Month: January 2015 :

Why illustrators should learn to code


It’s a really strange time to be an illustrator. Especially in the Bay Area. In the past few years, there was a huge inflation of jobs for production artists in mobile gaming, everyone seemed to be hiring as many young illustrators as they could, and just as quickly, all the major studios let go a huge amounts of artists (I was one of them). The film industry isn’t any different. When you hear things in the news about Dreamworks planning massive layoffs, that is a really bad sign. That one hits especially hard for me, since Dreamworks was a great supporter of the animation department I came out of at SJSU, and some of our brightest graduates went to Dreamworks. We just found out that over 500 jobs are being lost, and I’m watching my friends post about their job loss on Facebook just like I have been over and over again in the past few years as each major company in turn drops their creative teams. In 2013 we had Rhythm and Hues laying off designers and effects artists, painting the dim future for art teams being an expense that can be cut.

We’re dealing with structural problems as commercial artists (production artists, illustrators, etc) like the widespread idea that artists need to be kept in their own little room and treated delicately. Yes, artists often need a quiet place to do their work, but so do most people. The theory that they should be sheltered from the decision making in a business has injured the profession, it’s created a lot of jobs for non-artists to manage art teams, and frankly, that structure has made it easier for creative work to be sent overseas. If artists aren’t thought of as an integral part of a company’s production process, but instead as add-ons, it’s easier to consider them as commodities that can be replaced.

How can you compete with a market that readily disposes of their artist? I’m of the mindset that you should learn to do EVERYTHING, learn new things constantly, and be able to take on as many elements of the job at hand as possible. Be flexible and curious and dive into the wide ocean of new disciplines. This conflicts with the idea that you should focus on what you do best and leave others to do the rest, and that if you’re an illustrator you don’t need to think about stuff you don’t specialize in. “I don’t really do technology, I’m an artist.” But you have a much greater chance of supporting yourself if you know how to do more than one thing. Be a powerhouse: do the drawing, do the technical art, do the writing, do the programming, do the development. Do as much as you can.

(As I write this, Susie Cagle is tweeting about freelancing and says in regards to freelancing in journalism: “But this is why I learned to draw as well. I have two skills/revenue streams. I’m glad to not just be selling words in this market.”)

We’re taught to have clear dreams and goals, but we’re in a time when jobs and industries are so fluid and changing so often that you really have to be open to new opportunities. You may want to draw comics or animate your own cartoon, but leap at any chance you can to learn skills that can enhance your creative life. When an opportunity to learn front-end development came my way, I went for it. As an illustrator, my opportunities for work and collaboration with people I loved were pretty minimal, but by establishing myself with a skill like web design, new doors seem to be opening. People /want/ to work with creative people when they’re commissioning work like putting together a website. They want someone who speaks their language, knows the art scene, and can bring that experience to their design. And if you can also throw in some drawings into the project, you’re golden.

The first trick is to start looking at the world around you like any piece of art, and realize that design is art that’s tailored to the user. For instance, look at the web and think about what you like and what you don’t like, and then justify those opinions. Now you’re thinking like a designer! If I’ve learned anything, it’s that if you have a well-trained eye for detail from traditional illustration, animation inbetweening, and pixel-perfect vectorizing, you can attribute that beauty obsession to designing something functional. As I work from website mockups and develop them into fully-functioning websites, having a sensitivity for detail, matching ratios, fonts and colors if a huge part of the job. The more commercial artists bleed into design and coding, the most beautiful our products and lifestyles can be, because the aesthetic of the project will be considered from the beginning.

It’s a treacherous market out there, but if companies are finding ways to cut out creative departments, illustrators have to get scrappy and be a company within ourselves. If we work small and lean, we can design the aesthetic and make creative decisions through to the finished product. The movement towards small business owners running their own enterprises online, that people are finding more and more ways to express their dreams and fund them organically, and the best new media is forming outside of the usual corporate structures, this creates a whole new fertile ground for an illustrators, designers and developers to restructure the way they create. There’s no clear answer or road to take, but blurring the lines of disciplines, and having illustrators step up to the plate is a good start.

