Your artwork is so realistic and detailed; the fact that it’s created solely in vector is remarkable. Why do you choose to work in vector over raster?
Thank you! I’ve always enjoyed working with vector artwork, having grown up with Adobe Illustrator as a vector platform during my career as a graphic designer. I like the precision, clean lines, graphic style and flexibility of vector but recently I’ve wanted to challenge myself by seeing how far I can push the medium to create more realistic artwork, and because very few people (are mad enough to) use vector in this way. Yes, it’s much easier (and quicker) to create painterly artwork with raster/bitmap packages, but I think my technique, while more painstaking, is a different take on the majority of artwork out there… That and my website and Instagram account is VectorVonDoodle—so I’ve sort of painted myself into a corner there!
“I’ve done vector illustrations—from icons to people, from products to brand identities—for the past 20 years, but it’s only recently, since I discovered Affinity Designer for the iPad, that I’ve tried to push the envelope of what can be done as a personal challenge.”
When did you first start illustrating in this style?
I’ve done vector illustrations—from icons to people, from products to brand identities—for the past 20 years, but it’s only recently, since I discovered Affinity Designer for the iPad, that I’ve tried to push the envelope of what can be done as a personal challenge. You can see the evolution of my style across the last three years on my Instagram account. If you look at the Keanu Reeves/John Wick illustration from 2019, it was more in my comfort zone with a fairly typical vector graphic style. And then, if you look at some of the work I’ve done recently, for example, my Dune piece (above), I’ve tried to adopt a more photorealistic look, while still keeping all elements as vector artwork.
How long do you typically spend creating a vector artwork?
I have to admit my style is not the quickest to achieve, even more so now it’s getting so detailed. Couple that with the fact that I only do this fan artwork at night, and even then, sometimes I’m only able to spare an hour to look at it, so it can be a long process. Generally, I work to about two-week turnarounds, from concept to creation, although some of the more complex pieces can take three to four weeks. Bearing in mind, that I only get an hour or two done a day, I would say a typical illustration can take between 14 and 20 hours.
What attracted you to Affinity Designer to create this type of work?
With two kids, a busy job and limited time, I was looking for a vector package for the iPad, something that I could just take anywhere and pick up and continue without being chained to a laptop or desktop setup. The flexibility of the iPad was ideal for me. At the time, Adobe didn’t have a working version of Illustrator for the iPad, so I looked into Affinity Designer, which had, and was very impressed! It seemed to have all the features I needed, was easy to learn and use, was very stable, and allowed for iCloud storage and file export and sharing.
Do you have any favourite tools/features?
I guess my go-to tools for the type of artwork I create are a combination of the Gradient Fill Tool, the Transparency Tool and Gaussian Blur. Once I got over the thinking that vector artwork needs to have hard edges, I was able to use blurred effects to create much softer and more realistic imagery and add depth to the illustrations. I also find the HSL adjustment handy for tweaking colours already in play. I don’t use the Bitmap side of the application because I try to do everything, including textures etc., in vector, because it seems like a bit of a cheat otherwise and limits me in terms of the resolution of my artwork. I’m sure there are other tools and quicker workarounds in the app that I’ve yet to get to grips with, but I tend to stick to my knowledge and work around it.
“Once I got over the thinking that vector artwork needs to have hard edges, I was able to use blurred effects to create much softer and more realistic imagery and add depth to the illustrations. ”
How do you find its performance on iPad when working with complex documents with so many layers?
I think that’s what attracted me to vector artwork in general and Affinity Designer in particular. Raster apps like Procreate have an increasingly limited number of layers available when working at higher resolutions, whereas Affinity Designer seems to be more or less infinite (I’ve yet to hit the ceiling), and the vector artwork is completely scalable with no upscaling or loss of detail. I did have an original iPad Pro, which, to be honest, was starting to struggle with the complexity of the artwork, but I upgraded to a new iPad Pro and have had no issues, no matter what I throw at it. Affinity Designer is very stable, and being an app, it has no latency or start-up times at all. I can just pick up the iPad and start illustrating immediately.
