I just found out about a really interesting looking website called Art in a Box. It looks a great idea, whereby art lovers can subscribe and for a monthly fee of $50 get sent a piece of art from one of the sites registered artists. Obviously sometimes you might not like the art, so you are taking a punt, but it would be an interesting way of finding new artists work, plus get some original work on your walls for a decent price. It might sound like a bad deal for the artist, but I think it is really being used as a lead generator for them as they can also sell their work through the companies online shop at greater prices. Chances are if someone likes your work they might just buy another piece. Currently Art in a Box is only available in the US. Correction: Artbox is available in the US and Canada + other countries for an additional postage charge.
Artist Renee Johnson talks about her work
Art in a Box artist Martin Webb talks about his work
A Conversation with Art in a Box artist Kelsey Robinson
1. Please could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started as a designer and illustrator?
I am originally from France (Paris) where I trained as a graphic designer in the marketing and advertising industry. Back then being a designer was very different from nowadays: most of the work was done by hand and the learning curve was much slower.
My first job as a designer in an advertising company consisted in making black and white photocopies for the art director’s projects. I gradually worked my way up until I was confident enough to become a creative consultant.
I came to England 22 years ago to work as a freelancer on a 3 months contract and never returned home.
2. You now specialise in design work for the children’s industry, what bought you to this niche and what do you like about it?
Since I left art school, I always wanted to work as a children’s book illustrator and when the licensing industry “exploded” in the 90’s it was really an opportunity for me to show what I could do. Disney and Warner Brother were continually looking for artists who could draw their characters and designers who could apply them to merchandising. The fact that I could do both was a very valuable bonus.
I opened my first design studio (Kid Cartoons & Design) in 1995 and we very quickly specialised in the licensing industry with a huge accent in children’s fashion and accessories (with occasional projects for novelty gifts and toys packaging).
In 2007 I left the company (and London) to relocate in Dorset and start a “home based” graphic design and illustrations studio. I really wanted specialise in every aspect of the children’s merchandising. I find the toy and novelty gift industry very exciting; especially now with modern technology merging into it.
3. You work both on creating 2D designs and also designing more 3 dimensional products like toys. What tools and software do you use for each and do you have any tips for taking a designers skills and moving into 3 dimensional products?
I work mainly on computer using Adobe illustrator in addition of Photoshop for projects involving photographic input. There are others software available to create 3D designs, but they are more time consuming and not always cost effective to include in a competitive pricing. Also I love working with a pen and pad (manually or digital), as the ability to draw is the key skill for expressing any idea on paper.
4. Please could you talk through the design process for one of your favourite projects that you have worked on?
I regularly contribute to develop new ideas for Vivid Imaginations range of toys. It usually starts with creating an illustration showing how the toy would look like. At that stage we spend lot of time modifying and tweaking each aspect of the original ideas. Then we move on to a coloured version which bring the concept into 3D.
Once the project is approved a real 3D model is produced and more amendments are added. I usually don’t get involve with this phase but I start contributing to any side artwork necessary to the final product like illustrations, graphic artwork, sticker or instruction sheets and sometime packaging. It’s always a fast moving and fun process, and I get to experience all aspects of creating new toys and games. The real kick for me, is usually a year later when I get to see the final product in shops, ready to be sold.
5. You have published several children’s books, please could you share a bit about your experience of that?
In 2008 in collabation with Sasha Felix from Sing and Sign (www.singandsign.co.uk) we created a mini series of 3 “lift-the-flap” children’s books: “Where is Jessie?” which won the Practical Pre-School Award. I contacted Sasha earlier that year and she was looking for an illustrator to develop some children’s characters to accompany her teaching technique.
The books were so fun to work on as their format included lot of little details in each page to keep children interested. Each illustration focused on one world and one sign and in the process I learn a lot about babies’ language.
In addition to the illustrations I also produced the final layout of each book and I was able to give to this mini series a real identity. Sasha was such a pleasure to work with and gave me complete freedom of creativity.
