Protecting Your Reputation

The phonecall woke me. It was early morning. Summer. A few months after graduation. I was a freelancer. I had started freelancing during college, so the transition to full-time freelancing after graduation was natural.

The phone rang again. This could be work. I scrambled for the phone. I didn’t recognize the number. Maybe a new client. It rang again. I answered.

“Hello, James speaking.”
“This is James Provost?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hello, this is John Smith. You posted a message on my blog yesterday?”
“I don’t think so…” Who the heck is John Smith??
“Do you know my blog?”
“Sorry, I don’t…”
“Could you please go to”

John is an illustrator, and like many illustrators, John blogs about his work. To my horror, in the comment section of the latest post on his blog was a rather inflammatory message. The author: James Provost. The message itself was standard internet troll-ism, your typical YouTube comment. But instead of using a disposable, anonymous identity, the troll had decided to use mine.

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Adobe Illustrator – Live Trace


On the few occasions that I have found it useful, I’ve used Live Trace to create vectors from a 1 or 2 color logo that I only had a raster of. It’s not bad at that, though you rarely get a professional print quality output as it’s still hard to get really clean, straight lines and of course it depends on how high of quality your source file is. I have used software at a former job that was proprietary to them and did not have any kind of vector export feature so I would make a .jpg of a technical line drawing in the software and live trace that in illustrator. Results are hit and miss most times and really depend on how much time you want to spend tweaking the settings and how high of quality you want the final output to be.

Like all programs that I’ve ever tried out that promise easy vector conversion, I’ve usually found that I can actually trace it faster myself and get MUCH better quality without a lot more time invested. In every program I have ever seen you could easily spend as much time cleaning up the vector trace as you could drawing it right the first time.

What are your thoughts on the Live Trace feature in Adobe Illustrator? Do you use it? What do you use it for? Have you used other software that works better for vector conversion? Let us know!

Pricing Technical Illustration

Pricing Technical Illustration

When freelancing as a technical illustrator, deciding what to charge clients can be as delicate and precise an art as technical illustration itself.

Here are three key factors to consider when quoting on a project:

  • How much of my time & resources will the project take, and what is that worth?
  • What is the ‘going rate’? What do other illustrators charge?
  • What will the market bear?

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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 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, Drawger and

Exploring the 10th Dimension

Let’s dive right in with the heavy stuff, shall we?

I’ve always liked this simple animation as an example of what a good infographic should be. Clean and clear, it reinforces the the information visually, providing easy stepping stones that build to a ultimately complex idea.

And you know anything that can crunch theoretical physics into digestible pieces has done it’s job well.

Adobe Illustrator Brush Freebie

After spending countless, grueling hours drawing/tracing under hood illustrations used in owners and service manuals I created this handy brush to make all of my wire looms and cables effortlessly.

Adobe Illustrator Cable/Hose/wire loom brush

After dropping the brush file in your presets directory here are a couple tips to help you out. Read More

Google Reader in Plain English

This seems like a good place to start: Subscribe to the RSS feed!

This video condenses a huge amount of information and communicates it simply and clearly. It’s well organized, edited down to the essentials and uses plain language & uncomplicated graphics.