Thursday, January 31, 2013

Monster Talk

Character Design on Simple Shapes

Together, we are deviantART, an amazingly diverse community of fantastic individuals from all reaches of the globe. It’s a beautiful, creative ecosystem where the wildest voices can speak their minds and share their expressions. When designing this collection, I wanted to celebrate that diversity. When you’re at a concert, on an airplane, or sitting at a cafĂ©, it's sometimes fun to look at the people moving and talking around you, each with their own unique style and outlook. Be part of the big conversation, where all voices matter and everyone can be involved.

The characters in this piece spawned from a conversation I had while teaching a high school class on character illustration. The topic was making interesting-looking characters, and everyone seemed to agree that you have to make a complex contour shape in order to satisfy the goal. I countered by simply drawing a line of jelly bean shapes on the board. At first, it looked boring -- just a bunch of wonky ovals. Then, I made each into a character by giving them features, paying close attention to their placement within the composition.  The idea went from the chalkboard to my sketchbook, where I played around with it through many sketches. 

The idea of having a series of characters with the same basic shape was really intriguing to me. They became known as the “thumbheads,” and I had a ton of fun coming up with personalities for each of them.

I was doing my best to observe the characters in my everyday life, mixing their attributes with fantastical forms and exciting patterns.

I even went so far as to fill the shape with an entire character’s body, which was an interesting thought, but it got lost in the complex linework.

It's really gratifying to draw a subject so many times and in different ways that you suddenly realize you've got a whole series of related images.

The intricate linework of these drawings made them great candidates for a T-Shirt design, so I began digging in my sketchbook for other ideas I’ve had to more cohesively tie this group of monsters together. I came across this lockup drawing of the dA logo, where a bird and worm are having a funny interaction inside it. That doodle was enough to spawn the idea that the letters could be filled.

Searching for another level for the graphic, I came across a page in my sketchbook where I had slapped a dA nametag over another character, which gave me the idea to have each characters inside a speech bubble. I’d seen this basic concept before, but it was a great opportunity to explore it in my own style.

My mind was racing as I sketched each curious character. Should I put the characters in speech bubbles? What size should they be? Should it be characters talking about characters? Should it be sharp or hand drawn, solid or full of chatter? The only way to discover the answers to these was to try out every possible option!

A lot of the time, I will write random words in a consistent font to give me an interesting starting point to draw from. Most of the time, they make no sense, but they’re great for inspiration. I recommend trying it with your own sketches!

After working out the concept and translating it digitally, it quickly took shape in the graphic that you see in finished form: characters within the dA logo encapsulated by a speech bubble, inspiring conversations amongst each other and around the world.

To shop this and other new Apparel Collection designs in the deviantART T-Shirts & Gear Shop click here. 

The printed garment and an energetic model really set the mood for the completed piece during the photo shoot. The journey of this piece really drove home the importance of combining ideas and cross-pollinating concepts. I hope it helps you in your future artistic endeavors!

Sunset Burner

Legibly Balanced Design

The celebration of letterforms is a timeless and globally universal art form. When pushed towards the abstract, the individual letters become more about the overall shape than the words they form or meaning. The graphic becomes about the marriage between the whole design and composition and the letterforms seemingly hidden in plain sight.
Contemporary graffiti is often done in this style. As you may know, artistic graffiti is powerful global art movement where artists choose more non-traditional ways to execute pieces and more publicly accessible places to display their artwork. 

This specific piece is done in a linear Wildstyle fashion and symbolizes the wearer’s proclivity for pushing the boundaries of abstraction and taking risks with their work. In this garment, you can feel free to take your style, put it in a blender, and mix it up with your inspirations, influences, surroundings, and emotions. Pour this concoction into a cup and paint with it, do the unexpected, and develop new ways to say things that are perceived as banal. Enjoy the creative explosion! 
There are a million ways to write our comparatively short alphabet. In the art form of graffiti, many fundamental styles have been developed and are universally recognized. In my first rounds of work on this concept, I was really pushing for the letters to be abstract. This piece below really has a lot of energy, but it was really hard to read and was more composed for the rectangular orientation of a sketchbook, not the anatomical features of the body under a shirt. 