6. You have licensed some of your work, how did you make contacts and did you use an agent?
Years ago I developed a children’s brand called “Big is Beautiful” (aimed at children with weight difficulties and had an educational “healthy eating” message). At the time, the license had a modest success, but triggered lot of support from some companies. The licensed aspect of the brand was fairly straightforward but it involves a tremendous amount of marketing and media exposure. The competition was also extremely fierce at the time and eventually “Big is Beautiful” was no more. The experience was interesting, but bank and nerves wracking…
7. What advice would you give anyone looking to license their design or illustration work?
First of all: Have a very tight marketing plan. There is no point in licensing your work if you don’t know where it will fit in the market ahead. We all hope that success would occur over night, but it usually takes 2 to 3 years to impose a new brand.
Secondly: Be very ‘hands-on” with your budget: Licensing, copyrighting and marketing your designs can be an expensive business if you choose to do it yourself.
Finally: Do your homework. Talk to licensing agencies and people who are currently going though this process. There is a lot to acknowledge and to think about to achieve a successful license.
8. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
I have a website, showing my portfolio, a Linked-in account for all my business contacts, and a Twitter account which I use to share tips and links related to freelancing, graphic designing and illustrating.
Student designer Tom Hughes who is currently studying animation at University College Falmouth got in touch with me by email recently. Hi just said that he was getting in touch with different organisations to show them his work, sent me a link to his work and said “Not entirely sure where it’s going to go from there but hey, you got to start somewhere right?” I thought was quite funny 🙂 but also showed a lot of initiative. I liked some of Tom’s illustration work and so asked him if he would be interested in doing a mini interview and show off some of his work on my blog.
1. What is you name and Website/ Design Portfolio URL?
I am studying BA Hons in Animation at University College Falmouth (UCF)
3. Please could you share a couple of your favourite pieces of your work and talk me through them?
Most of my work/drawings are self set projects, so I don’t usually have a brief. Of course I am always looking for commissioned projects as well. I guess this gives me the creative freedom to do what I want. I am very much into design, typography and Illustration.
Things that are different and clever definitely interest me. Usually, as soon as I think of something, I want to get on doing it straight away!
Some of my design work:
This is a set of 5 typography posters I did, showing what the typical mum says to their child. I came up with the idea when my mum called me one day telling to be careful about something silly (most probably) which got me thinking, as mums are notorious worriers they tend to make things up..which then tend to spread. That is where the posters come in. Pretty much anyone can relate to them!
This illustration is one of my favorites. I love ‘forgotten’ animals (animals in which people forget exist) like the manatee, or the giant ant eater. I do have a favorite and that’s the Narwhal. This print is quite simply a Narwhal doing what gentlemen do best. Complete with his mustache and monocle. He’s a friendly fella.
Along with design and the rest of it I am very much into puns and word play. It can be immensely clever I think. This illustration is of (the best) sitcom main character of all time. In my eyes anyway. But then using who he is and putting it into everyday life. I think it’s quite fun 🙂
For all my work I use Microsoft Paint which may come to a bit of a surprise.. I taught myself from an early age and can now manipulate it, I guess, to create designs and drawings of that done on a more advanced software. I am slowly learning to use others like illustrator etc… but for me nothing beats the old school. It’s just the way I work.
4. What are your favourite things about your course?
I have many favorite things about my course. All the people I work with are friendly which make it a nice environment. Over the years I have learned a lot I didn’t know about, theory and practical based. However I now look at an animation for the way its made and not how pretty it looks and the story line. It’s become habit to me and my fellow classmates.
5. What are your ambitions for the future?
I would simply love to be a freelance Illustrator/Designer. Just to have people look at my work and say ‘wow’ would make me happy.
6. What other artists, designers or illustrators do you admire?
A man called Keaton Henson who is pretty well known is a big inspiration to me. I love all his illustrations and his music isn’t bad either. A designer that inspires me is a man called Olly Moss. He does a lot of typography and poster based stuff. All of which is very clever.
7. Do you read any design magazines or blogs that you would recommend to other student designers?
I don’t really read a lot of magazines. I love little local ‘zines’ around uni. I am hopefully going to have some of my work in one soon. But I do follow many different design/illustration blogs all over the internet. They are always giving me a lot of inspiration.
