Monday, 28 March 2011

Todd Oliver

Whilst browsing through this months edition of Computer Arts magazine I came across the work of Oxford Graphic designer and illustrator Todd Oliver. 

Todd's work appealed to me straight away because of it's bright colours, twisted humour and quirky characters. 

I emailed Todd some questions and he very kindly replied and supplied me with some of his cool illustrations for the blog.

Please check out his website for more great examples of his work:

Where did you study?
I studied for a degree in 'Design for Interactive Multimedia' at Reading College & School of Art & Design.

How did you start out as an graphic designer/illustrator?
My career as a graphic designer started around 5 years ago. After applying for loads graphic design jobs around my area I was beginning to give up hope after being turned down again and again for either not having enough experience (I had only just passed my degree) or for actually being too ambitious - this was actually what someone said at one interview after showing them my portfolio. I finally got my break in a small publishers, not too far from where I live.

It’s only in the past few years that I’ve really started to push myself, outside of the 9-5 day job, to start drawing more and to get my name out there as an illustrator in my own right!

How did your style develop?
That’s a really big question!

As a kid I was really into drawing imaginary worlds. Weekends would be spent with my cousin, taping bits of A4 paper together to create a massive canvas to work on from sketching skate parks to mazes with acid pits and eroded skeletons!

After leaving school, I enrolled in a full-time IT course. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I liked computers. Mainly playing computer games... The course was very boring and technical, but there were a few units that involved creativity. These are the bits I shined at- creating interface designs.

From there I taught myself how to draw within Macromedia Fireworks - Adobe Photoshop was way too advanced for me at the time. After that I played around with animation using Flash, and eventually moved on to Illustrator.

The pen tool was like a revelation to me. Being able to draw these smooth looking lines, and realising I could draw anything I wanted to with just a few clicks, and it looking GOOD!

In 2002 I started a web comic, which was also drawn in illustrator. Updated tri weekly, instead of drawing each panel from scratch, I built up a bank of character assets which meant I could build poses rather than having to draw them. This saved time but after a while I began to find this technique quite boring. It wasn’t creative and after a year and a half of updating the comic, I decided to call it a day. 

Soon after this I was bought a WACOM tablet as a gift. Slowly the pictures I was drawing in Illustrator had a slightly less perfect, handdrawn style.

It’s only very recently that I’ve gone back to basics. Any new piece of work begins as a sketch on paper. I won’t touch a computer until I’m happy with the sketch. Making this decision has really changed my style. It’s allowed me to layout an image much more effectively, utilise space better, add loads more details and retain my original hand drawn lines.

What piece of work are you most proud of?
I’m very rarely satisfied with any work I’ve finished! Even before completion, I can look at my illustrations and see things in it I’d wish I’d done differently. I think that’s the same with a lot of creative people though. It’s good in terms of wanting to better yourself and try new things, but it can demotivate you sometimes.

Based on the most hours spent working, and complexity, the Cola poster is probably my biggest achievement so far! In terms of getting my work out there to the masses, I’m quite proud of my poster artwork for the CTRL+ALT+SHIFT charity and a Qee toy I designed for TOY2R. On a personal level, I’m quite fond of the recent portraits I made for friends and family. It’s too hard to choose just one!

I read you were inspired by Where's Wally books and Garbage Pail Kid Stickers, are there any other inspirations for your work?
Yes - loads! I’m a big fan of Keith Haring’s work. I was lucky enough to go to New York recently and visit a couple of the murals that still exist in the city. That was a big highlight of the trip for me.

On a daily basis, thanks to Twitter, I’m constantly discovering new artists. If you’re not on there, I highly recommend you at least check it out. It’s great to show off your latest work, get and give opinions, and help be part of collaborative projects. For an upcoming illustrator, I think it’s a must.

How do you go about starting a piece and what software do you like to use?

It all depends who the picture is for! With commissioned artwork, I will spend a while thinking up ideas and then very quickly, sketching a few of my favourites. At this point, the ideas/concepts are the important bit, not the quality of the work.

My digital process is almost always the same. Working with my Wacom tablet, I’ll digitally ink the line work as close to the original sketch as possible. This is what gives the work it’s own style.

How do you overcome a creative block?
I used to think trawling the Internet, checking out other people’s portfolio was a great way of conjuring up ideas. Sometimes it can be, but it can also be very easy to start comparing yourself to other people which can really chip away at your self confidence. There are a lot of very talented people out there!

I don’t think there’s a tried and tested method for overcoming creative block. Sometimes you need space to get away from the job at hand, and come back fresh although if it’s a tight deadline, you may not have the luxury of doing so.

It doesn’t hurt to have a sketchbook. I try not to ever throw away my doodles and sketches. Not only are they great to look through as a visual diary of your work, but they’re useful for kick starting new ideas.

