Blank Canvas: Personal Projects

For this installment of Blank Canvas, Go Media is interested in hearing about your forays into the analog world.

With so much design work being created and used online and in digital format, it’s easy for a creator to only see their work on the screen. And typically the work you create is for a client.

Our question this time around: how much work do you create for yourself, and do you exhibit that work in shows and/or galleries? If so, how do you go about finding an outlet for your design work?

We also want to hear from you illustrators out there. How much of your work is personal creation, and do you show your art in community events?

Personally, most of my illustration work ends up being seen on-screen. I’ve been planning to create more personal digital artwork and get it out into the physical world, but to be honest I have been dragging my feet in that area.

At Go Media’s recent WMC Fest art/music/film event, I had the opportunity to display work and worked up an original illustration and had it printed out. The impact of seeing non-client work in large format print was addicting, and I plan to do much more of this in the coming months.

I’m also very curious as to those on the design end of the spectrum, what your thoughts are regarding personal creations and displaying them in a public setting. Sound off in the comments section below.


Video Tut: iMac Illustration

The ArtCast Network

This one goes out to all you illustrator types.

Children’s book illustrator Dani Jones was an early adopter of using online video such as YouTube and live broadcast video service Ustream to share her tips, techniques and talents with others.

Over time she had found that there were quite a few artists producing both recorded video as well as doing live “screencasts”, but with no real hub site to bring them all together.

The ArtCast Network

This simple thought led to the creation of The ArtCast Network — a portal site where illustrators, comic artists, painters, cartoonists and any other visual art related to illustration would have a “group home” to allow those interested to find all of them in one place.

In a relatively short amount of time, Dani had put together a slick little WordPress site bringing together all these creators and their videos.

In The Studio

The real draw to the ArtCast Network is the live “screencasts”, where artists will draw, sketch and paint live via Ustream, or any of the other live streaming video services. Not only do you get t watch the artists draw live, but there is also a live chat window where you can interact directly with the artists — ask a question, make a comment, give kudos.

If you’re like me, you love to watch other artists’ process of creating their images, and being able to interact with them while they do it is even better. I would have killed to have had something like this when I was younger.

The Screening Room

The ArtCast Network also has a weekly event called “The Screening Room”, where one of the many artists on the ArtCast Network do a live screencast at 9:00 PM EST. It’s a great way for those interested in watching to have a single day and time where various artists will be doing their thing.

Many artists have either an irregular broadcast schedule, or perhaps screencast when it isn’t convenient for you to watch. This is a nice solution to that problem.

Anytime, Anywhere

Of course, perhaps even that regular slot might not be ideal, so even better is the fact that all these live broadcast services allow recording, so you can go back and check out the ones you’ve missed.

Obviously you’ll miss out on the opportunity to interact with the artist, but with any luck someone asked the question you had.

Your humble editor also participates on the ArtCast Network, and I’ve hosted a couple of the weekly Screening room sessions as well. It’s a very rewarding experience, and even better when there’s a nice, big crowd of viewers keeping things active in the chat and asking good questions —on-topic or off.

ArtCast Network Wants You!

Partially we wanted to bring the ArtCast Network to your attention, but even better — the ArtCast Network wants any and all artists out there doing a live screencast to join up and be part of the site. It’s absolutely free, and very much a site that is “by artists, for artists”.

Quite a few of the artist are digital, but there are plenty who prop up a webcam and do traditional media as well. Some even switch between the two. There really is “something there for everyone”. It’s such a fantastic resource, a great way to network with other artists online, and something that we just didn’t have access to until recently.

I strongly urge you to head over to The ArtCast Network, check out some of the live shows, and again if you are an artist yourself, get a show set up and drop Dani a line to get listed on the website. The online live stream services like Ustream and are totally free, so there’s really no investment save for you time. There’s a great “Getting Started” page that has all the info you need.

You can also follow The ArtCast Network on Twitter.

Have another great online resource like The ArtCast Network that we should know about, or a favorite artist on the ArtCast Network? Let us know in the comments section below.


New Arsenal Release: Wacom Illustration Video Tutorial

Interview with Illustrator Dan Mumford


Can you start by telling us about who you are, what you specialize in and where you’re from?

My name is Dan Mumford, i am an illustrator/screen printer and i live in London.

I know you had formalized study in illustration, did you always plan to do band art or was that just a natural progression? How did this shape the way and style in which you work?

It was very much a natural progression for me, i was playing in local bands when i was younger so i always knew people in bands and when i got asked to work for some friends it just seemed like a natural thing to combine music and art, my work has just grown out of that really.

Do you keep a sketchbook? Do the contents typically evolve into your finished work or is it more a collection of loose ideas and doodles?

No, i really should sketch more though, the digital age has made me a lot less dependent on the classic pen and paper, and i tend to sketch out ideas on the computer a lot more than i ever used to. But ideas and sketches do end up being used in final pieces sometimes yes, just not as much i would probably like!


How do you approach a project from start to finish? Are you 100% digital or is there paper involved?

It depends on the project involved, a lot of the time recently my work has been completely digital, but i am heading back to doing more work with pen and pencil in the future, there is something you cant beat about the control, but at the same time working on a tablet is great for quick jobs.

Are your tools any different now than when you started? Do you have any favorites or old standbys?

I use the same sort of pens and paper that i have done for the last few years, i dont really feel the need to change up the technique i use for hand drawing at the moment, apart from the move to working digitally with a tablet and cs3, my techniques not changed all that much over the years, i think i have just got a bit quicker!

Do you work in Photoshop or Illustrator? How has that changed the way you draw or finish a piece?

Yeah i use both for various things. It has changed the process a lot actually, learning how to use photoshop properly and learning how to use a tablet has changed my working times and the way i go about creating a piece quite a bit. If anything it has sped up the process for me, i think the ability to use both is invaluable for an illustrator.


Are there any common obstacles you run into as a result of your process?

Repetition and typography, type has always been my weakest skill, and im working on making my type skills a bit better, but i do still like to focus on the artwork itself. Repetition wise, i just get asked to do a lot of the same thing again and again, and its just a bit boring sometimes, its always nice when a client has seen what ive done and then asks for something completely different, its a breath of fresh air.

What’s been influencing your work lately?

A lot of old movies and ideas from the 80’s, i try not to reference the present too much, im far more interested in sci-fi/action movies from the 80’s and 90’s, theres something special about that time period for film, and growing up it really shaped me, so its nice to revisit those ideas now!

Do you keep a morgue file or any other reference around?

Not really, i tend to use my self or people in the studio for reference, that or there is always google, but its nice to not rely on google for reference images, everyone does it nowadays so you can end up seeing the same images cropping up in designs.


Do you typically work from ideas you already have or do the ideas come after talking with the client?

No, generally its from ideas that the clients have, its always nice to be thrown the seed of an idea, and then be able to elaborate on their idea and put my own spin on it. Even if its just a word or a theme, its always nice to have some sort of idea of where the client would want to take the project.

When you’re working is it a locked down kind of process, chained to your desk, or more casual with friends coming and going?

Well, generally i sketch out things in a big block and get all my roughs out of the way over the process of a week, then i will go through and turn those ideas into final pieces. The sketching process is quite laid back, a lot of procrastinating etc, but when i am locked into the actual design part, i tend to do long 12 hour days in the studio etc, but i dont generally end up working away into the night, its the nice part about working in a studio, i have to go home at some point and leave the work!

Where would you like to be with your illustration 5 and 10 years from now?

I would like to be creating work in the same sort of style, but hopefully have a bit more freedom with what i am doing, probably just creating work more for myself and creating a lot more prints, and at the very least just making a living, i still find it crazy that i can make a living from this, its a great job.


Have you ever had to walk away from a project / client relationship going south? What was that like?

Yeah, a few times. Its not a nice experience, generally its amicable, just because its not going the way the client wants it to, but ive had a couple of jobs where i have just felt like a puppet trying to create what the art director has in his mind, and its just not fun in any way, you have to question your integrity and decide if its something you really want to do.

Do you have anything coming up you’re excited about, or recent favorite projects?

My recent batch of black dahlia murder tees was great fun and came out really well, and coming up i have a new project that im working on thats hopefully very exciting, i cant say much about it, but all should be revealed in the next few months, its a nice change of pace for me.

I think the shark devouring the ship thing you did for Gallows is probably my favorite. How did this come about?

Well, it was the follow up single to abandon ship, so we thought it would be nice to keep the second single in the same style and theme as the first. Thus rather than a giant sea squid, its a giant shark! That and the name of the song was ‘in the belly of a shark’. hahaha, not quite as imaginative as you might hope! but the design came out real nice, and it was definitely one of my favorite projects to work on.


