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Entries in Illustration (17)


Play Hard Do Good T-Shirt Design

DESIGNING T-SHIRTS is a challenge I enjoy, so when I was commissioned to design and illustrate the 2012 Beacon Lounge t-shirt, I was ready for some fun.

The Beacon Lounge is a quiet, relaxing and recharging space, nestled amid the chaos and activity of SXSW. It's the place you can take a break, meet people, eat tasty food, hear good tunes and help create lasting social good in the world.

Concept Sketches

Eve Simon, my friend and Beaconfire creative director, hired me to design this year's t-shirt. She provided the Play Hard Do Good theme and shirt specs. With this info, I began sketching ideas for a type treatment in pencil, shown below:

Play Hard Do Good: First Sketches

The initial sketch concepts for the t-shirt illustration were more along the lines of a simple type treatment, reflected in the pencil sketches above.

In the second sketch below, you can see I've expanded the simple type treatment from the first sketches to a complete and more detailed illustration using the Play Hard Do Good type treatment with supporting elements:

Play Hard Do Good: Final Sketch

I aimed to capture a lounge-like late 50s / early 60s feel with the typography on this piece, having fun with the modern couch and other retro touches.

Inking, Scanning and Vectorizing

Once I had an approved concept sketch, I inked various design elements in my large Moleskine sketchbook and scanned them in. Once the elements were open in Photoshop, I was able to edit flaws, tweak details and prepare each piece for vectorization using VectorMagic — a key piece of my illustration toolkit.

Below you can see and in-progress version of the black and white illustration being built in Adobe Illustrator. Notice the additional horizontal rules in the center of the piece — those were simplified in the final version:

Play Hard Do Good: In-Progress B&W

Time for Color

Once the black and white illustration was approved, I explored color. I knew I had a brown t-shirt as a base color, so I selected bright aqua and vibrant orange to compliment each other and the base white ink.

This combination created a color palette suggesting both a lounge feel and the Texas hill country around Austin:

Play Hard Do Good: T-Shirt Detail

Here is the final illustration shown in context on a brown t-shirt:

Play Hard Do Good: T-Shirt Overview

T-Shirts Supporting Sweet Relief

The team at GoodThreads and Beaconfire sponsored the t-shirt design and printing — I can't wait to see these shirts on Beacon Lounge guests!

These custom illustrated t-shirts will be available to Beacon Lounge guests with a donation to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. It's great to be part of the Beacon in this way, giving back and making a difference in the lives of people.

Come to the Beacon during SXSW, say hello and pick up your shirt.


The Future of Water Illustration

WATER IS A RESOURCE we so often take for granted, yet is incredibly precious. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to illustrate various issues and solutions related to water for the Future of Water project. This is the story of my process.

Dow and GolinHarris saw some of my illustration work and contacted me about doing a sketchnote style illustration about water for the Future of Water project.

Concept Notes

After an initial phone discussion, I reviewed all 60 of the 1 minute videos on the Future of Water site, noting ideas I found interesting as I watched and listened.

Future of water sketch tidbit

Pencil Sketches

From my general notes, I created pencil sketches of the illustration, laying out the structure of the piece. I shared my pencil sketch with the client, providing them with a clear sense of where I was headed with the illustration.

Future of water pencil tidbit

Inking the Illustration

Next, I began inking the piece, creating the elements on tracing paper over the tight pencils I'd created, making adjustments as needed.

Future of water inked tidbit

Once the inking was complete, I scanned in the artwork and began assembling the scanned pieces into a multiple-layered, unified Photoshop file. This approach lets me adjust images within the whole or make changes if need be.


When the black and white art was approved, I moved on color — the most challenging part of the piece. It took a while to get the blue colors I had envisioned, but once they were established, I began working down the B&W art, colorizing the whole piece.

Here's the final illustration as it appears on the Future of Water website:

Future of water final

Thank You

Many thanks to Dow, GolinHarris and Len Kendall for working with me on this project. I had a great time and am pleased to bring to light the challenges and opportunities we have on the topic of water.


Pipeline RailsConf Illustration

LATE FRIDAY I received a message from David Heinemeier Hansson, requesting a slide illustration for his RailsConf 2011 keynote.

David is a partner at 37signals, co-author of REWORK (the book I illustrated) and creator of the Ruby on Rails development framework.

