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Interview with Ryan Putnam, aka Rype

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I'm sure everyone knows Ryan Putnam (Rype). He's written over 25 vector tutorials for us here on Vectortuts+. He's contributed to other blogs and books as well. He runs an excellent vector dedicated blog called Vectips, and is an all around great illustrative designer. Let's grab some insider advice from Rype while he takes a moment to chat with us!

1. Hello Ryan, please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what training do you have, and how did you get started in the field?

Currently I live in Colorado Springs Colorado. I have been drawing and doodling my whole life. It started when I was young, re-creating comic books, cartoons, and magazine advertisements. I continued drawing and explored fine art in high school. I graduated college with a BFA in Fine Arts with a Concentration in Graphic Design from Colorado State University.

During my time in college I worked for the student newspaper laying out pages and designing ads. After college, I worked for a print shop as a designer for a short time, then worked for a smaller design agency designing and illustrating. While working at the small agency, I contributed stock illustrations to iStockphoto, did some freelance work, and started Vectips. Eventually all the extra work generated enough income to go into business for myself. Currently, I do client work under Rype Arts, still contribute to iStock, and write tutorials for Vectips, other blogs, and books.

2. How long did it take you to get a foothold in the industry and establish some regular clients? Did you get experience working at agencies before going freelance?

It took about a year of freelancing to get some established clients. During that year I was lucky enough to work for an agency that didn't mind me doing freelance work on the side. I worked at the agency for about three years and the experience was great! I don't think I could have gained this experience just starting a freelance career straight out of college. In college you learn the principles of design, but you don't learn the business of design. There is no better training in this area other than experience.

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3. What pulled you toward vector graphics as an artistic medium? What are your favorite aspects of working with vectors?

I love the clean and crisp shapes and lines vector art embodies. It's kind of weird, because my non-digital traditional art is very loose and sporadic, the opposite of my digital art. Vector art is great for editing and scaling, making the art versatile and easy to use for any type of design (print, web, product, etc…). Still, there is always a time for rasterized artwork, but I like to make excuses not to use rasterized artwork (kidding)!

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4. To what extent do design and formal principles impact your art? How much is guided by playful creativity, experimentation, and discovery? Is there anything off the computer that you find essential to your artistic process?

I think formal principals have a lot of impact on my work. Some design and composition principles were nailed into my head through my studies, so it is always a part of my work whether it is subconscious or not. Still, there is a lot of discovery and experimentation in my work. This is just as important to me in my work as the formal principals. For me, I can't have one without the other.

I have numerous sketchbooks off the computer that are essential to my creative process. I use them extensively for thumbnails, sketches, and ideas regarding projects, illustration, blog posts, and just doodling for fun. I can't always get away from my computer, so I have digital sketchbooks as well. Spending time with my wife, watching movies, throwing pottery, and crocheting are all other essential off computer activities. Without these, I couldn't be creative on the computer. It's important to me to have a balanced life.

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5. I notice that you work in multiple styles? For example, I see really sketchy vectors and super clean characters? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in multiple styles?

The advantages for me is I never get bored. I tend to get bored if I stick too much to one thing or style. The bad part is that I might not seem to have a marketable style. A potential client will not remember me as much as if I had one style. But, design agencies like that I have a versatile style. So it is a mixed bag. Really, I just admire so much work that other people are doing, I want to do it all!

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6. Could you tell us a bit about how you got involved with blogging? How has it had a positive influence on your design business? What do you think makes a great tutorial? And what vector tutorial are you most proud of?

I love reading blogs and learning about anything. I find it amazing that you can teach yourself so much just from the content people are putting out there. When I started Vectips I was using Illustrator extensively in my job and looked for a blog that I could count on to serve up tips and tutorials. There wasn't really any blog at the time that captured that for me, so I started one. I figured if I wanted it, someone else would. It was also a chance to give back to the blogging design community from which I learned so much from.

Vectips has had a huge impact on my design business! It has created many clients and jobs that I probably wouldn't have the chance to do. It is a way to keep my designs and illustration fresh and out in front of people's eyes.

With my tutorials on Vectips and other blogs I try to keep them simple, relevant in regards to design trends, and easy to apply to other illustrations and projects. I see some really great tutorials on how to create something very specific, and it works great if you are creating something exactly like the tutorial, but I find the most useful tutorials are ones that can easily be applied to other projects. That is what I strive for.

I think the Creating an Environmentally Friendly Green Type Treatment tutorial I did for you guys is my favorite. This is the tutorial that people seem to find the most helpful. I have seen the tutorial applied to type treatments, illustrations, logos, and more. It makes me happy that I can create something that people find useful and I think this tutorial does it the best.

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7. What do you think makes a great character? How do you infuse personality into your character designs? Do you plan backstories, do you often do multiple sketches, or are there other creative ways your characters tend to come to life?

A great character personifies the project, idea, or story it is a part of. A character doesn't necessarily have to have a set of features, style, or attributes to make it great. I always keep this in mind when creating characters. I also use backstories and envision the character as if it was real and interacting with me. Makes it fun! I usually do many sketches when creating characters and discuss the character with others. It is a great way to see how others interpret the character and see how compelling the character is.

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8. Without getting too specific, are there any contracts or agreements you've entered into that have been difficult down the road? What would you advice artists to watch out for when entering into formal agreements?

There are some contracts that I signed that I don't necessarily regret, but would have been more wary of if I had more information. Because of some of these contracts, it has limited me in pursuing other projects, ideas, and ventures. I don't mean to scare any new artist, but it is always a good idea to think of the implication of signing a contract. It might sound great at the time, but think of how it can limit your creative and finical potential in the future.