Do you have any favorite things to draw? I see a lot of sharks and tentacles in your stuff. Is that what your sketchbook is full of?

Not really, thats more to do with the client base, its the style and theme that the music scene is essentially asking for most of the time! Obviously i enjoy drawing that sort of stuff, but im far more interested in natural looking shapes, and beautiful linework than the grim side of things.

What have you been listening to lately? Are you an iPod or vinyl kind of guy?

Im most definitely an ipod guy, 100%. Vinyl is great for the artwork, but i really dont care about the better audio quality. I get the feeling in the age of mp3 download codes with vinyl purchases, that most vinyl doesn’t ever really get played anyway, which is a shame. But you cant beat the size of vinyl packaging.

Are there any other illustrators you think we should check out?

Theres too many, Godmachine, Ben Lande, Joshua Belanger, Chad Lenjer, Brian Morries, Drew Millward, The black Axe, Greg Abbot, Wil Exley, Charlie Duck….and many more..but thats a good start!


You can see Dan Mumford’s work on his website, read his blog, or follow him on Twitter.

Weapons of Mass Creation Interview: Geoff May

Welcome to the second installation of the Weapons of Mass Creation video interview series. Not sure what this is all about? Read the kick-off article to get caught up!

Our first interview was with Richard Minino, otherwise known as HORSEBITES. If you missed it, you can watch the first interview here.

The second interview is with Geoff May. We’ve got 8 minutes of revealing video for you to watch! Inspired by all the negative comments about audio quality on the last interview, we’ve once again transcribed the interview for you to read along with! You’ll find both below.

Geoff May: My name’s Geoff May, G-E-O-F-F, and the design community would know me for merchandise design. I’m all over the board with bands I’ve worked with. I mean, I was doing Bee Gees earlier in the week, and then Guns & Roses at the end of the week – so it’s kind of all over the place. But, yea, people would know me through that.

GoMediazine: So what’s your story? How did you get started?

Geoff May: I was working a job as an illustrator for this gaming company. They’re the biggest bingo distributor in the world, and uh, it sucked. It was so corporate. I quit and said “yea I’m just gonna freelance”. I was doing print & web design and hated it.

I want to do band t-shirts & album art & skateboards & just, cool stuff! And one day, I just contacted some merch companies. I thought maybe I’ll hear back from them, maybe not. Well, I heard back from them. I kinda fell into it that way.

It’s cool, but what’s funny is I contact all these record labels, and none of them replied. None. And after I’d been working for the merchandise companies, all of the sudden these record labels were contacting me. These same ones who never replied to any emails or anything.

GoMediazine: Oh, yea, now you want me?!

Geoff May: Like, now? Really? C’mon, where were you six months ago?

GoMediazine: So what’s been your best project?

Geoff May: Anything where there’s no production, and it’s just like “do something” I like to draw, so anything hand drawn. I was talking about doing Guns & Roses this week. They said “do whatever – make it 80s rock style, but do whatever”. Yea, I’m making skulls, snakes. It’s fun when you have free reign to do whatever.

GoMediazine: So you were talking that you’re excited that Chad’s (DiscordantArt) here, Angryblue’s here. Are these guys you’ve drawn inspiration from? Who else has inspired your work?

Geoff May: Yea, if you’re gonna talk more industry known – merchandise design known? Yea, Chad’s Killer. And the kid’s only twenty, which just makes me sick. Angryblue is big. Jeff Finley & Oliver Barrett – those guys are giants too. Who was a big inspiration, Illustration wise? Todd McFarlane Derek Hess.

GoMediazine: Do you have any current projects you want to talk about? Are there any you can talk about right now?

Geoff May: It’s all hush-hush. All lock and key. No, uh, right now there’s Guns & Roses that I’m working on and I’m pretty stoked about that. I had to put some stuff on the backburner, like this design for Trivium, coming up which I’m pretty stoked about. It’s Kali Ma, which is a Hindu god. She’s blue with four arms & wears a necklace of skulls & a skirt of arms – you know, severed arms. It’s pretty gnarly, and I can’t wait to get back to doing it because I think that’s going to be a fun shirt.

GoMediazine: So, unrelated question: What’s the story of your tattoos?

Geoff May: odd McFarlane. 50s pin-ups. I love 1950s art and 1950s ads.

GoMediazine: So is that another inspiration of yours?

Geoff May: Yea… it doesn’t transfer over to what I’m doing really. But I like the aesthetics of it. Now and then I do do more graphic design based stuff. I always think about that. The 50s stuff was real cool & clean. And the artists were phenomenal. I mean, there wasn’t clip art. You had these guys like Gil Elvgren (, fucking hand painting these images. You don’t see that anymore.

GoMediazine: So you said stock art. That brings me to a question that we wanted to ask you. And you seem ready! It can almost get philosophical. What’s your opinion of stock art and design resources.

Geoff May: I’m a huge fan of it. I have a lot of Go Media Vector Packs. What I’m against is people just taking something & slapping it on, and making that the main image. That’s not really… you didn’t do anything. You took something that somebody else did. But – there’s plenty of uses. I use a lot of the distressed vectors & splatters & stuff like that. I like using those because it takes my art and enhances it. And it saves me a ton of time! I could pull out the ink & brushes & make splatters. Or I could just go & use some & they’re right there. I save a ton of time & it’s the same result. There’s plenty of people using that stuff in creative ways. And there’s also a ton of people abusing it, slapping a bunch of it together & calling it art. There’s something to be said for found images, and repurposing, but uh–

GoMediazine: It’s a thin line almost, isn’t it?

Geoff May: There’s a really thin line. But I’d say I’m definitely for it, because I use the stuff all the time. On my latest project I was using Go Media Vectors. I think: I don’t have time to draw these wings, these are cool wings & they’re not a main focal point of the art. These will fit perfect for what I was going to do, get the point across. It’ll save me a ton of time.

It comes to saving a time. I want to get something done as quickly as possible, because I get a flat rate, not hourly pay. But it still needs to be quality. So, I could either spend two hours drawing this image, or I could use theirs – which is the same quality. It’s what I need.

GoMediazine: So do you have a lot of ebbs & flows in your work right now? Jobs coming in & out?

Geoff May: Yea, yea. I’m constantly busy. And that’s important. It’s to the point now where people contact me, I don’t have to look for work. Which is really nice. I think that anybody, in any profession, want people to come to you. I have the ability to turn down projects. If it’s not something I want to do and I don’t really need it, I’m like “I’m not going to do it”. I’d rather do something cooler.

There’s times. If things are slow I’ll whore myself out. Yea, I’ll do Backstreet Boys, why not? I mean, it sucks, it’s not going to be in my portfolio! But I’m still going to do a great job. I don’t treat it like any less of a project. I mean, my name is still attached to it. I still want to do a good job. I’m not going to put up shit just because I don’t like the band or whatever.

You’ve just got to treat everything like that’s going to be the one that your name is always going to be attached to. Some random project. It’s always going to be one you don’t like. You’ve got to try to do your best work always.

Von Glitschka – Adobe Illustrator CS4 Guru


If you aren’t already familiar with Von Glitschka’s art, you should be. An ‘illustrative designer’ as he’s coined it, Von’s work is a tour de force in the vector art world. Flexible and versatile in both style and technique, Von’s unique talent shines through in every creation that flows from his vector tools.

Go Media goes in-depth with this master of vectors, and Von shares some insight on the techniques behind his creations using Adobe Illustrator CS4.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What does Glitschka studios specialize in?

Creative ideas. That may seem like a condensed response but it’s true. People hire me for my ability to take their project and execute a well crafted idea. Most of these ideas are carried out through what I call illustrative design. Leveraging illustration through a design context.

Tell us about your first experiences with Illustrator. What version/features were you using?

I once was a diehard FreeHand user. I used FreeHand from version 2 until version 11a, which was a beta never released to the public. I’ve dabbled with Illustrator since version 5 but used to only use it to open files, save files or check color – which ironically enough FreeHand sucked at.

Back in 1997 I worked for Upper Deck Company in California. Our art department had around 25 designers all using Illustrator and I was the sole FreeHand user. It worked fine, there were never any issues and I could do way more than the Illustrator users at that time. I continued to use FreeHand as my core drawing application and augmented it with Illustrator whenever I needed too.

When Adobe bought Macromedia in 2005 I saw the writing on the wall. I held out for almost a year and then a Portland ad agency hired me to create a poster to promote Creative Suite 2 (CS2). They assumed I used Illustrator, and I didn’t tell them I didn’t and forced myself to learn it in about a week. (More about this story here.)

So from late 2005 until now I’ve been using Illustrator as my primary weapon of mass creation. The first year was frustrating, losing features I had grown to love. But in all honesty I can say now I wouldn’t want to go back. (More about my switch here.)