Currently listening to:

Rachel Fannan’s two new tracks are delicious, a heavy beat and beautiful vocals quickly bring these tracks into heavy rotation.

Fox Head Stew comic is coming back


I’ve been reading through all the pages from my last graphic novel, Fox Head Stew, and preparing to re-release it digitally. It’s been out of print and digital for forever (it was originally available on MTV Geek, RIP, and there’s a small handful of you with the print version) and I personally haven’t looked at it for almost 2 years. It’s a huge relief when you look back and really like what you did! When I finished it all I could see were the imperfections, but in retrospect, it captured all the experimentation, clumsiness and uncertainty of college life in a way I’m actually proud of.

Part of my job right now is to pull together the multiple versions I had of the first issue, use all the best iterations, and repackage it with new covers and extra pages. I’ve been digging through a lot of old files and finding some gems, from cover sketches to characters to some of my favorite comic pages I’ve done. Here’s a few to look at before the issue comes out in a week:

Originally the book was called “Weird Fishes: Dee’s Siren Song” and these sketches were for the first zine printing of it.




I’d forgotten how many music references I put into the posters and outfits all over the place that give each page a special feel.



What I’m Currently Reading Online

Tavi Gavidson photoshoot with The Coveteur
I remember falling in love with Tavi’s blog when she was 14… now she’s 18 and absolutely killing it in fashion and writing. This is a great photoshoot.

Branded #1 with Nubby Twiglet
Shauna’s started a new column reviewing branding that she loves. Just breathe in her thought process.

In Praise of Tina Belcher
This article put me on a massive Bob’s Burgers Binge (say that three times fast). We are all Tina.

Boots Riley interview with Vice
And now for something different! Boots Riley talks about making art and the changing environment of Oakland. Feels.

Typewolf’s Most Popular Fonts of 2014
A great overview of font trends for last year. Do you recognize them?

The first week of January in review


Phew, so we made it through the first full week! Despite the worldwide dismay, there’s also an enormous creative momentum. Aiming for more creative breakthroughs and less meltdowns. I’m always happy when I’m too busy, and when there’s too much work to do then there’s also a huge drive to make art as well. I’m launching projects with clients, developing some great collaborations, and preparing to launch my next book… so there’s a lot to be done. My latest projects are all strong and feminine, I feel grateful to get to work with some great ladies.

My first project of the year was designing a shirt for Rachel Fannan‘s solo project “Only You“.


I met Rachel back in Santa Cruz almost a decade ago, she was playing a piano on the floor of the coffee shop and singing songs that completely stole everyone’s hearts within earshot. We made gig fliers together, and even lived in a house full of kittens and stray puppies for a short while. Seriously. Now we’ve both grown up, and she’s toured the world with some pretty awesome rock bands, and it was a pleasure to reunite and design some t-shirts for Only You.

This was a super-quick turnaround project, and we kept it simple and clean. The final design, made for screen-printing, locks eyes with the viewer and seems to do a very good job of capturing the mood of the project. Can’t wait to see these in print! Check out Rachel doing her thing here and here and on twitter.


At the start of the year we also launched the website Hiya Tootsie, designed by Shauna at We Are Branch and developed by me and Star. A really nice clean design and I’m really happy with how the mobile version of the site turned out. Plus, watching Heather put out her first empowering posts this week has been fantastic.



I even managed to put in some good time painting my next comic with Eddie Wright, but that’ll get it’s own post next week.


On Friday, I went out with my amazingly talented friend Koak (she’s going to blow your minds when her book comes out) and took her to the Chip Zdarsky signing at Good Vibrations, because who doesn’t like running into comic book creators at a sex toy store? Briefly ran into Jennifer, met Kieron and Jamie (who are doing one of my favorite books right now — The Wicked + the Divine) and we ended up crashing the Brian K Vaughn signing at Isotope Comics. It was pretty much my dream scenario for comic conventions: don’t go to the convention floor, just go to the afterparty.

Seeing a bunch of comics people got me powering away at my own project on Saturday, and I took a swing at painting Amaterasu from Wicked + The Divine. Her eye makeup is just made for drippy watercolors.


