Von Glitschka – Adobe Illustrator CS4 Guru

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If you aren’t already familiar with Von Glitschka’s art, you should be. An ‘illustrative designer’ as he’s coined it, Von’s work is a tour de force in the vector art world. Flexible and versatile in both style and technique, Von’s unique talent shines through in every creation that flows from his vector tools.

Go Media goes in-depth with this master of vectors, and Von shares some insight on the techniques behind his creations using Adobe Illustrator CS4.

BACKGROUND

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What does Glitschka studios specialize in?

Creative ideas. That may seem like a condensed response but it’s true. People hire me for my ability to take their project and execute a well crafted idea. Most of these ideas are carried out through what I call illustrative design. Leveraging illustration through a design context.

Tell us about your first experiences with Illustrator. What version/features were you using?

I once was a diehard FreeHand user. I used FreeHand from version 2 until version 11a, which was a beta never released to the public. I’ve dabbled with Illustrator since version 5 but used to only use it to open files, save files or check color – which ironically enough FreeHand sucked at.

Back in 1997 I worked for Upper Deck Company in California. Our art department had around 25 designers all using Illustrator and I was the sole FreeHand user. It worked fine, there were never any issues and I could do way more than the Illustrator users at that time. I continued to use FreeHand as my core drawing application and augmented it with Illustrator whenever I needed too.

When Adobe bought Macromedia in 2005 I saw the writing on the wall. I held out for almost a year and then a Portland ad agency hired me to create a poster to promote Creative Suite 2 (CS2). They assumed I used Illustrator, and I didn’t tell them I didn’t and forced myself to learn it in about a week. (More about this story here.)

So from late 2005 until now I’ve been using Illustrator as my primary weapon of mass creation. The first year was frustrating, losing features I had grown to love. But in all honesty I can say now I wouldn’t want to go back. (More about my switch here.)

I currently use Illustrator CS4. I don’t get into tools like the Blob Brush, it just doesn’t fit my personal creative process. But I really love the blend modes. Being able to layer colors to achieve a rich detail is something I could never do in my old app. The simple fact is Illustrator facilitates and brings to life my artistic passions.

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How did you get started using vector art? Tell us about your experience of the transition from traditional media to digital.

For the first five years of my professional career I worked at a large sportswear company in Seattle. Everything was drawing by hand, shot on a stat camera and hand separated into film positives. True craft and skill was needed to pull off design and illustration well – something that’s unfortunately being forgotten in our industry now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love digital, it has equipped me to produce far easier and with much more control than ever. But the computer has also lowered the bar in terms of what innate level of skill and craft one would need to even consider this a career as a designer or illustrator. So the digital tools have enabled a legion of marginal talent to survive. But every industry deals with that at some point in terms of progression I guess. I just hope future software doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator, but rather pushes the higher-end users instead.

Even though I consider myself a digital artist I think it’s important to have solid, refined analog skills as a designer. In other words it’s important to be a good drawer whether or not you ever want to be a full-blown illustrator. (More about my view on this here.)

WORKFLOW

For your workflow, what are the biggest benefits of a vector-based workflow in Illustrator over traditional media?

Flexibility to explore variations in content and color, edit, refine, adapt and repurpose with ease across a broad range of technologies and media formats. Vector-based art’s resolution independence is its biggest asset. Traditional art is great, and can and should be integrated into a digital work flow when appropriate, but it’s almost always built to size even if the traditional style is created in a raster environment.

I think of vector-based art as free range creativity.

Do you have any favorite Illustrator time-saving techniques?

I love the fact that Adobe lets third-party developers create useful plug-ins that expand the application’s ease of use and flexibility, so the user can adapt their personal preference with regards to vector building. I use a very helpful plug-in called XStream Path by CValley Software that makes creating and forming vector shapes a breeze.

I like to use Illustrator styles a lot, custom-designed actions, and a full range of keyboard shortcuts that are now second nature and make going from a sketch to refined vector art a smooth and precise process. I also have an unhealthy fondness for the inner glow effect which makes detailing my art fun.

