A user of Affinity Designer for the last four years, he talks to us about his favourite feature in Version 2, making a living from illustration and why people and nature are his biggest sources of inspiration.
Dumitru, please tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background.
I have been passionate about drawing since I was a child. In fact, since I was little, I was looking for a way to express my feelings and thoughts. I was drawing both at home and during classes.
After graduating from high school, in 2009, I studied photography and image editing in my hometown of Chisinau, Republic of Moldova. This helped me to understand the basic principles of art. Photography also helped me to better understand people and their behaviour. There was a period when I was thirsty for knowledge, buying and reading books. I was fascinated by the idea of being able to create an image that is pleasing to the eyes but at the same time conveys a story and a feeling. I wanted to express so much at once with such a small thing—a picture!
“The idea that with just a sheet of paper and a pencil, I could create a new world every day, regardless of the circumstances, was captivating to me.”
What made you want to start a career in illustration?
As much as I loved photography (and still do), it often imposed creative limits on me: technical limits, limits related to the environment, finding the right model, etc. I wanted to grow creatively and express myself in a free way, and illustration turned out to be perfect for this. Now I can create the right environment and the right model. The idea that with just a sheet of paper and a pencil, I could create a new world every day, regardless of the circumstances, was captivating to me.
Travelling in different countries, I often saw illustrations I admired on different billboards in airports, the underground, and on websites.
A turning point was when I travelled to Warsaw, Poland, in 2016. There I entered a shop selling vintage posters and books from the 60s and 70s. It was extremely inspiring, and I couldn’t get enough of looking at them. I had a similar experience in Lviv, Ukraine, in 2017. Thus in 2018, I decided to buy a tablet and start creating. I took a risk and now I am happy with the choice I made.
A lot of your illustrations are created for websites. How did you come to specialise in this type of illustration work?
I like to help others express the vision they had when they created a website. The thought that the sales and popularity of the site will depend, to some extent, on the result of my work motivates me to do the best job possible. I feel like a part of the team and that I contribute to the company’s identity.
Secondly, I wanted my work to be useful and practical. I like to create illustrations that people need, not just the ones I like.
“I like to help others express the vision they had when they created a website. The thought that the sales and popularity of the site will depend, to some extent, on the result of my work motivates me to do the best job possible.”
Do you sketch on paper first, or is everything done digitally?
Oh, it depends! I often lack the patience to sketch on paper, haha. Often my digital sketches look better! If I imagine an illustration in colour, I will hurry to sketch it in colour digitally. In this case, I know exactly how it should look. I tend to sketch digitally when my illustration has many geometric figures—it’s so easy to make geometric figures digitally.
I will sketch on paper if it’s something organic. For example, my sketches of people or nature look better on paper. I also sketch on paper when I want to test an idea, and I’m not sure if it’s worth it. When I go for a walk or on a short trip, I take my sketchbook. When I come back, I digitally make the selected illustrations.
When you get a commission, what steps do you usually take from receiving a brief until the final artwork is ready to be delivered?
First, I ask questions to understand the client’s needs and see if we are suitable for each other. If it is difficult for the client to explain exactly what they want, I will ask them for reference images or to make a rough sketch as best they can. It really works!
Secondly, I learned that the ability to create a beautiful image is not enough; you also have to be able to sell it. So I negotiate for at least 50% payment upfront. I think it’s important to have an open discussion about money.
Then I will make up to three sketches. I make the actual illustration according to the approved sketch. This is the stage when the client can modify some colours, the size of the objects and their positioning. I try to be as flexible as possible.
Once the illustration is approved, the final stage is the addition of small details such as some shadows, details on clothes, textures, reflections, etc.
Once I receive the rest of the money, I deliver the final artwork.
“Many of my works are especially inspired by different states of mind or interests of people. It’s like a kind of journalism but illustrative. I’m looking for photos of live characters, people who dress unusually or who express strong feelings.”
What inspires your work?
I think that the best source of inspiration is nature—the proportions of a seashell, the contrast in colour on a bird, the rhythm of a forest, shapes of sand dunes. These are perfect. It is not necessary to invent new things; it is enough to look carefully around us.
Many of my works are especially inspired by different states of mind or interests of people. It’s like a kind of journalism but illustrative. I’m looking for photos of live characters, people who dress unusually or who express strong feelings.
Music also plays an important role in my creative process. Good music gives me a good rhythm and makes me feel unaware that time is passing.
Why do you choose to create your illustrations in Affinity?
Initially, I tried several popular apps, but nothing was working for me. I wanted a vector application that would allow me to draw in pixels as well. I was also looking for certain export options, such as eps format. I kept doing my research, and after installing Affinity, I said, that’s it!
I was also attracted to the well-made website. The tutorials gave me confidence that it is an application that is being worked on a lot. Also, maybe it seems funny, but somehow the Affinity team seemed approachable (humble) and friendly to me. So for four years now, I have used Affinity for all my works.
Do you have any favourite features? Which ones do you find most useful in your work?
The Knife Tool in Affinity Designer 2 is, by far, my favourite new feature. It’s such a time saver because I often draw one-shape silhouettes of characters, and this tool allows me to easily fragment them in seconds. I don’t need to duplicate the silhouette and manually subtract parts of it. It makes drawing characters more enjoyable.
“The Knife Tool in Affinity Designer 2 is, by far, my favourite new feature. It’s such a time saver.”
I love how easy it is to manage layers in Affinity. I also like the preview circle (which has the role of a magnifying glass), as it gives me a lot of precision. When I draw with my hand, this preview really helps me see what I’m drawing in real-time.
Another useful feature is that I can easily navigate through different projects. I now have more than 100 illustrations in Affinity, and I can go into each one and undo and redo actions. It is helpful because I constantly improve my illustrations and often import elements from one to another.
Which recent projects (client or personal) are you most proud of?
Not so long ago, I did a main illustration for Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, North Carolina, USA. I’m very proud of it because it’s on the subject of health disparities and has an educational character. It was used as a cover for a manual and online course. The thought that the students meditate on this illustration before starting the course makes me happy.
I aim for my illustrations in the future to address as important topics as possible.
Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you have received that has helped you as an illustrator?
A principle I found in a very old book says, “Have you seen a man skillful at his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before common men.” This principle has always helped me improve myself and not to blame others but to work on myself. It assured me that, in the end, I will succeed.
The most valuable advice from a designer friend was to be consistent. Regardless of the circumstances, continue to create a little bit every day.