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Interview with Justin Currie

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Read Time: 9 min

Today we are going to meet a young Canadian graphic designer Justin Currie. Despite his youth, he has great artwork and his own recognizable style that he calls Shattered Vector Painting. In this interview Justin shares the technique he uses to create this style. "An artist is always learning, always evolving, always growing. Your best piece of work will always be the next one. Start chasing," which is Justin Currie's catch phrase. Learn more about Justin and his artwork after the jump.

Q Hi Justin, welcome to Vectortuts+! Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from, where do you live now? Do you have a basic design education?

Heya! My name is Justin Currie, I grew up on a farm in southern Manitoba Canada, 5 miles from the closest Village, and 10 miles from the closest town with a school. Growing up, myself and 5 siblings (4 sisters, 1 bro) grew up without any TV (we had an actual TV and VCR for movies, but no cable/channels).

This led to excessive, excessive amounts of time spent building things with Lego, getting into trouble outdoors with a skidoo/4wheeler, reading fantasy/sci-fi, copious drawing and re-watching our sizeable collection of old movies.

My high school consisted of a lot of doodling on assignments and my teachers rapidly telling me to stop drawing and pay attention. It was also around high school that I realized I had more of a knack for drawing than most other subjects offered.

At 17 I graduated from high school and moved to Winnipeg to begin Red River's Graphic Design diploma course. After I graduating from the advanced degree program, I worked at a local design firm while doing various illustration freelance on the side. Eventually the freelance illustration became more and more my focus, and before too long I was picked up by a local video game company as a Concept Artist.

I currently work at Complex Games as a concept artist and interface designer. On the side: I just published my first children's book with a local author, have another one on the way, with a deadline of January, and have a heaping plate of various commissions contending with my personal illustrative projects. Feels like I'm drawing or designing in some way or another about 16 hours a day. And wouldn't want it any other way.

Q What, in your personal opinion, is the main thing in a basic design education? What is the main lesson that you have learned from inside the college walls?

Overall, just how to conduct yourself and your work at a professional level. I am certain that without my design training, I would not be a professional illustrator today. I would still, no doubt, be drawing, but wouldn't be able to live comfortably off my art. Graphic Design has given me the knowledge, and the program/tools training that separates my work and overall presentation from someone who draws for a hobby.

Q You illustrate children's books, comic books, create graphics for video games, what is your priority direction? Which area are you most interested to work in?

That's kinda a frustrating problem actually, I have no idea what direction myself and my artwork career is ultimately heading. Interest-wise, I'm all over the place: One week all I want to do is something abstract and beautiful to put in a fine art gallery, next week I am obsessing over graphic design projects, then I'm all about character concepts and I want to get started on a graphic novel, and then before I know it I'm itching to storyboard and dive into an animation project.

I think it's a very good sign that I'm constantly hungry for creative projects and getting my work seen, just wish my creative muses could be a little more specific as to what I should really concentrate on.

Q What applications other than Adobe Illustrator do you use in your work?

I find most of my time is spent between doodles in Photoshop and vector paintings in Illustrator. Currently, I work in an office with various 3D artists, and have been getting into a bit of Z-brush and basic Maya, but nothing to show yet.

I really think it's important to learn new programs, because it forces you to think about your art in a different way, and re-tackle your style from a fresh angle.

Q Looking at your work, it seems to me that you prefer vector graphics. What are the advantages of vector graphics for you compared to other areas of design?

The big thing with vector is that it works on a math based system, what that means is you can enlarge your artwork or shrink it to any scale without loosing resolution or quality, the artwork is just re-calculated.

My style relies on the ability to take the same group of shapes and use them multiple times, in multiple scales, if I tried to do all this rescaling in Photoshop, I would constantly be hitting the DPI barrier and quickly loose image quality. I do use Photoshop for sketching and various other things, but I love the style I've developed in vector, and plan to run with it as long as I can.

Q You certainly have a unique and unmistakable style, you call it Shattered Vector Painting and how was it born? Is this your invention?