I currently use Illustrator CS4. I don’t get into tools like the Blob Brush, it just doesn’t fit my personal creative process. But I really love the blend modes. Being able to layer colors to achieve a rich detail is something I could never do in my old app. The simple fact is Illustrator facilitates and brings to life my artistic passions.


How did you get started using vector art? Tell us about your experience of the transition from traditional media to digital.

For the first five years of my professional career I worked at a large sportswear company in Seattle. Everything was drawing by hand, shot on a stat camera and hand separated into film positives. True craft and skill was needed to pull off design and illustration well – something that’s unfortunately being forgotten in our industry now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love digital, it has equipped me to produce far easier and with much more control than ever. But the computer has also lowered the bar in terms of what innate level of skill and craft one would need to even consider this a career as a designer or illustrator. So the digital tools have enabled a legion of marginal talent to survive. But every industry deals with that at some point in terms of progression I guess. I just hope future software doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator, but rather pushes the higher-end users instead.

Even though I consider myself a digital artist I think it’s important to have solid, refined analog skills as a designer. In other words it’s important to be a good drawer whether or not you ever want to be a full-blown illustrator. (More about my view on this here.)


For your workflow, what are the biggest benefits of a vector-based workflow in Illustrator over traditional media?

Flexibility to explore variations in content and color, edit, refine, adapt and repurpose with ease across a broad range of technologies and media formats. Vector-based art’s resolution independence is its biggest asset. Traditional art is great, and can and should be integrated into a digital work flow when appropriate, but it’s almost always built to size even if the traditional style is created in a raster environment.

I think of vector-based art as free range creativity.

Do you have any favorite Illustrator time-saving techniques?

I love the fact that Adobe lets third-party developers create useful plug-ins that expand the application’s ease of use and flexibility, so the user can adapt their personal preference with regards to vector building. I use a very helpful plug-in called XStream Path by CValley Software that makes creating and forming vector shapes a breeze.

I like to use Illustrator styles a lot, custom-designed actions, and a full range of keyboard shortcuts that are now second nature and make going from a sketch to refined vector art a smooth and precise process. I also have an unhealthy fondness for the inner glow effect which makes detailing my art fun.

For more information about how I build my vector shapes visit my Illustration Class tutorial site.


What are your favorite features in Illustrator CS4?

The improved building methods and point control, the ability to control gradients on objects, and the new masking features and multi-page capabilities.

What other Creative Suite 4 products do you use for your designs?

I use Photoshop all the time. I import smart objects into my Photoshop files and Photoshop files into my Illustrator files, though I do wish that Smart Objects in Photoshop linked to the source Illustrator file. That’s the only part of using Smart Objects that isn’t so smart. I also use InDesign and Fireworks when needed.

Are you seeing ways in which CS4 is improving your workflow? Are you able to quantify improvements, i.e. number of hours/days of work saved; profitability percentage/dollar amount increases due to efficiency improvements with CS4?

Being able to customize Illustrator and Photoshop via “Actions” and “Keyboard Shortcuts” and “Graphic Styles” etc. makes for a more streamlined creative process. The ability to add in third part plug-ins furthers the customization for my own preferred creative process.


You have a very broad range of styles, all of which you have mastered. The recent ‘Molar Madness/Ramp Champ’ iPhone design, your ‘Keyboard Characters’ and your Sports Identity designs all have a unique and distinct look while each retains their respective stamp of expertise.

Talk us through this in general. What Illustrator features do you primarily use? Any overall advice or techniques in Illustrator you can share? How do Photoshop and other CS4 apps figure in to your overall vector art workflow?

All my projects are style driven. Each project has its own unique aesthetic and genre that my art has to adapt to. There’s also genre, product and target audience to consider. Sometimes that style is dictated to me by an agency and other times I determine an appropriate style for the given client. That said, I have my favorite styles but it does keep things interesting so I can’t complain.

My creative process follows the same general framework and structure for every project regardless of the style direction I’m taking. My favorite tools within Illustrator CS4 are of course the Pen Tool, PathFinder Palette, Gradient Tool, XStream Path Direct Edit Tool and Blend Modes. The combination of all those with others when needed produces everything one can see on my own Web site. (More about my “Illustrative Designer Creative Process” here)

In particular, what Illustrator tools did you use for the excellent Cubist-style effect for the Keyboard Characters? How do the other Adobe CS4 applications play a role in your creative process?

Whenever I create my segmented style illustration it’s all about shape building. Sometimes I have to create three steps forward and then go two steps back in order to build what I need. For the Keyboard Characters I actually posted a tutorial that takes you through the entire process from sketch to final printed piece. You can view that here.


I use Photoshop every day. It’s second only to Illustrator, but I couldn’t do what I do without it. I love how flexible Photoshop is. The same thing can be done in so many different ways, making it very easy for a designer to adapt it to their work flow and preferences. To be honest, I think the Illustrator team could learn a few things from the Photoshop team. There – I said it.

The Ramp Champ artwork is particularly nice. Were there any Illustrator tools that were especially useful in creating artwork specifically for an iPhone game/app? Any particular advice for other Illustrator artists working on artwork for an iPhone app using Illustrator?

Ramp Champ is a project that required both Illustrator and Photoshop. Everything in the art needed to be either animated or have the ability to be modular. So most of the base art was created inside Illustrator and extensively layered as Smart Objects. We actually had Smart Objects within Smart Objects. Double click a layer and it would open up another layered Photoshop file which had its own Smart Objects in it. But all was masterfully contained in one Photoshop file. This enabled easy editing when beta testing and revising art.


The key to any GUI graphics, iPhone or otherwise, is to build the art at 100%. Doesn’t matter if it’s a vector Smart Object, you need that pixel precision sans the fuzzy factor and that is only accomplished when working at the final size. This is often the problem with many artists trying to design or illustrate for onscreen content. They assume since it’s vector it can be smaller or larger and they’ll just scale it either way – a rookie mistake. If you want to see some of the best examples of this visit The Icon Factory. They’re the originators of Ramp Champ and the masters of all things GUI.

Your Señor Skully illustration has some great texture effects. Were these created within Illustrator? If so, how were they achieved? What Illustrator tools did you use? If not, how were they implemented within the Illustrator document/artwork and what tools were used?

No, those are authentic textures. I always try to avoid faking an effect, especially when it comes to textures. A few years back I had a local silk screen shop print a throwaway shirt with just a huge white rectangle on it. I then had my wife put it in the wash every time she did laundry and after about a year this wonderful texture came about.


I scanned it into Photoshop and created the texture which is just a hi-res tiff image I placed into Illustrator and colorized the same as the background. Some might Live Trace a tiff like that but I’ve always found it looks far more realistic and detailed to leave it as a tiff image. It’s a less complex vector file too. (I posted more about this texture experiment here.)

Tell us how CS4 played a part in your pattern art creation.

Illustrator is ideal for creating tiled repeat patterns. Once your tile design is complete, the flexibility of applying it using the color palette and other controls such as rotate and scale make it easy to adapt them into your own creative projects. I did a tutorial for VectorTuts on how to create a pattern here.


Also, anyone is welcome to visit and download sample patterns and spreads.

Tell us more about how CS4 was used to create your “Beautiful Vectors” artwork.

I was asked to be part of the “Adobe Illustrator CS4 WOW! Book” and so I decided to do an illustration in a style I don’t often work in. I felt I had to really challenge myself and wanted to push my comfort zone and get far more extensive with my detailing and methodology. I love the control of gradients you get in Illustrator. I used to avoid gradients like the plague in FreeHand, they just never looked that good. So now that what you see is what you get in Illustrator I use them more and more.


That said I don’t like the whole blended look. I wanted a clean graphic style that retained an element of realism and detail that would carry it forward – a balance of refined simplicity with just enough application of gradient detailing to enhance it. I utilized extensive blend modes, layering, transparency and subtle blurring of shapes to create this artwork.

In the end I felt like I had created work worthy to be part of a WOW! book.


Do you find yourself using the newer Illustrator tools, such as Live Color, the Blob Brush, the Eraser, or do you stick with the more traditional Illustrator vector tool set?

Traditional all the way. Augmented by third party plugins like Xtream Path by CValley Software. I’ve used the eraser a few times but probably won’t use Blob Brush or Live Color –they just don’t fit with my creative process. I never create on the fly, I create from an informed point of view knowing what I need to build before I build it because I’ve drawn it out before I touch the computer.

I’d like to see Adobe focus on improving existing tools and adding missing features that should be part of the core building methods, like “Sub Selection” of shapes without having to mess with the layers palette or fiddle with a sub menu. Adobe is well aware of this limitation. InDesign does it this way so it’s possible.


