Today, we are joined by Brian Allen . He is an Illustrator You can view his portfolio here.
Firstly, I’d like to thank you for the interview. We’d like to understand how your interest for illustration started shaping up. Tell us a bit more about what made you go this route?
I was raised by a clan of artists – my grandmother, uncle, great-grandfather, and brother are/were all artists in many different mediums. My brother and I would draw our own action figures on cardboard and make our own comics. I always looked up to his talent, and when I look back at it now, I realize that I spent a lot of time trying to outdraw him, and I think that competition helped me grow as an artist immeasurably.
Tell us a bit more about how you learned it all. What changed in the last few years in terms of ease of expanding your skills and knowledge?
I learned so much at my first illustration job working at a graphic decal shop for dirtbikes over ten years ago. The owner was a very talented artist who previously worked on video games before leaving to start his own business. Once I started my own freelance illustration business a few years ago, the speed and style of learning changed dramatically. Now the success of my family was literally riding on my improvement and growth. The threat of starvation can be a great motivator! And on the other end, once the ceiling of a fixed salary was removed, that was also a great motivator to keep pushing and growing. After making that move, I become a bit bolder in how I sought out information and growth, often reaching out directly to artists that I admired for so long.
What does your creative process look like?
Every piece begins with a fair amount of strategizing at the beginning. I admire artists who can just dive right in and create something amazing off the top of their heads. I have never been able to work that way. I spend a lot of time with the brief (if working with a client), then I research and gather reference material, seek out inspiration, seek out similar approaches that have worked, and those that don’t. I find that I can create a much more believable gun (for example) if I know what model it is, how it works, what type of person would be using it, etc. Once I surround myself with these things, I throw down a lot of very loose sketches and compositions. Often my first thumbnail sketch is the one I go with, but my personality is one of second-guessing, and if I don’t sweat out all the different options, I spend the rest of the project in a funk of “what-if?”
Most of the time, I work 100% digitally, drawing on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD. I’ve gotten spoiled on the convenience of this, and sometimes miss the raw experience of drawing on paper. But as a freelancer, time is money, and there’s no question that working digitally is huge time-saver for me.
Do you have any recommendations in terms of good books, programs you use, or media choices you’re willing to share with us?
The program that every digital illustrator should be using is Smith Micro’s Manga Studio 5. I used to draw and ink on paper, then scan the artwork in and color it in Photoshop. I switched to a 100% digital workflow about four years ago, but I never felt that Adobe Photoshop was able to replicate the way I drew. When I discovered Manga Studio 4, then the much improved MS5, it was like having an epiphany. In my opinion, the program is just so much more accurate in the way it handles drawing, and its tools are more user friendly and built for illustrators. It made drawing fun and exciting again. I also always recommend Youtube as a great artists’ resource. There is an endless supply of free tutorials, speed-paintings, interviews, and inspirational videos on there that I draw from daily. I often leave it on in the background as I work, picking up a new tip here and there. I strongly recommend the online classes hosted by Schoolism.com (particularly the digital painting course by Bobby Chiu), and the tutorials available on Skillshare.com. For books, I recommend the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines and 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market (Artists and Graphic Designers Market) these are great books that help reinforce the value of artwork encouraging artists to maintain sustainable pricing for everyone involved.
Do you have a special place or object that boosts your inspiration and helps your creative drive? What is it like and why does it have this effect on you?
I always seem to get a lot of inspiration in the middle of a movie sitting in a theatre, or when watching a band play on stage somewhere. I think there’s something about being in a dark room and being forced to sit down, shut up, and just immerse yourself in another artist’s world.
Could you describe how a productive day would look like from your point of view? Which are the most important hours for you?
When I finish a piece of artwork, and feel that its better than the last piece, I feel productive. When I’m working on projects that I feel are a step background, even if I’m producing a lot, can quickly make me feel like I’m treading water. I also hate the necessary evil that is email. I probably spend about an hour and a half a day answering emails – this is something I never anticipated when I started my own business. Even though it is necessary, and it’s usually producing new projects, I can’t escape the client and I are just tossing a ball back and forth. Unlike many artists that I know, I am not a night owl – I’m in bed by 10PM, probably because my kids wear me out. So the most important hours to me are the normal working hours.
What is your stance on today’s ever growing opportunities enabling artists to take on remote design work?
In one word: incredible. My style is very unique, so I could never experience this level of success if I was pulling only from a local pool of clients – especially considering that I live in a small rural town in central Pennsylvania, just outside of Penn State University. I get to work with clients from all over the world, and my process is basically the same whether the client is from down the street, across the country, or on the other side of the world. Simple tools like PayPal, Skype, and Dropbox (which are all essentially free) have transformed my business.
What would you prefer: a steady, well paying job in a local agency, or the freedom and often stressful life of a freelancer? Why?
Once I started working as a freelancer, I realized right away that this fit my personality exactly. I’m a control freak, and need to be the shaper of my own destiny. I realize now that I must have driven my previous managers crazy, haha. Now that I have tasted this freedom, it’s hard to imagine how I could ever go back. The freedom to literally choose which projects I want to work on is so liberating, and I think it has really helped my growth as an artist. I only recently realized that just as doing good art can you make you better, doing bad art can make you worse. There is no question, however, that Freelancing is more stressful than my previous steady jobs as an illustrator. I’m still learning how to manage my time and maintain a balance between work and my family. It’s very hard to know when to turn it off, because unlike most jobs, being a freelance illustrator isn’t just a job I do, it’s who I am. It’s an incredibly personal venture.
How would you describe “the ideal project”? Did you have any recent opportunities to come close to this?
I’m very proud of a project I did last year for Hard Rock Cafe, which involved creating T-Shirt designs of some of their most famous city locations around the world, such as Tokyo, Miami, Amsterdam, and Yankee Stadium. To me, an ideal project is one that the client and I both are excited about, both during the production, and after the artwork is finished. I enjoy working on projects that I can put a piece of myself into it – I want people who know me to look at my work, and say, “this is you.”