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Interview with Von Glitschka

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Our guest today is a famous designer Von Glitschka. Von is also famous because of his books, which are devoted to vector graphics. “The best way to improve your design as a creative is to improve your drawing skills. The more you do it, the better you get” - he says. Learn more about Von, his books and illustrations after the jump.

Q Hi, Von! I'm happy to welcome you at Vectortuts+. I'm sure that most of our readers already heard or read about you. Anyway I would like to ask you to tell us about yourself.

I've been drawing my whole life since childhood. Grew up on pop culture like Sid & Marty Kroft, Battlestar Gallactica, Star Wars, Old Japanese monster movies, MAD Magazine. But the artists that influenced me a lot were ones like Richard Scary, Jim Flora, and Norman Rockwell.

I went to the Burnley School of Art in Seattle, which became the Art Institute of Seattle. I graduated in 1986. The first five years of my career were non-computer. Paste up boards, press type and stat cameras. In 1991 I got a new job at a small design firm who were leasing a few Apple computers and that is where I got my first taste of digital.

Q You name yourself an Illustrative Designer, what do you mean by that?

For my entire career I've held distinctly design oriented jobs. Within the framework of design I've always leveraged illustrative skills to solve visual problems. Utilizing Illustration centric graphics and motifs in context of a design specific projects. After working for others for 15 years, I went out on my own in 2002 and quickly developed a niche as a creative hired gun for other agencies, where I continue to do illustrative solutions in the context of their clients design projects.

Most who only do design tend to refer to me as an illustrator, and those who do illustration and don't design tend to call me a designer. So I decided to title myself an "Illustrative Designer" because it defines what I do. It also reinforces my conviction that designers should be drawers whether or not they ever want to become full-blown illustrators.

Q No doubt you are a successful designer, but you are also known for a few books about design. Tell us which ones of your books can help the beginning designers to master this trade? Are you planning to write more books/ tutorials shortly?

The books I've created for HOW Books are design resource books that provide textures, patterns, and ornaments a designer can use in their own work. They also serve as inspiration because each book showcases the work of various creatives using the resources too.

I wrote another book called "Vector Basic Training" that covers the creative process I use and how to create precise digital art in vector form. I also do this in workshops too via vectorbasictraining.com.

I just cancelled a new book project because I've started working with Lynda.com to develop my own content on their site. It's a better format for me. I get to write all my own scripts, fly down to their studio and work with a director and producer to create a well produced video covering the design and illustrative topics I'd otherwise write about. It's just a better format and experience for the end user IMO.

Books are fun to produce, but there are no Grishams in design books.

Q You know a lot of tricks that make the creation of vector artworks easier. Could you tell us about the most useful ones, in your opinion?

It's kind of hard to explain in mere text but in a nutshell vector graphics come down to your decisions on where to place your anchor points. Because no one really taught this and I was faced with teaching students how to move from an analog drawing to executing their ideas with precision in digital form I came up with "The Clockwork Method" to help them discern where to place anchor points when building vector shapes.

It's all about looking at the form of the shape you need to build that you've drawn and using a mental trick of associating a clock with the curves to discern where to place the anchor points to build that shape. The image in this post is a mock up of what I mean. Of course my book "Vector Basic Training" covers this exhaustively and I demonstrate it in my workshops too.

Q What plugins or scripts (maybe actions) do you use to increase productivity?

The VectorScribe Studio plugin for Adobe Illustrator is a no-brainer. It saves so much time and allows you to do things you simply can't do with Ai out of the box. That said you don't need any plugins to build using the process I teach and lecture on, it just makes the process faster, a lot faster. AstuteGraphics.com has a bunch of videos you can watch to see it in action.

I had a couple custom scripts written for me by an Apple developer who works at Microsoft. One takes all my layers and exports them out as individual Ai files and one exports them out as individual PDF files. I use them all the time on identity projects where I have each direction on it's own layer.

Q You use textures in some of your artworks. I know that creation of raster textures is your passion. Tell us a little bit about the process of their creation and integration into vector artwork?

The coolest thing about textures is that they'll never go out of style. The second law of thermal dynamics will always exist so a distressed surface texture now will be just like one in 200 years. So in that respect it's creatively unique because most art (commercial art especially) gets dated looking quick.

I have an ever-growing collection of textures in my own personal archive. If I do a vector based illustration I tend to texture it inside of Photoshop, it's just faster, less bloat file wise, and more creative control of how it interacts with the art. Ai is good for mocking something up texture wise but falls short of the expansive arsenal you have in Photoshop to leverage the blend modes and settings. If you place it as a smart object than you can still go in and make vector tweaks if necessary. The only draw back is it's not the original vector file, and that is where Adobe screwed the pooch IMO. It should be linked to the original vector file but isn't. So the smart object isn't really that smart, Adobe needs to fix that feature.

Q Unfortunately, recent studies narrow down to purely technical aspect. As a result, we have designers which you call "Toolers". Do you think is it possible to teach somebody how to be creative in online tutorials, or do you still need to get an academic art education? Do you teach how to create?

You've misquoted me a little, designers in general aren't "Toolers." My definition of a "Tooler" can be understood best by reading the free chapter from my book here.

I don't have a problem with online tutorials but that said I don't think it's possible to bake down every aspect of the creative process to step by step methods either. Exploratory work takes a lot of give and take, such as coloring a design. You may take three steps forward and than discover it's not working and go back two steps to try something else until you reveal the strongest solution. This is normal but doesn't lend itself to what more online tutorials demonstrate.