David provided his talk title The Asset Pipeline and our Post-Modern, Hybrid, Javascript Future, along with notes about pipelines and a Jetson-like spaceship he envisioned. Beyond that, I was free to have some fun with the illustration.

iPad Concepting

I grabbed my iPad for concepting, using Penultimate with my finger and Stylus Sock Pro to sketch several concepts. This is the final, approved sketch:

Pipeline Concept Sketch (iPad)

The iPad and Penultimate worked well for these rough concepts. I was able to get several ideas down quickly and email them directly to David from the iPad for review.

Inking and Production

With the concept and general direction set, I brought out my large Moleskine sketchbook, penciled in the rough imagery and began inking the pipeline, landscape, space ships and several bits of hand-drawn typography.

Pipeline Moleskine Inked Illustrations

Here you can see the pages where I inked the illustration. Note how pieces are spread out on the page and not in any specific order — that's because I scan the pieces and assemble them in Photoshop. This approach provides control and lets me make changes quickly.

Once the pieces were scanned and assembled, the final slide looked like this:

Pipeline Sketchnote Illustration

I was very happy with the end result. Having just finished watching Mad Men Season 4 last week, I was definitely channeling 1965 into the final illustration.

David was very pleased with the results as well:

I'll be keynoting tomorrow morning on this topic at RailsConf: (illustration by the wonderful @rohdesign)less than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac Favorite Retweet Reply

Thanks David!

UPDATE - David mentioned this article on the 37signals blog, Signal vs. Noise.


Idea to Interface Illustrations

Creating illustrations for REWORK, TEDMED and Associations Now Magazine, often leads to new projects. In February, Aarron Walter hired me to create illustrations for his Idea to Interface presentation. This is the story of the creation process.

Aarron is a friend, an accomplished speaker, author, designer and teacher. He was preparing to speak at An Event Apart and other events in 2011 and was interested in hand-drawn illustrations for his slides.

Pencil Sketch Concepts

The first step in my illustration process is to get as much information as possible: text, images, comments from the client and then take the reference and sketch out concepts.

Below are the pencil sketches for the Idea to Interface project — from general thoughts on page 1 and 2, all the way to specific slide layouts in pages 3-10.

Idea to Interface: Pencil Concepts: Page 1-2
Idea to Interface: Pencil Concepts: Page 3-4 Idea to Interface: Pencil Concepts: Page 5-6 Idea to Interface: Pencil Concepts: Page 7-8 Idea to Interface: Pencil Concepts: Page 9-10

These sketches were presented to Aarron in Basecamp, where we reviewed, discussed and approved them for inking and colorization. Note the detailed comments on my sketches. I capture my thoughts as I sketch, which are often helpful in finalizing ideas with clients.

Inking the Art

Once sketches were approved, I began sketching the structures in pencil in my large Moleskine sketchbook, inking on top of the pencil. Once dry, I erased the pencil underneath, tuned up the final art and scanned the inked illustrations directly into Photoshop.

Ipad drawing

You can see in this sample inked illustration that I've added elements around the central illustration. I do this to replace or add elements to the final artwork. For instance, the iPad button to the right was drawn to replace the smaller one in the iPad itself.

Finalizing & Colorization

In the final stage of my illustration process, scans are tuned in Photoshop and colorized. I look for places where the inking may have a rough edge, spots of white in dark regions or other minor flaws I can repair with the brush tool.

I created a master document, set to the correct size and began assembling scanned bits in layer groups in the document for each slide. Once each slide's structure was set, I created new layers for each color in the illustration. In this case I chose only a few colors in the palette and used them for all of the slides.

Below are 11 finished slide illustrations, with a few notes about each one:

Idea to Interface: Title Slide

Title Slide - This was the first illustration and slide for the deck. This concept went through several iterations before we had it where we wanted it. Initially there was no red in the slide, but through experimentation, I found splitting the screen on an angle emphasized both the idea and interface states covered in Aarron's talk.

Idea to Interface: The Victorious King (1 of 6)

Slide 1 - This is conquering King Heiro II, who would eventually commission a crown for his victory and Archimedes to verify its contents were pure gold. For some reason I had The 300 and Sparta in mind when I created this illustration.

Idea to Interface: Golden Crown (2 of 6)

Slide 2 - The crown of gold commissioned by King Heiro, of dubious gold content.

Idea to Interface: Confused Archimedes (3 of 6)

Slide 3 - A confused and perplexed Archimedes, considering his challenge from King Heiro to determine the gold content of the king's crown.

Idea to Interface: A Drawn Bath (4 of 6)

Slide 4 - A bath drawn by Archimedes' wife, which was intended to relax him and take his mind off of the crown of gold problem. I had a little fun with this slide, adding in a yellow rubber ducky next to the brush.