For more information about how I build my vector shapes visit my Illustration Class tutorial site.

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What are your favorite features in Illustrator CS4?

The improved building methods and point control, the ability to control gradients on objects, and the new masking features and multi-page capabilities.

What other Creative Suite 4 products do you use for your designs?

I use Photoshop all the time. I import smart objects into my Photoshop files and Photoshop files into my Illustrator files, though I do wish that Smart Objects in Photoshop linked to the source Illustrator file. That’s the only part of using Smart Objects that isn’t so smart. I also use InDesign and Fireworks when needed.

Are you seeing ways in which CS4 is improving your workflow? Are you able to quantify improvements, i.e. number of hours/days of work saved; profitability percentage/dollar amount increases due to efficiency improvements with CS4?

Being able to customize Illustrator and Photoshop via “Actions” and “Keyboard Shortcuts” and “Graphic Styles” etc. makes for a more streamlined creative process. The ability to add in third part plug-ins furthers the customization for my own preferred creative process.

ARTWORK & TECHNIQUE

You have a very broad range of styles, all of which you have mastered. The recent ‘Molar Madness/Ramp Champ’ iPhone design, your ‘Keyboard Characters’ and your Sports Identity designs all have a unique and distinct look while each retains their respective stamp of expertise.

Talk us through this in general. What Illustrator features do you primarily use? Any overall advice or techniques in Illustrator you can share? How do Photoshop and other CS4 apps figure in to your overall vector art workflow?

All my projects are style driven. Each project has its own unique aesthetic and genre that my art has to adapt to. There’s also genre, product and target audience to consider. Sometimes that style is dictated to me by an agency and other times I determine an appropriate style for the given client. That said, I have my favorite styles but it does keep things interesting so I can’t complain.

My creative process follows the same general framework and structure for every project regardless of the style direction I’m taking. My favorite tools within Illustrator CS4 are of course the Pen Tool, PathFinder Palette, Gradient Tool, XStream Path Direct Edit Tool and Blend Modes. The combination of all those with others when needed produces everything one can see on my own Web site. (More about my “Illustrative Designer Creative Process” here)

In particular, what Illustrator tools did you use for the excellent Cubist-style effect for the Keyboard Characters? How do the other Adobe CS4 applications play a role in your creative process?

Whenever I create my segmented style illustration it’s all about shape building. Sometimes I have to create three steps forward and then go two steps back in order to build what I need. For the Keyboard Characters I actually posted a tutorial that takes you through the entire process from sketch to final printed piece. You can view that here.

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I use Photoshop every day. It’s second only to Illustrator, but I couldn’t do what I do without it. I love how flexible Photoshop is. The same thing can be done in so many different ways, making it very easy for a designer to adapt it to their work flow and preferences. To be honest, I think the Illustrator team could learn a few things from the Photoshop team. There – I said it.

The Ramp Champ artwork is particularly nice. Were there any Illustrator tools that were especially useful in creating artwork specifically for an iPhone game/app? Any particular advice for other Illustrator artists working on artwork for an iPhone app using Illustrator?

Ramp Champ is a project that required both Illustrator and Photoshop. Everything in the art needed to be either animated or have the ability to be modular. So most of the base art was created inside Illustrator and extensively layered as Smart Objects. We actually had Smart Objects within Smart Objects. Double click a layer and it would open up another layered Photoshop file which had its own Smart Objects in it. But all was masterfully contained in one Photoshop file. This enabled easy editing when beta testing and revising art.

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The key to any GUI graphics, iPhone or otherwise, is to build the art at 100%. Doesn’t matter if it’s a vector Smart Object, you need that pixel precision sans the fuzzy factor and that is only accomplished when working at the final size. This is often the problem with many artists trying to design or illustrate for onscreen content. They assume since it’s vector it can be smaller or larger and they’ll just scale it either way – a rookie mistake. If you want to see some of the best examples of this visit The Icon Factory. They’re the originators of Ramp Champ and the masters of all things GUI.

