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Interview with Jonathan Ball


Meet Jonathan Ball from Cardiff, UK. Jonathan's works as a designer, illustrator, and has immersed himself in numerous other creative spheres. He creates distinctively stylized work that is often infused with quirky characters.

In this interview, he talks about his design and illustration work. Learn about how he's grown professionally, his passion for drawing and character design, his process in working with high-profile companies, and what his goals for future growth are. Let's have a chat with Jonathan!

1. Hello Jonathan, please tell us a bit about yourself, where you're from, your training, and how you got started in the field? How long have you been illustrating and designing?

Born 1974 , Cardiff, UK. although I always liked drawing but it wasn't until I studied graphic design at the age of 29 that I realized it was illustration that was my main passion. So I have only been working as an illustrator for around 4 years.

2. I notice numerous cute-quirky characters in your portfolio on Behance? Could you tell us a bit about your illustration style? How did it develop? What are the major influences for this work?

Quite a few influences in there from pop culture, such as video games and cartoons, as well as being influenced by fine artists such as Phil Hale, Lucian Freud and Japanese illustration. The characters reflect the quirkiness of human nature. Growing up in an inner city area exposes you to a large cross section of human kind, and has probably greatly influenced my work.

3. What are the range of programs you work with? Where do vector graphics fit into your workflow? How often do you blend various styles of graphics together, like mixing 3D and vector, or adding texture to vector, and do you use Photoshop to combine these elements?

I started using Freehand MX, but them reluctantly moved on to illustrator. I found Illustrator quite frustrating for a while as Freehand offered greater control over drawing and selecting points, but now illustrator has improved, plus I've just improved my skills. I usually create a page of elements in illustrator and then bring them into photoshop to play with and compose into an illustration. Although much of the work could be done in Illustrator, I find it can't cope with the effects I need and it gets way too slow.

4. Could you give us some insight into your creative process. Do you sketch traditionally first or start directly on the computer? How important is traditional drawing to your work? Do you keep a sketchbook? And what kind of training do you have?

I do often create rough sketches for work, though the best stuff comes from doodles when I should be doing more important things. I don't keep a sketchbook but have hundreds of sheets of paper that I need to clear out of my studio every few weeks, not very good for the environment I know!. I never trace work out on the computer as I want a more organic development of my ideas. My work is often more collage like than a homogeneous illustration. All my computer skills are self taught, so a lot of practice was and still is involved.

5. Could you tell us about the project "robot map" for FHM Magazine? Could you tell us about the character design process? How did they fit together to fit the concept of the illustration?

Really enjoyed the maps project. FHM selected some works of mine they thought would be a suitable in style and we worked from there. A number of roughs were created and FHM choose the robot style that would most appeal to their readers. I needed to keep the vectors quite flat in order for the map to be readable to some degree and not too confusing. I employed a grey and white colour scheme with just small touches of bright colour. This helped keep the illustration within the pokedstudio "house look" and stopped it being to complex.

6. Reviewing your work on I see that your portfolio extends illustration, graphic design, and multimedia? To what extent does design and illustration combine in your work? Do you see a clear line between the two disciplines or do they tend to merge more?

I find that the Graphic design and illustration merge to some degree in my work. This is more to do with the fact that people keep coming to me for my illustration and want me to integrate that into any design work. Though there are quite a few projects that are completely without the pokedstudio illustration style, you wont find many of them on my website as they don't fit well with the style of the other work.

7. Where does your work tend to focus more? Is multimedia (websites, flash, animation, interfaces, etc.) a request you get often? Or do you partner up with someone for that? Is your studio a one man show or do you collaborate more?

Most of my current work comes from illustration, this blends into web and multimedia design as I do quite a bit of character design, game skin design and even full game design. I work with a few different programmers for Flash and other coding needs. Still on the look out for collaborating on animation, as I use Blender for 3D while most people use Maya or Studiomax.

8. What do you feel your greatest strengths are? What areas would you like to work on improving in the future?

Definitely the character design has been most commercially successful side for me. I'm also quite happy with the way my work has a "look" and can be readily identified. In the future I would love to be able to do less commercial work and concentrate more on developing my fine art, do more exhibitions and shows, and maybe even paint a little.

9. What's been your most challenging project so far in your career? What was challenging about it? And how did you overcome those challenges?

Difficult to say, some projects are difficult because of tight deadlines, some because the client doesn't know what he really wants and won't let you guide him. Then you end up with a compromise, which is not good. I believe every piece of work should be an advert for your skills so its always frustrating when the client takes a direction you think is not the best. I always try to offer solutions to briefs that I would enjoy making and think others will enjoy looking at.

10. You have an impressive client list with names like Sony Playtation, MTV, BBC, and more? What's worked for you to connect with clients you enjoy working with? How did you establish connections with some of your key clients? Would you recommend anything like self promotional campaigns, online networking, or anything else for establishing these types of connections?

I think promoting yourself to some degree is very important. Getting your work onto portfolio sites such as Behance, Coroflot and Flickr has helped a lot. I've been featured in a number of popular design magazines in the UK. I also have a lot of web traffic to my own site (I have a good knowledge of SEO) and agency Jelly London who finds some proportion of work for me.

11. What are you currently working on that's captivated your imagination? What's coming up in the pipeline or that your targeting for future work?

I'm currently creating hundreds of creatures for a massive online monster fighting game. Been working on that on and off for almost a year. Would love to expand into more motion and animation design, and also expand the studio as there is often an overload of work. This should enable pokedstudio to take on larger projects in the future.

12. Thanks for the interview Jonathan! Is there any advice that you'd like to give aspiring illustrators and designer who are working hard to grow professionally?

Persistence is very important. Don't be put off if you are not instantly successful, as it can take time. Always look to develop your technical skills and look at branching into areas of design you may not initially have considered. Make sure you have your own "look," don't just copy other peoples style, but instead use work you admire for understanding technique and to gather inspiration.

Jonathan Ball on the Web

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