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Profile: Illustrator Louise McLennan, This Girl's Got Game


Some designers are lucky enough to be able to mix work with pleasure. In this interview, illustrator Louise McLennan gives us a glimpse into the magical and glittery world that she works-and plays-in.

The Game of Life

For Scottish illustrator Louise McLennan, life's a bit of a game and she's in the early levels of it. At 20, McLennan is living a life that many illustrators and gamers can just fantasize about…a good portion of her illustration work centers around creating the graphics for flash games.

She plays games of course, and her favorites tend to be classics like the "Monkey Island" series and "Loom." She's currently enthralled with "Mother 3" and "VVVVVV", as "both are artistically awesome, VVVVVV in particular is also ridiculously fun." There lies a bit of irony in her love of "Monkey Island," however, as the original installment of the game came out only a year after she was born.

McLennan was a bit of a passive child who "just wanted people to leave me alone" so [she] could draw. She doesn't have many memories of those early artistic years, though. Her mother has shown her some of her pieces from that time and "it was pretty awesome, a lot of moles having adventures."

Adventures in Art

Much like the moles and the characters she designs for the games, McLennan has had her own share of adventures. In fact, life in general is one of her biggest inspirations. Take, for example, the heavy prevalence of cats in her art. She enjoys the company of the family cat when he allows it. "Bilbo is about 13 years old. He doesn't put up with petting or belly rubs, and if you mess with him you'll get bit!" This doesn't dim the love she has for the animals, though. "Cats obviously are the best animals and my artwork is only to honor them," she says.

Sports and many physical activities in general tend to become adventures for McLennan as well. Much like the characters she designs in video games, she's had an inordinate number of objects fall on her head including a shuttlecock, golf ball, football, tennis ball, hockey ball, snowball, gravel and a pizza box.

Level Up!

The hero or heroine of every game runs into his or her share of trials as the levels progress. "Often I will be vectoring away hand drawing textures onto 20 rocks, and wish I could imagine a picture and it would be created. I already know what my work will look like when I'm finished, the actual creation part is a bit tiring," she said. It only stands to reason, then, that her favorite part in the process of creation is the beginning,

"I like the initial spark of ideas when the brief has just sunk in, and I get a feeling of what I might be able to achieve."

And what McLennan has achieved at this early level of her career is impressive. With a client list that includes Spiffing Games, Amelia's Magazine, RIPT Apparel and Glasgow Podcart, she has proven that she not only has a unique style, but also an impressive versatility when it comes to design. Her style continues to evolve and her design skills keep building as she continues her studies.

She's currently in 3rd year Multimedia Development and has already achieved an HNC level qualification in Computer Science and Maths. She knows her work will only get better as time goes on,

"My artwork changes as I progress from one medium to another and of course as I get older. I was stuck in an anime rut for most of my teenage years, but I feel like I've finally hit my stride and can't wait to see how my work develops in years to come."

That doesn't mean that she hasn't tried her hand at different artistic endeavors. She wishes she could draw better but she "can't stand" the messiness of traditional mediums. She would also like to create logos and work with minimal colors in order to design t-shirts in the future.

In the meantime, though, McLennan is enjoying her successes (like being featured in the exposure section of this month's Computer Arts) and concentrating on her current workload that includes a game with the working title of "Flux." "I've been given more freedom with creative direction and I think the strong vision really adds to the experience of playing – if you care about the character even a little it motivates you to play on." She's also working on a music video for Fiona Soe Paing which will be shown at an exhibition in Glasgow at the end of October. It's like Samurai Jack crossed with the Egyptian Book of the Dead crossed with her usual "magical, cute stuff." She's considering taking that project a step further afterward and using the concepts from the animation to make her first game "completely designed by me."

Making Magic

Even before she dives into playing the video game or other design she's working on, she's got to play the game of dealing with clients and being able to make their vision become a reality.

"I almost always have a gut reaction to any brief and have a vision in my head from the get go of what the final piece will look like. Obviously client input will slightly change the piece, but I try to stay true to my initial idea most of the time,"

she says. This also ties into one of the biggest lessons that McLennan has learned about the business thus far.

"Stay true to my own style and fight for my ideas. I try to remember to do this on every project because I know where my own strengths lie."
Everything starts with that initial idea, of course and it will be uniquely McLennan because of her desire to make things "magical, sparkly and colorful." To get the desired effects she uses the CS4 Design Premium Suite and a wireless Wacom tablet.

Amazingly, she also spends hours playing around with colors to find the perfect ones, "[I spend] hours slightly changing CYMK values until I think they're right. I think color is the most important thing in my pictures because they set the mood. At the moment I love purple-bluey-grey (CYMK 35, 45, 0, 7) so every color has to go well with that." Another thing she loves ("without a doubt") is the font Comic Dandy, regardless of the fact that it doesn't have any numbers or punctuation.

Every game gives the main character opportunities to improve him or her. In addition to finishing up her education, McLennan hopes to make the move into full-time flash game design as it combines both her love of illustration and her love of computers. Right now her workload is quite heavy ("maybe I'm just a bit slow") but she's in no hurry because she sees every project as a learning experience.

At this point in her life, her work is not about making money, it's about coming into her own as an illustrator, "When I leave [university] I'll start wading through the mires of undesirable projects and difficult deadlines." Just now she's just wading through the game of life…level by level.

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