Christi du Toit: ‘Digital, but hand drawn, with lots of grit’

Christi du Toit is an illustrator and avid graphic-maker, born, raised and currently residing in the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa.

He’s done an array of work for a variety of clients and project types, which include album covers, clothing designs, editorial illustrations, beer labels and packaging, graphics for advertising, and much, much more.

Though the project themes vary wildly, he always tries to put his visual style-stamp on wherever possible.

We caught up with Christi after he created a vector-based piece for us using Affinity Designer for iPad—start by watching the process video below!

Christi creating “Bad Bax” on the iPad Pro using Affinity Designer.

How did you get interested in illustration and how has your style developed over time?

Both my parents are creative people. My mother is a fine artist and used to teach art classes for children when I was growing up, and my father is an architect and draftsman so, I’ve been exposed to both art and design from a very young age, and I suppose being an illustrator is the perfect bridge to connect the two worlds.

Eighth Merchant

I’ve always had an interest in art and drawing, and have been fascinated with comic books, skateboard graphics, and cartoon art-styles from a young age, but it wasn’t until I started playing in a band in high school when I really started to take it seriously.

I was a big fan of band t-shirt graphics, album covers and gig posters (still am), and thought that I could finally put my interests into play and try to create artwork for my own band. The work was cringeworthy at best, but the important thing was that I was really pushing myself and feeling excited about the prospect of creating artwork with a purpose.

This carried through until I finished school, after which I took a year off and basically spent all my time working through digital art tutorials. I then went on to receive a degree in graphic design from a college in Cape Town, even though I knew I would ultimately aim to work as an illustrator, which is exactly what happened.

A lot of the design principles I learned in college are still present in my work, and I value everything that I learned while studying. I worked at an illustration studio for a while, and then eventually left to freelance and have been doing so until now.

Walrus Audio

Why am I telling you my entire life story? Well, it all plays a big role in the evolution of my work and style. I started drawing by hand with pens, because it’s all I had available. Then I started learning how to use digital programs, bought a drawing tablet and started working digitally, although retaining the hand drawn look. After college my work became very design driven with a lot of geometry-based compositions, but while working under seasoned professionals at the illustration studio I stripped back some of the design aspects to reveal a more matured illustrative style.

It’s ever-changing, but that’s what keeps it interesting!

You do a lot of pen drawing; do you feel it’s important to stay in touch with traditional media as well as digital?

Definitely, but maybe not as much as it may seem. While typing this, we are in the midst of Inktober, which I’m desperately trying to keep up with (haha). So, there is a lot of pen work happening on my social media at the moment.

I do, however, start just about every project on paper though. I think it has a nostalgic feeling to me, as it takes me back to that excitement I felt with I first started taking drawing seriously.

Transcend

For me, planning on paper always feels a bit more expressive and intuitive, and I think that’s a good element to retain in the sketching phase, because it translates over to the final digital work. My work tends to lose a bit of momentum and energy when the entire process is digital, because undo buttons, brush stabilisers and the likes (even though I swear by them for the final artwork) sometimes cause me to be a bit too detrimentally meticulous with initial planning.

Generally, I just enjoy drawing traditionally, and allowing myself to make mistakes. I can be quite a perfectionist (in a bad way), and I find that drawing traditionally helps me to loosen up a bit.

Crystal Ball

How did you find using Affinity Designer for iPad for illustrating? Any major differences or advantages to having the Apple pencil?

So far it’s been great! I will admit that I’ve always been sceptical about the iPad/Apple Pencil combo. I never thought that it was bad by any means, but I did assume that it was just another drawing tablet.

In a sense I wasn’t wrong, but I was very pleasantly surprised, and I’ve been using it almost exclusively for client work since I got it. The Apple Pencil feels very natural, almost like a real pen/pencil, and the iPad welcomes it with open arms.

Much like having decent software, I would not be able to create my style/work without a good drawing tool, and the Apple Pencil has definitely delivered on that front. I was equally pleasantly surprised at how intuitive and robust Designer is as a design app. Most apps seem to either be tailored for art or design, respectively, but Designer gives you the best of both worlds. It’s feature-rich and provides just about everything I need to do professional client work right from my iPad.

