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.

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

Mapbox – Design Beautiful Maps

Mapbox Sample Map

Mapbox enables you to easily design and use beautiful maps, selecting your own colors, typography, imagery, textures and line qualities from their vast and flexible toolbox. Then you can add points of interest and data from Pinterest, Foursquare, Github, spreadsheets and more.

This looks like it would be great for everything from an on-brand locator map to some serious big-data number crunching.

Hat tip to Davvi for the suggestion!

National Infographic

National Infographic is a blog written by Juan Velasco, art director of the venerable National Geographic magazine.

Velasco writes in depth about the rigorous journalistic integrity, the painstaking attention to detail, and the high-level design thought that goes into producing visuals for such an esteemed publication. The graphics department spends months producing original research, consulting with experts and consultants, and digging through data to bring a story to the surface. The amount of resources at their disposal is amazing.

Far beyond geographic maps, the graphics department produces illustrations, infographics, animations, interactive modules, videos, 3d models, dioramas and photo essays on topics such as science, technology, history, culture and economics.

National Infographic. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Style versus Communication

Style vs Visual Communication

I’ve been meaning to write about style — the design and arrangement of visual elements that creates a tone or voice in an illustration, throughout a project, or across an illustrator’s entire body of work. More specifically, how style conflicts and complements with a technical illustrator’s role of visual communication.

This critique of dozens of newspapers’ adaptations of an Associated Press graphic serves as a great introduction to the topic. News graphics veteran Charles Apple dissects the minute decisions made by the various papers’ editors in the name of visual appeal, visual communication, story telling and branding.

Is technical illustration more about visual communication or style?
How do you compromise between the two?

[A Look at Tuesday’s Graphics-Heavy bin Laden Presentations]

Step-by-Step Isometric Aircraft

Ninian Carter - Isometric Aircraft

Award-winning editorial and news graphics artist Ninian Carter shares his processes for producing a complex isometric illustration of a water-bomber aircraft in Adobe Illustrator. Ninian also generously makes his Illustrator file available for download at the bottom of the page so you can open it up and explore.

By no means is this a do-as-I-do tutorial, but it looks like he uses a scale-shear-rotate method similar to Cody Walker’s Advanced Isometric Tutorial.

Technical Illustration: Techniques and Applications

Technical Illustration: Techniques and Applications by John A. Dennison and Charles D. Johnson

Technical Illustration: Techniques and Applications

Marc Gellen was looking for recommendations for books on technical illustration on Twitter, but ended up providing me with the recommendations. Fortunately, all three books he suggested were available from my local library. I thought I’d give them a brief review here for the benefit of anyone whose public (or private) library might be lacking on the subject.

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Oil Spill Illustration Roundup

The biggest news story of the past two months is highly technical and happening beneath 5,000 feet of water. These obstacles make technical illustration the obvious medium for telling the story. Collected here are illustrations and graphics from various sources, showing their visual approach to communicating the information. (Mouseover for source, click for larger version)

The New York Times‘ illustrations are well designed and executed in a graphic style typical for newspapers. Black lines delineate the key information, both a visual strategy and a production consideration (black prints well on grainy paper in fast presses, since it’s a single plate). Deep-red lines and arrows call the eye’s attention to important details. Light colour tones provide additional information such as material, dimension/shading, or simply visual separation. A variety of views are used, elevations, isometrics, perspectives, whatever suits the content. Nice stuff here.

Infographic World‘s ambitious graphic attempts to tell the entire story, relying heavily on text, but ends up feeling cluttered, unfocused and disorganized. The individual illustrations feel underdeveloped.

NOLA/Times-Picayune‘s graphics are similar in style to The Times’, but with a much thicker line weight which makes me think they might have appeared smaller in print. The multitude of arrows really get in the way of the information. A bit heavy handed.

The Economist is a weekly news magazine, but the illustration doesn’t have much to show for the extra time (to be fair, there’s no telling what sort of turnaround time the illustrator was given).

BP employs slick [no pun intended] 3D renderings to communicate the company’s repair efforts and give the impression of openness and transparency. I have two problems with this. First, they feel expensive. I imagine BP already had a 3D model library of all their equipment for planning and presentation purposes, so this may very well be the most cost-effective visual solution for them. But the impression these polished 3D renderings give is that they’re spending a lot on visuals, when they should be devoting all their resources to the repair and cleanup process.

Secondly, 3D renderings feel like constructed illusions rather than explanatory depictions of their efforts. Maybe it’s my bias towards illustration since both are just as artifical (ie. not photographs or videos), but I find The Times’ illustrations more trustworthy than BP’s 3D world.

Sources

The New York Times. “Methods That Have Been Tried to Stop the Leaking Oil”
Infographic World. “Crude Awakening”
NOLA.com. “Oil Spill Graphics”
The Economist. “Mudslinging”
Unified Command for the BP Oil Spill. “Graphics”
BP. “Gulf of Mexico Response”

Have you seen any additional illustrations of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill? Let us know in the comments!

Malofiej 18 – Award Winning Infographics

Presente, Diario del Sureste (México)

Presente, Diario del Sureste (México)

Malofiej is the Society for News Design‘s annual infographics competition. At Malofiej 18 last week, a jury of 13 international graphics editors and art directors awarded medals in a myriad of categories including Breaking News, One-Column and Interactive.

More images and links as well as a full list of award winners at Infographic News

Inspiration – IL Magazine

IL - Water

IL “Intelligence in Lifestyle” is an Italian culture and style magazine published monthly by newspaper Il Sole 24 ORE. Art director Francesco Franchi works with a variety of illustrators to produce handsome and informative infographics explaining the latest issues, trends and topics.

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