What features would you like to see in future versions of Illustrator? How would you improve on existing features to increase productivity for vector artists?

I’m on the Adobe beta team and know what I can’t say, so I’ll just share what I’d personally really love to see in Ai.

  • Layering controls and layer folders and layer masking (like Photoshop).
  • A preference that forces all guides to one “Guide Layer,” thus making guides non-objects.
  • Redesign the Color Palette so the Fill and Stroke aren’t overlapped. Add the ability to drag and drop color to both at same time.
  • Make all the blend modes from Photoshop available in Ai (Example: Vivid Light).
  • The ability to customize the tool bar at the top of screen so it always shows what I want it to
  • Better font preview in font list
  • Make Adobe Illustrator customizable by letting users buy a base app and offering additional features á la carte.
  • Push Zoom to 10,000%.
  • Team up with “What the Font” and add the ability to select converted text and determine source font it was converted from.
  • Make free distort work just like Photoshop. Remember KPT Vector Effects? Make it work like that.
  • Create patterns, styles, borders etc. to include in the app that are pro quality.
  • When upgrading to new versions, have the installer retain all custom settings and plug-ins.

Von’s work can be seen at his website, Glitschka Studios, and be sure to follow him on Twitter here.

Create a 3D Vector Labyrinth


A Square Foundation

Let’s start off by creating a new document that’s 1024×768.  Name this first layer “Maze.”  Then, take the Rectangle tool and draw a 50×50 square.  Give this square a 10px black outline and no fill.  Then align it to the center of the canvas.  Repeat this process, only this time make the square 700×700.


Now we’re going to blend these two squares together.  Select the two of them and then type Ctrl+Alt+B (or go to Edit > Object > Blend > Make on your menu bar.)


Now you should have what looks like three squares.  We want a few more than this, though.  So it’s time to go into the Blend Options and make a few changes.


After that’s done, you should have a series of squares that look like this on your canvas.


We can’t do anything with these squares until we separate them into their individual shapes.  So go to Object > Expand and make sure all the checkboxes for “Object,” “Fill,” and “Stroke” are selected before you hit the “OK” button.  Now the squares are separate items.  However, they are still grouped.  So type Shift+Ctrl+G to ungroup the lot of them.  Now you can select each square individually.

A Proper Maze Has a Lot of Twists, Turns, and Dead Ends

A maze is not a number of squares within each other from largest to smallest.  A maze is a puzzle where the solution is a winding path amid many twists, turns, and dead ends leads from the outer entrance to the center.   So now it’s time to turn this pattern of squares into a true labyrinth.

Take the pencil tool (Shortcut:  “N”), change the stroke color to red, and make the stroke width at least 3pts.  Then create a new layer above the squares, named “Solution”.  Take the pencil and draw a possible solution to the maze through the squares on this layer.  It should start in the center and end somewhere outside the outermost square.


The drawn line does not have to be perfect.  Nor does it have to cover the entire square.  It can be as simple or complex as you want it, so long as it’s not a straight line from start to finish.  After you’ve finished drawing your path for the maze, double click on the “Solution” layer and select the “Template” option.  Now we can go back to the “Maze” layer.

We’re going to use two tools to edit the squares on the “Maze” layer.  The first tool is the “Add Anchor Point Pen Tool” (shortcut:  “+”).  The second is the “Line Tool” (shortcut:  “/”).  Starting with the smallest, innermost box, take the “Add Anchor Point Pen Tool” and add two anchor points on either side of the solution line that crosses through it.


After those two points are added, add one more point between those two.  Immediately after that, press the “Delete” key to remove that third point.  Now you should be left with a single opening in the center square.



Now take your “Line” tool and draw a line from one side of the small square to the side of the larger square just outside it.  Press and hold the “Shift” key while you draw this line to keep it perpendicular to the wall you’re drawing from.  This creates your first “dead end” in the maze.


Now it’s just a matter of opening up doorways where the red lines cross the black boxes, and creating walls for dead ends.  Don’t forget to create more doorways and walls to create a more complex maze.  When you’re done you ought to have something that looks like this:


When your maze is done, select all the black lines on the page.  Go up to the “Object” drop-down menu and “Expand” everything.  Once everything is expanded, open up the “Pathfinder” tab (shortcut:  Shift+Ctrl+F9).  Under the “Shape Modes”, press and hold the Alt key while selecting the “Add to Shape Area” button. Any lines that intersected another become a solid shape.  Anything not intersecting will be grouped together automatically.



When your maze is fully developed, then you can go ahead and delete or hide the “Solution” layer.  It won’t be needed again.  Now what you’re left with is the grouped shape on the Maze layer.


Turning the 2D to 3D

Now it’s time to turn this flat maze into a three-dimensional labyrinth.  Select the grouped maze image and change the color to gray (#7F7F7F).  Then go to Effects >Extrude & Bevel…


When the pop-up menu opens up with all the options, change the settings to what you see below:


If you click on “Ok”, your 3D maze should now look like this:


Adding a Little Flair

For this maze, I want to make it so that the bottoms of the walls blend into the background.  In order to do this, we are going to map the labyrinth walls with a simple gradient symbol.  On the same Maze layer, create a 100×100 square.  Fill it with a gray-to-white gradient (#7F7F7F to #FFFFFF).


With this square still selected, turn it into a graphic symbol by pressing F8.  Name it “Wall”.

Now reselect your maze and open up your “Appearance” tab.  Double-click the FX layer named “3D Extrude & Bevel”.  When the options pop-up has opened up, select the “Map Art” button.

Press the “Next Surface” button on the Map Art options screen until you reach a simple rectangular shape.  Whenever you get to a plain rectangle shape go to the Symbols drop down and select your “Wall” symbol.  Make sure to press the “Scale to Fit” button.

Note:  Although the gradient is mapped to the wall so that the gradient runs white-to-gray from top-to-bottom, when it appears on the actual 3D object, it will be reversed so that it’s gray-to-white.


Keep going through each image and map each visible wall, which are usually shaded in a very light gray.  Walls that are not visible will usually be shaded in dark gray and do not need to be mapped.  I say “usually” because sometimes Illustrator’s 3D Extrude and Bevel function acts a little buggy with complex shapes like this.  Sometimes walls that are visible on the canvas show up as “not visible” in the Map Art pop-up.   If you keep the “Preview” box checked, you can see which walls you are mapping on the 3D labyrinth itself as you go.   When you’re done mapping all the visible walls, this is how the labyrinth should look:


Finishing Touches

Now we have the fully built 3D Labyrinth.  However, let’s add some color.  We want to make all the gray portions blue.  This is easy enough to fix, and we won’t have to go into any shapes or symbols to do it.  First select the maze and then go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork from your menubar.


If you followed the tutorial to the letter, you should only have two colors available to edit in the Live Color pop-up:  white and gray.   In the “New” color box beside the gray color, change that swatch of gray to blue.  Then press OK.  Everything that had that gray color, including the gradient in the “Wall” symbol, will now be changed.


The color is now what we want it.  However, I want to see more white in the gradient of the walls.  All you need to do to change how the walls look is to open up the “Wall” symbol and change the gradient there.  If the symbol is deleted, then it can be found again in the Symbol tab (Shift+Ctrl+F11).  Double-click the symbol to open it up for editing.  Change the midpoint of the gradient from 50% to 75%.


When you’re done with the color and gradient changes, your maze should look like this:


Finally, it’s time to export the final image.  Take a moment to center the labyrinth in the middle of the canvas.  Then go to File > Export and export the image into the file-type and resolution of your choice.  For this example, I chose a JPEG.  When you look upon the final exported image, you’ll notice that the image has no jagged edges around the perimeter of the maze.  The white portions of the walls blend smoothly into the background.  You now have what looks like a labyrinth sitting in the middle of a fog.


In Conclusion

Now that you know how to create this 3D labyrinth, feel free to experiment with any number of shape and color combinations.  Variations of this theme can be created using different foundations shapes (circles, hexagons, hearts, etc) and by varying the number of shapes used as well as the thickness of their outlines.  If you wish to make the maze large enough so that it fills the entire canvas, I suggest either making the size change before you start mapping the walls (as the symbols do not deform well once they are in place) or exporting the image far larger than your intended image dimensions, and then cropping the image down to the size and view you want.


I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that it proves useful in a future artistic endeavor.

Erika Simmons: Ghost In The Machine


Erika Simmons’ ‘Ghost in the Machine’ series is an imaginative approach to image creation/illustration. The concept of incorporating elements of the subject matter as the medium is a great example of thinking outside the box. The use of the cassette tape forces the viewer to envision the process, which thus incorporates an element of the passage of time—intrinsic to the experience of music—into the artwork. The idea of introducing the element of time into musician-themed artwork has echoes of Denny Dent’s “performance portraits”.


