Paolo is a truly multi-talented creative. As a digital artist, he creates beautiful painterly illustrations. As a content creator, he makes critically acclaimed, natural media brush packs used by top digital artists. As an UI/UX designer, he also has the technical eye needed for usability.
In this behind-the-scenes profile, we look at Paolo’s creative disciplines and his commissioned work for Affinity.
Paolo the painter
The Affinity team has been commissioning illustrations from Paolo to be used to promote Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer from the very beginning. Paolo has also contributed an illustration tutorial to the Affinity Designer Workbook.
What has been your favourite digital painting commission for Affinity?
‘The Whittler’ is the illustration project I did for the Affinity Designer Workbook. That was very funny! When Kate asked me to produce a project for the book I actually had a different idea, but she loved the ‘The Meeting’—a sample that I had done for her before—so in her mind I was the ‘robots guy’! That’s how the little story of ‘The Whittler’ came about…
“This illustration tells the story of a robot that lost his leg and tries to fix it using a branch from a tree he found in the forest…”
What inspires you?
The work of other artists, music but also travelling. There are so many artists that inspire me…
Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Simon Stålenhag, Sergi Brosa, Ian McQue… and many others for Concept Art and visionary power. José Luis Ágreda , Blexbolex, Akab (beware of a very dark piece…) for their personal style.
From the Italian comics school: Sto, Jacovitti, Hugo Pratt, Sergio Toppi, Corrado Roi, Corrado Mastantuono.
In terms of music… I listen to almost everything from classical to klezmer passing through to Radiohead and many others.
Do you work in isolation or are you part of a creative ‘scene’ where you live in Italy?
I illustrate in total isolation… I do know and meet other illustrators, street artists and painters, but I’m not part of any kind of ‘scene’.
How does Affinity Photo for iPad feature in your illustration workflow?
I’ve been exploring Affinity Photo for macOS since its launch and gradually it has become my work-horse for raster editing.
My workflow has benefitted from being able to start my project independently on desktop or mobile without limitation. No matter whether the project is for digital media or print, vector or pixels, I can work directly in 16-bit per channel or CMYK flawlessly, even exporting vectors natively if needed.
With Affinity Photo for iPad, I’ve found something that is solid and flexible enough to deal with professional works from the sketch/concept stage to the final piece. I can even start sketching ideas on my desktop and generate the final compositions on the iPad Pro. The perfect opposite of what I’ve done so far.
There are still lots of things to improve, but I believe Serif is on the right path.
Having the technical knowledge of user interface/user experience design—and the workflow of an illustrator—gives Paolo the unique critical viewpoint of someone who both understands the flow of creativity and how to make that experience better in an app.
What you might not know is that Paolo has also been involved in developing the UX and UI of Affinity Photo for iPad…
Tell us about the work you have done on the UI and UX for Affinity Photo for iPad.
Two years ago, I was approached by Serif (the makers of Affinity) and asked to tackle a very challenging goal… to study and re-design the UX of an application that was a not a simple cut-down of its desktop counterpart. This has been one of my most exciting projects so far, in which I’ve been able to merge my passion for UX design and digital content creation.
“This has been one of my most exciting projects so far, in which I’ve been able to merge my passion for UX design and digital content creation. ”
So far the mobile context for me has been a bit ‘tricky’ professionally speaking—I have felt like there are no definitive tools and tasks are scattered across different apps which can be frustrating.
As an UI/UX designer and an illustrator, I use lots of tools and I am always searching for the workflow that doesn’t ‘break’ my creative process. There are other wonderful applications out there which are also very sharp and responsive, but I always needed to move to my desktop environment in order to close the production stages.
What has been your favourite UI/UX project to date?
Affinity Photo for iPad, is in the winner’s spot—finally I’ve been able to tackle UX scenarios in the creative/artistic context. Also, it’s maybe little known that the entire Affinity Photo for iPad project has been done in Affinity Designer for macOS.
There is another project that’s worth a mention—a touch UI to control a cooktop and hood combo (entirely produced in Affinity Designer too)… What can I say, I’m Italian, I love food and cooking!
Which/what UI do you most admire?
The UI of Black Magic Design products. In particular I’m in love with the user interface of their cameras.
You have a diverse range of talents, how do you feel your work as an artist inspires your UX design and vice versa?
Well… that’s a very challenging question. I think they’re both a matter of design strategies and problem solving. Even if you’re lead by pure inspiration you have to face how to turn a concept into something definite. So they feed each other.
Paolo is perhaps best known for his DAUB brush collections—sets of vector and raster brushes which emulate traditional painting and drawing media.
They have become a ‘go to’ for digital painting in Affinity Photo and Designer. The DAUB brushes show the attention to detail and usability that only someone who paints digitally themselves could create.
It’s clear for us to see that Paolo puts a great deal of thought into understanding and recreating the physics of how a real brush works. According to Paolo, it is a complex interaction between the geometry of the brush in question, the painting surface being used, and the pigment properties in the paint or ink being used …amongst other things! If you’re interested in the approach behind it, check out his blog article A Parametric Bristle Brush Model on his website.
The DAUB brush collections are a huge hit with loads of our favourite illustrators, it’s high praise indeed to be part of the everyday toolkit for so many talented professionals.
What inspired you to start creating brushes? How did DAUB come about?
In 2014 I started the DAUB project, releasing natural media tools for the major creative platforms. DAUB is today a trademark.
“In 2014 I started the DAUB project, releasing natural media tools for the major creative platforms. DAUB is today a trademark.”
I used my very first earned money in 1995 to buy an ArtPad II and a license of Fauve Matisse. Then I started crafting digital tools to replicate the natural media I sampled on paper, cloth, wood—whatever I could find.
I never had a proper ‘studio’ to mess with oils and chalks, so digital art was a good compromise. Traditional painters in the past used to craft their own colours and media, and so did I. DAUB came out when I decided to share and sell the large amount of tools and textures I had created and collected.
How has creating your own brushes influenced your own digital art practice?
In every aspect—it is continuous training. Some of the artists I work with ask me for tools to fit their style and attitudes, so I have to focus on disciplines that I never approached myself, such as inking or linocut.
How do you feel when you see other artists work that has been created using your DAUB brushes?
Crafting textures and nibs and putting it all together with the right settings takes time and care. Seeing artists using and iterating my tools is something special. It makes me feel something that could be described as a mix between pride and gratitude.
“Seeing artists using and iterating my tools is something special.”
What’s next for DAUB? Do you have anything exciting planned?
I have lots of ideas, but now I’m focused on a very catchy Watercolours set. This video shows some preview strokes:
You can buy Paolo’s DAUB Brushes from the official DAUB website www.daub-brushes.com. Check out his UI/UX design portfolio at www.ux-designstudio.com and his artwork at www.paololimoncelli.com
You can also see Paolo’s Affinity tutorials in the Affinity Designer Workbook and the Affinity Photo Workbook.