Dacosta is an independent artist currently based in Vancouver and is the founder of Chocolate Soop, Inc. He specializes in vector graphics and character design. This self-taught designer has over 10 years of professional experience. He's influenced by Japanese culture, graffiti and industrial design. He works in a variety of mediums from toys, concept designs, illustrations, character designs, animated projects and more.
Dacosta has numerous playful and bold projects in his portfolio, like his character "KidKat," a custom chocolaty, vinyl toy. You can learn more about his vector character design process in his tutorial "How to Make the Vector Character "Cactus King" – Vector Plus Tutorial." In this interview, he talks about his creative growth since childhood, the importance of story in his character design, how he pushes new creative ideas into his work, and his sophisticated approach to developing both personal and client projects.
Q Hello Dacosta sir, please tell us a bit about yourself, where you're from and how you got started in the creative industry? How long have you been designing, illustrating, and making toys professionally? What training did you get and is this a path you would recommend to others?
Hmm, well I've been doing "creative" since I was a child. I grew up in eastern Canada - Mississauga, Ont in the 80's. At that time Japanese anime was all over the airwaves. Grandizer, Gatchaman, Spacekateers, Gai King, Astro Boy, Flintstones, the list keeps going. These shows were some of the constants in my life. I learned to draw by watching and copying and the way I draw and colour forms comes directly from anime. My training was through self-directed art programs in grade school and high school.
While I've been designing professionally for over 15 years, there was never a single moment where the light went on and I said, "That would be a cool job." That would be like trying to figure out when I started breathing. I've simply known no other option - although I'm told that when I was seven I wanted to be a firefighter.
Would I recommend this path to others? Truthfully, if anyone that has any inner yearning to express themselves creatively, denying this expression would be a loss, so absolutely I would encourage anyone who has vision to share it with the world.
Q What's the right mix for you between doing personal and client projects? Does it vary, or do you fit your personal work in when you can?
My focus and goal is on the development of personal projects, but even with client projects, I've always made efforts to attract work that I want to do because of the way I do them, so there's no hard line between these. I basically make everything my own. However, you always have personal needs and your creative goals, and finding the balance between these two, you need to decide at any given moment where your priorities lie. Doing a job that you don't like to get yourself out there, versus eating kraft dinner and expanding your portfolio to draw more attention to what you do - it's a decision that needs to be made depending on where you're at.
Q You're one of the few artists that I've worked with for the Tuts+ sites that wanted to talk on the phone on a regular basis. How important is that level of personal communication for your work? And what cell phone do you use?
Haha, yeah I remember your reaction. You were quite shocked that someone wanted to actually talk to you. I'm a big proponent of real communication whenever possible. Sure email is fine for sending documents and links to people, but writing letters was never one of my strong suits so the idea of doing it on a daily basis as a default method of communication seems a bit silly to me. There are so many tools out there that increase the distance between us and I guess it's my way of pushing back. And yes, I have an iPhone.
Q You mention that you "push to create a form that challenges preexisting genre concepts and conventions" in your site artist profile. Can you give us some examples of this from the work you've done?
The idea of "pushing" is a way of thinking about my work, be it process or concept or final production method.
I don't look to the flavour of the month as a creative bandwagon to jump on. The driving element of every project is story. A good storyline is the starting point for every design decision I make for a project, the same way an actor needs to understand all aspects of the character and how s/he relates to the world. The stories I develop dictates how a character manifests.
As an example, my first vinyl toy, DCTO, a contemporized version of the Japanese Zen doll, doesn't automatically fall within cultural norms or expectations in terms of commercial design. It's not a zombie, or a cutesy bunny, nor does it even have arms and legs. The story, tradition and the iconic status of the character in Japanese culture is the driving element behind the development of the project.
An upcoming design project called Soul Fire-X, which will incorporate iPhone, print, and a resin figure, reflects deep-seated traditional elements, drawing on well-established elements from Japanese history and folklore, but doesn't rely on cliches as the main vehicle for its appeal.
I also apply this philosophy to production. Going back to the aforementioned DCTO, I believe I may have been the first to use ATBC vinyl and state it on the package. ATBC is a phthalate-free vinyl, which wasn't on the radar of the industry as it was just an added cost.
Q To what extent do the various art forms you work in influence each other? For example, does your 3D toy work help you visualize more three-dimensional 2D work. How did this develop as you grew as an artist?
As an artist, I've always envisioned my works in 3D. I've been working with vector 2D for about 14 years now and have always found myself needing to create pieces with depth, and I experiment with perspective, depth of field, and light. But this was limiting.
As I develop as an artist, I am incorporating as many types of art forms as relevant to the character and story, the example mentioned above being Soul Fire-X which incorporates various forms of art and communication. It's not the medium, but the character itself and how to best to present each work.
Q How did your brand identity "Chocolate Soop" come about? And how does it influence your personal and promotional work?
Well, Chocolate and Soup are two things we see differently as a child and as an adult. As a child, chocolate brings us nothing but pleasure and soup warms us on a rainy day and makes us feel better when we're sick. Leap forward into adulthood and we learn chocolate still brings us indulgent pleasure but also comes with added health benefits and soup is a welcome comfort food when we're feeling the blahs. I think this is what good design should accomplish. I think this translates into my work in the choices of projects I take on and in the way I want my design and characters to make people feel, whether they end up as animated or physical pieces.
Q Could you tell us a bit about your work setup, favorite tools, and programs. Is Illustrator your go to tool for vector work? Are there any speciality programs or tools you use for creating your art?
