I am not an illustrator...
But, I'm learning

Stefan Sagmeister on Being a Design Student

-What do you think design students should be focused on?

Stefan: They should concentrate to try out as many directions, possibilities and techniques as possible. Even though this can be frustrating in the short term (as few masterpieces will be developed), the freedom to be able to utilize a whole array of strategies will be incredibly helpful as a professional. While in school, I dont think its helpful to use ones time to develop an original formal language, this can all be done later on.

I made this as a satirical comment on cookie-cutter quote design. Its more to question the power that simple design elements have and how they can be combined to invoke thoughts of how we effectively communicate visual messages in everyday life. 

I made this as a satirical comment on cookie-cutter quote design. 

Its more to question the power that simple design elements have and how they can be combined to invoke thoughts of how we effectively communicate visual messages in everyday life. 

Fall 2013: Illustration Final Portfolio

So, It just hit me. We’re Visual Communications majors. We’re graphic designers. I wrote on my blog that “I’m not an illustrator, but I’m learning.” That was some pretty good foresight. I recently went back and read the syllabus for the description and goals. Here’s what it says,
Introductory studio in illustration media including watercolor, gouache, mixed media and digital painting. Exploration of traditional and electronic imaging interactions, image, technical and conceptual development.”  

  • understand the role of illustration in the mass media and advertising

So, the way that I take that is that we were learning to use multiple methods of illustration and incorporating those skills as tools available to enhance our design skills. In short, I think that the summary of this semester can be wrapped up for me as Illustration for Graphic Design. That is, this was an introductory illustration class that challenged us to apply basic principles of design and composition with the illustrative methods we were learning. 
Idk, I just got really stressed out when it came to my illustration and the fact that I wasn’t a master illustrator yet. To me, this class was a strong synthesis between “studio art” and “design” or between me being an artist or a designer. That’s a concept that I grapple with quite regularly. So, what does this mean for me? I learned a great deal about “traditional illustrative methods” in this class that can be applied to enhance my design work. 
With this portfolio, I chose to display a balance of the methods that I worked with in order to complete the assigned pieces. 

Digital illustration is a rapidly growing media that I only began to tap into, but I learned how to use some of its fundamental elements in the process of creation. These basic skills are best displayed in pieces 2 (product illustration) and 4 (3 illustration). Additional photoshop skills are evident in piece 1 (society of illustrators) as they allowed me to take my traditional illustration to the next level. 

Watercolor is a media form that I still struggle with even after this class. But, I wanted to include it in the final portfolio as a display of my improvement from last semester. I also included my Life and Death piece to balance out the digital work included in the portfolio. I chose not to use my guinness illustration because of its similarity to gouache pieces in my past portfolio. 

1. Society of Illustrators. 
I had a hard time deciding what to do for this project. The basics of the prompt were an eye-catching image to be used to promote illustration. To be quite honest, this was the simplest illustration I completed the second half of this semester. It was actually something that I had been planning to do starting last semester, but then it ended up fitting the prompt and wa-lah. In all honesty, the original watercolor background used for this image was rather boring. But, after some shop work, it became a visually striking layered and textured neon background that popped off the page while accenting a simple line art illustration. In short, its really basic when it comes down to it, but it just looks cool. 

2. Product Illustration
This was the first piece that I created this semester. Originally, I had not planned to make this digital, but it just turned out to work best. (more on that later).For this piece, I focused first on the whisky glass and cigar and then built up the environment around the piece. In fact, I think that’s my favorite part is the subtleties that make the glass stand out like the digitally painted background and wood grain on the surface that the glass is sitting on along with the reflection of the bottom of the glass. This was an eye opening first piece learning about digital reproduction and the illustrative process. 

3. Native American History Month Poster
I think that this is the quality of work that Rusty wishes that I could have produced back in Vis-Comm 2. But, I literally had 0 illustration skillz. On this piece, I learned a great deal about line art illustration. I was really able to put to use the techniques that I had developed during the first half of this semester. I used a good deal of loose line art with variating styling, texture and weight to create a pencil drawing of a native american indian. This is probably my most successful line art to come out of this class. This poster shows a good connection between design and illustrative elements utilizing the design aspects to create a focal point that is the illustration. 

4. Three
This illustration displays a strong combination between digital and gouache. There is some cool shop work going on with different brushed patterns interacting with the digitally illustrated image in the background. The gouache was a bit harder than I had anticipated. I underestimated the detail necessary. However, I created the digital background first and then realized that realism wasn’t necessary. This one’s a bit rough around the edges, but that’s ok. Stylistically, its unified. This was actually a pretty fun piece to work on. 

5. Life and Death
In terms of what’s more visually pleasing, I believe that my classical album art fulfills that notion more adequately, however it doesn’t make for a very balanced portfolio. That is, the Life and Death illustration is solely watercolor. I believe that the death illustration is a better representation of the use of watercolor than the life as it is less detailed and restrictive which is more personally appealing. I used different styles on purpose for this illustration just to add contrast. 

In summary, my perception of illustration has changed. I think that its more appealing to a larger group of people’s aesthetic and certainly shows a different side of a designer’s capabilities. In this class, I think I successfully learned how to use the illustrative methods for use in my design work. There were a lot of tricks that I learned to produce the quality of work that I did. The society of illustrator project taught me that the illustration serves a greater purpose. It;s not about the detail in an illustration, or the time it took to make it, what’s important is if the illustration does its job or not. Can it grab and hold attention as a stand alone piece of work? Does it help communicate the desired message? As I mentioned, I didn’t want to do solely digital illustration this second half of the semester. But, I think that overall for the year, I employed a strong balance of digital elements in combination with the traditional media. I know that the skills I learned will be extremely beneficial as I move forward in the major. My biggest regret is that I took this class so late. I think that a lot of the things I learned would have significantly enhanced the body of work that I created up until this point in classes like Vis Comm II and Printmaking. But, I am very grateful for the things that I have learned and know that I will continue to hone this craft for the future. 

So, this was just something that I kinda threw together for the Society of Illustrators design. I really like the inverted one. I still have some tweaks on this, but Its kinda neat. 

The tagline could be 
-Let Illustration Speak for Itself

Idk, Im not the copywriter on this one, but I feel as if thats the direction this one’s going in. 

Digital Space illustration for part of my CD cover.
I used clouds, gradient overlays and the noise generator along with lens flares. I digitally did all of the planets too and then shrunk them down so they’d look really tight. 

I think this would be a tight cover. Its a modern take on a classical piece originally written for a piano duet. We’ll see if Rusty goes for it. 
All together, this took about 5 hours to figure out which is pretty quick all things considered. 


One thing that I’ve realized from being locked in my room all semester is just how extroverted I really am. Like, I can take my laptop places and go be around people and design and work on things. But, transporting all my illustration stuff around just doesn’t happen. I find motivation and happiness from being around people. Locking myself in my room to do illustration hasn’t been fun because I feel really shut off. I realized that probably half the reason people in other majors go to the library is to study with someone they know, even its just sitting near them and chatting for study breaks. I’m not uncomfortable with the idea of alone time, but this is excessive. I think that is why I’m getting bored so easily with a lot of the work I’m doing and why I have started a lot of stuff, but haven’t followed through with it very well.