Tell us a little about yourself…

I’m a 25 year-old woman who lives in Georgia. I am a self-taught artist. I try to focus on using found materials, or donated materials. A lot of my supplies come from places like Goodwill.

I try to make things that showcase some idea, through simply cutting up and re-arranging the pieces of everyday items, like cassettes, old books, or even credit cards. Basically anything I can get my hands on! I like working with these older, strange materials because they have a mind of their own, and come with cultural connotations for me to play with—like a springboard for your imagination.


Art school or self-taught?

I never went to art school or took any traditional art classes, but I did go to college and make up school. I waited tables to pay the bills for years. While I was working at the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando, the idea struck me to make some musically themed art. I had some old cassettes laying on top of a blank canvas… that’s how it all started! Mostly luck and a lot of hard work.


What inspires you?

My greatest inspiration comes from big ideas… mostly those found in science and psychology. It is endlessly fascinating to begin to understand how we organize the world around us, how we come to understand meaning in things.


How did you develop the cassette tape series? What was your inspiration?

The cassette tape series came out of a desire to explore a theme of recursion… tangled hierarchy. Where is the music? On the cassette tape? In the head of the musician portrayed? Where does one begin and the other end? But you don’t have to look at it in that way to enjoy it. I tried to make something fun and easy-to-understand, but with deeper things to think about, if you so choose.


‘Ghost in the Machine’ series—the process

To make a cassette tape portrait I draw the desired shapes. Then I glue down the tape in the desired shaped that I have drawn. For my favorite ones, I attempt to cut the tape as little as possible, to make it look like it has just sprung from the case mostly intact. I fold and sculpt it into place and twist it to give the illusion of a thinner line… it takes forever, but I love it.


Upcoming projects and shows

Some upcoming projects… I’ve got a charity gallery show I’m participating in at UCLA October 4th with REVO. I’ll be there to help support the need for education in Papua New Guinea. Please come if you are in the LA area!!! We’d love to have you.

I’ve also begun experimenting with other media. Right now I’m using different rope textures to make portraits. Tomorrow I’ll be doing something else, I’m sure. : )

I love to do custom work for people, so if anyone ever wants to shoot me an email and bounce an idea off of me, please email me! Thanks again!

Erika’s artwork can bee seen on her website at as well as on her Flickr account.


Go Media’s Rapid-Fire Illustration Technique

fast illustration

Go Media’s Rapid-fire Illustration Technique

Hey Designer and Illustrator faithful! It’s time for another wicked tutorial from your brethren here at Go Media. I had a particular project I was working on recently that I thought would make a great tutorial. The technique I would like to share with you is a little illustration short-cut.

When you need to create something with that hand-drawn look but you’re on a tight time line – this is one way to do it fast. The project I was working on was a t-shirt design for Black Ace Clothing. They’re great guys and pay us well so I am not normally rushing through their projects. But on this particular project I had already completed a large hand-drawn illustration for the back of the shirt. They wanted an additional illustration for the front of the shirt, but I was concerned about the total budget for one t-shirt, so, I busted out this little trick of mine. It saved me time, and saved them money!

PSST – shameless plug: I recorded a five-hour video tutorial with solid instruction & a healthy dose art creation. Check out my quick video overview on Vimeo and download the full video tutorial on the Arsenal.

The Design

Let’s start by taking a look at the final printed t-shirt:

fast illustration

Here is both the front and the back of the design. The quote on the design is: “Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is a really cool project because this t-shirt design is destined to be worn by Tiffany Michelle on an up-coming reality TV show. So, given the potential national exposure, we wanted to really hit a home run with this design.

The part of the design that uses my rapid-fire illustration technique is the front design. You can see it here in more detail:

fast illustration 43

This image shows a 3-color design. In the end production of the shirt you’ll notice that Black Ace decided to keep the front design simple (1 color) as to not over-shadow the back design, which is 4 color with a gold foil print.

The Tools

Just so, you have a full understanding of the entire design process we went through, I will show you how I did the back, then reveal my rapid-fire shortcut for the front illustration. Before I get ahead of myself I should give you a list of the tools you’ll need for this illustration:

fast illustration 3

  • Bristol Drawing Paper (plate, smooth or vellum finish.)
  • Pencil, Mechanical Pencil, (I used a Koh-I-Noor Technigraph 5611 mechanical pencil)
  • Mechanical pencil sharpener
  • Staedtler Mars Plastic White Eraser
  • #1 or #2 fine-tip paint brush or crow quill pen (I used a #1 Windsor Newton University Series 233)
  • India Ink (I use Higgins Calligraphy Waterproof Black Ink)
  • Light Box (Or a window will work too.)
  • Scanner
  • Computer
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Access to the internet or some source of photos

The Concept

Let’s do a quick fly-over of how the back was designed so you can understand what lead us to the front. For starters, Paul Davis – my contact over at Black Ace (and a mighty fine dude if I may say so) sent me over this concept layout.

fast illustration 4

Now, I know this may look a little rough, but I was actually very impressed with it. Not many clients come to me with such a refined concept. And while this particular incarnation of it doesn’t look so good – I could easily see that this was an awesome layout with great potential and just needed to be fixed up on the production end. Paul asked me to work with this concept, but to also sketch up two additional concepts for this design. Now, there is no shortcut to this early process. This is just a lifetime of drawing that allows me to do a real quick sketch. But as you’ll see later, the details I put into these are really not necessary. All you’ll really need to focus on is placement and size of your elements.

Here are the three sketches I did for Paul.

cocept sketch
This first one (above) is my interpretation of his rough layout. Now that it’s in this rough sketch phase you can start to see the potential. I KNEW this one was the best of the three, so I pushed to work on this one.

concept sketch 3
concept sketch 4

Above are the other two sketches I did, but Paul was wise enough to go with concept #1 (his own original layout.)

At this point I just drew this. There were no shortcuts used on the back design. OK, maybe one—we do own a skull over here at Go Media. Whenever I’m drawing a skull and need reference, I can pick it up and hold it at various angles to see how to draw it. And no, it is not the head of a Boston Red-Sox fan (Go Tribe!)

finshed pencil drawing

Above is the scan of the pencil sketch for the back before I inked it. As you’ll see, I left the text off because I knew I was going to drop that in with Adobe Illustrator later. Also, there will be a Black Ace logo in behind the banners. So, that too was just roughed in. As I said before, I’m not going to go into all the details of the back design, just a fly-over so you can see what I’ve done. For all my pencil drawings I use a Bristol paper because it’s very thick. This allows me to erase without fear of tearing the paper. Bristol paper also allows me to ink it without fear of the ink bleeding through to my desk. I use a mechanical pencil, well, just because it feels better in my hand then a regular wooden pencil. I use an HB or H hardness lead. Although the B, B1 and B2 leads feel GREAT when I’m drawing, the lead is too soft. It smudges all over the paper and makes a big mess. So, I use the harder leads.


Once the pencil drawing is done, I bust out my brush and “ink” the drawing. I use a paint brush because it allows me maximum line weight variation. Or, in layman’s terms – I can make my lines as thick or thin as I want. By varying the weight of my lines it gives the illustration a ton of character that is hard to duplicate on the computer.

close up ink brush
You’ll notice a big roll of masking tape near the end of my brush. I put this on my brushes because I have big fingers. This gives me a better grip of my brush.

I make a lot of little shading lines that look best if they start as a thin line and thicken as they work their way into the dark. A crow quill pen can also accomplish the same effect. If you’re going to use a crow quill pen I suggest using a Hunt Artist’s Pen tip #512 and 102.

quill pens


Once this Illustration is done, I scan it into my computer using our flat-bed scanner. We’re fortunate to have an over-sized scanner here at Go Media. This over sized scanner allows me to scan the whole illustration in one single pass.

flatbed scanner

Not long ago we only had a legal-size scanner. I would have to scan my larger drawings in two or three pieces then assemble them in Photoshop. That was always a pain in the ass, but hey – what can you do? As I am planning on live-tracing this drawing in Illustrator, the higher the resolution the scan is the better. I like to scan my inked drawings at 500 dpi.

finished back of illustration

finished back of illustration 3


At this point I have my finished inks are in Illustrator and I’m ready to add my copy and colors. For this design I wanted an edgy, almost medieval font that looked like it was hand painted so it would match the rest of the illustration. I did an extensive search and found the font you see here.


