Feature – Andrew Kolb On Canadian Family


We recently ran across the illustration work of Andrew Kolb while browsing Pixar’s blog “The Pixar Times”. In a section called Pixart, artists are invited to do their take on Pixar films. Rather than using one film as his inspiration, Andrew chose to create an illustration with a reference to every Pixar film up until Toy Story 3. Yes, every film! The piece turned out amazing – and was very unique compared to the other submissions that surrounded it. This sort of dedication and creativity is apparent in all of Andrews work, which ranges from t-shirt graphics to magazines, to art shows and wooden toys. We had the chance to ask Andrew a few questions about his influences, process, and what it’s like working with clients as a freelance illustrator.

Giant Child: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Please tell us a bit about yourself – Who are you? Where are you from? What’s your background in art and design?

Andrew Kolb: Well, my name is Andrew Kolb and I hail from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. I studied graphic design at the Conestoga College for Applied Art and Design and then continued in Australia at Griffith University. I was predominately a designer for quite some time but always preferred to offer an illustrative solution. As I went on I found the work I enjoyed most occurred when illustration was involved and over time I shifted from one to the other. Now I illustrate, design (though now I’m rather focused regarding the clients I collaborate with) and teach illustration back at Conestoga College. It’s the circle of life!

Continue reading for the rest of the interview.

GC: What is a typical day like for you?

AK: I suppose it depends on the day of the week. If it’s a school day, then my typical day involves lecturing, demonstrating, and discussing various components of illustration. Super fun. If it’s NOT a school day, then I can be found preparing lesson plans, grading projects, or more likely: drawing (either personal or commissioned). Whether I teach that day or not, there’s also usually emails to be answered, the consumption of food, my morning job and my nightly sleep. It’s a rock star life, to be honest.

GC: It seems as if there’s a big interest in mid-century style illustration lately, you may or may not claim that reference – but where did your style come from and what/when/who inspired it?

AK: Hmmm, this is an interesting observation. I suppose there is as big of an interest in the period as ever. I’ll go through illustration annuals form the 80s and 90s and still see many of the same elements, albeit interpreted slightly differently. I think whether it’s 10 or 100 years after the era, it was a time of such elegance that it’s hard not to appreciate it. Like the little black dress or a well-cut suit, it’s really hard for it to go out of style. As for my influence and developing of style, I won’t deny that I spend countless hours watching modern-era animation. UPA and the likes had that elegance I mentioned, as did the big studios that are still around today. So I suppose my love for animation is a bit of the who and what and when. I think the list could really go on for hours and I think that’s the point! If only one or two artists inspire you, your work will inherently mimic them to some degree. But if you study a broad range of periods and mediums, I think it’d be impossible to say any one element was the only muse. Then, or hopefully then, your work becomes its own and not a pure imitation of another. Somewhere in there lies the answer to the question.

GC: Most of the work in your portfolio seems to be from really interesting and fun clients – is that the norm for you? What do you do to attract the clients you want to work with?

AK: Well thanks! I know I enjoy some element or another of everything I do and I think that’s important. It’s like smiling during a phone conversation; it just sort of comes through in the delivery. As for whether it’s the norm, I know it has taken time to get here. As a designer who illustrates, I found I was shaping my style and tone to fit the client. It was an expected part of the job. However, when I made the shift to an illustrator who designs (and there is a difference to an extent), I thought, “what is it that I want to draw and who do I want to draw it for?” It really helped give me direction. The best part of being an illustrator is that if you like drawing dragons and trolls you’ll eventually find work asking for dragons and trolls! In short, until you’re getting the work you want, do it yourself even if not for a real client. Show what you CAN do instead of just what you’ve been asked to do.

GC: On the work you did for Canadian Family Magazine, how did the project come to you?

AK: If I remember correctly, it was a mix of social media and cold calling. Through twitter I became away of the right people to contact and after a bit of conversing and a look through my portfolio, I was offered the chance to contribute to the Ages & Stages section of the magazine.

GC: What was the client brief like, child development can be a touchy subject for some. Were there any specific requests as to how they wanted to address the content?

AK: Well with the industry in general it’s key to ensure diversity. Given how amazing Canada is at embracing many different cultures and histories, it’s no wonder why! The only real request I remember, aside from the general content, was to ensure this diversity came through in the illustrations. No complaints there!

GC: Did the client approach you with the ideas already flushed out, or were they looking to you to develop the visual concepts?

AK: It was a mix for sure. They had the general content of articles fleshed out and thus prepared a loose concept for each section. Aside from the basic “what”, the rest was entirely up to me. There was plenty of back and forth at the rough stage to ensure that we were both pleased with the final pieces.

GC: Once you landed the job. How did you start the process of creating these compositions?

AK: I suppose I began with research. I looked through photo albums and at neighbours to get a feel for attire. I’ve always been keen on fashion (not that my own wardrobe always reflects this) so I like to really consider how each of the characters dressed. There’s also plenty of sketches to be done before I go anywhere near the computer.

GC: In general when working with clients, do you have a method for approvals based on various stages of progress? What are those different stages?

AK: Some of the process I already touched on, but in general I work with just 2 main checkpoints. After being briefed I’ll work up the sketches and rough blocking of colour. Sometimes colour doesn’t factor in yet as the first time I send the images to the client, I want to focus on composition and content. I want to confirm that what I’m showing is what we all want to see. For this assignment colour came in during the rough stages. It was more effective to include it with the sketches. Once the sketches are approved the second checkpoint happens after I work up the final images and send those to the client. By this point we’ve worked out any major kinks so revisions are usually minor.

Below: Three pieces for Canadian Family in the color exploration stage.

GC: What tools do you use for your final versions? You take sketches to digital for finishing correct?

AK: You got it! Pencil on paper first and foremost. Sometimes I’ll try to skip this step and go straight to my tablet, but I invariably scrap whatever I try and literally go back to the drawing board. After sketching I scan and use the roughs as the skeleton to build off of. It’s at this point that my tablet and Photoshop become most useful.

GC: Talk a little about your process for cleaning up and finalizing from sketch to final.

AK: The sketches I draw never really end up in the final piece and thus don’t really get cleaned up. I redraw every element and find that by doing everything twice actually helps with the overall piece. If it works once, it might be a fluke. If it works twice, I figure the odds of it being a good line/shape/etc. is far more likely.

GC: What are your methods for adding texture to your illustrations? And the rough edges?

AK: The rough edges come from Photoshop brushes I make. Early on and for practice I used brushes from the Internet. They worked well but acted more as a method to see what could be done with the presets and such. From looking at what others did I better figured out what I wanted my own brushes to do. As for the rest of the texture, there’s a bit of erasing and painting, as well as incorporating textures I’ve photographed.

GC: What were the biggest challenges of this project?

AK: Hmmm. As terrible as this is for me to say I really don’t remember any super hurdles. The client was clear about what they wanted, I was clear about what I was providing, and we were both clear on how the two could be met. It really was a very smooth process from start to finish.

GC: Any other notes you’d like to mention about the project?

AK: Only that any job involving a dinosaur hand puppet is great in my books.

GC: Thanks again for your time Andrew, keep up the great work!

AK: Thanks for having me!