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Illustrator M Wildan Cahya Syarief: ‘I love to do a hybrid between vector and raster’

Affinity user M Wildan Cahya Syarief talks to us about his life as a freelance illustrator, juggling client time zones and how his creative style and process has developed over the years.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background.

Hello, my name is Muhammad Wildan Cahya Syarief, you can call me Wildan. I’m a full-time freelance illustrator from Madiun, Indonesia. I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Visual Communication Design, but I mainly focus on illustration. I have six years of experience working as an Art Director at one of the Animation Studios based in Surabaya, Indonesia. I worked there from 2012 to the end of 2018, before I finally decided to resign to become a freelancer at the beginning of 2019.

I contract for a local studio here in Indonesia for my monthly income, mainly focusing on illustrations, but I do all the work 100% remotely at home. I’ve been working for them for about a year now, but I can’t share any artwork because it’s covered by a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a freelancer? And how have you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges as a freelancer for me is time management and also the different time-zone issues with the client overseas.

So, I have to make a regular work schedule so that everything can run smoothly. I schedule in which projects to work on first based on the deadline date, arrange some time to make some personal portfolio work to post on social media and I also spare some time to spend with my family.

I also get some projects from abroad but the time-zones are very different. For example, sometimes when it’s morning or afternoon where my clients are, where I am it is about time to go to sleep. So to fix this, I tell the client about this time-zone issue at the beginning of the project, provide progress periodically before I go to sleep, and then ask them to describe and give me very detailed feedback, so after I get up in the morning, I can immediately work on the revisions they’ve already provided.

How would you describe your style? Has it changed much since you first started out?

If you notice my illustration style, especially for characters, is all faceless. Why? Because I just want to focus more on the activities happening in the scene. So I’ll be telling a story about the situation/activities, just based on how the character acts, without showing any expression at all. It’s quite a challenge to describe the situation even though the characters are faceless, but you can still catch the story behind it. It’s also quite a popular style nowadays.

I love to do a hybrid between vector and raster style, rather than just flat illustration. Vector is used for the base shape and object, then using raster brings more depth and value, and also adds some texture to make it more interesting. I also often use more vibrant colours than soft colours and some gradients and highlights to add more depth. I have changed my style a bit, from a curvy line to a more geometric one.

What appeals to you most about vector-based illustration?

Hmm, the main reason is maybe that vector doesn’t lose quality when zooming in and the file size is very small, so it doesn’t take up too much space. Also, the flexibility of the shape and object, so when there is feedback/revisions from clients, I just need to edit the nodes rather than redraw the entire scene. I can even edit the character pose (depending on the object structure) and easily choose and change any colour in just a single click using Global Colour. It’s very effective to use.

How do you come up with new ideas? Do you ever get ‘creative block’?

I do get creative block/art blocks. I’m a normal person after all. I don’t have any exact action to prevent creative blocks or to get ideas, but I can give you some advice based on my experience.

Every day I spend at least one hour on Pinterest, Instagram, Dribbble, and Behance, just looking for any new art/illustration that catches my attention and I pin them on my Pinterest boards, to build some mood and inspiration before I jump to making artwork.

“If I get creative block, I’d rather take some time to rest, do other activities, hobbies, or sports, or spend time with my family.”

If I get creative block, I’d rather take some time to rest, do other activities, hobbies, or sports, or spend time with my family. We usually go outside to get some fresh air and to clear my mind, but we can’t right now because of this pandemic.

What tools do you use to create your illustrations?

I mainly used a Wacom Intuos 4 from 2011 until recently, then I bought an iPad Pro and started to use that as my main drawing tablet. Why?? Because it has Affinity software and I can easily switch between devices to work on iPad or PC/macOS. And it’s 100% compatible between the PC/macOS and the iPad version. I can work anytime and anywhere I like and it’s all updated in real-time through iCloud.

How did you discover Affinity Designer and what impressed you about the software?

Actually, first of all, I prefer to use free and open-source applications rather than buying full software or renting subscription-based software yearly because I don’t have that much budget.