I won’t tell you where I got it – ancient Go Media secret. Obviously, it was perfect!
I used the Effect>Warp>Arch tool in Illustrator to get the copy to follow along the shape of my banners. Then it was just a lot of nudging, kerning, stretching and scaling to get all the letters where I wanted them.
font two


I started the coloring by creating one single shape that filled the entire design. I made this by simply making a copy of my vectorized line art, selecting it, and then doing the following: Object>Compound Path>Release, then Object>Ungroup, then Pathfinder>Add to Shape Area. Basically this process broke all these vector pieces up, then merged them into one single shape.


outlines 2

outlines 3

outlines 4

Next I pick my colors. Paul was printing this shirt with silk screens and has asked me to restrict my design to 4 colors. I know that I’ll need a range of color values so that I can color both shadows and highlights. Here are the four colors I picked. I would love to give you a long explanation for why I picked these exact colors, but I don’t have one. I just picked some colors that I liked and thought worked well together.

image of four colors

As I was planning on putting this design onto a black shirt, I start by swapping my line art’s black with my darkest purple. It needs to be bright enough to pop off the black, but dark enough to act as my darkest value color. Next I fill the entire design with the middle value of the three remaining colors. This allows me to add shadows and bright spots to the middle. That’s much easier to figure out than any other method.

back design

Once the middle value fills the shape I do my shadows next. If you’re wondering how I decide where to place my shadows – well, nothing magical here. I look at the shape, imagine it in 3D, imagine a light source and give my best guess at how the shadows will fall across the object. If I have a reference photograph or the actual object (like the skull) then I can hold it up to a light and see exactly how the light falls on the object.

back design without highlights

Once the shadows are done, then the highlights are fun and easy to drop on. Remember where your light source is!
back design without radials

The last step is to add some finishing touches. For this design I added some radial vector shapes from Go Media’s Arsenal. I use these types of stock design resources to finish off a lot of my designs. They’re another fantastic tool for saving time.
finished back design

And viola! The back design is finished. Last step is to pimp out the design on a sweet t-shirt template and present it to the client. (Designer’s Note: Taking a little extra time to mock-up your designs really has a huge impact on the client. It’s one thing to see a flat design, but to see an actual t-shirt with the client’s design ON it! Wow! Now it’s REAL.) For this, of course I use the FINEST t-shirt templates ever made – Go Media’s of course. And they’re ultra fast and easy to use because the shirt is already masked with the highlights and shadows on their own layer. So, you just drop in your design and poof! It looks like a real printed shirt! (Ok, gratuitous product plugs are done.)
mocked up back design

Now for the really good stuff.

At this point Paul was ecstatic with the design (correct me if I’m over-stating your satisfaction level here Paul.) But he wanted a little something for the front of the t-shirt as well. Since he liked the sketch #2 that I had done, he asked me to make that one as well.

This front design was intended to be printed smaller and was also on a very tight budget (since the back had taken so much time/money.) I needed an illustration short-cut. I needed a trick. I needed Go Media’s Rapid-Fire Illustration Technique!

So, here is the way to really speed up an illustration project: just rough-cut together a bunch of photographs into your intended illustration. This will be easier if I just show you.

Rough Sketch

original sketch
Here is the original sketch.

Rough Photo Collage

photo montage over original sketch
Now, obviously, this technique doesn’t work for all things. If Paul had asked me to illustrate a superhero flying with a dog under his arm, well, the likelihood of me finding that photograph would be remote. But this design had mostly common objects – roses, a skull, rib cage, bones and a banner (I couldn’t find a banner in the right pose, so I just left a spot open based on my original sketch.) Also, this is a fairly clean assembling of photos. In truth, it can be way rougher than this. This image is just to be used as a guide to help you get your illustration going. You can clean up and fix all the little details while you’re drawing.

Collage To Sketch

So, the next step is turning this photo montage into an illustration! Start by printing your photo montage at the appropriate size. In this case, I wanted it about 8 inches across. This is approximately twice the size the final design will get printed on the shirt. (Illustrator’s tip: Whenever working on an illustration – create it at about twice the size you’re going to print it. This allows you to be a little sloppy. Once it’s shrunk down to the final size it will look super tight! People will wonder how you got so much detail into it.) Ok, where was I? Oh yeah – turning our montage into an illustration. Now that you’ve printed out your photo montage, you want to tape it to a sheet of your Bristol paper. Make sure the printed side of your montage paper is facing the Bristol that you’ve taped it to.

photo montage front

photo montage frotn 2

Now take out your trusty-rusty light box and place your paper on top of it, Bristol paper up! Next, you’re going to draw your illustration using your photo montage like a draw-by-numbers guide.

photo montage on lightbox

If you need to change, exaggerate, or edit the photo montage, you can make corrections now. On this design, for instance, I thought the skull’s bottom jaw was waaaay too large. So, no problem, I just ignored the photo and drew it a little smaller.

photo montage held up to window

If you don’t have a light box, you can always use a window during the day! But make sure not to push too hard! I don’t want you falling through your window.

This phase of the drawing doesn’t have to be perfect. The photomontage is there to help act as a guide. While on your light box just get all the major shapes in place. Then you can turn your light box off and finish the drawing using your innate drawing ability (if you have that). You can strengthen your lines, add shading, details, etc.

In this case time was at a premium and I knew I would be inking this myself, so I really just hammered the drawing out quick. I trust my ability to do a sweet job during the inking phase. Here is the finished pencil drawing I did using the photo montage as my guide.

finished front pencil drawing

You can see that I invented a lot – particularly the banner. Now, obviously I have years of drawing experience, so it may be a bit easier for me to “invent” details that are not actually in the photomontage.

So, that’s really the end of the “shortcut.” While this shortcut may still seem labor intensive, I can assure you that this will save you some serious time. The photos give you all those little details that you would otherwise have to invent. Also, having the photomontage as a guide completely eliminates the possibility of total failure. If you’ve spent any time drawing you certainly know this is a real possibility. I’ve personally had plenty of days when I simply cannot draw what’s in my head. After several frustrating hours and a waste paper basket full of failed drawings, I’ll usually just quit for the day and start again the next. Using this photomontage technique will leap frog you right over any of these types of problems.


Now we proceed as we did with the back design. Using Higgins Calligraphy ink and a #1 paint brush, we ink our illustration. Here are a few inking tips. First, your lines should be thinner on the side of your light source. If you have no light source, assume it’s coming from the top. So, if it’s a bald head you’re drawing, the line beneath the chin should be thick and the line on top of the head should be thin. Also, objects in the distance should be drawn with thinner lines. Objects in the foreground should be drawn with thicker lines. Using these techniques will give your drawings a sense of depth and character.

Here is the finished Inking of this drawing:

finished ink of the front design

I was always a big fan of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, of course, who wasn’t. But it wasn’t just the brilliant writing. You could see that Calvin and Hobbes had been painted with a brush. Just look at all the character in the line art. You can see the thickness of the line weight varying dramatically.

closeup calvin hobbs photo strip

Compare that to another comic I love: Foxtrot. The writing is still great. The characters are hilarious. But the line art is kind of flat and boring in my opinion. This is the difference between using a brush (or crow quill pen) and using a regular felt tip pen when inking your illustration.


Now we go through the same process that we did for the back design. I’ll break it down into numbered steps for you here. Sometimes that’s easier to follow:

1. Scan the art at 500dpi – save as jpeg.

2. Place the art into Adobe Illustrator.

3. Select the image.

4. Convert the line art to vector: Object>Live Trace>Make and Expand
live traced
5. Get rid of all the white shapes that the Live Trace function creates. Using your open arrow tool, click on any one of the white areas of your art. Then select the rest by clicking: Select>Same>Fill and Stroke. Warning! In illustrator this function grabs EVERYTHING that has the same fill and stroke, so if you have other white objects with no stroke in your document, it will erase them too! Once all the white shapes have been selected, hit delete.

6. Make a copy of your line art. Either select it then Edit>Copy, Edit>paste. Or select it and hit control+C, then Control+v. Or, while using your arrow tool, hold down the alt key, grab your line art and drag it to a new location. All three of these methods will make a copy.
two copies line art
7. Create your primary color fill object. Select the copy of your line art and use function: Object>Compound Path>Release. Then Object>Ungroup, then Pathfinder>Add to shape area.

Ok, now at this point you should have your line art and a single shape “fill.”
line art next to fill

8. Add your copy. Now, just like on the back we’re going to use Adobe Illustrator to add our copy. It’s a simple text box with an effect>Warp>Arch applied to get it to fill our banner.
adding text

9. Color your design. The coloring on this side of the shirt is even simpler than the back. Paul asked for a simple 3-color design, so – that’s what I gave him. I’m going to be using the same colors I selected from the back. So, the line art is a dark purple and the primary fill color is a yellowish bone color.

purple fill

The one additional color I’ll add will be the shadows.

purple line art

After an initial proofing Paul felt that the rib cage was not working in the design. No problem! I just created a shape to remove the ribs and then used the Pathfinder>Subtract from shape area. I did this twice – once for the line art and once for the color fill.

knocking out rib cage

no rib cage

And that’s it. Here is the final design for the front of the shirt. I got this entire piece done in about 5 hrs. 1 hr. to find these pics, 30 minutes to piece them together, 1 hr. to do the pencil drawing, 2 hrs. to ink, and 1 hr. to scan, vectorize and color!