Reading Online:

Patton Oswaldt interviewed by Wil Weaton (yes, Wesley Crusher) for Playboy Magazine.
Geekery at it’s finest.
Marilyn Manson interviewed for Vice Magazine
Marilyn’s still as dirty of an old man as he was when I was in High School.
Joni Mitchel is the new face of Saint Laurent
Can’t love these images any more than this.
365 Awesome Designers
Putting this here for now, amazing collection of a wide-variety of designers and illustrators.

Charlie Hebdo and Free Speech


What a terrible way to start the day. I knew it was bad when I saw all my favorite artists begin posting “Je Suis Charlie” on Instagram. Yes, I found out through Instagram, and soon I was reading The New York Times in horror. I’m not sure if it’s my fear that the attack against free speech is going to get worse before it gets better, that artists always get targetted during the darkest times, or that satire absolutely infuriates humorless factions with guns. But when cartoonists and journalists are targeted, whether they were political satirists or not, it feels like a direct threat to everyone who holds a pencil, draws pretty/disgusting things or has a story to tell.

Here’s an article about the four cartoonists who were killed today.

Here’s the Cartoonists Rights Website.

Here’s some social media coverage on BoingBoing.

If you look on twitter #jesuischarlie, you’ll see an enormous outpouring of artists, all sad and horrified and all determined to upkeep free speech and draw.

One of my realizations at the end of 2014 was that I usually get quiet when difficult subjects come up and get lost in my own little world of making beautiful things. But making beautiful art /IS/ power, in the face of violence, oppression and fear, we have to make beautiful things. I stand by my contemporaries who have the fight and balls to look politics, religion and terrible things in the face and draw them.

We need publications like Charlie Hebdo, and the writers and artists behind them, to challenge, reveal and instigate. To make people laugh at the uncomfortable.

For now I feel sad, but I picked up my pen and drew my first self-portrait of the year.


Hello 2015!


What a difference a year can make! 2014 started off so uncertain, and the whole year was about staying open and re-inventing. 2015 is starting off bold and building upward: new website, new freelance projects and new goals. I wrapped up the development on the new over the holidays and it’s finally time to kick it off! This year I want to share more, talk about process and design, push my style further, and travel as much as possible. When I think back to 2014, I first remember the places I visited, and my trip to Puerto Vallarta and Palm Springs both changed me and influenced the artwork I made. Plus, it’s nice to remember warmer places at a time like this, brr!


My first trip to Mexico and first trip with my boyfriend Jay, we roamed through cobble-stone streets, drank margaritas on the beach, and explored the Rio Cuale. I loved the colors and the romanticism of Puerto Vallarta, and as soon as we got back, I was so inspired I started drawing comics about the trip.



Not sure when I’ll wrap up the Rio Cuale comics, so I’ll leave them here for safe-keeping.


2014 was about discovering the power of collaboration! I began working with the lovely Star, and we’re discovering an exciting mix of design, development and illustration that we’re able to do together. She convinced me to go to Palm Springs to Designer Vaca (read that post here). Not only was it super cool to meet everyone and see the physical network connecting freelance designers, but now I’m working on projects with some of the ladies I met there.


In Palm Springs Star introduced me to Shauna (who’s just as brilliant in person as she is on her blog), and before I knew it we were taking photos together like old friends. Now the three of us are working on some new sites together, and I /love/ the new projects we’re working on. I’ll be covering our new websites as they go live in the next couple of weeks.


Also coming down the pipeline is the comic I’ve been working on with Eddie Wright for the past year, which has grown from a little sketchbook of storyboards, to a script, a little pocketbook called Chrysalis, and now it’s metamorphosing into a crazy painted comic this year!


2015 is about surrounding yourself with positive people and starting exciting new projects! Now is the time to reach out as I start my 2015 schedule: I’m taking on new illustration, branding and web development projects. Contact me if you want to talk about developing something new!

Let’s take on this year for everything it has to offer!



All content © 2016 Jamaica Dyer. Developed by JAMDYE.