Sometimes as an illustrator and designer - I get overloaded on one side. I've been knee deep in design work for 2016 so far, which makes me miss illustration making like crazy. So I carved out a bit of time to play with some new brushes (thanks, Kyle).
I work digitally. Like many illustrators and artists and animators, I transitioned to drawing directly on a tablet monitor (Wacom Cintiq) in an art making application (for me, Photoshop). There are many, many reasons for this, but in a nutshell I can work faster and achieve my artistic goals more efficiently. This is especially important when client deadlines and side projects (like this one) are colliding. None of this is new. I've been working this way for 7 years or so. What has changed is how I view the work I make digitally.
For much of my career, I've been whittling down a style and a way of working. I'm very much in love with texture and pattern (thanks, Mom!). I like naive shapes and lines (thanks Mr. Emberely and Mr. Carle). I like my drawings to be messy and have a real affinity for collage (no idea who to thank...). Some artists really love the perfect shapes and lines they can get on a computer, but I've always fought it in my own work.
In Photoshop, I build shapes using the Freeform Pen Tool. It's a scraggily beast of a thing. It likes to leave "jaggies" (little unintended sharp triangles) randomly. When I'm closing a circular or oval shape it connects oddly, making it look kind of pointy. It used to drive me mad (and still does, sometimes). But it's a perfect illustration of a tool being a tool.
When you use scissors to cut out a piece of an old magazine for collage, you sometimes get odd, unintended shapes. Or you over-cut. When you're painting you sometimes pick up a touch of cobalt blue when you were reaching for vermillion. When you're printmaking not every print is going to have the same ink coverage. You might have a spot that is fainter. We've learned to live and sometimes love these little mistakes.
I tweeted this the other day:
One of the most undervalued “tools” in illustration making on the computer is *not* hitting undo. Mistake making can be good.— Jacob Souva (@TwoFish) August 19, 2015
I've come to the slow realization that fighting against a tools "mistakes' or trying to remove the tool from the work is not always in the illustrations best interests. Working without the perfection of "undo" has given the work some space for something greater to emerge.
I don't need to fool people into thinking what I'm making is perfectly made computer art or conversely - a traditionally rendered image. It's proudly made by hand on the computer.
Well I did it. I finally took the plunge and opened a little shop selling art prints of my work! I'm pretty excited for a bunch of reasons, but I think I can sum them up in these three:
1. I love to make work that inspires young people
Somewhere along the way I began believing that I was just an odd ball. That the work in my head and sketchbook were to eccentric to be commercially viable. While I still think I am an odd ball (my wife agrees), I think I've settled into the perfect home. Art for kids can be a lot of things - but fun, odd, and quirky has always been in my wheel house.
Having two boys has really helped me figure that all out. They find joy in my goofy drawings. And that's enough proof for me to jump into this.
2. I need an avenue to share the work I want to make
I love my clients, but man I love my sketchbook more. I have so many ideas for projects, stories, illustrations and no outlet for getting them out. Lettersetgo.com is that place. It offers complete control of what I make and how I make it. A playground. I'm pretty excited.
3. I need alternative, "passive" forms of income
I've been freelancing for a long time. I have great clients who are passionate about what they do and am grateful to help them achieve it. There is no way around the truth, however. I need to make more money. The problem lies in the time/money balance. If my schedule is pretty full, but my income is not where it needs to be to grow my business and support my family, something has to change. I could charge more, but my rates have been rising a bit over the past bunch of years (like they should) and I'm happy with where they are.
Running my own store might provide the perfect antidote. And you don't get there if you don't start the journey.
I'm very fond of using texture in my illustration work. It's become second nature to use my eyeballs to scout random cement walls, the back of used books, and rusted car parts. I've also become a purveyor of many, many websites, online services, and free remote collections of old stuff - all in the hopes of finding something to beautiful to use in Photoshop.
So I thought I'd share a bit of how I made the some of the tediousness of "texture sleuthing" into a simpler, more intuitive process using tools that most people have access to.
The iPhone's Camera
I have a 5c and am largely happy with it. I use the app VSCOcam to take and edit the photos slightly. The main benefit my iPhone has over other cameras is that I always have it. It's not a DSLR and there are times I wished I had my clunker, but the trade off in quality is diminished by the iPhone's utility. VSCOcam is a nice app that allows me to play with exposure, color, and sharpness to bring out the best qualities in the shot. I can also delete blurry photos before they hit my photo stream and/or texture library.
IFTTT, Dropbox and Hazel
So this is the part of the process that used to slow me down. How do you quickly get the photos off of your phone and onto your computer (in a place that's actually helpful)? In that distant past, like 3 years ago, you'd have to actually plug in your phone to a cable that way plugged into your computer. Barbarians! Thanks to some handy services, I can save it on my phone and have it saved within a certain folder on my computer in minutes.
IFTTT is a service (app and website) that links internet things together using "recipes." We're going to use a recipe that looks like this: IF I save a photo to an album named "Textures" on my iPhone THEN save it to a folder marked "iOS textures" in my Dropbox. Your photo or photos will now be saved to your dropbox on your computer. Note: You can name the albums and folders whatever you like.
You could leave the texture there, in Dropbox. But if you have a "can't quit it" texture addiction like me, you'll be hitting the bounds of your dropbox size allotment rather quickly. Hazel is a great app that does a billion fantastic things on your Mac, but in this case we just want it to watch the folder "iOS textures" and move it to the texture library that I store on an external hard drive.
So that's it. A lot of the time I take my daily bike ride, shoot a few texture shots, edit quickly and save it to my texture album all on my iPhone. When I get home, the image files are all ready to be used in one of my illustrations.
My last portfolio site was designed and developed in-house by me. It was a really fun project to bring into existence. I went with a single-page site with lots of subtle parallax effects, strong typography, and a lot of character.
It garnered lots of attention and was featured on a few showcase sites, like Site Inspire. I received lots of inquiries from fellow illustrators and designers about contacting the firm that had built the site for me. I don't think many people believed me when I said I made the whole thing from scratch on my own.
As is with all things, the site got stale. It wasn't responsive and it was difficult to add new work. The modal lightbox window was okay, but didn't serve my illustration work as well as I'd liked. I had it in my head that I needed to update, but client projects wouldn't allow.
At the same time, I'd been feeling a slow disconnect from the world of web design and a strong urge to increase the amount of fun illustration work I was getting. I can design responsive sites and have enough technical skill to make it close to what I envision, but to what end? What fun art director or children's publisher cares if I can develop in addition to illustrate?
Students and younger professionals always ask me about what to include in their portfolio. I always lead with "remove all the stuff you don't want to do more of." To get to where I want to be professionally, I needed to remove the web design work and play down some of the printed work that I didn't want to have an outsized influence on my portfolio.
So here's my new site, fully responsive and featuring my illustration work more prominently. I decided to use Squarespace for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is that I didn't have to build the site myself. Leaving me time to make work that I really love.