Although offering a tutorial on "How to Create a Beach ball" is all well and good, it's not really covering a creative process, unless of course you need to create a beach ball and we know how many people need to do that on a regular basis. I think academic art education is still needed but many fall short by focusing on the tools rather than the craft. When I went to art school they expect all designers to draw and illustrate, whether or not they ever wanted to become an illustrator. Most design oriented schools don't do that now and that is part of the problem and why marginal design is so common in our industry.

You can't teach anyone to be creative, that is passion driven. You can however teach them practical methods and skills that transcend style, and are adaptable to existing creative workflows. This gives a designer the skills that if consistently used will only improve with age and produce good concepts that are well executed. When you do that you light the fire that fuels the passion and it's a self motivating perpetual creative machine. They have what it takes to create and thrive.

Q Do you often come across copyright infringement and are you struggling with that? Do you have a positive experience, do you receive any compensation? What would you recommend to those who find themselves in this situation? How do you know that your work was stolen?

I run into copyright infringement of my work all the time. At least once a month on average. Last year it happened 55 times. The previous year around 70. Two of the situations last year I had to get a copyright lawyer involved in and one I'm still wrangling with because they continue to infringe.

A company last year was using a skull design I created for their corporate logo. On the website, product line, clothes, banners, event graphics, stickers you name it. I formatted a DMCA letter and documented all the infringements and sent that to the companies legal counsel along with my invoice stating "If you pay the invoice I'll let you own the art and consider the matter closed. If not I'll turn it over to my copyright lawyers." Their lawyer contacted me and said "This looks fair to me." and they paid the invoice. That allowed me to buy all the equipment for my traveling workshop so it worked out good.

I mainly find out about infringement from other people who spot them and notify me of it. That said I've ran into a few on my own too. A few years back I was judging the Logo Lounge V book and two logos I had to judge were my own designs submitted by other designers. I contacted one lady who also had it on her site and she said "I'm not sure where I found that?" to which I answered "That's the problem lady, you don't find design, you create it." I believe she was a recent graduate too which only reinforces why designers should draw.

Q It is true that residual income is a desirable source of income for any designer. Do you have a similar experience? Which websites can you recommend us (Zazzle.com, iStockphoto.com and so on)?

Residual income like Zazzle.com etc. is what I call coffee money. I don't depend on it to pay my bills or cover my mortgage. I use it to fund my Starbucks habit or buy a font ,etc.

I love Zazzle.com, they've always done a good job for me. I've also worked with them on a client level too so I know the people behind the brand. It's an easy way to offer cool t-shirts and other items to people and on average you can make a good chunk of coin each month.

Personally I'd never create for iStockphoto.com, they pay less than the going rate for work and take the larger percentage for doing essentially nothing. I tried to see if it was worth exploring back in 1995.

I uploaded three pieces of art. One they rejected because their reviewers didn't believe I created it? (How do you argue with idiots over that? They were wrong.), the second one they asked me to re-create and avoid using shape blends? (Apparently it had to bake down to some dumb-ass format like Ai 4.0 or something?), and the last illustration they approved. The approved art was a tiger head (think sports mascot) and that has been selling on their site for seven years now and has made me a whopping $116.28. But Getty keeps doing it because they make all the serious coin off of artists.

So dedicating my time and effort to fuel a Getty creative sweat shop is just not what I want to focus my creative energy on so I avoid that type of work. I'm a big believer in creatives controlling their own creations and places like iStockPhoto.com exploit creatives in my opinion.

QAre there any techniques/ tools that you do not use in Adobe Illustrator? If so, what are they and why don't you use them? It seems to me that you do not use the Blend Tool and Gradient Mesh Tool.

I use the gradient and blend tool all the time actually. Not so much on logo work but every illustration project I do. Design is style driven so unless the style calls for it, it's best to avoid it.

Gradient Mesh is OK, I just don't ever work in a style that needs it. If I want something that photo realistic I'll invest in hiring a 3D guy to do it in CGI and I'll just art direct it. The end result gives me far more flexibility than Ai offers.

Q You have a lot of experience in creating logos. Do you have a logo that you, according to your classification, can name the "Great Design"?

I think terms like "Great" are relative. I have my favorites of course, but I design to a given target audience and project so the graphics are appropriate to the assignment. I always try to make it something I like though. My favorite design work tends to be my latest work, just because I get tired at staring at same thing for so long, I enjoy the fresh new work coming in.

Here are some recent ones in the new Logo Lounge book and I personally really enjoyed doing the "Noodle Girl" exploration for a food company in San Francisco, Street 2 Street a youth outreach in NYC, and HOT ROD.

Q What projects are you working on right now? Which fields of design do you feel most comfortable in?

All the new patterns that come pre-loaded in CS6 Illustrator I designed for Adobe. And right now I'm designing four more custom patterns that'll be printed on designer hand bags that every attender of the HOW Design Conference in Boston will get. So that's pretty fun stuff. I also just finished working on some iconography for the US Marine Corps as well, which was challenging, but turned out nice.

I like trying new things and even though I love creating in vectors I still take time to draw stuff and express myself creatively in that respect too. In reality all my vector artwork was hand drawn before I built it. Nothing I do is noodling inside illustrator, I have a firm idea before I hit the digital realm.

Q What helps you to create?

If I'm drawing or building vectors I like a good cup of coffee in the morning, blues music if I'm in the mood and a good audio book. (Michael Connelly is one of my favorite authors) To really crank on my productivity I have to go into mole mode though.

Q Thank you so much for the interview. What would you like to wish people who are only making their first steps in vector graphics?

The best way to improve your design as a creative is to improve your drawing skills. Analog facilitates digital. The more you do it the better you get.

Von Glitschka on Web

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