An Interview with artist and illustrator John Malloy about his art and design projects. My thanks to John for sharing his work and story.
1. Please could you tell us a litle bit about yourself, your background training and experience, where you are based, what you do now etc?
I grew up in a rural area in Northern Pennsylvania to a very blue collar family, and I’ve been drawing since I was about 6 years old. Mostly cartoons as a kid, then detailed drawings of my favorite musicians/rock stars in high school. I went to a community college out there where I luckily happened upon some amazing teachers. One was a trompe l’oeil oil painter and another an art director for TV Guide back in the 1960’s. They skills they taught me have been indispensable and gave me a great foundation to start from. Since then I’m primarily self-taught by working, working, working. I eventually moved to and lived in Baltimore, MD for quite some time and now live in the countryside near Buffalo NY / Toronto ON.
2. Please could you tell us a bit about your personal art and design work, Why do you do it, what do you feel you get out of it?
My personal work began as a personal frustration to create something stylistically new that hadn’t necessarily been done in illustration/fine art before, and to challenge myself with visual concepts. Eventually this personal work got me jobs commercially, and I still do a combination of both. The personal work gives me more freedom to experiment without a deadline or an editor.
3. Please could you tell us a bit about your self initiated project to create a graphic novel?
Yes. I actually had one published back in 2001, titled “Amnesia“. Looking back on it I’m actually not that fond of it since it was my first effort. I’ve always been a fan of the medium and enticed by how unexplored it is as a genre. My new story, “Queasy“, in a sense, grew out of some things I would like to see done with the medium of sequential art.
It’s a semi-autobigraphical story, wherein I am part monkey. It’s intended as a 3-volume piece that would eventually be collected as one book, and I’m hoping to start having it published sometime next year.
4. Please can you tell us the process you go through to create your illustrations/ fine art ie. Brainstorm, sketching, what techniques and software (have you got any preliminary sketches i could show so people can see the process?)
Each and all is different depending upon the project. For music-related work [i.e. album covers] I tend to get visuals in my head from listening
to the songs and write them down, pulling the ones I think would be most interesting and fleshing those out as sketches at first.
Below left Cover Illustration for William Ingrid and their album, “For The Birds”. Below right Album Cover IIlustration/Typography for These United States‘ album, “Everything Touches Everything”
Sometimes for apparel design I’ll just do random image searches on the web for inspiration: For specific stuff, like the Peace Tea label designs, I tend to search for stuff based on the theme of each intended label:
Sometimes with my personal work I start from a major theme I have in mind… for instance pieces like, “Rash” and “Weight Loss“: were based on using the common side effects of medications as a metaphor for the mass media’s effects on the human spirit.
5. Does your personal work influence your commercial client based work?
Yes very much so. Both in visual style and concept. Many times the personal works are a way of trying out techniques before committing them to something commercial.
6. What artists, designers or illustrators do you most admire or take influence from?
Early on when I started this as a career a little over 3 years ago, I really didn’t think about this consciously at all. But now it’s clearer to me that my biggest influences technique-wise are kind of a weird mix of Alfons Mucha, Alberto Vargas, and modern silk-screening. Conceptually I’d say I’m influenced by everything from fashion design to music, film, and post-modern art.
7. What are your future ambitions as a designer/illustrator/ artist
In the not-so-distant future I’m looking forward to continuing with/finishing “Queasy” and doing fully painted pieces for a gallery. I tend not to think too far off about things though, to stay open.
8. What advice would you give to newbie artists and designers?
Don’t take yourself too seriously or ever think your all that. One of my favorite quotes is by the philosopher Bertrand Russell: “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” Also, with commercial work, it’s always about a relationship with the client. In the end you are working for them, which is creatively challenging in other ways.
I stumbled across the work of illustrator and character designer Ian Dutton http://www.ianduttondesigns.com/ after seeing some of his work on the Trulyace Blog. I asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview on graphic design blog as I really liked his work and happily he agreed – thanks Ian.
1. How did you get into the design industry, did you go via the traditional route of college/university?
I studied all the relevant subjects during my schooling after having an interest in drawing ever since i could hold a pencil! – I studied at foundation level for a year at the London Road art school in Northwich Cheshire. Post foundation year I was then accepted on to the BA (HONS) graphic arts and design course at Leeds Metropolitan university and graduated in 1999.