The second piece I developed was in a style of letter that is much more legible. This version was conceived on a trip to Art Basel in Miami, where deviantART had a pop-up art gallery. I was able to paint a bunch of graffiti pieces there and sketched a number of different letter styles for the name “deviantART.” 

After many exploratory sketches, I found the right composition, and I wanted to flesh out in color. Of course, there’s a huge difference between hand-drawing a piece based on graffiti style and actually painting a huge beautiful graphic with spray paint. Making this illustration digitally gave me the ability to really explore the colors and attitudes of the letterforms. When painting with cans, you usually hatch your plan and stick to it. No control-Z on the wall ;) 

This was a nice piece, but, if you can believe it, I thought it was almost too legible. Graffiti lettering often has the curse of not having enough Style with a capital S, and I didn’t think this version was up to deviantART’s style standards. I was on the right track, but I needed to head back to the drawing board with a more stylized eye for this graphic. 

At this point, I reached out to one of my favorite artists, *sonnywong001, and he gave me some hints on how to push the piece in the right direction. His sketch added on some landing gear, ticks, and letter connectors. It’s always valuable to talk to other artists and get critiques on your work during the working process. A fresh set of eyes can make all the difference when you’ve been staring at so many variations that you’re not sure what to do next. 

I really appreciated his input and wanted to start fresh with his ideas in mind. So, I jumped ship and went for a totally different thought process. The intention of the next version was to make a piece in a Wildstyle lettering where the overall dynamic movement and composition would supersede any hope for legibility. 

I was able to settle on the final outline of the new version’s lettering rather quickly. The color scheme was a whole different story. It took many tries to find a happy medium between too many colors and too few colors, not to mention which hues worked best with each other. Here are six of what felt like 50 colorway attempts. 

After what seemed like an eternity of trying different color combinations, the clear winner emerged, and the sun set on this design process. I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. The Wildstyle lettering is legible after a bit of searching, and the color scheme is reminiscent of a sunset, giving it an overall solid composition. 

Connect with your inner wild style, and wear Sunset Burner with pride. 

Raining Ideas

Create Your Own Storm

It’s so exciting when you’re in Creative Mode, and the ideas are just flowing out of you. It’s almost electric how one idea can spark the next and the next, and you’re creating as fast as your body can keep up. Don't hold it back! I created this shirt to shout from the clouds that it’s okay to let the ideas well up and storm onto your media! Share your ideas with your team, and let your collaborations really fill your mind and canvas with a deluge of output.

This illustration started with the intention of making a cute cloud into an energetic storm. I wanted the cloud to have the contour of a brain so the importance of the mind in the brainstorming process would be prevalent at first glance. The preliminary sketchbook drawings in ballpoint pen were a mix of adorable thunderheads and raining brains. Experimenting with the placement of the eyes and the shape of the cloud was fun. It was harder than I expected to get the sizes right and actually make the brain cute.

The lightning started off looking almost like earrings for the character, which was interesting, but I wanted the bolts to read as more energetic – the kind of electrified jolt that chatters your teeth! The brain went a few rounds as well, and I studied up on the anatomical structure of brains to make sure the simple shape would translate to the viewer. The shape of the brain and the forming cloud really accentuated each other and gave the visual effect of a cloud moving forward in space.

Seeing this natural movement, I pushed it even further by making the pattern of the rain push diagonally backwards as the storm rapidly approached. It was a conscious choice to misalign the outline and the inner texture of both brain and cloud, so the layering would create some tension between the colors and line work. Along the way, I toyed with the idea of having some text printed on the shirt, but I decided the graphic spoke for itself. And they say to keep it simple, so I pushed on and tried to figure out the final eye placement.

This proved to be difficult. In the original permutation, I considered putting the pair of cute eyes in the middle of the cloud’s “face,” but it looked too high up, especially with respect to the brain. After dropping them down, my new artistic hurdle was to the make the eyes interact with the action without being too big and pulling too much focus. There needed to be another element to make the graphic come together.

Since it was a studious brain, I stumbled across the idea of adding some big reading glasses, and it really worked! The momentum was successful, and the concept really worked as a serious thinker.

The lightning fell right into place after the glasses were figured out, adding visual balance to the piece. My original intention of the cute storm was met, and I was really happy with the outcome.

