Feb 11, 2009

The Premise of My Livelihood

Not all my projects are large ones. I work on a bunch of smaller jobs for smaller agencies too. I enjoy working with other creatives regardless of how large or small their business is because it brings with it a wide range of diverse assignments and that tends to be a lot more fun creatively speaking.

I'd call this project a "Von Gets Paid to Draw" job. I say that because in all honesty my livelihood is fundamentally based on the fact that other designers can't draw well, so they pay me to do it instead.

Client provided photograph.

The client needed simple B&W artwork of this Jewish mans head. He had seen my "NBA Portraits" and wanted me to do the same based on the hostage quality photo he provided above.

Non-kosher vectors!

This was the clients own attempt at creating simple B&W artwork based on the photo. Do you understand how that whole livelihood thing I mentioned previously comes into play now?

This is nothing new mind you, it's been the fundamental premise of existence for illustrators going back to prehistoric times perhaps. You know, Grog can't throw spear and slay mammoth so he stays home in the cave and draws what happens on the wall. It's fine, everyone has their lot in life.

Refined drawing.

So now it's my turn to draw off the photo provided. As always I draw out my ideas completely so I know what to expect moving to digital. This prevents any guess work as I build my art in vector form.

This specific style is all about simplification. Looking at the facial forms and baking them down to simple shapes until you capture the correct feeling.

Scanned refined drawing.

I scan in my refined drawing, place it into Illustrator, grey it back and lock it on it's own layer. Here it stays as my precise road map to build upon.

Vector shape building.

I build my vector shapes according to my pre-established drawing.

No guess work building.

Precise vector building comes about by figuring out what you need to build before hand by drawing it all out. This is where I think a lot of designers get lazy and jump on the computer too quickly.

To those with an ear let them hear.

Even though this style plays off photography you have to take creative license and improve on reality to make an illustration better. This dudes right ear looks kind of strange being smaller on one side. So I need to fix that.

Base B&W artwork done.

I perform vector plastic surgery on my art and fix his ear.

Back to the drawing board.

I print out my artwork (note lame vertical streaking because my printer sucks) and using a regular pencil I draw out my shading. I refer back to the source photo to pick out visual cues on how they should be drawn.

Building shading vectors.

I follow the same modus operandi as I used to build my primary base art.

More precision building.

I use snap to point all the time. That said the functionality inside CS4 is kind of hinky and doesn't alway work which is a major pain in the butt at times and bloats my build time. Thank you very little Adobe.

Responding to comments.

OK, for those of you who posted early you were correct his ear still looked hinky so I fixed it. The reason I didn't put grey in his beard is because I thought the client didn't want that. I based the decision on their own attempt shown above which was a poor assumption on my part because they came back and requested it.

I guess that means "Commenters: 2" and "Von: 0" so you guys win.

Final floating head.

Grey added to beard, mouth adjusted so he's smiling more and hinky ear repaired.

I've illustrated well over 200 portraits in this style, using the same methodology for MLB, NBA, and NFL licenses over the past several years but I still enjoy it.

I thank God for my livelihood.


Anonymous said...

Very nice work! And thanks for the window into your process - much appreciated.

Patrick said...

Thank you for sharing this experience. While I am not sure if I would do this for a client. I do love to draw in my spare time. I'll have to try this on something and see what I come up with.

Thanks again.

niki said...

Von - I love that you show us your illustration process! I agree with you that we as designers jump to the computer way to quickly...i am guilty of that for sure!


Tanya Nichols said...

Grog draw good. Ugh Ugh.

Thanks for sharin Von.

JBIII said...

Von, have you commented on the whole Shepard Fairey incidents with the Obama poster? You have documented a lot of process that goes into this style of illustration and show how much work goes into your interpretations of the photos you reference.

Not sure if you have ever ran into any legal issues?

Keep up the great content. -JBIII

Winnie Lim said...

Thank you for sharing your process. I belong to the group of designers who cannot draw to save our own lives. :) That's why I really envy and appreciate your illustrations.

Howard Wright said...

Great look at your process, Von! Fantastic results! Curious why no gray in the beard? Was that your customer's request?

Creative Crafter UK said...

Great as always!
Thanks again for sharing with us how you work. I find your blog so interesting and informative.

Good luck.

Chrissie A said...

Wonderful! I appreciate seeing the process--nothing more interesting than a peek at another artist's working methods, and you're very generous to share. As always I find your posts (and tweets) inspiring and informative! Thank you, Von! :)

carlos castellanos said...

Hey Von, nice walk through your process, thanks for sharing. Your work rocks as usual. Also, I think it's important to note that you recognize what sets you apart from other designers. Most creatives never take the time to Analyze what skill sets set them apart from their competition.

Also, I believe your being grateful for what you have the ability to do is why you are so successful.

Keep up the great work.

THR3SHOLD said...

Thanks for letting us see the Vonsters inner workings.


Vonster said...


The style Fairey used is valid and legit, that really isn't the problem. It's the fact he didn't get permission to use the photo so the source is the problem and lack of granted rights to use that source.

If I work in this style I insist the client provides the photo from a legit source or I take my own.

I've been thinking of doing an illustration where I break down how he probably does that style. At least how I'd approach it. It's not hard at all. The key is having good reference and that the reference used has very dramatic lighting.

The fact Fairey says his poster is "Dramatically" different from the photo is laughable. Just ask yourself this question "Could he have done that very poster without the photo?" Not a chance, thus he should have gained permission before using it.


Vonster said...

Follow up: Well it looks like my vector "Grecian Formula" decision to not include grey in the beard might have been too presumptive on my part. The client wants some grey added so I'll post a new final image.

I assumed based on the clients own art that a younger look was desired. No biggie it's an easy fix.

Andrew said...

You're the master vector and shape but I'm going to have to dish out some tough love:

The way you illustrated this guy's ears is totally UNkapish. They don't match the photo in the least. The photo shows his is lobes being the attatched variety who's ends are tapered and anchored to the side of the face, NOT large, detached and bulbous nodules as you have illustrated.

The ear on the left looks like he had a run-in with carniverous Mike Tyson; or maybe Peter in Gethsemane. :) It's way too small and withered. I'm glad someone mentioned the beard as well. There's too much white and grey there to just fill it in.

Thanks for sharing, Now let the healing begin!

Leif Peng said...

Oh brother, everybody's an art director ;^)

Von; just dropping by by chance and glad I did - that was a fun and informative step-by-step... really enjoyed it and the final looks great (ears and all).

If I may correct you on one small thing though: I don't think of you as a designer who can draw, I see you as an illustrator who happens to also be a helluva good designer.

Semantics, perhaps, but if Al Parker were alive and working in today's market he and you would be cut from the same cloth. I can't offer higher praise than that.

Cheers - Leif

Vonster said...


Today marks exactly seven years I've been running my own business and it made this morning even better reading your comment Leif! I appreciate it greatly.

Al Parker rules, Vonster drools though. LOL

I use your blog all the time to show my class today's inspiration. I often point out older illustrators and speculate that their style would adapt well to digital if they were working today.

Thanks again and keep up the great documenting of artistic history.

ArtVelopes said...

Great work Von! I'm a fan for sure!! I'm stll going to send those "Billy Mays" stickers. Keep an eye out.


Pierre Alfredo said...

It's so awesome so see how you deal with this kind of assignment.
Very nice work. I'm only not sure about the gray lips...