It came from the days working at a small design firm, a lot of my workload consisted of logo/branding and poster design - I had a great team to work with, but our client list had no need or budget for anything other than basic vanilla design (which was as fun as it sounds). I found I was spending 90% of my time in Illustrator with the Pen Tool.

Eventually, I started to get very comfortable with vector graphics, and before too long I began experimenting with some of my own scanned drawings at lunch... eventually the shattered style just emerged. It's a very loose and fun way to work, and people seemed to really react to it, so it just snowballed from there.
The term "Shattered Vector Painting" was something I made up to describe the artwork, which I feel is an appropriate term for how I work :)

Q Could you give us a quick tutorial on creating such a style?

It's a bit hard to verbally describe the style, but here it goes:

Basically, I start with some rough drawings to get an idea of what I want in the piece, once I have refined the idea to a more complex drawing; I bring it into Adobe Illustrator.

Now, using the basic Pen Tool, I draw a silhouette/rough blocks on top of my drawing – then using the pathfinder tool, I shatter the big pieces into hundreds of little transparent pieces and start stacking them on top of each other until I'm starting to get depth, and texture.

It's a very loose and fun way to draw, and the results look much more complex and time consuming than they actually are (shhh). You can also find the described technique here.

Q Do you agree that in order to improve a designer should take part in competitions and exhibitions? Why? Do you have this experience?

I very much agree. I put my work in as many exhibitions and competitions as I can manage. You would be especially surprised how many call-for-arts are happening once you start looking. One of the best motivators for myself is going out and getting work into a art show, or especially getting a table at a comic con, and seeing what amazing things other artists have been able to accomplish.

I find it provides me with a fresh perspective on my own art, as well as fuels the fire of competition (a huge driving force for me) I always want to be better than the next guy, and actually getting out and meeting the next There is also the exposure element, you want to get your work seen as much as you can, in as many places, to as many crowds as you can. The amount of business and opportunities I collect at each show I attend is more than worth the effort of getting the work in.

Q Which project do you consider to be the most interesting one and why? What you are working on now? Can we take a look at your working process?

I've got somewhere between 5-10 projects on the go at any point (my to-do list never seems to shrink nearly as fast as it grows). Currently, one of the projects I'm having the most fun with, is a custom snowboard deck.

The boarder wanted a gory wolverine scene- and the biggest hurdle was working around the ultra long canvas, and keeping in mind that boot bindings would be covering chunks of the art as well. I'm about 50% done, with a lot to figure out yet, but a savage rendition of the most famous of the X-men has been a blast to work on, cannot wait to see the final piece on a snowboard.

Q How was 2011 for you, what did you achieve, what are you planning for the next year?

2011 has been great; I've been working as a full-time concept artist at a local videogame company (Complex Games, Winnipeg). I've started travelling to far more comic conventions all over North America, had my artwork shown in a handful of galleries, published in half a dozen magazines, and got my first full children's book out the door, with a second on the way.

I also finally have my first personal Art book on the go, which I feel is a big step in my journey as a professional illustrator (and it should make for a great portfolio piece): Early 2012 I will be printing a limited run of 300 books - 60 pages full of my work, my meandering thoughts, tutorials on my process, how I prepare for comic cons, oodles of sketches and a bunch of unseen/new paintings. It's been a ton of fun to work on/write thus far, and cannot wait to have a final product in my hand.

Q What are you concerned about in life, besides design, what do you do in your spare time?

I really don't have anything to complain about these days, my free time consists of a steady stream of various freelance, traveling around to attend comic cons, a girlfriend (whom for whatever reason laughs at my jokes) and a very solid group of friends to keep me occupied on the weekends when I should be catching up on my heaping plate of side projects.

Q Justin, thank you for the interview, could you say a few parting words for beginning designers.

I likely don't have anything to offer that hasn't been said a hundred times before, but artists and designers repeat this advice for good reason: always be practicing, learn new things, experiment, be bold and adventurous with your work, etc, etc....

Hmmm, also memorize your shortcut keys, set up a good work atmosphere, surround yourself with inspiring art and eat your veggies!

You can find Justin's work at the following sites:

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