Illustrators and social media...

“Are you a Tweety…?”

This question was asked of me by a family member in 2011, after learning I had joined the Twitter ranks. I replied confidently, “Yes – I’m on Twitter.” My initial idea and goal was simple: I saw Twitter as a sales tool with an immediate and pointed delivery, to be aimed at current and prospective clients. Free, direct, and uncluttered advertising to an audience with a common interest.

From 1994 through 2001, I was creating 2-4 illustrations each month for Popular Science. After being out of touch with the magazine for several years, I decided in 2010 to make a more focused effort to get back into PopSci. I sent a few hard-copy samples to get the ball rolling, followed up with an e-mail or two, and finally a voicemail message to the art director. After little response, I tried a different approach. I searched for PopSci on Twitter and found @PopSciGuy, the art director, Matt Cokeley. Each morning Matt would Tweet, “Morning tweeps! Let’s get to work!” After following @PopSciGuy on Twitter for a few weeks, I decided to make a bold move. While having lunch at a local restaurant, I replied to one of these morning salutations with “Matt, put me to work in the next issue!”

Now, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this approach to everyone! But my gut told me that this direct, outside-the-norm tactic might just garner a favorable response from the A.D. of a leading science and technology magazine. This approach was destined to go either of two ways: bold, yet smart; or the dumbest move ever.

Within two hours, Matt called and said, “Greg, I have a project for you.” I was pumped! We talked a few specifics on the phone, and he e-mailed me the project brief, etc. Later in the day Matt tweeted, “Greg, be careful what you wish for.”

Fantastic. Well played, Matt! Well played. After reconnecting via Twitter, I did numerous projects with Matt and PopSci.


In 2017 it’s important for illustrators (and other creatives) to be actively involved in promoting their work and connecting with like-minded individuals through social media. The key is to BE ACTIVE. Simply setting up various social media accounts isn’t enough. Set up the desired accounts, connect with colleagues or individuals with a common interest, and start a dialogue, share information, trade tips, talk shop, etc. Through a bit of good-natured humor for example, don’t be afraid to initiate some of these interactions in a unique way.

If you’re looking for another legitimate means of connecting with potential clients, I would ask you “Are you a Tweety?”


To be a complete illustrator...

Many times Jon Duff (co-author of The Complete Technical Illustrator) and myself have touched upon the need for illustrators to be 'complete illustrators'. Below is a good example, and is very typical of many of my projects. This particular illo was commissioned by Popular Science:

The project brief called for 1 main illo, and 5 small spot illos to accompany an article about using an Android device as a mobile entertainment system while traveling. For the main illo, the AD envisioned the interior of a hotel room, television on a dresser, maybe a lamp, some luggage shown for context, with a person sitting on the edge of the bed holding a Wii controller playing a video game. An Android phone and proper adapter shown connected to the TV via an HDMI cable. The client also suggested showing on the TV screen an image from the old Super Mario game. The colors were to be 100% cyan for the line work (keeping with our established infographic style for that section) and an orange for an accent color.

a) I began by constructing the inside corner of the hotel room in SketchUp. I just needed to show enough of the room and as many details to get across the idea that it was a hotel room. After the SketchUp construction and exporting the line work to Illustrator, I arrived at a simple scene with minimal detail. The only portion of the rough that is not SketchUp is the TV screen image. For this image, I took a PNG screen shot of a generic Super Mario screen. In Photoshop I converted this 4-color image to a duotone using the orange that the client specified. Saved that as a TIF file, placed it into illustrator, and used the Live Trace tool to convert/trace the TIF image to a vector image. After minimal clean-up and color tweak, I dropped this vector image into my Illustrator file and used the Transform tool to manipulate it into place on the TV screen.

b) After discussing details of the rough with the client, we were good to go to final. I had no reference photos on-hand of a person sitting on a bed playing a video game, especially from a vantage point that matched the existing perspective in my model. So...a perfect job for my teenage son! With phone and printout of the rough in hand, he sat on our bed holding the Wii controller as I took a couple photos of him. The perspective in the photos wasn't a perfect match, but were surprisingly close to my model. I placed and sized the photos in Illustrator, and traced Drake.

c) I exported from the model the line work and fills from different components separately, because I wanted to control the rendering process without everything being in a single, compound group. I then constructed the final using the various exports, coloring and registering the components methodically. Dropped in the drawing of Drake, rendering and sizing accordingly. Added some color to the phone screen to bring attention to it....and also added a pizza box and a couple cans of soda to give the scene a more 'lived-in' feel. Just for fun, I added a pattern to the bedspread in the orange tones. Helps add some visual interest to the piece, and helps 'sit' Drake on the bed. I created the pattern in Illustrator based upon a 60's wallpaper pattern. I dropped the vector pattern into the file and adjusted it with the Transform tool to fit the perspective of the bed.

d) It was a wrap. The ADs and editors were very pleased with the final result.

In the end, it isn't enough to simply render a pretty picture. The most effective illustrators often have to be equal parts researcher, idea incubator, photographer, observer, 3D modeler, technician, and artist to pull all of the necessary ingredients together to make an illustration sing.


Custom display case designed for the National Gallery of Art...

In 2012, long-time client and friend Stephan Van Dam (VanDam, Inc.), approached me with a challenging project:
To assist in the design of a transparent plexiglass display case, in the form of a miniature National Gallery East Wing. This display would be designed to showcase VanDam’s new StreetSmart visitor maps of Washington D.C. Once completed, this display would be housed inside the East Wing.

For 15 years I’ve rendered hundreds of buildings and landmarks for Van Dam’s visitor maps and travel guides of cities world wide. Now we were setting out to design a custom retail display to house some of that product.

To begin, we studied the fabulous architecture of the East Wing, designed by I.M. Pei. We had to determine the best way to ‘miniaturize’ the structure to fit a retail setting, that would house a sizable amount of product, while retaining as much of the complex architectural detail of the actual structure as possible.

Next, using SketchUp (a 3D software), I created an exterior shell of the East Wing. I also created 3D scale models of groups of the actual product. This would allow Van Dam and I to play with fitting the product most efficiently into the footprint of the structure. The groups of product would also provide Van Dam a simple way to track precisely how much product the display would hold. The user-friendly nature of SketchUp allowed both of us to easily orbit around the model on the fly, to get a real sense of the volume and fit of the product within.

The next step was to design and add the necessary internal dividers and exterior pockets to organize and contain the product. Throughout the design of the display, we had to be conscious of the thickness of the plexiglass, the size of the product, and the fitment tolerances.

After a few months and several revises, we arrived at a smart and sexy retail display design that spotlights Van Dam’s products while still faithfully mimicking the architecture of the East Wing.

For additional details on the design and construction of the East Wing display, as well as a look at the final product, visit Van Dam’s site.