I dubbed the cute, little brainstorm to be called Raining Ideas and printed it on a beautiful sapphire T-Shirt. The models immediately took to the inspirational design, and it looks great on everyone who wears it.

Check out this T-Shirt in the deviantART T-Shirts & Gear Shop. Click here to see all T-Shirts. 

Whenever you’re in a creative drought, the only solution is to stand underneath the perfect storm of Raining Ideas!


Design for Words with Meaning

“ALL dAY EVERY dAY” represents the artist’s constant love for making art. This drive and determination is always working in the back of our minds, always noticing inspiring things, always adding notes and drawings to notebooks, and always thinking creatively. DeviantART is a wonderful, swirling artistic ecosystem with a fertile breeding ground for this never-ending creative spirit.

Recently at deviantART, we tried out a small-scale collaborative program, bringing in outside artists to illustrate pieces for the seasonal clothing line. For the piece ALL dAY EVERY dAY, I’m proud to introduce Tony Van Groningen, or =tonybricker here on dA. It’s always a pleasure to hand an artistic brief off to an artist and have them come back with an exciting piece that can go a few rounds in collaborative sessions to make final. Working collaboratively brings multiple viewpoints to the drawing board and adds a great deal of richness to successful pieces.

So, for this Journal, we asked =tonybricker directly if he could outline the creative story behind making ALL dAY EVERY dAY. Enjoy!

"Hello, Deviants!

My design brief was wide open on this one. I was instructed to do something typographically cool with the phrase "All Day Every Day," which, in the world of deviantART, is encouragement to make your art and work on your skills all day, every day!

I started by going through my typefaces and trying to pick fonts that were sturdy and thick enough for the bluntness I was going for. I wanted to be sure it was a pretty legible font, since the whole shirt was type-based, but I also wanted it to have somewhat unusual proportions. This was not a job for your standard Helvetica Light.

Experimenting with different fonts on the page, I was able to consider each one individually.

These might look really similar to some people, but I was trying to pay attention to proportion and individual letterforms. I printed these out individually at large sizes, hung them on the wall, and looked at them from a range of distances, including about 15 feet away down my hallway. This might sound silly, but it's a really useful thing to do to make sure your eyes and brain aren't locked into "on-screen" mode, where things often look huge and super high-contrast.

After doing this, the one that had the right funky and legible feel to me was the upper-right option, using the lovely Apex Sans typeface.

 From there, I went through and made each of the letters look even and balanced. Never trust default spacing in any program! For example, the gap between the "D" and the "A" was too large, the "D" felt like it was floating off the rest of the word.

I flipped it backwards because I wanted to work with the digital letterforms off the computer, but I also wanted to add a traditional twist by using wet artistic media like ink and watercolor.

After copying the backwards letters on tracing paper, I laid the tracing paper graphite-side down on top of my watercolor paper, and using a pencil, transferred the typography to the watercolor paper by rubbing it, so I‘d have a template.

I did this process a few times so I’d have several templates to work from, since I doubted I would do something I liked the first time. Here's what the tracing paper looked like after the rubdown.

Now, it was time to get to the artsy fun part. I pulled out a ton of tools to experiment with. I didn’t know how it would end up, but I felt I’d know what I liked when I saw it, and no better way to get there than by trying everything.

One of my all-time favorite techniques is using gouache with India ink, so that had to be in the lineup. The Japanese squeezebrush pens are amazing for spontaneous linework. Whiteout pens can be fun, and the weird-shaped bottles in the back are refill containers for Tria pen ink. I often like to drip it straight onto the paper for supersaturated color.

I just started mixing things up and working intuitively to see what happened. Here are some results.

I scribbled notes underneath some of my favorites so I could recreate the effect later if I needed. I need to do this more. I often look at some of my older sketches and tests and can't figure out how I once made something cool! 

Ultimately, I decided that I really liked the mostly uncontrollable effect of brushing water over the letterform, adding some drops of India ink, and gently swirling the entire page around so the ink actually travelled around inside of the water droplets.

The results looked great and interesting, and I really liked that, since there wasn't a lot of real control over how the letter ended up looking, all the letters looked different.

I scanned in each letter and cleaned them up digitally. But I didn't feel that this alone was enough, so I played around with the visual contrast between the blobby ink letters and the super-rigid structure in original letterforms.