As an illustrator I can honestly say that if it weren’t for Affinity’s iPad apps I’m not sure that I would be using the iPad for client work at all - you guys really knocked it out of the park!

Bad Bax

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time (if you have any!)

What is this ‘spare time’ you speak of?! I work from my home studio, so I spend a lot of time inside. For that reason I like to try and get out whenever I get a chance.

Whether that means getting out of the area I live in altogether, or just out to spend some time catching up with friends over the weekends.

I’m getting married early next year, so there’s also quite a bit of time going into the planning for that—very exciting (and a little bit stressful)!

Oyal

Do you have a favourite artist you look to for inspiration?

This question often comes up, and I’m never quite sure how to answer it. The answer is yes, and no. Social media has made it so easy to follow a million incredible artists, so a lot of my inspiration (or rather, motivation) to make cool artwork is really just a result of scrolling through my feed and appreciating all the awesomeness.

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of someone being considered a ‘master’ and tend to get caught up analysing their work in great detail.

A few prominent examples for me include Alphonse Mucha, Jim Philips, Jack Kirby, Jim Lee, Hayao Miyazaki, amongst many others. That being said, my work isn’t really inspired by anything specific, but rather just a lifetime of appreciating and absorbing awesome work I’ve seen from others, and processing it in bite-sized portions.

I say this a lot, but the thing I find most inspiring is not always seeing the final work that people do, but seeing the process of the work and getting an inside look to see if I can follow the creative decisions made along the way.

In short, I don’t have a favourite artist, I have many, but I’m not sure that the influence is very apparent at first glance.

Treehouse Burning

How would you describe your style?

Digital, but hand drawn, with lots of grit, and limited colour palettes. I draw pretty much everything by hand with a stylus wherever possible, even circles, straight lines and lettering. I go to great lengths to retain a gritty, organic characteristic in my illustrations, to a point where I often spend just as much time adding texture and grit, as I do drawing. I love limited colour palettes as I feel it helps me focus more on communicating a mood.

Hungry Ghosts

I find it more fun challenging myself to create depth and a balanced composition with limited tools. I also have a soft spot for the screen-printed post look, which is probably the catalyst for me deciding to approach my colouring in that way.

Themes in the work can vary drastically between colourful, cartoony and fun, to fairly sombre, dark, and detailed, depending on the client and intended use of the work.

Space Sketchbook

You usually use raster brushes for your illustrations, what made you choose that method over vector, and what are some of the advantages of each?

Good question! As I mentioned, when I started out I did everything by hand on paper. As I progressed, I started colouring scanned versions of my drawings digitally. I was young and didn’t even know what the term ‘vector’ meant.

Because I spent so much time working in raster programs editing my traditional work, I got to know them very, very well, and just stuck to them.

Just to clarify, I do know my way around vector programs, especially after studying graphic design, I just prefer raster as the brushes often feel more natural to work with and seem to work better for my style. There is an appeal to both though. I will use vector brushes from time to time, and there are usually three main reasons for this.

Firstly, vector graphics are scalable which has a lot of advantages, such as printing at abnormally large sizes without loss of quality.

Secondly, vector graphics are editable, so you can go and fine tune everything at a later stage if necessary.

And lastly, vector files are generally smaller in size, so your CPU and disk space will love you.

On the flip side, raster brushes are like real brushes. They tend to look and feel more organic, are very accurate and play well with pen pressure.

Playtopia

I often feel more immersed in the work when using raster brushes, because I like the idea of a brush making a mark, rather than a set of anchor points. It all boils down to personal preference though, and there’s no real right or wrong here. Both have their own sets of pros and cons.

I will say that Affinity Designer definitely has the best and most accurate vector brushes that I’ve tried so far, which is something I feel like I’ve been looking for for years!


You can see more of Christi’s work on Instagram and his website


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Umar is our marketing assistant which basically involves knowing a bit about everything. He likes to tinker with computers, build things and play competitive games. His favourite colour is green and he enjoys bouldering, which is basically climbing without any ropes. It’s less dangerous than it sounds.
Credits & Footnotes

Images in this article are © copyright of Christi Du Toit and used with permission.