Decisions, decisions! Up until recently I, like many other illustrators, had been using Photoshop as my main illustration tool. However I abandoned it and picked up my watercolour brushes. What!? Why? Well, back in 1995, when I first started out as an illustrator, Photoshop was the new weapon of choice for a ‘fresh-out-of-college’ illustrator like me. I was bowled over by the effects I could achieve (mainly invert, curve and blur at the time). Photoshop had only one level of undo (control z) and no layers. The only way to go back in your design was to save different versions of your work as you progressed, but hard drives were the size of knicker draws at the time, not the great vacuous caverns that are available today. So you’d usually just plough on forward, hoping your computer didn’t crash, until you’d finished. Whatever command you instructed the software to do, you had to be pretty sure that was what you wanted, because one more commands down the line and you couldn’t undo it! You had to be brave!
Photoshop is now a much more powerful piece of software. You can effectively go back in time and re-edit everything in your design. Now this is fantastic. But. Well for me, I started to notice in my own work that my use of colour was like everybody else’s – flat. I’d try a load of different colours out until I decided on the one I wanted (hue/saturation, brightness/contrast… etc). If something wasn’t working I’d move the layers around, try a few effects, scan something else in… etc. I realized I wasn’t making my mind up and making a decision about what I wanted. Having too much choice was making my working methods vague.
I wanted to shore things up. I had some experience of using watercolour. I used to paint bowls of fruit at the kitchen table when I was a lad. I knew that when the colour went onto the paper it was difficult to get off, as it stains like claret on white carpet! If you painted over it you’d run the risk of everything turning to sludge brown. Because of its permanence, your drawing had to be spot on even before you started. Now this is the polar opposite of Photoshop. After being sure your drawing is spot on, you have to be one hundred percent committed to the colours you’re going to be using. You have to make a decision and stick to it. If it goes wrong you have to start again.
The decision-making in the production of an illustration is one crucial part of the process. I also believe that limiting the options I have forces me to make better decisions throughout the creative process. When you have a number seven brush loaded with Cadmium Red you have to be sure that where you’re putting it is where you want it because once it’s on it’s not coming off. This kind of decision becomes even more loaded the closer to finishing the illustration you get. But you’ve got to make it. Daniel Mackie was recently awarded ‘best in book’ in the Creative review illustration Annual 2011.
If you have ever wanted to license your designs or illustrations then you will want to hear an interview with Kurt Marquart and Elaine de la Mata from Monkey Doodle Dandy who have just licensed their characters Squaredy Cat™. In the interview the duo speak about how they get ideas, how they found their licensing agent and also a really clever way they tested the market for their design using Facebook.
The All I want for Christmas cards project is an annual festive project in support of the Bristol based charity “Young Bristol”. Now into its second collection the project brings together 20 illustrators from around the country whose specific works for the project have been used to create a limited edition collection of Christmas cards that will be sold as packs containing each of the 20 cards.
A competition, with the brief to create a piece of work completing the phrase “All I want for Christmas is…” took place and after receiving an overwhelming response from designers and illustrators across the UK, the final 20 artworks were chosen, each on their individual merits and included within a pack of twenty. Collection 1 was open only to Bristol based illustrators but now in its second collection, submissions were opened up to the whole of the UK and we have some great artists on board for this years collection.
Artists involved in Collection 2 include Robert Del Naja (3D of Massive Attack), Simon Spilsbury, Rob Ryan, Melbs, Aaron Miller, Wayne Harris and a whole host of others. Artists from the previous year include Jon Burgerman, Peskimo, Ben Newman, Inkie and Bjorn Lie.
The launch night for Collection 2 took place in Bristol on Thursday 4th November and was the official unveiling of the full set of twenty designs. As well as being the first chance to see all the designs and buy some of the first packs, the night also played host to a live charity auction of artworks donated by the artists involved and some very special guest artists including Jonathan Yeo, Antony Mecallif, Conor Harrington and Banksy. The auction was a huge success and by the end of the evening we had raised over £8000 for the charity.
The limited edition Collection 2 packs are now on sale through the website for a price of £15. Each pack contains 20 individually illustrated cards and accompanying envelopes with all proceeds from sales going directly to the charity.
At a time of year when many people want, the All I want for Christmas cards project offers an opportunity to support those who need.
Please visit the All I Want for Christmas cards website (www.alliwantforchristmascards.com) for further information on the project or to purchase Collection 1 and Collection 2 packs.