I went back to my Illustrator file where I’d typeset the quote with Apex Sans, and using some vector magic and some typography skillz, I redrew the Apex Sans letterforms to be a super-hairline mono-weight version that would sit nicely inside each letter.

Once I had done that for every letter, the backbone elements of the shirt were ready, and it was just a matter of composing everything. As mentioned earlier, I was interested in juxtaposing the flowing edges of the letters with precise vector lines within each, so I created a vector pattern to use in the background, to create a balanced, interesting composition. Here’s one of many patterns we tried.

At this point, I sent them off to Forest. He had the great idea of making the uppercase "D"s in my piece into lowercase "d"s so they would read "dA" on the shirts, which was a brilliant idea. I was excited to go back and redo the watery-ink trick one last time to make the lowercase "d"s.

We decided that reversing the black inkletters out to white on a black shirt created a nice, ghostly effect. I adjusted the background pattern to a muted purple and sent Forest the working file.

As any individual designer would do, this design went through many more revisions, including shifting the alignment of the words around, deleting the background pattern, and changing the colors, until we finally decided on the awesome design you see before you.

And that's about it! Thanks for reading. I hope it was at least educational if not inspirational! Feel free to leave a comment or note me to ask any questions you might have about any part of the process. 



This was a
n inspiring process outline from the primary artist of the piece. As Tony mentioned, this design came a long way from the perceived final version, but we ended up with a very successful piece and a great collaboration.

Shop ALL dAY EVERY dAY in the deviantART T-Shirts & Gear Shop. Click here to see this and all T-Shirts! 


Design Inspiration that Flows

It feels really good to be surrounded on all sides by music, feeling it pump through you like an electric pulse! This design would be the perfect complement to a carefree night of dancing with friends under the stars or boogying down alone in front of a mirror using the build-in headphones.

This illustration was inspired by my love for music and science together. Sound waves are pretty amazing in the way they move ever forward, undulating up and down outwardly from their source. I love the way scientific textbooks illustrate natural phenomenon, because, of course, my artistic mind wants to SEE everything, even things that can’t be seen by the naked eye without special tools. Scientific subject matters are a fun challenge to many artists as they dive into the shapes of nature and physics and apply to them their own styles and techniques.

Like many pieces of art, it can sometimes take the simplest concept to inspire a whole thought process to be expressed on a canvas. I dove into studying sound waveforms and went to town drawing many concepts.

Music is one of my favorite art forms, and it was really fun to translate that into a graphic.  With so many ways to illustrate a wave, by the time I had gotten down to the bottom for the page, I knew I wanted to use a jagged calligraphic style to write “deviantART.” In manipulating the colors of the drawing, I got to see color schemes develop that I wouldn't have been able to visualize on white paper. 

After transferring my sketches of the waves to the digital realm, I started adding more fuzzy, chattering, dramatic marks. This was a bit too much visually, and the multitude of colors made the music seem really loud. I added “deviantART” in this phase, and its clean lines were a nice juxtaposition to the contrasting visual.

The letters were really interesting to me, so I pushed the sharpness of the waves and laid them over a halftone pattern to accentuate their bold line. The rounded ends were really pleasing to the eye and made the halftone dots visually correlate with the underlying pattern. These colors were really exciting and vibrant, but they didn’t end up being the final palette. 


The final graphic was pulled back to a clean set of overlapping sound waves – one of which was very crisp, while the other looked much more organic. 

Holding true to the original concept, I was really interested in the idea of waves literally moving through the design and around the wearer as they listened to the sounds emanating from the drawstring’s earbuds. To help manifest that visually, the decision was made to add a design to both sides, effectively wrapping the garment in sound. 

Thrilled with the looks of the final digital mockup, we sent the piece off to the printer. 

The models were quick to put on the piece on our brisk day of shooting, and they were so comfortable, they were the first to see that it’s truly the perfect Hoodie to take with you anywhere you might need to snuggle up or listen to some tunes of your own.

Visit the deviantART T-Shirts & Gear Shop's Hoodies Category to shop this and other HoodieBuddie Headphone Hoodies in the Holiday 2012 Collection. Click here to go there now.