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Jonathan Ball: ‘I have a dark sense of humour’

Jonathan Ball—founder of pokedstudio—is famed for his wacky character designs, intricate worlds and video graphics. We talked to Jonathan to find out more about his creative workflow and what inspires him.

Jonathan Ball—aka pokedstudio—is an illustrator and designer from Cardiff, UK. His immediately recognisable and unique portfolio of intricate, colourful designs has been used by a number of clients such as Nickelodeon, MTV, PlayStation and the BBC to name a few. As well as creating fantastic illustrations, Jon also lends his distinctive style to many other design disciplines—such as game concepts, animations, packaging and adverts.

Jon has also been involved with Affinity since the very early days… He has contributed a tutorial to the Affinity Designer workbook, featured on the Affinity homepage and his work using Affinity Designer has also been used in our in-app samples. Jon’s illustration, ‘Ice Cream Thing’ was also shown on stage at Apple’s WWDC when we won an Apple Design Award for Affinity Designer in June 2015.

“Ice Cream Thing” was shown on stage at Apple’s WWDC when we won an Apple Design Award for Affinity Designer.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m Jonathan Ball and I run pokedstudio. I primarily create illustrations and animations.

What made you want to become a designer?

I’ve always loved to draw, so it was a natural choice. Although, I thought I would be a graphic designer, but people always seemed to be more interested in my characters rather than my graphic design work, so eventually character design took over.

Do you remember your first ever commissioned work?

I think so, it was an image of a tree that someone wanted for a tattoo. I wonder if they still have it…

How did you first get your name out there? Was it hard in the beginning?

Yes, it took some time. From getting my first work up online to being a full time freelancer took around four to five years. I was lucky to work as a designer for a company while I built up a portfolio of personal work—I asked for every Friday off and I used that time to build my freelance career.

Your work is always bursting with colour. How do you make the colours pop?

It’s more of a contrast between light and dark, this makes the brighter colours pop more.

It’s hard for us to choose a favourite work of yours—each work is incredibly detailed and fun to look at. Do you have a favourite?

I think my personal favourites change over time, maybe its “Futurama time”, a 3D piece based on the TV show.

‘Futurama Time’ created by Jonathan Ball
How did your illustration style develop?

When I was a kid I used to copy cartoons out of comics like the Beano and use them as a base to build my characters on. Now I often use simple geometric shapes as the base for the designs. I like to keep the overall form simple and then add detail.

How do you approach the start of a new project? Do you always create your illustrations digitally, or do you tend to sketch them by hand first?

Most of my work starts off as concept sketches, though these are often quite rough. I like to be flexible as my work develops and often the final result is quite different.

You have an impressive list of clients and have worked with the likes of Nickelodeon, MTV and PlayStation to name a few. What would you say has been the most successful project you’ve worked on?

I worked on a game a few years back called Fight My Monster, it managed to get around five million players, but eventually due to a difference of opinion between the owners, it was closed. I still get requests to bring it back and even phone calls from people desperate for it to return.

What inspires you to create?

I get ideas popping into my head all the time. A lot comes from my misspent youth, watching too much TV and playing video games. I like to think back to when my parents used to say “don’t waste your time in front of the TV”, but now it’s paid off so it wasn’t such a waste after all.

Popeye Vs Street Fighter
You’ve clearly got a huge amount of talent. What would you say has been your most enjoyable commission so far?

Often the simple stuff—a small character for someone’s wall. Some of the bigger commissions can get stressful when tight deadlines are involved.

What are you currently fascinated by and how does this influence your way of thinking?

At the moment I love fish and want to build a pond in my garden, so I need to get some fishy characters into my work.

How is your personality reflected in your work?

I have a dark sense of humour so often include small jokes and details.

‘Monster of Rock’ created by Jonathan Ball
What are the highs and lows of running your own creative agency?

Lows: Deadlines and chasing payments. Also, clients who hire me for my unique look then want something completely different with 101 updates and revisions—that can be a bit annoying.

Highs: When I get to see my work out there. It’s also great when clients are really happy with the work I’ve produced. Some even send me thank you cards.

Your 3D work is incredible! What 3D software do you use and how well does it work alongside Affinity?

Yep, I use Blender a lot for my 3D work. I’ll often use Affinity though to create textures and backgrounds that I can then use on my 3D models.

What is your creative process when it comes to your 3D work?

Same as always—I start with sketches, then I build simple models and last of all I add detail and complexity.

What are your thoughts on Affinity Designer, and what tools have you found most useful?

It’s been great using Affinity over the past few years and it has transformed my vector work. I can now create a vector piece with complexity which I found almost impossible a few years ago.

Lastly… If you weren’t an illustrator and designer, what would you be?

I would love a try at being an architect. I’m currently trying to re-design my house, so we’ll see how it goes…

You can find more of Jon’s amazing work here.

Want more?

Check out Jon’s FREE Skillshare class, which was recorded at Serif HQ using Affinity Designer. Designed with simple steps for illustrators of all levels, this one-hour class will give you an insight into how Jon creates his playful characters (like the one below) using simple geometric shapes.

‘Ice Cream Guy’, created by Jonathan Ball in Affinity Designer for Skillshare

You can also find out more about Jon’s process in Affinity Designer and 3D modelling tool Blender in our behind-the-scenes look at how he creates his ‘Ice Lolly Guy’ here on Spotlight.

‘Ice Lolly Guy’, created by Jonathan Ball in Affinity Designer and Blender