career working with newspapers, magazines, books and corporate clients. From his mission statement:

I’m trying to promote infographics that engage the general public. There is a trend towards elitist visualizations, that seem like they might be designed for data geeks. Of course, visual communication is a powerful way to help people understand, but first we have to get people on our side. Be inclusive, not exclusive. And never forget that a sense of fun is an important component in getting our message across. Infographics for the People!

He critiques his old work with self-deprecating humour and encourages readers to learn from his mistakes and to think critically when creating our own work.

Infographics for the People by John Grimwade

Remie Geoffroi

Freelance illustrator Remie Geoffroi creates a wide range of work—from portraits, lifestyle, sports and business editorials to infographics, exploded diagrams, instructional illustrations and architectural drawings. What unites it all is his clean, technical use of vector artwork and a mastery of line quality.

It’s probably this combination of versatility and consistency that keeps art directors calling. Remie has worked with clients including AARP, Sports Illustrated, TIME, ESPN, Men’s Health, Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appétit, and advertising clients including American Airlines, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Microsoft and Volkswagen.

Remie Geoffroi - Food Trucks

How did you get started in illustration?

Drawing was all I ever wanted to do. Through high school I took part time jobs at an animation studio, a screen printer’s art department, etc. I went to college for graphic design because I was pretty hazy on what a career as an illustrator would look like. I ended up being hired as a clip art illustrator right out of college, and set out as a freelancer shortly afterwards.

Remie Geoffroi - Drones

What is a typical day for you as a freelance illustrator?

I regularly work with magazines (Billboard, ESPN, etc.), and occasionally advertising agencies, Sid Lee, DDB, etc. I recently illustrated “Tools of Titans” the new book from Tim Ferriss, and a book for Gold’s Gym, coming out later this year.

I have a shared studio space where I work from, or I’ll sometimes choose to work out of my home office if the weather is bad or my workload is light.

Remie Geoffroi - Nest

How do you create your illustrations?

I work almost exclusively in Adobe Illustrator. Many of my illustrations that people have assumed are raster (Photoshop) are actually vector. I like the versatility of being able to tweak the lines. I’ve developed a very streamlined, comfortable process for creating vector artwork. I appreciate being able to revisit files years later to harvest and reuse elements.

Remie Geoffroi - Stadium

You work in a range of styles, how do you choose the style for a particular project?

The assignment usually dictates the style. Art directors usually point to one example or another from my site that they’d like to see. Repeat clients don’t usually request a particular style, as they usually trust where I’ll take a particular project.

Remie Geoffroi - Retail

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

Like most freelancers, workflow can ebb from time to time, and those can be nerve-wracking periods. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid any true work droughts in my 17 years of freelancing.

I’m optimistic new opportunities will continue to appear. App development wasn’t even a thing a few years ago, and it’s become a major place for illustrators to create and find work.

Magazines were supposed to be dead years ago, and yet they continue. That said, I’ve been sad to see a few fall away recently.

Remie Geoffroi - Exercise

Any tips for illustrators starting their careers?

A successful career as a freelance illustrator is built upon relationships. Recognize that you’re building relationships with your clients, primarily art directors. Be ready and willing to accept their criticism and make changes. Be professional and on time with your work. Be courteous and understand that there are many other illustrators out there, so your attitude can be a big factor in who wants to work with you.

Big thanks to Remie Geoffroi for his time!

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.

Masters of the Cutaway

I just happened across design blog Core77‘s ongoing series, Masters of the Cutaway. Some of it seems lifted from Kevin Hulsey‘s much more in-depth Masters Gallery: Art of the Cutaway, but there are a few illustrators you might not know about:

Presentation Techniques by Dick Powell

Presentation Techniques by Dick Powell

Presentation Techniques by Dick Powell

The second of Marc Gellen‘s book recommendations is Presentation Techniques by Dick Powell, first published in 1985. Whereas Technical Illustration – Techniques and Applications was more of a textbook of tools and techniques, this book is a practical guide to accurately drawing and rendering for the purpose of communicating design ideas. While both books are reminders of how much illustration has changed in 20 years in terms of media and style, I think this book’s techniques are well presented and still relevant today.

Read More

Harry Campbell’s Technical Inspirations

© Harry Campbell

© Harry Campbell

The work of award winning editorial illustrator Harry Campbell is infused with a technical illustration aesthetic. A nod to the highly complex and industrialized world we live in, he makes use of bold structural lineart, axonometric drawing systems, parts explosions, and cutaways to communicate ideas.

For his latest work for The Wall Street Journal, he shares a bit about his process and inspiration:

[…] Just in case anybody is wondering about whether my mechanical objects are traced or taken from other drawings. Generally not, I just start drawing. I do look at reference like vaccum tubes, things like that. During this project I was thinking I need to start gathering a bin of junk to pull from. I do love exploded views of ordinary objects. Here’s one of my favorites.

Harry Campbell's Inspiration

Harry Campbell's Inspiration

See more of Mr. Campbell’s work on Drawger or his rep, Gerald & Cullen Rapp.

Illustration Podcasts

Illustration Podcasts

Sometimes freelancing can be like solitary confinement. Big projects, tight deadlines, (and if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, terrible weather) can all keep you locked up in the home studio. To ward off cabin fever I like to listen to a small selection of podcasts, some illustration-related, some business-related and others general interest to stay current with the rest of the world.

Sadly, I haven’t found a technical illustration podcast, but here’s my playlist:

Illustration Related:

Escape From Illustration Island: The Podcast
In-depth interviews with illustrators, artists’ representatives and art directors. Companion to Escape From Illustration Island, a resource portal and illustration community.

Big Illustration Party Time
A conversational podcast about the ins and outs of freelance illustration and cartooning.

Hawk and Squirrel
A brand new podcast searching for its voice. As manic and entertaining as its hosts (and friends of mine), Chad Covino, Juan Solon and Nimit Malavia.

Freelance and Business Related:

Freelance Radio
Official podcast of covering work and life issues of freelancers.

General Interest:

The Monocle Weekly
A mix of discussions, interviews and field reports on world events and culture.

Stuff You Should Know
Official podcast of, explains how everyday things and not-so-everyday things work.

Have any podcasts to recommend, illustration-related or otherwise? Let us know in the comments!

The Future of Technical Illustration

Wired Magazine on iPad

For those of us who work with publishers of magazines, newspapers and books, the past few years have been trepidatious. The future of the printed page looks uncertain. There’s much speculation that this business model or that device will save the industry. And as much as we techies may fall in love with each new gadget, they have been looked at as a threat, or at least an unknown variable in our careers.

But through all this, I’ve taken comfort in two facts. First, that we live in a visual society. For this reason, the pixel pushers, the vector tweakers, the pen sketchers, and more importantly the visual thinkers will always be in demand. Secondly, the environment around us grows more complex every day. We specialize in distilling complexity into more comprehensive, communicative forms.

I feel our skillset will remain relevant and in demand, but it is crucial to stay informed about prevailing technologies and mediums, and to constantly update our workflows to be able to deliver our product in whatever packaging consumers demand.

Threats or opportunities? What are your thoughts?

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