Graphic Design and Illustration.

Archive for ‘August, 2012’

A Stainless Steel Rat Finally Rusts Away…


I found out the other day that one of my favourite childhood authors, Harry Harrison, passed away. You can read more about it on Neil Gaiman’s blog post about him.

As a young teenager I discovered him, like most of my early reading favourites, at the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the Coles Books in Unicity Shopping Mall, where I spent many an hour sweating out what book I was going to buy next with my meager childhood earnings.

Harrison was most famous for his Stainless Steel Rat series of books. Crime capers set in the far, far future and narrated by the main character, Slippery Jim diGriz. It basically followed the old idea of using a crook to catch a crook. Lots of zanny fun. Anyone familiar with the cable TV shows White Collar and Burn Notice would probably like the series. A must for any budding deviant young mind to take in. I remember the covers of the books featuring a small mechanical rat on them. While the books really had noting to do with mechanical rodents (the stainless steel rat referred to the type of criminal Slippery Jim fancied himself as) I remember being fascinated with the design of the robots. Attached is my very quick homage to the series of books and to the author who gave me so many enjoyable hours of entertainment. Enjoy.

Heidelberg Man – A Portait

Out of the mists of time a piercing gaze of an ancestor long dead.

This guy is my loose interpretation of Heidelberg Man. An early forerunner of Homo Sapiens that many believe is the direct link between us and the Neanderthals. Not much is known about them. They were on average quite tall. Maybe a bit taller than modern humans, though I understand there‘s been some specimens found in South Africa that are quite huge. And while they still have a sloping forehead, their brian size does fit into the smaller end of the normal human range.

What inspired this image and the Neanderthal I drew earlier is a fascinating book I picked up at the bookstore, Evolution The Human Story by Dr Alice Roberts. It has a great many really cool reconstructions by the artists of Adrie and Alfons Kennis. I strongly urge any interested to check out their stuff. Amazing work!

Anyways, my guy is based on the Heidelberg Man found in the book, but not quite as harsh looking. I wanted a more contemplative pose, possible from a shaman or tribal elder (assuming they had such things). Started off a a pencil sketch and colour finished in Photoshop. The colour scheme was quite difficult to work out and took several tries before I settled on anything. Added some tribal markings afterwards just for fun.


The anatomy of a designer

Image scanned from some really old reference material I inherited from my grandfather.
Source unknown. Circa the 1930s or 40s.

What makes for a truly great graphic designer?

Lots of ink and pixels have been put to task describing what makes a good designer.
Is is artistic ability? It does help, but no.

Technical skill? Also helpful, but sadly, some of the most design-y designers I’ve known usually run into problems once the files are sent to printers or to web developers, so probably not. But as a sometime production artist, I sometimes think it should be.

Ability to pull off wearing sandals in meetings and drink Starbucks’ rotgut coffee by the gallon? Nope, that belongs to fine artists, not commercial ones.

Knowing all the latest software? Implies there was no graphic design before 1984.

Ability to use “branding” and “analyitics” in general conversation? You’re thinking marketing people.

No, the two most important skills a designer must have are empathy and organization.

Now don’t get me wrong. Most of the other skills I mentioned are important, but these two skills I think make or break designers.

Part One – I feel your pain.

First off, empathy. Empathy? Yes, empathy. The ability to sense others emotions. To “walk a mile in someone’s shoes”. As a creative for hire, a designer may have to design for companies or products that the designer may not have any direct emotional attachment or response to. Can the young twenty-something designer create a piece that speaks to someone in their fifties? Can a woman design for a market that is primarily male? Or vise-versa? What about designing for a market that isn’t very media savvy or hip? While I’m not saying designers should prostitute themselves, they will have to be open-minded enough to realize that their own personal sense of style may be out of place depending on the audience the design is intended for.

Any advice that might help?

Doing lots of research can help. If you are finding that you’re designing for a target audience that you don’t quite fit into, or don’t understand well, you may have to do some investigating. Check out magazines and websites that all cater to this group. Check out the places they hang out in. And listen to your client. Do not be afraid to ask them good questions about their product or service and how it relates to their intended audience. If your client is any good at their job, they’ll know most of that already. Some clients though, might need some help in that department. That’s what a good cohesive team of marketing and creative professionals working together should be able to solve.

Once these things have been figured out, I find lots of thing just design themselves.

So know and understand your client and their audience. It can help stave off future arguments and get the designs rolling quicker.

The devil is in the details.

Organization. All really good designers should also be really well organized.

Over the balance of my career, I’ve either worked on a lot of really small projects or very large singular projects such as annual reports, financial statements, and catalogues. Either of these scenarios requires the ability to stay well organized. Killer design skills won’t help much if you are halfway through a 250 page catalogue and have no idea where half the images are coming from, or how many pages are still out for approval with the client. It’s also much nicer to say something other than, “Beats me,” when your boss asks you how much longer it’s going to be before a project is finished. Same thing applies if you are juggling a lot of smaller projects.

For me, it has become a learned skill. Not something that comes very naturally to me. But it pays big dividends if your boss knows you can be trusted with a big project. Your clients will respect it too.

I know if I was hiring and I had a choice between a really great designer, but a disorganized one, and a mediocre designer with really great organization skills, I’d sooner hire the organized one and try to get their design skills up to speed – often solved with experience and some mentorship – than trying to keep the hotshot under control.

I’d like to be able to recommend a few things like to do and project management software, but basic in and out trays and simple lists have worked well for me in the past. No expensive software needed. Though if you find yourself working in a large group spread out over geographic areas, software may be in order.

Any further thoughts and ideas? Want to complain that I wrote a post about good design and mentioned nothing about actual design? Chime in on the comments!

Webcomic – Curse of the Tiki Toki, Page 3

Well, this one page took waaaay too long to put together. The drawing didn’t take too long. I find the lettering to be a rather laborious task. And I kept putting it off. And it hasn’t been to hard to procrastinate as I’ve been working rather long hours at work and the weather this summer has been particularly good. Everything else I’ve posted this summer has either been had drawn or didn’t really take me much time at the computer to accomplish.

So to help me out a bit, I tried out Comic Life software by Plasq. Just a quick warning. There are quite a few sound effects and while cute, they quickly became annoying. It did help me out with the lettering, but I found the layout tools to be a bit too simple for my needs. So I think from here on in, I’ll keep to laying out the panels in Photoshop and the type will be composed in Comic Life 2.

Hopefully the next installment won’t be quite as long a wait.

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