How did you get yourself noticed?
That’s still a work in progress. I would say Twitter has really helped with promoting my work. Creating a Facebook page hasn’t hurt either. I regularly share current work, take an interest in what other illustrators are working on and try to contribute as much as I can to collaborative projects and shows. I’ve still got a long way to go in terms of getting my name out there.

How tough is it to find illustration work out there?
I don’t think this is something I’m best suited to ask! I’m still very much trying to find my feet as an illustrator! My commissions have been through social networking sites and word of mouth. I’m not signed up with an agent.

Do you have any advice for an illustration student that's just starting out?
I think the biggest selling point you can have in your portfolio is originality. Some illustrators market themselves as a jack of all trades covering many different styles, but don’t feel like you have to too.

Chicken Empathy

I seem to be ahead of myself today and have just finished my illustration for the editorial brief.

We were asked to bring 3 magazine articles to uni and choose one to work with for the brief. The chosen article would then be illustrated using metaphors and placed in a mock up magazine layout.

I found some really interesting articles including "Placebo's", "Chicken's Showing Feelings Of Empathy" and "Data Mining".
I liked all 3 but in the end decided to choose Chicken Empathy as I thought empathy would be a challenge to illustrate....and it would be fun drawing chickens.

The article wrote:- "A new study found that chickens feel empathy. Researchers in the UK ruffled the feathers of chicks by exposing them to puffs of air. The chicks became distressed and the mother hens showed signs of stress including an increased in heart rate, lowered eye temperature, increased levels of alertness, preening and clucking at their chicks." 

An important result for chicken kind! It proves that not just humans can feel empathy and has raised awareness for the welfare of farm and laboratory animals. I doubt it will lessen the amount of battery hens in our world of consumerism, but I hope their welfare will be improved. 
Haha chickens have always freaked me out but now I'm showing signs of empathy towards them.

Anyway below is my final for the brief. I did loads of sketches to begin with including Hamlet chicken, Rambo chicken (freeing battery hens) and a chicken watching a sad film.

I had in mind a chicken that resembled a 1950's housewife with a really theatrical swoon.
I originally had her cradling an egg in her other arm, but then decided It would look better if she was holding the chick out of the way and then decided to have the chick covering it's eyes for extra effect.

The Wellspring

Last Wednesday we had a group photo taken with our pages for The Wellspring project which ended a while back now. We were each assigned a page to illustrate for a publication, which we produced to raise funds and awareness for The Wellspring Project in Stockport, a resource centre for homeless and disadvantaged people.

The final printed newspaper arrived the other week and it looks really impressive, everyone worked really hard which has paid off big time.

My page tells the story of Aaron, who was 16 when he arrived at The Wellspring and was sleeping rough. The Wellspring helped him to turn his life around and he now has his own place and is studying construction and plumbing.


I chose to focus on the positive side of the story and wanted to create a character made up of the tools he might use in his trade. I used the skills I had learnt on the Disney brief and did lots of thumbnail sketches of the character. I decided to keep it black and white and looked at comics for inspiration for the shading. Below is the final printed page which I think turned out really well.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Tom Bancroft

This book really helped me develop my character for the Disney brief. It's called Creating Characters with Personality and is written by animator and character designer Tom Bancroft.

I must admit I didn't know much about him before I bought the book, but like most people once I turned the pages I realised I was familiar with his work. It's really well written with some great character sketches, hand written notes and character assignments. One chapter that was really valuable to me was "Pushing Your Design" because it helped me to develop a sketch I liked into something with more visual appeal.

Tom has over 20 years experience in the animation industry, 11 of those years was working for Walt Disney feature animation where he contributed to many feature films including: “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” “Aladdin”, “Pocahontas”, “Mulan”, “Lilo and Stitch”, and “Brother Bear”.

Tom founded Funnypages Productions with friend Rob Corley. The company has provided illustration, character design and artistic animation development for clients like Disney, Big Idea Productions, CBN, Scholastic, Warner Brothers, Simon and Schuster Publishing, and Hasbro.

Please check out his Funny Pages website here:

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Lesson learned

Sadly I've had to make the decision not to enter the D&AD competition after all. It's a bitter pill to swallow as I've put a lot of work into it was keen to see if I made it to the next round. After a long day of pouring over the above scene I found I only have 6 seconds worth of animation and simply cannot afford to invest any more time on it before Friday. In hindsight I should have started animating as soon as I had the character finalised, but I think I'm gonna have to chalk this one up as a lesson in bad planning.

On a positive note though I really enjoyed working out the sequence for the 6 seconds I have and am really proud of the way it turned out. I think I should try and finish it in my own time and send it to the guy at Disney for some feedback.

Jump Test


Here is my test for the jumping movement of my alien character which I will add to my sequence later and get him to do a crazy dance.