Talk us through your process for creating complex vector artworks. What are the main stages you go through?
So, as you can see from my artwork, it’s mostly personal fan art of movies or television series I like or have loved. To me, it’s not about the medium I’m using, it’s about the idea, so that’s where I start. If I’ve watched a movie I like, I think about what concept I could do that would put an alternative spin on the artworks and images that are currently out there to promote it (and an original take can be a challenge as there is so much great fan art and people trying to do the same thing) and pay fitting tribute to it as an illustration. Sometimes, I like to frame these as ‘alternative’ movie posters, creating different artwork to the actual marketing campaigns for the property. This also allows me to scratch my graphical and typographic itch by creating actual ‘artwork’, not just illustrations.
Once I have thought of the concept (and inspiration for some of my wacky ideas can strike anywhere, anytime), I look for references online or by re-watching the source to see how I can best achieve this. I’ll then either sketch the idea out or roughly assemble it in Photoshop to see how it comes together. Once I’m confident it will work and I have all the references I need, I start creating the main illustration. If it’s people/portrait based, I always start with the eyes as a focal (and often the most detailed) point and work outwards from there. I build up the layers working from foreground (first) to background (last) until I’m happy with the result of the illustration and apply any graphical elements, such as text etc., at the end.
Which illustration has been the most challenging to create so far?
Probably my Moon Knight or my Kenobi illustrations because of the level of detail involved. Recently, it’s a bit of a rabbit hole I’ve dug for myself as the more I zoom in, the more detail I want to put in, so it’s a balance to get the look I want. Anyone with facial hair (or just hair) is problematic in vector, but I give it my best shot and some of the vector brush tools with the ability to attenuate your strokes etc., are a real blessing! Dune took a while as well, as usually I just do a single portrait/person as the focus of the artwork—when you have two subjects, it takes double the amount of time to create it.
How important is it for artists to reserve time to work on personal/passion projects like this?
I think it’s not only important, it’s essential. With a high-pressure creative job, and fewer opportunities to illustrate on a day-to-day, commercial basis, I needed something to decompress and to make me fall in love with illustration again. The outlet of, and response to, my fan art has been a revelation, as has Instagram. Not just in terms of getting people’s positive reactions to my work (sometimes even from actors and directors of the shows in question) but also seeing and meeting some of the super-talented amateur and professional artists out there. And, despite the fact this is for my own personal development and satisfaction only, there are a number of other artists who have built a legitimate career out of such fan art, often endorsed or commissioned by the shows or studios themselves, so you never know where it might lead…
“The outlet of, and response to, my fan art has been a revelation, as has Instagram. Not just in terms of getting people’s positive reactions to my work (sometimes even from actors and directors of the shows in question) but also seeing and meeting some of the super-talented amateur and professional artists out there.”
This might be a difficult question, but if you had to pick one, who is your all-time favourite sci-fi/fantasy character and why?
That’s a tough one alright, but I guess we always gravitate to the ones we grew up with, and in my case, that’s Judge Dredd. 2000ad (I was always more of a sci-fi aficionado than Marvel in comics) had a big influence on me in terms of my illustrative skills, with legendary artists like Brian Bolland and Carlos Ezquerra. Dredd as a character can be a bit one-note, but I loved the concept and the world-building they’ve done over the years with him, and some of the classic multi-part narrative arcs like the Cursed Earth, the Judge Child or the Dark Judges gave a real serialised approach to the comic that rewarded investment which was fairly unique at the time.
What are you currently working on, and what can we expect to see on your digital drawing board in the future?
I’ve been very fortunate to be selected by AMP (AlternativeMoviePosters) to take part in their annual 30x30 show this year, where they select 30 artists from across the world to do tributes based on movies from 30 years ago—in this case, 1992. So I’m currently working to a deadline trying to get my submissions ready. There will be an online show of all the work in September, so I’m really looking forward to that. Beyond that, I’ve no real plans—usually, my ideas strike me out of the blue and are dependent on my viewing habits, so I’ll keep an eye out for new movies and shows and see if anything inspires me!