Your Señor Skully illustration has some great texture effects. Were these created within Illustrator? If so, how were they achieved? What Illustrator tools did you use? If not, how were they implemented within the Illustrator document/artwork and what tools were used?

No, those are authentic textures. I always try to avoid faking an effect, especially when it comes to textures. A few years back I had a local silk screen shop print a throwaway shirt with just a huge white rectangle on it. I then had my wife put it in the wash every time she did laundry and after about a year this wonderful texture came about.

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I scanned it into Photoshop and created the texture which is just a hi-res tiff image I placed into Illustrator and colorized the same as the background. Some might Live Trace a tiff like that but I’ve always found it looks far more realistic and detailed to leave it as a tiff image. It’s a less complex vector file too. (I posted more about this texture experiment here.)

Tell us how CS4 played a part in your pattern art creation.

Illustrator is ideal for creating tiled repeat patterns. Once your tile design is complete, the flexibility of applying it using the color palette and other controls such as rotate and scale make it easy to adapt them into your own creative projects. I did a tutorial for VectorTuts on how to create a pattern here.

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Also, anyone is welcome to visit VonsterBooks.com and download sample patterns and spreads.

Tell us more about how CS4 was used to create your “Beautiful Vectors” artwork.

I was asked to be part of the “Adobe Illustrator CS4 WOW! Book” and so I decided to do an illustration in a style I don’t often work in. I felt I had to really challenge myself and wanted to push my comfort zone and get far more extensive with my detailing and methodology. I love the control of gradients you get in Illustrator. I used to avoid gradients like the plague in FreeHand, they just never looked that good. So now that what you see is what you get in Illustrator I use them more and more.

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That said I don’t like the whole blended look. I wanted a clean graphic style that retained an element of realism and detail that would carry it forward – a balance of refined simplicity with just enough application of gradient detailing to enhance it. I utilized extensive blend modes, layering, transparency and subtle blurring of shapes to create this artwork.

In the end I felt like I had created work worthy to be part of a WOW! book.

NEW FEATURES

Do you find yourself using the newer Illustrator tools, such as Live Color, the Blob Brush, the Eraser, or do you stick with the more traditional Illustrator vector tool set?

Traditional all the way. Augmented by third party plugins like Xtream Path by CValley Software. I’ve used the eraser a few times but probably won’t use Blob Brush or Live Color –they just don’t fit with my creative process. I never create on the fly, I create from an informed point of view knowing what I need to build before I build it because I’ve drawn it out before I touch the computer.

I’d like to see Adobe focus on improving existing tools and adding missing features that should be part of the core building methods, like “Sub Selection” of shapes without having to mess with the layers palette or fiddle with a sub menu. Adobe is well aware of this limitation. InDesign does it this way so it’s possible.

WISHLIST

What features would you like to see in future versions of Illustrator? How would you improve on existing features to increase productivity for vector artists?

I’m on the Adobe beta team and know what I can’t say, so I’ll just share what I’d personally really love to see in Ai.

  • Layering controls and layer folders and layer masking (like Photoshop).
  • A preference that forces all guides to one “Guide Layer,” thus making guides non-objects.
  • Redesign the Color Palette so the Fill and Stroke aren’t overlapped. Add the ability to drag and drop color to both at same time.
  • Make all the blend modes from Photoshop available in Ai (Example: Vivid Light).
  • The ability to customize the tool bar at the top of screen so it always shows what I want it to
  • Better font preview in font list
  • Make Adobe Illustrator customizable by letting users buy a base app and offering additional features á la carte.
  • Push Zoom to 10,000%.
  • Team up with “What the Font” and add the ability to select converted text and determine source font it was converted from.
  • Make free distort work just like Photoshop. Remember KPT Vector Effects? Make it work like that.
  • Create patterns, styles, borders etc. to include in the app that are pro quality.
  • When upgrading to new versions, have the installer retain all custom settings and plug-ins.

Von’s work can be seen at his website, Glitschka Studios, and be sure to follow him on Twitter here.

Discussion

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