How did you get started in illustration? Utilizing the knowledge I’d acquired drawing since a young age, I began uploading my work to the internet and doing private commissions. I set out in the professional world of illustration in 2020. I started by crafting a portfolio with a strong, consistent style; creating pieces for clients that I wanted to be commissioned by, and widening my network digitally to include creative professionals, agencies and art directors. I was exposed to more professional insights and resources—even posts on social media were insightful. Social media marketing has also been great, and, over the next few months, my efforts started to compound and led to commissions.
What roles do fantasy and sci-fi play in your work? In my preteen and teenage years, I read and watched many stories regarding fantasy, magic, monsters, superheroes, devious kid scientists and teenage spies with cool gadgets. I read book series like Alex Rider, Artemis Fowl, the Edge Chronicles and the Saga of Darren Shan. I watched animated series like Justice League, Rave Master, Shaman King, Teen Titans, X-Men and Yu-Gi-Oh! What was interesting to me was the excitement and awe I felt when I was reading about and watching these made-up characters in their created worlds. That’s why I gravitate toward stylized lines and flat colors—I want it to be evident that what I’m drawing is unreal.
Sci-fi and fantasy are prevalent in my personal work, and through client work, I’ve also been finding ways to incorporate surreal themes with a touch of that euphoria or tranquility I get from fantasy and sci-fi. Many of my characters are shown with special abilities like flying or leaping, and I mix that with people doing normal things. In general, when viewers look at my work, I want them to feel positive, empowered and calm. Fantasy and sci-fi give me many positive feelings, so I want people who look at my work to have those positive feelings too.
How has your vivid illustration style evolved, and how do you adapt to different projects? Trying out a million different things over the years. Sometimes, I stumbled on something by accident and it worked. Other times, I noticed the way the lines were drawn, the way the colors or the textures looked, or the way I drew a character’s eyes was overpowering and impeding what I was trying to communicate, so I dropped it. I intentionally started with more-subdued colors, but along the way, the colors kept getting brighter! In my client work, I’ll make the colors as vivid as possible as long as it’s still communicating the message the client wants to convey to the audience. In the end, the message always comes first.
What inspires your decision to work in bitmap/raster layers? I want my lines to be wispy and weighted, with the addition of organic textures. I know how to achieve that using bitmap software. Also, through my process of using layers, client changes to the color can be implemented quite quickly. It’s a flexible way of working.
What challenges did you encounter while creating the header image for young adult novelist Namina Forna’s article “As a Black Lord of the Rings fan, I felt left out of fantasy worlds. So I created my own” in the Guardian? Composing tiny people and a big subject in the same image and having that composition make sense in terms of perspective and proportion. I’m really proud that I was able to execute that illustration.
What trends in illustration are you most interested in? Animation and infusing “life” into illustrations. Although, I mean adding subtle, simple movements to drawings, because animation itself is a completely different skill set and profession. In my work, I love to suggest movement by drawing elements swaying in the wind, but imagine actually animating that. Recently, I saw an illustrator do that with the addition of sound, and I was blown away.
Which illustrators do you most admire? The digital artist Loish for her imagination and skillful execution. Her work has inspired me to break down what I previously believed was insane “magical” talent into its constituent realistic skill sets. I went from thinking that artists I admired were otherworldly talented, to now saying that they are “extremely skilled” because it acknowledges the effort they put into their work. I also admire Pascal Campion and his use of dappled lights and emotional compositions. His illustrations are thought provoking, and his lifestyle work shows the beauty in everyday moments.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? A design portfolio should target clients, not fellow creatives. Pretty portfolios, fancy templates and projects without context mean that people will evaluate your work as art. Whereas, if the work is seen in the context of commercial or editorial work, with descriptions and sketches, clients will evaluate it based on how effective it is as a solution to the creative brief. Unless it’s personal work, this is how you want to market.
What would be your dream assignments? Creating a Google Doodle, working on a collaboration with a fashion house or illustrating the cover of a fantasy book series. My list is endless.