I want to give a big shout-out and thank you to Paul and Howard Davis for being such cool clients and allowing me to write this tutorial! For some reason a lot of our clients are overly protective of their assets and don’t let us show off our work! This shirt is NOW available for pre-order at or click here to get directly to this product.

Thanks for your time and attention. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and learned a few new tricks!

Go Media’s Jeff Finley: Interview at VectorTuts


Just a quick heads up to let our readers know about the extended interview by Sean Hodge with Go Media’s Jeff Finley over at VectorTuts.

Jeff shares design, illustration as well as design industry insights, along with related thoughts on graphics software, balancing the personal and business aspects of your online presence, collaboration with other artists, tips for aspiring creatives, and much more.

Shading with Watercolor Textures

Watercolor Shading Technique

This tutorial will try and show an alternative way of using the watercolor texture files (as most of you know, you can download Go Media’s watercolor texture pack here, or you can try and make some of your own by painting them and scanning them into a digital format) in order to give some color to your line-art.

The usual approach when using these textures is to make them into a background of sorts for the line art. And that is great with some pieces, but less effective in some other cases. This method will focus more on giving the line art another dimension by shading it and creating some volume, while using the watercolors for a more original effect.

But, let’s start with the beginning. First, we need some line art. I usually start with a rough sketch, be it on paper or directly in PS, AI, or other design software. For this particular piece I used a sketch I drew in blue ball-pen…So, after scanning it, this is what we got.

Watercolor Shading Technique

It’s of little importance how good or bad the sketch looks at this stage, since now comes the inking…and in this case, along with the inking, I added some elements to my composition, while removing others – what can I say, it’s not like this composition was that good to keep all of its pieces.

Watercolor Shading Technique

A good reading is provided by this tutorial on how to ink a sketch.

I used AI, with a 3 point brush, with the sensitivity for the pen pressure set to 3, then expanded everything.

Watercolor Shading Technique

If you are using AI CS4, you can also use the Blob Brush, which has the major advantage of letting you draw shapes directly, and, also, it lets you use the Eraser tool just as you would use it in a raster graphics software, such as Photoshop. This is how the finished inked piece turned out.

Watercolor Shading Technique

As you can see, I tried to vary my line-weight in order to suggest different places of focal interest. Also, I added some more elements in the upper sides of the design – as it was meant to be a t-shirt design. I noticed that using such a shape actually makes the shoulders look wider in contrast with the waist-line, which gives a pleasant effect for both men who get to look more manly and women, who get to look more slim. Win-win situation, don’t you think?

Fun stuff left aside, now we have a vector line art that can be exported/scaled/ colored etc.- if you have the possibility, try and use a vector-based software for your line-art, as it will save you a lot of trouble later on.

My “weapon of choice” for the next part is Adobe Photoshop, and this is where the watercolor textures come into play!

Now, create a new document (don’t forget to use a proper size for t-shirt printing purposes, I would recommend at least a 2400px X 3200px X 300 dpi) and let’s get that line art into the new document.

Use File/Place, then select the saved .ai file and resize/place it according to your needs on a new layer.

Watercolor Shading Technique

Next, I filled the background layer with white, in order to have better contrast with the line art and also because this was the color I intended the t-shirts to get printed on. Also, you can rasterize the line art layer and adjust its color to full black.

Now, create a new layer under the line-art layer but above the background layer. Select a hard brush, pick a nice color and start shading. Yes, actually, that’s the main part of the process. You need to select a lighting source (I picked the top-left corner) and draw the shadows on each element of the composition. This can take a while, but after we’re done with this, it’s easy as pie! Here you can see the way it looks after I added those shadow strokes, and you can also see the way I marked the light’s direction, in order to have consistent shading throughout the piece.

Watercolor Shading Technique

Now, there are two ways of bringing the watercolor texture into our piece. One uses selections, the other one uses masks. I will show you the one that uses selections for this tutorial –those of you who are proficient with Photoshop can clearly see how the mask could be used to achieve this, and, considering the fact that the result is similar, either way works!

First thing’s first, so we need to get the watercolor texture in the document we’re working on. I used Go Media’s freebie watercolor texture and copy/pasted it into my document, on a different layer. Then, because the texture was too small to cover the whole area of my document, I just pasted it all around, on different layers set on multiply. This way, the white became transparent and I got one big watercolor splat. After I merged all the watercolor layers, I had something like this:

Watercolor Shading Technique

Next, an important step follows: In order to select all the contents of the “shadows” layer (the bright blue one), you need to hold CTRL (CMD for Mac users) and click the layer in the Layers box. Now we have a selection that contains all the shaded area, and in order to fill that area with the watercolor texture, we pick one of the selection tools (any one of them works, be it Rectangle Marquee tool, Magic want tool, Lasso tool, etc.) and right-click on the document. Then, we need to pick “Select Inverse”, which will select the area around the shadows.

Watercolor Shading Technique

We’re almost done. Now, we make sure that we are working on our watercolor texture layer in the Layers box, and then we press Delete. That gets rid of all the excess watercolor texture and leaves only the parts that coincide with our shaded areas. Now, you can go wild and change the colors of your shading. Using CTRL+U, the hue/saturation correction tool, we can now pick from a huge range of hues and nuances.

Watercolor Shading Technique

The results can vary a lot, depending on how you position the watercolor texture, depending on the colors you choose and you can even combine more watercolor textures in order to get more colors in the mix – you could say this is a great procedure for getting unexpected results. I opted to convert my piece to 3 colors only for easier/cheaper printing, using halftones (but that’s a whole different tutorial) and this is what I got:

Watercolor Shading Technique

Don’t forget to mock the design on a T-shirt template for extra-presentation points!

I hope you learned something new from reading this and I want to thank you to those of you bearing with me until the end!

My t-shirt is up for voting at Design by Humans, so give it a vote!

Watercolor Shading Technique

Draw a Windy Sunset Illustration


I’ve always loved Asian art and particularly Japanese illustration. While Asian art is the main source of inspiration for my design, the point is not to create a traditional Japanese illustration, but rather to filter design inspiration such as this one through personal style and experience. Today, we’re going to create something new based on something old.

You will need a pen tablet to use these techniques, and standard Photoshop settings will do just fine (most important – keep pen pressure enabled).


Blogs posts on design inspiration are very popular, and I too love to see bits and pieces of what people are creating without having to scour the web looking for art. But often, inspiration is lost soon after closing the page, because it’s not put into practice, or properly harnessed.

Think of it this way: you find a piece done by some designer that you really like. You’d love to be able to create something as cool his work, so you either choose to imitate his technique and style or adapt it to your own concept, and / or style. You’re facing two problems.

One, the other guy spent hours, days, month perhaps even years developing a technique and style for himself that you are only now trying to achieve in a matter of hours. Your design will be inferior because it lacks experience.

But there’s another problem. Chances are that the design you were inspired by was born out of many sources of inspiration, and is a result of personal research.  Though he may have used a wide knowledge to put together his design, you base your entire inspiration on a single source: his piece.

While this is not at all a magic formula, it’s a method that has served me well so far: I suggest you bookmark your sources of inspiration and analyze them. Find things you like, dislike; think of possible improvements and write your ideas down. They’ll soon be gone otherwise.

Don’t limit your sources of inspiration to design work.
Read on the topic and listen too. I use music a lot as a source of inspiration, and a part of this tutorial’s design is listening to Hans Zimmer’s “The Last Samurai” Soundtrack.  You don’t have to be a music connoisseur, to notice that Hans took traditional Japanese music and instruments and put them in a modern context through his own style and technique.  This is exactly what I tried to do in this design.

What I’m talking about here is not spending months of study for something that’s just a personal project, but if you tackle a theme blindly without any research, you’ll probably find yourself halfway through the piece, all out of ideas. In an effort to finish the piece, you may end up going back to your inspiration and copy ideas directly. Well, that or you abandon the whole project thinking it’s just not good enough.

I think there should be a moment where you cut yourself off almost completely from your sources of inspiration and start working based on your own experience and style, even when it comes to something as representative as Asian art. Eventually you’ll get used to working solely on what you know.

Here are only a few examples of Japanese illustrations I looked at for my research. I liked the rich detail and flat look combined with a fading background. Depth of field is achieved through contrast and stroke width.

I love using color in my work, so that was an early decision- finding ways to integrate artistic and sharp lines with richly colored gradients.