I use MAC Pro, Cintiq 21UX, a 30-inch cinema display as well as a MACBook Pro for those great cafe escapes. See studio link below. For programs, 2D: Illustrator is the best in my opinion. For sketching out ideas I use Sketchbook Pro and I use the most 'natural' pencil tools out there. For 3D: MODO by Luxology; ZBrush by Pixologic.
Q Toys, toys, toys, could you tell us about your vinyl toy work? How did you get into this type of work? With your custom work, I have to say that the "KidKat" character is so badass. Could you tell us about the making of this project?
Yeah, glad you like the piece. KidKat was a fun to do.
Customizing isn't something I pursue as something that will define my style. But it is one of the elements of the vinyl toy industry and I like to participate in custom shows that are based on platforms I find particularly unique and interesting.
After seeing my work, I was invited by the gallery MPH (My Plastic Heart) to participate in their show 'Get a Grip' which I said yes to without hesitation. The project was to do a custom work based on the original figure Money Grip, created by super-talented artist kaNO out of Queen's NY.
When I can, I like to incorporate chocolate into my customs, but only if it works without feeling forced. I was eating a Kit Kat bar at the time and the fingers that formed the fist in Money Grip looked like the fingers of the chocolate bar. kaNO's name is 'kaNO Kid'. Put them all together and I got KidKat.
Q After reading a couple of your tutorials, one here in Vector Plus "How to Make the Vector Character 'Cactus King'," and another on "The making of a chocolate bar character," I'm curious what other ideas you have kicking around to teach others? How are you liking writing tutorials and is this something you plan to continue doing throughout your career?
Those were fun to do ,and yeah I want to put many more together, although doing them is kind of a pain in the butt to do sometimes. I want to go into detail on the whys but that takes more time then I usually have. Sure they give you the blow by blow of the mechanics, but character design is much more than what can be written in a simple tutorial.
That said, they are totally worth the effort and I'd also like to expand into video tutorials in the near future on the topic of the creative process and motivation behind character design. For me it's all about 'why it is,' not 'what it is.'
Q What are the most creative self-promotions you've done? How have your key client connections come about? Did you target any of your clients or do projects come about from your existing network? What's the weirdest client hookup or project you've worked on?
DCTO is the most creative self-promotion as far as being the breakout project that pushed me into new markets. Its launch created a stir and got the attention of a different client base than I had been exposed to up to that point. Oddly enough, it's received a lot of attention from CEO's of companies in the US and Japan, as well as a museum JANM (Japanese American National Museum), where I held my first custom show, the first vinyl show ever to be held in a museum. In addition to that, it's opened up opportunities in the gaming industry where I've recently been doing consulting work for one of the developers under Sony.
Did I employ any special marketing techniques or target a specific client base to make this happen - apart from my website, a simple press release, and just letting people know and see what I'm doing - no. I just put it out there and keep at it.
Q With character design resources online or off, books, training, or any other recommendations do you have for those looking to grow in that area? Are there any character designers you admire, and have you had a chance to meet them?
Even though I am self-taught, I think formal art training can be beneficial in terms of skills development and mechanics, and more importantly, for making connections to the art community, support, and access to resources. I strongly recommend this connection to community and finding people/artists that inspire you and to learn from. Outside of this, though, I don't believe formal training itself creates an artist, especially a character designer.
As for resources I refer to on a regular basis, I would have to say not really; I have no specific list of books, blogs, etc. that I follow. There is so much stuff out there I basically explore everywhere: the web, museums, the real world, etc. Of course I keep tabs on sites like FLYLYF, fubiz, or any others of the type. They give you access to a great cross section of what's out there and you never know what you find when you click that next link.
It's impossible to anticipate where inspiration will come from. For example, if I'm working on robots, I search robotic sites, books, television, wherever I can get information to understand what robotics are as they pertain to the real world, and once I understand this, I apply that information to the needs of the project. When I find things that inspire me, I save it in my morgue for reference later. It's important as an artist to find your own points of inspiration and a mechanism of finding those points.
Designers I admire: on the Illustration tip: kaNO, MAD, Cameron Tiede, Jesse Hernandez, Charuca, to name a few, but the full list of artists is endless.
Q How has selling your characters and designs directly or through third-party sites worked out financially? Is this something you've been doing for a while? Is this something you recommend other artists explore?
It seems to be working for me very well so far. I've been doing it for a few years now and it has allowed me to transition into developing my own products. There are many challenges on this road and you need to find the right "soap box" in order to be heard. I would recommend this as a strategy, but this recommendation comes with a lot of qualifications: to successfully sustain yourself, you need to have the design sense, financial resources, and above all a deep passion to pursue it.
Q What are you working on now? What's coming up in the pipeline?
I'm working on a few resin figures, one of which is the Soul Fire-X mentioned above. iPhone games, an animated short film, and a potential for animated kid shows are all projects in the pipeline. I am also the Art Director for the Vancouver ACM SIGGRAPH.
Q Thanks for the interview Dacosta! It's awesome to work with you. Is there any advice that you'd like to give aspiring illustrators and designers who are working hard to grow professionally?
Well, aside from the obvious being having the passion and the willingness to work hard, I would encourage artists to cultivate an 'intelligent heart': Your mind is the tool that analyzes the information which your heart uses to make the right choices.
Always try to be aware of who you are as a 'creative' and stay true to this voice. This will help discern how to chart your path personally and professionally. Take both positive and negative feedback with a grain of salt - accolade and criticism can be equally constructive or destructive to one's sense of self.
From here, get your stuff out there every way you can - share your work online, in shows, join associations and connect with other artists and like-minded people and spread the word about who you are and what you do. Take every opportunity that interests you and that will help you grow.
Dacosta on the Web
Subscribe to the Vectortuts+ RSS Feed to stay up to date with the latest vector tutorials and articles.