Idea to Interface: Archimedes has an Idea (5 of 6)

Slide 5 - Archimedes relaxes with water rolling over the sides of his bathtub and in that moment, realizes that water in a container can show actual mass of an object like a dubiously golden crown, when compared to an identically weighted pure gold object.

Idea to Interface: Eureka! (6 of 6)

Slide 6 - In his excitement about solving the problem, Archimedes jumps out of the bath buck naked and runs through the streets shouting EUREKA!

Idea to Interface: Working for the MAN

Slide 7 - In this slide, Aarron wanted to portray "working for the man" in a humorous way, so I created a mustachioed MAN and enlarged him over the shoulder of a small. sticker-covered, laptop-using web designer in a chair on the right.

Idea to Interface: The User Interface

Slide 8 - This illustration shows visually how an interface acts as a window through which users communicate with each other.

Idea to Interface: Cross the Line to Start

Slide 9 - This image encourages listeners to step across the line and start something.

Idea to Interface: Thank You!

Slide 10 - The thank you slide, with Ducky in there for a parting goodbye.

Sketchnote Font Testing

Aarron also wanted a hand-drawn font for the deck, to connect visually with my illustration work. As it turned out, a very rough alpha version of my Sketchnote font had been prepared by Delve Withrington, so I took the opportunity to have Aarron test it out.

Aaron Walter: Emotional Design  #aea

The font worked well, considering the many missing elements and no kerning in place. I thought it was an encouraging early test of the font.

Delivery & Field Use

I provided Aarron with final PNG files for his Keynote deck in our Basecamp project and in a shared Dropbox folder, for backup. This allowed Aarron to drop images into his deck as I completed them in batches, while he prepared other details of the deck.

Aarron reported that the illustrations was very well received at its first appearance at An Event Apart Seattle and that he was pleased with how everything turned out. Now he's taken his show on the road, sharing Idea to Interface with other Event Apart cities.

Thanks Aarron for choosing me for your project. I had a great time!


Aarron Walter's “Idea to Interface” Links & Resources
An Event Apart
Sketchnote Font


TEDMED Pioneer Notebook Illustrations

TEDMED Pioneer Book: Cover

In mid-September, I received an inquiry from Tribal DDB Worldwide to create a series of sketchnote illustrations for a custom notebook for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer program attending TEDMED 2010.

The agency was creating a notebook to encourage Pioneers at TEDMED to think and take notes differently during the event, and really felt my sketchnote style of illustrations would fit well with the message of the notebook.

A Tag-Team of Illustrators

I was very interested in the illustration project, though at the time I was insanely busy with many other projects. Rather than take the full project on myself or turn it down, I contacted my good friend Austin Kleon to share the book illustrations equally.

Even though timing was tight and Austin had a vacation planned in the middle of the project, we were both able to knock out the work and have a great time in the process.

Project Goals

Our challenge was to create encouraging illustrations that would help TEDMED attendees to think broader about solving big healthcare related issues presented at the event.

Initially we both created several sketchnote how-to illustrations. As the project progressed, a simpler style of sketchnote illustrations were needed, based on various words, statements and ideas provided to us to work from.

We also created some generic elements - thought and speech bubbles, pencils and other items - so these could be used in a variety of ways. A pencil I created was vectorized with Vector Magic, so it could be uses at larger sizes.

Once our illustrations were done and delivered, Tribal DDB blended our illustrations into the notebook's various pages. The final notebook was printed, bound and given to Pioneer attendees at TEDMED 2010. We hear it was well received.

Illustration Samples

Here's a selection of photos of our book illustrations:

TEDMED Pioneer Book: Intro Lightbulb (AK) TEDMED Pioneer Book: Be a Pioneer (MR)
TEDMED Pioneer Book: Accelerate Change (AK) TEDMED Pioneer Book: Focus on the Future Detail (MR)
TEDMED Pioneer Book: Reframe (AK) TEDMED Pioneer Book: Take Risks (MR)
TEDMED Pioneer Book: Problems Thought Balloon (AK) TEDMED Pioneer Book: Willing to Fail Detail 2 (MR)
TEDMED Pioneer Book: Rocket 2 (MR) TEDMED Pioneer Book: Art Credit Detail (MR)

Check out the full Flickr set to see more photos.

Many thanks to Dee Dee, Ray and Troy at Tribal DDB for choosing us to help make this notebook happen!