This might not be possible for a designer and artist starting out, but I suggest have a lawyer look over any contracts you sign. Luckily, I have a friend that is a lawyer and we trade services. I did some design work for him and he gives me legal advice. Even though having a lawyer might not be a reasonable choice, carefully read the contract, and if you have questions, just ask the other party you are signing the contract with. Freelanceswitch.com has some great blog posts on legal question and contracts which I find invaluable!

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9. What was your role in contributing to the The Adobe Illustrator CS4 Wow! Book? Could you give us a brief rundown of what's in this new version and why Illustrator artists should pick it up?

It was so awesome to work on the Adobe Illustrator CS4 WOW! Book! I have been using the WOW! book series for years, and was giddy at the change to work with the great contributors of the book. In the book I was a contributing writer and artist. As a writer, I wrote around 5 basic lesson dealing with typography, Illustrator Effects, and some of Illustrator's tools. The lessons are not as in depth as some of the tutorials on Vectortuts+ or Vectips but still very useful. The artwork that I contributed was a mixture of stock art and client work of mine.

My favorite new features in Illustrator CS4 are the Blob Brush, Appearance panel upgrades, Gradient tool upgrade, and Multiple Artboards. In previous versions of Illustrator I used Calligraphy brushes extensively with my Wacom pen tablet. Basically, I would use the Calligraphy brush with the Wacom's pressure sensitivity to create varied strokes that appeared to be more natural than an Art brush. Using the new Blob brush, I can create the same type of strokes without having to Expand all the lines of a Calligraphy brush.

The Gradient tool upgrade make it so mush easier and quicker to edit and create gradients. The Appearance panel upgrades give me much more control of the appearance of an object in Illustrator, making it easier to create Graphic styles and edit objects. I also love using Multiple artboards. Multiple artboards has streamlined my workflow making it easier to create consistent branding project, exporting proofs, and organize files. The tutorial I did for Vectortuts+ called How to Create an Identity Package in Illustrator really shows how Multiple artboards can improve a workflow.

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10. Could you tell us a bit about web design? Where do your vector graphic skills come into play in that? How often do you do web design for clients? Do you do just the graphics, or also the html/css, and blog integration? What workflow and programs do you use for web design and how do vectors fit in?

I do a lot of my wireframing and initial designing in Illustrator for web design. It might seem weird to some, but I am just faster and more comfortable in Illustrator. I do almost all my web design illustration and icon designs in Illustrator as well. For smaller and more precise stroke and single pixel based elements, I stick to Photoshop. Sometimes Illustrator has problems with converting small vectors to rasterized artwork.

I do most of the front end html, css, and blog integration. I am really only fluent in Wordpress and have yet to explore any other CMS. I leave the PHP and other programing to contractors. Sometimes if I have a tight deadline or quick turnaround, I hire freelancers for the front end. Some people are just faster and better at it than me. I tend to like doing the graphics more.

So in a typical web design project, I do all the initial tasks, like research and tons of sketches. Then, like I said in the beginning, I use Illustrator for wireframing and initial design, then Photoshop for the fine tuning (highlights, better drop-shadows, any single pixel based elements), and I code the site in Coda.

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11. Would you recommend that artists get involved with creating stock vector illustrations? And if so, what advice do you have for those getting started? And what are some good goals to set that will lead them on a path toward success in that field?

I guess it just depends. Creating stock artwork has been a great source of income and has generated a lot of bigger client projects for me. Sometimes stock artwork can be difficult to get into because there is so much of it out there, but it is a good way to get your foot in the door and show your work. Some designer and illustrators say it devalues the industry so they like to stay away from stock.

Personally, I think there is a market for low cost artwork that is not going to go away and it is your choice if you want that to be part of your finical strategy. Still, I have gotten many jobs that are high paying custom client work that would never be suitable for stock. I think for the foreseeable future, these custom jobs will not be in jeopardy.

If any aspiring artists want to get into stock, I would suggest keeping your options open. Even though there are some big stock sites that drive more traffic than others, you never know what will happen in the future. Displaying your artwork on as many sites as you can might generate more income and get your name out there more as well.

This might seem a little hypocritical because I am a exclusive contributor to iStock, but if I did it again, I might not have gone exclusive. To be successful in the stock area, you really need to be up on current trends in design. Some stock that you created a year ago might not do as well as now. Just putting pieces for sale doesn't mean they will sell.

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12. What are your plans for the future? Any creative work coming up, or that you're currently working on, that you're excited about? What can we expect from you over on Vectips this coming year?

Currently, I am re-branding the Rype Arts side of things, but it is taking forever! The site is the last part of the re-branding and it's almost done, but I just need to finish it. I also do other fine art stuff. I am really into wheel throwing right now. I might look at selling some pieces or creating a blog for ceramics. I haven't found any that capture what I am looking for.

As for Vectips, I really want to explore video, but like everything else, it is hard to find the time. Really I just want to create great content that can help people.

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

Thank you! I love all the work Vectortuts+ does. It's at the top of my RSS reader and everyday I can't wait for a new tutorial, interview, or inspirational post. All the contributors put out some great content.

I would advise aspiring designers or illustrators to always keep at it. If you have a passion to be in this industry, you will do fine. Also, always be mindful of the next step and were you are heading in your career, learn to take criticism, and most important, have fun! If you are not having fun, go do a boring job and leave the fun work for others!

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Ryan Putnam (Rype) on the Web

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