2. Have you always worked for yourself, or if not what was your career path to where you are now?
I haven’t always worked for myself, after graduating I approached Tigerprint (then Unique Images) a divison of Hallmark cards, they were offering work placements to design graduates, i was lucky enough to be offered a 2 week placement, after this time i was offered regular freelance work with them for about 6 months, they then took me on as a full time designer in december 1999. I worked at Tigerprint for over 6 years, before leaving in may 2005 to work for UK greetings. I worked there for 3 years, working for various clients, the large UK supermarkets and for high street stores such as Clintons, Boots and Waterstones. I returned to Tigerprint in december 2008 to help launch their online print on demand website, after a successful launch I decided in august 2010 to leave Tigerprint and to pursue a career as a freelance illustrator and designer. Throughout my career as a full time designer I would also work on freelance projects mainly for textile and and surface pattern agents, this was a great opportunity to diversify. – during this time I was fortunate enough to have work published in the US and the far east and also as far away as Australia!
3. What tools do you use for your work- software/traditional media etc?
My main tools for my work are my apple mac and wacom tablet together with the usual creative suite programs such as adobe photoshop and adobe illustrator and I also make use of corel painter occasionally depending on the brief and the client. I also continue to make use of traditional media, i almost always begin any piece with a sketch, to enable me to get my ideas down quickly. I’m a firm advocate of the pencil and would encourage new illustrators and designers to explore their illustrations first with a pencil and a sketch book!
4. What took you into the area of character design, has it always been an interest?
I’ve always enjoyed creating characters ever since I could draw, as a child would sit in front of the tv watching cartoons and trying to draw the characters, although I was never quite quick enough. I remember as a child too that my dad would buy me the beano and dandy comics of the era and after reading I would redraw the characters… in my own unique style!
I think for me, drawing characters is a release. the characters you create don’t usually have to be anatomically correct, which is lucky for me as you’ll notice there’s a continuous ‘big head small body’ theme that transcends my character designs.
5. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I know it’s perhaps a cliché but I draw my inspiration from all around, the things people say, my feelings at the time, images I see in the media, other illustrators and designers, there’s an abundance of inspiration out there and it doesn’t necessarily have to be art/design based.
6. Are there any books or online resources you would recommend to anyone interested in character design?
There are so many books out there and even more online to look at too. i wouldn’t say there are specific books to get for anyone interested in character design, I have an array of books by so many different illustrators but if I were to suggest books that I consider to be some of the finest then I would opt for any book illustrated by J. Otto Siebold, Oliver Jeffers or Marc Boutavant. they are great inspirational illustrators for me!
Online I tend to look at the work of Adrian Johnson, Johnny Yanok and Tad Carpenter, I met Tad when i worked for a short time at Hallmark US in Kansas city, he’s a very talented illustrator and designer and a very nice chap too he’s worked for some very impressive clients – a great inspiration check out his blog http://www.tadcarpenter.com/blog/.
7. I notice you have worked for some big brand names, how did you get on their radar, was it word or mouth/press or did you approach them?
The clients I have worked for in the past have been down to me working within the greetings industry. I would say the biggest leap in me attaining new clients was when I worked for UK Greetings, this as I mentioned previously enabled me to work for varied clients, which encouraged me to constantly explore and develop new styles for different customers. since leaving to work freelance I have been fortunate enough to be approached by some new clients too which is very exciting.
8. I understand you have licensed some designs for greetings cards, please could you explain how you went about licensing your work. Were the designs self initiated or were they briefed?
The licensed designs came about again by working in the greetings industry, my creative directors at both Tigerprint and UK Greetings were and still are an enormous inspiration to me and always encouraged me to think differently and explore new styles, I think together with their ideas and my willingness to listen to people with greater experience than myself led to my work being successful and hence becoming a license. it’s not always something that you initially set out to achieve when you first make that mark and begin a new design. If the design works well and the customer buys into your ideas and style and there’s a considered longevity to the product then it effortlessly makes that transition in to a licensed product. there are so many factors which have to be considered when a design becomes a license and it’s not always so straight forward.
9. For any newbie looking to get into illustration and character design what advice would you give?
Depending on what stage of your career you’re at the answer to this can be very different, for someone leaving college and looking to go into further education then pick a broad course where you can explore all disciplines of illustration and don’t particularly limit yourself to one area of illustration and design. For someone leaving university and looking for a career in illustration don’t underestimate the power of the greeting card! I was strongly discouraged from this business when I graduated however it was the greeting card industry that gave me my first break and i have a lot to be thankful for and a lot of people to thank for giving me that opportunity. – it’s a massive industry and there is so much scope and opportunity to develop as an illustrator and designer by entering in to this field!
There are always new ranges being published so the possibility to create new style regularly is an obvious advantage that coupled with the relative ease of getting your work published quickly and seen by such a wide audience is very favorable.
Being able to illustrate and design not only greeting cards, but gift wrap, stationary products, children’s toys and games and even plush characters, the greeting card industry has to be one of the most exciting studios to work in if you’re looking to develop characters and styles.