I think I first discovered Affinity back in 2013 or 2014, but at the time it was only on Mac—I didn’t use a Mac back then, and it was new and missing many features. Then my friends told me that Affinity released the Windows version in 2016, so I tried the 10-day free trial, but I still felt it was missing some key features so I continued to use other vector software back then.

In late 2018, before I resigned from my old workplace and became a freelancer, I found out that Affinity software was 25% off at that time, so I decided to buy Affinity Designer. I couldn’t afford to buy other vector software or rent a subscription-based software. I also knew that it was not going to be easy to become a freelancer for the first time. I didn’t have much art in my personal portfolio, so I knew I had to save more money and started to build my portfolio from 0.

“At first I thought I was going to use Affinity as a temporary replacement, but instead it replaced all the software that I had been using”

So finally I found that Affinity Designer is powerful, affordable, and the most easy-to-use software that I’ve ever tried. At first, I thought I was going to use Affinity as a temporary replacement, but instead it replaced all the software that I had been using for my entire life.

What features in the app do you use most for your work?

I really love that I can easily switch between vector mode and add some raster texture painting in just one software. I love to use the Pixel Persona to add some textured painting and give some depth on my vector illustrations. I also often do isometric illustrations by using the Isometric Studio. I can edit any object on any axis in real-time and it’s really fun and easy to use.

“I also often do isometric illustrations by using the Isometric Studio. I can edit any object on any axis in real-time and it’s really fun and easy to use.”

Talk us through your process; how do you develop your illustrations?

First of all, I have to look at the brief (if any), then start doing observations to find some references on Pinterest, Instagram, Dribbble, and Behance. Then I started doing some rough thumbnail sketches before I finally make a more comprehensive sketch.

In my opinion, the concept and sketch are key. Because I think when the concept/sketch is done, then we have about completed 80% of our work, and the rest is just execution.

After that, I do vector tracing in Affinity Designer based on the final sketch, then add some colour and give it the final touches.

What is the creative scene like in the area where you live?

I live in Indonesia, where there are many beautiful places that you can visit and there are also various religions, traditions and cultures. So, if you look at my portfolio then you will see that I love to draw natural landscapes a lot. Also, maybe because I’m a Moslem, and I also live in a Moslem environment, you will also find that I love to draw illustrations about Masjid (Mosque) too.

Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?

Right now, I am still doing a freelance job for some clients overseas, and still working for a local design studio remotely. I’m also making some personal portfolio pieces to post on my social media. I also want to build a team and make my own design studio too in the future, and hopefully, I can get a large scale project to work on with my own team.

What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

Actually, I love all of them. If you notice my old illustrations on Instagram, they might not look as good as the recent ones, but I still love those, because it was still part of a process before I got to this level. But if you still want to know which one I am most proud of, I chose this one.

“In this piece, I used a lot of different features in Affinity Designer and from this one illustration in my portfolio I received a lot of new projects from different clients.”

This is actually an artwork from last year, I spent a lot of time doing this piece. In this piece, I used a lot of different features in Affinity Designer and from this one illustration in my portfolio I received a lot of new projects from different clients.

What advice would you give to aspiring freelance illustrators?

I don’t think I deserve to say this, I still have to learn a lot, but since you asked I will share based on my experiences so far.

For you fellow freelance illustrators, just keep working hard, if you find it too difficult to draw, start by making simple objects you see around you and make them in your own style. Keep sharing them on your social media platforms, and don’t be afraid if you think your artwork is not that good. It’s part of the process anyway.

And also, please use original software, don’t ever use pirated software. Especially for people in the place where I live (Indonesia), there are still many people unaware about piracy, and also there are a lot of people who are unable to buy original software and decide to use pirated software instead. If you have a tight budget and you can’t afford to buy or rent a subscription-based software, then use software that suits your budget, for example, Affinity Designer—I find it to be such a powerful vector-based software. If it’s still not possible for you to buy software, then use free and open-source software. Let’s support the developers by not using any pirated software. Thank you for your time!

You can see more work from M Wildan Cahya Syarief on Dribbble, Behance, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

All artwork copyright © of M Wildan Cahya Syarief and used with permission.