Now let’s get to work and begin this illustration. There is a lot of detail that won’t be very noticeable in the screenshots, so there are occasional close-ups to help.

Create the misty background

Make a new document and fill it with this color: 35293c. I’m using a custom size (42 x 21,15 cm), which is basically a narrowed down A3 document.

Choose a very light pink (d4ccd8) and while using a large, soft brush, click a few times around the bottom of the canvas to create an imperfect horizon line.

Transform (Ctrl + T) the light pink layer and skew it upward into a thinner surface.

Now, grab the brush again and paint a few larger spots in certain areas so the line won’t be perfectly straight anymore.

Repeat this process to these next few colors. Start by adding a dark purple (same as the first) on the bottom.

Add a red part to the sunset using this shade: da564b. Put its layer behind the purple ones and over the light pink.

Add a red part to the sunset using this shade: da564b. Put its layer behind the purple ones and over the light pink.

Now add a darker purple (1a121f) on top of all the layers.

And now yellow: f9e16d.

Draw a line art tree

The trick to creating the line work in this style is to use a larger sized brush than the actual stroke you intend to create. All the lines in the image below were drawn using the same brush size, seen in the right top corner.

For those of you that do not own a pen tablet, I can sympathize. For about half a year I convinced myself that I don’t need one. I was wrong.

A pen tablet does not make you an artist. Your shaky hand and uneven lines won’t magically go away with your first purchase. Actually, it will probably get worse at first. Since the surface does not absorb pressure just like paper, it’s more difficult to draw on it. Also, you can’t turn the tablet sideways to get the best angle for long strokes if you don’t have a tablet with that added feature (Most don’t).

When I gave in to buying one, I blindly convinced myself to get an expensive tablet, at the very least something like 6×8 or 6×11 in size. Luckily I listened to the advice of one of my college professors and started out small, without taking any risk of buying something expensive that by the time I’d master, I’d need a new one. I bought a tiny Wacom bamboo that I can practice on. Perhaps a year later, I’ll buy a nicer one and slowly work my way up the ladder once I’m ready.

A bamboo, all three kinds, is pretty cheap. If you think it would be an advantage to your work, go for it. If you can already draw art well on paper (the kind you’d make on a computer), then consider moving to Intuos for the sake of a better resolution and pressure sensitivity. See the differences here.

Begin by drawing a general orientation of the tree trunk, as well as positioning it in the scenery. Use this purple: 6f6575.

Now, add the main branches. I suggest you make a separate layer for each of these steps.

Now change the brush size to a much smaller one, and draw the tree bark.

Repeat the process for the branches.

Choose the previously used light pink (d4ccd8), and draw underneath all the tree layers. Those will give the impression that the tree is highlighted.

Now add a new layer (Ctrl +Shift + N) on top of all the tree layers and with the same color draw more depth lines toward the center of the tree. That will make the tree look more 3D.

Make a windswept tree crown

The shape of the crown is not only made to look like it’s swept by the wind, but also gives a resemblance to Japanese bonsai trees, which is in relation to our theme.

Underneath all the tree layers, add a new layer and draw the first large stroke of foliage. Use this orange: c87f56

Keep your orientation in mind at all times. Make it look windy, but try to give it a certain elegance too. The point is not to make it look skewed horizontally from side to side, but carried away with the wind. It needs to be continuous, so it doesn’t give the impression that the crown will run out of leaves just as you’re watching it.

Continue these lines by creating thinner and very thin lines. Basically, make them match the aspect of the tree. Don’t add to much detail though, so that it doesn’t look overcrowded.

Again with the light pink, paint a highlight over the orange strokes on a separate layer.

Add a new layer, this time over the tree and create strokes that go from side to side with this yellow: d2ad65.

Add smaller strokes, just as before.

Finish them off with highlights, using the same shade of light pink.

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Create a grassy crest

Draw some light pink grass, and make the dark edges of the mountain on a separate layer using the darker purple (same as the tree color).

On a new layer above these two, add some light pink strokes that follow the wind pattern.

Now add some more detail with thinner strokes.

We’ll now start to create depth in the grass. First, draw a few thick dark purple lines across the space.

As usual, use an increasingly smaller brush to add details.

Now make a new layer and add another layer of light pink streams that resemble grass. Make sure that they cover the dark purple areas.

Create a new layer over the tree layers this time. Add very thin dark lines in the same way, but at a much smaller scale.

Make yet another layer, and just as the previous step, paint thin strokes but with light pink this time.

Draw a few distant mountain tips

Create a new blank layer underneath the grassy hill and draw the outline of the two mountains, left of the tree.

Make a layer beneath the mountain outline and draw a purple background for them. Fade out the end by using a soft brush with the same color. That part will later be hidden under fog, so don’t worry about making a very smooth transition, as long as it goes down enough.

On top of the right mountain, add another tree.

Add two more mountains in the distance. Simply draw all the colors on the same layer and erase the bottom with a soft brush.

Create some more mist

Now create another new layer on top of the mountain layers and draw a stream of yellow using this shade: d3b766.

Add a red shade too: d9564b.

And finally, add the really dark purple we used originally to darken the sky.

Download this texture and paste it on top of all the layers. Set its layer’s blending mode to Soft Light.

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. Use the light pink and purple as colors. This will define the luminosity, though we’ll eliminate the saturation in the next step and add contrast too.
Make it a clipping mask for the paper texture, so that the gradient map only affects the photo and not the whole image.

In the same way, add a Channel Mixer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Channel Mixer). Use the Black and White Infrared setting, which is the first option in the drop down menu.

Now we’ll create the worn feel for the illustration by using the bittbox Grungy Watercolor brush set. Select the first brush, and while using the light pink, paint on a new layer on top of all the other layers. Cover almost the entire canvas, and choose the Eraser tool (E).  Load the same brush and start to erase main areas, as well as portions that are too bright. We don’t want it to interfere with the design too much; it’s just to age it and to give it a texture.

And finally, slightly adjust the color to a more intense red by adding a Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer. Change the Hue to -5.

Your new color scheme should look something like the one below. The close up might help you with drawing the tree too.

The Finish Line!

Well that’s it! Our illustration is now finished. While the outcome of such a design completely depends on your own skill, style and, well, patience… always choose to take your inspiration one step further and adapt it to your own style.

What do you think of these techniques? Share your own in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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From the Portfolio: Maylene & the Sons of Disaster

Client: Maylene & the Sons of Disaster
maylene tee shirt

This is a design from roughly a year ago. While I was pretty excited about it at the time, I look at it now and get disappointed. This is a case of me trying to do too much. This design should have been the illustration and a simple type treatment, maybe a few other elements, and that’s it. I think it’s still a really solid piece, but I don’t think I did the illustration justice by putting all that extraneous stuff in there.

From the Portfolio: Jedidiah Clothing

Client: Jedidiah Clothing
Designer: Jeff Finley
Designer: 2007
jedidiah clothing

This shirt design was one of the designs I completed for Jedidiah Clothing back in 2007. It was accepted, but I still have never seen it printed or for sale. As a designer, even though you were paid to do a design, the client may not have found it suitable to put to market. Which may have been what happened in this case.

Regardless I think this design was a step forward from the mostly vector based t-shirts I had done prior to this. Yes, I know, this piece is “old” in terms of this blog entry, but it’s probably new to a lot of our readers. The shirt design would have been printed as a dye-sublimated tee. Full color designs on white shirts are perfect for this application.

Should Shepard Fairey Be Sued for his Obama Poster?

Obama HOPE poster by Shepard Fairey

By now you should have heard about the fiasco surrounding Shepard Fairey’s Obama HOPE poster. It’s been all over the national media and every designer should pay close attention to it. It raises a lot of questions about what is considered fair use in the art world. Shepard’s well known for skirting around copyright infringement (although I don’t know all the nitty gritty details), but has he gone too far? He admitted to finding the image of Barack Obama on Google Images, something I know a lot of designers do for reference on a particular project.

I think it’s safe to assume most designers feel that if they change the image enough, they’re free from copyright infringement. Is that true?

So what do you think about the Obama poster? Clearly, he used the image as reference, but he did his own take on it. It’s a huge target for AP, the owners of the photo, because not only is it from the world famous street artist Shepard Fairey (most known for his Obey campaign) but it’s the freakin President! There are lots of people using the President’s likeness to make money or gain exposure for themselves. I’ve seen countless vector freebies of Obama flying around the web. Urban Outfitters is selling skate decks that we designed using Barack’s likeness amidst an imaginative illustration.

Leave a Comment

The purpose of this post is to get people talking. Let’s open up a dialogue about this. Is AP just going for a cash grab? Is Shepard Fairey wrongfully using the image for his own benefit? This is a serious issue that all designers should be talking about.