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Chris Alexander is an experienced web designer from England. In addition to this he's following his passion for creating cute characters, which he brands as Yipori. He's working hard to make the transition to freelancing as an illustrator. He's been creating these fun loving characters in Illustrator, after experimenting with other software and workflows. Learn all about his motivation, inspiration, and creative drive!
1. Hello Chris Alexander, aka Yipori, please tell us a bit about yourself, where you're from and how you got started in this field? How long have you been designing characters, illustrating, and creating websites?
Hi, I live in the Cotswords, England, and have a passion for all forms of media. I've always been very interested in animation, computer games, films, music and books, and have been involved in making things since I was very young, spending a lot of my time drawing and making simple games.
I'm currently employed full time as a web developer, something I have been doing for around 7 years (eek, scary amount of time). I started working in vector character designs about 3 years ago. I work on designs for myself, which I make into cards and prints for friends and family.
2. When did you feel your first calling as a digital artist? Do you have any formal training or are you self-taught? What's one thing you wish you knew when you started your career?
I have always been drawing and creating, but it was a hobby. At college I was training for a more technical field, studying Math, Physics and Design, but at the age of 17 I got sent on a summer placement, by chance I ended up at an advertising agency. The company was extremely busy and didn't have that much time for me, so I was sent to the production office and sat down at a computer and told to just have a go. This was my first ever time with Photoshop, and (not surprisingly) I loved it! I spent much of my time after this working with Photoshop creating abstract works.
After my placement I changed my career path and went to do a Multimedia course at University, this was slightly more technical than artistic, and didn't feature any illustration sadly, so I'm self taught in terms of character design and the software I currently use.
3. What are your career goals and aspirations? Do you plan to freelance as a designer, work for an agency, or something else? Where are you on the path of achieving your goals?
I would really love to work freelance, and like a lot of people I would ideally like to sell my own designs, to get paid to do what I love doing! I feel this new path is just opening up for me, and I'm right at the beginning, learning new techniques and starting to develop my style. It's very exciting!
4. What are your artistic influences and favorite artists? What are your sources of inspiration on a daily basis? Any communities or blogs online you visit often? Any must see character design resources you'd recommend?
I think I'm pretty influenced by computer game characters and design, especially from the 16bit era, where every game had bright blue skies, lush green grass and anything was possible. Most of the games I was interested in where Japanese, and think that the country as a whole and what is traditionally thought of as kawaii design is very influential to me.
Aardman animation has also been very inspiring and I was a massive fan of the Wallace and Gromit films growing up. The level of detail in those films are amazing. I've watched them so many times and I'm still finding new things. I really like to achieve that in my work, creating a picture where you notice more detail the longer you look.
In terms of favorite artists, I love the detailed yet simple works of Tokidoki (Simone Legno). I am in awe of Hyung-tae Kim, his work is just insane. I also love the bright, happy, oddness of Keita Takahashi works, creator of the game Katamari. Glen Keane lead animator for many of Disney's 2D characters is amazing, and the general works of Pixar. I'm only just getting into the world of character design online, so there aren't many sites I check for inspiration at the moment. I currently check out some of the Flickr art groups and recommendations on Twitter.
5. What are the programs that you use to create your illustrations? What does your workstation look like?
Previously (6 months ago) I was using Flash to create my characters, then import into Photoshop to work on backgrounds (not the most efficient way of working for me) but recently I have been learning Illustrator and is used in everything I'm currently creating. My workstation is a little cramped, with quick and easy access to my stereo and (very importantly) my Totoro, Gloomy bear and Zelda toys :)
6. How much of a traditional workflow do you follow and does your process involve sketching in a notebook, or working digitally? Could you walk us through the creation of "Sleeping moon, busy planet"?
I start with good old paper and a pencil (and am always on the look out for the perfect pad of paper...still looking!). Then I scan it into the computer and start tracing the lines. My process can be quite fluid, sometimes I will start with a small idea which evolves and sometimes I know exactly what it is I want to achieve before I start. "Sleeping moon, busy planet" for example was quite fluid.
I had the idea of a large round character which would be floating around with lots of smaller characters running around it. As I was sketching ideas for the main character, I wasn't happy with the position of the arms and feet, so I left them off. This started to look more like a planet to me, so I started to sketch out a larger picture incorporating a moon, and worked from there.
7. What aspect, of your illustrations reflects parts of your personality and how you view the world?
People can sometimes be too serious (me included a lot of the time) and worry about how they are perceived, what's expected of them and what's seen as cool. I like to think I'm not too influenced by peer pressure and try to do what I'm interested in. I find that people can respond to that and open up to what they really like, opening up their inner child when they realize you're not going to judge them.
8. What is your favorite vector tip, trick, or technique? Any other indispensable tools in your analog or digital arsenal?
I think most of my work currently uses simple techniques, so I don't have any amazing tricks at the moment (but I hear this site called Vector Tuts is very good with that kind of thing), but I can't live without the Pathfinder tools and transparency masks in Illustrator.
9. What is it about cute characters and happy scenes that you find captivating? Is there an element of story, emotion, or something else that drives your illustrations?
At the moment it's quite simple, it's bright and happy, which makes me happy, and I hope makes others happy. There has sometimes been small story elements and I have had characters speaking, but was worried about translations and people not being able to understand. With the way my designs are now, people can project whatever personalities they want onto them.
I have in the past completely gone down the story route with a comic before, but really that was all about the story (or joke) and I personally found it quite constraining, having to draw the same characters and locations again and again. Also it is extremely demanding, you really have to get new work out all the time. I'm amazed at the amount of work some comic artists produce, something I find hard to do with a full time job.
10. Has your web design and illustration interests influenced each other? And do you see this as important to your grow as an artist and designer in the future?
Web design is my current profession and something I've always been interested in, but my current job doesn't allow that much room or time for creativity, so that has pushed me to work more creativity in my own time, to have some outlet and hopefully lead me in a different direction. I'm interested in all design and believe working in different fields opens up new ideas in your current area of design, everything can inspire.
11. What are the projects in your career so far that you are proud of? What is the most interesting thing that you are working on at this moment? And is there anything capturing your imagination coming up in the near future?
The most interesting thing I am working on at the moment is Yipori, I love it. For the near future I am starting to work on my portfolio site, as I would like to share some more varied styles. At the moment I'm not using the blog as a blog, so need to get my site up soon, but I tend to find it a long process working on personal sites, as I can do anything I want (and I tend to want to do everything!) and I really want to make it the best I possibly can.
I enjoy creating so many different types of media, previously I have had a focus on abstract designs created in Photoshop and it's only more recently that I have had a stronger focus on Illustrator. So much is possible and I tend to want to do it all, but I'm currently trying hard to focus on this one side of design. I sometimes feel like I need 5 different sites to cover everything I want to do!
12. Thanks for the interview Yipori! Is there any advice that you'd like to give aspiring illustrators who are working hard to grow professionally?
I think that's the position I'm in right now, so would welcome any tips myself! Right now I would say to keep working hard and to try and make something that you personally enjoy. Thank you so much for the interview.
Yipori on the Web
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