You built physical sculptures earlier in your illustration career. How has that evolved into your current process? When I dove into being a full-time illustrator, I was also teaching at Western Carolina University, and one of my duties was to curate an exhibit. So, I invited some of the illustrators who were heroes to me to participate, like Marshall Arisman, Stephen Byram, Henrik Drescher, Pol Turgeon and Ellen Weinstein. I saw that some of their work was actually quite dimensional, and that led me to explore sculptures.
Then, around 2016, I began learning about Cinema 4D (C4D), and I dove into that medium with the help of my friend Jeff Falcon, a C4D guru. There are similarities and differences in working with physical sculptures versus 3-D digital models. For one thing, I work faster and have more flexibility when working in C4D, and the aesthetic is different. But my thought process on how to construct and sculpt is similar in both the digital and analog worlds, and my sketch process is still the same. It always starts with pencil sketches, where I’m working out the conceptual problem first and then finding a way to apply my aesthetic to it.
When did you first think that you should be incorporating motion into your work, and how did you begin doing that? People had always said that all 3-D pieces “wanted to move.” Ultimately, what pushed me into motion was taking a continuing education class on After Effects at the School of Visual Arts. A shoutout to Adam Meyers, my After Effects teacher at the time, who is still teaching and is a good friend. I was seeing fun music videos that had been made in After Effects, and that got me interested in learning more about that type of work. After Effects has a 3-D environment with lights and cameras, which I found intoxicating to play with. As an artist, it’s important to add new things to mix it up and keep it interesting.
What personal influences or experiences have had the biggest impact on your style? Earlier in my career, I would peruse illustration annuals for hours, admiring different artists’ works, styles and conceptual approaches. Then a few years ago, I became interested in vintage tin toys and the simple, crude quality that was inherent in the manufacturing process. Sometimes, I try to replicate that feeling in my work. One client has commented that the reason they like the style is that it takes them back to simpler times and brings back good memories.
Some of your 3-D models have a retro vibe to them, suggesting the feel of weathered wood or scuffed tin. What materials, surfaces or textures are you drawn to as an illustrator and motion designer? I’m not sure why, but I’m drawn to the retro style and graphics. Scuffed edges and imperfect surfaces speak to a “history” of the object. They look like they have had more of a life. I would do the same thing when making analog sculptures, always scuffing them up and distressing them.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I find and create my own textures and surfaces. I photograph or scan things that have been distressed or weathered. I have a large folder of high-res textures that are on my computer, and the folder keeps growing.
You’ve “invented” many playful objects, from a bouncing rocket ship to flying contraptions. How do you read articles or creative briefs to get the ideas for your creations? It always begins by understanding what the message is. Jackson Boelts, one of my teachers in grad school at the University of Arizona, taught me the importance of concept development. When I read articles, I underline words, doodle in the margins, look up the meanings of words and find connections. It’s pretty messy at the beginning. Then, once I feel there is something that might work, I sketch it, photograph it with my iPad, bring it into Procreate and tighten up the sketch. As for the idea, it’s often a matter of combining a couple of different objects or shapes that don’t go together to make a new hybrid object that speaks to the content of the article.
When clicking on many of the illustrations on my site, there are photos of my sketches. I find this to be especially helpful when working with new art directors so they can see the final art as well as the sketch process. I like to consider art directors as collaborators in the project. At times, they give me ideas that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own, making the overall result stronger.
What has been one of the most difficult visual problems you’ve tackled for an assignment, and how did you solve it? My Art Is! poster for the School of Visual Arts. Gail Anderson, the creative director, wanted me to interpret the phrase “Art Is!” When something is open-ended and broad, in some sense, it’s more difficult. Knowing these posters were going to have high visibility all around New York City also had a certain amount of pressure, and adding to that, the fact that my name would be prominently displayed on them.
Ultimately, I went back to my childhood and thought about how art was about playing, exploration and discovery. This helped me steer my “toy style” onto the poster and have it make sense conceptually.
Once I landed on the concept, I brought in sketches for a meeting to present my ideas. I wanted to convey exactly what I was visualizing, so I also brought in a model that was 90 percent done to show as proof of concept. That extra work on the front end made the whole project go smoothly.
When you were first getting your freelance career off the ground, what helped you the most? Having a body of work that I was confident in. At that time, the primary way to get work was to print postcards and send them out to magazines, record labels and agencies. This was all pre–social media. Most of the work I was showing was either work from grad school or other personal experiments created on my own. It’s important to have work that you believe in, as it makes it much easier to put it out there.