For anyone looking to get in to illustration and character design I would suggest compiling a varied portfolio of your styles, do your research and contact the relevant studios and enquire as to whether they would be interested in allowing you to present your portfolio. be polite, personable and prepared and you can’t do too much wrong.
I am a firm believer in thinking and sketching first, before taking your design on to the computer, but am I any good at sketching… well that would be a no. I can sit and draw things that are in front of me, but when it comes to sketching for design purposes chances are no-one will understand those sketches but me. Most of the time this doesn’t matter, but I would love to be able to sketch well enough that I could sometimes present ideas quickly this way. I think it is a skill that all designers once had to have – in the days of drawing boards and magic markers, but mostly now that skill has been lost.
I came across a blog called idsketching recently that I personally think is going to be really big all about sketching which includes video tutorials which are great. I have watched a couple so far but will be watching more.
1. Please could you tell us a litlle bit about yourself, your background training and experience, where you are based, what you do now etc?
Hi I’m Lee Cosgrove, www.gorillustrator.com and I currently work as a freelance illustrator from my home studio near Liverpool. Most of my work to date has been in the realm of children’s publishing which I really enjoy, probably because I loved drawing so much as a kid. In fact it’s something I’ve been absolutely crazy about since I was old enough to hold a pencil, whether it was copying superheroes from comic books, or inventing my own characters and the worlds they live in. So I guess its a good fit that I’m now drawing things that kids want to see, and copy and hopefully inspire them to use their own imagination to create for themselves.
I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator now for about 3 years and have only just made the jump to full-time illustration this year, leaving behind a career in telecoms.
So far I’m loving it.
2. What is your Face Fest project and what inspired you to start it? Why did you choose faces, is this the sort of illustration work you most like and want to promote?
Face Fest is a little self-initiated project I’m currently working on where I create a new face illustration every day throughout October. The faces can be anything, ranging from an Indian princess to a rotting zombie, the only constraints are that they all have to fit within the a certain set of dimensions.
The original idea came about when I was trying to design a new business card for myself, I didn’t want a wad of cards that all looked the same; I wanted some variety, so that if a potential client didn’t like the gorilla face image on the card – no problem, they could take a robot one instead, or a spaceman, or a tiger or whatever. I wanted the cards to be a mini portfolio I could carry around with me. So I set to work designing a unique face each day, it has been a lot of fun and I’m only just over halfway through.
3. Please can you tell us the process you go through to create your illustrations eg. Brainstorm, sketching, what software and techniques?
Usually my process involves me just very roughly sketching out a few ideas straight into photoshop, I usually have quite a few in my head at any one time, some are more suitable than others for the dimensions of the cards. Once I get something that I think will work, I tighten up the sketch (but not too much) and start playing around with some colours, block in the main elements and mess around with layer opacities and blending modes, etc. Once I’ve got the basics I go in with some texture, either from a library of photos of materials like wood, rusted metal, concrete, etc or with some texture brushes made from scanned paint or ink strokes. Then maybe some final tweaks of the image colours and contrasts and we’re done.
4. Once you have competed your October Facefest challenge what are going to do with the illustrations?
Once the full set of images are complete I’ll be sending them off to get printed as mini business cards and sending little variety-packs to art clients in my next promotional mail-out (I do a few of these each year). On top of that Im thinking there might be some other uses for the images, maybe some fun mini fridge magnets or some other kind of collectibles.
You can see more of Lee’s Face Fest Project below and on his blog
I got the book Street Sketchbook as a present (from my Amazon wishlist) not this Christmas but the Christmas before and I have been meaning to review it ever since.
Street Sketchbook is as the name implies a look at the sketch books of artist and illustrators. The word “Street” does not necessarily mean that the artists are street artists, though some are, but is used more as a term to describe non conformists art. A lot of the sketches are character based, with interlocking patterns and figures and is a great source of inspiration for graphic designers and illustrators alike. I don’t know about you but I sometimes prefer the rough drawings I do for my design projects to he finished designs. A sketch just manages to have spontaneity that is difficult to maintain.
Below are some pages from the book
I really like the use of ready made/found images in the pages above. It’s something that could be used as inpiration for illustration or design – using the idea of taking found textures and drawing on top of them.
I like the way this image flows across the page and the stylistic characters are beautiful.
As you would expect from a sketch book many of the illustrations are black and white, but as you can see from the pages above some artists also demonstrate the use of loose vibrant colour work.
Overall I think this book is a great source of imagery, I was so impressed I actually bought a painting (below) by one of the featured artists Wayne Horse