Mixed bag of recent illustrations

Hubble illustration by James White

Kill Bill illustration by James White

RoboCop illustration by James White

WeirdBeard illustration by James White

Deadlines have been packed throughout the last 2 weeks so my illustration output has slowed a bit. But, here is a batch of the latest. As usual, it’s a mixed bag. The Hubble Space Telescope, ‘The Bride’ from KILL BILL and my main man RoboCop.

That grumpy looking lumberjack was created for my pal Jerko. We were having a few cold ones the other night and he told me about this story he was working on, hinging on something from an old horror magazine. Jerko loves his horror. I cracked out the sketchbook and we worked up a doodle. That’s my take on the main character, WeirdBeard.

Things have been moving on the illustration front, and my output ended up landing me a really cool client gig. Banged out 3 illustrations for none other than the Canon camera company last week. Once I get the green light I’ll post them up. Super fun.

Big thanks to my pal Andy Cotnam for the helpful advice on the RoboCop!

Movie posters that weren’t

Karate Kid poster by James White

Labyrinth poster by James White

Rocky 3 poster by James White

Skyfall poster by James White

Predator poster by James White

Sketches by James White

If you’ve been following my work over the past year, you may have come across several posters that I designed for my favorite movies. I created pieces for DRIVE, BLADE RUNNER, THE THING, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, INDIANA JONES, TERMINATOR 2 and some others, all of which can be found in my portfolio. I made it my mission to break into the alternative art movie poster industry, but unfortunately only 2 posters were officially printed and offered for sale. The others remained in legal limbo, personal development, self-initiated projects… whatever you want to call it.

Aside from what was released online I did a lot of work behind the scenes developing ideas and visuals for many of my favorite movies. I never had permission, I designed them merely for my own enjoyment and practise. Most are thumbnails in my sketchbook while others I pushed to a digital sketch. Seen above are 5 posters that never got out of the concept phase. Very few people have seen these up until now. The Signalnoise movie posters that weren’t.

Before I build my posters in final vector format, I mock things up in Photoshop to experiment with the composition, colours and texture. Normally I cobble together found photos and movie stills as reference, then “paint” the entire poster from scratch. Ideas tend to shift and change as I go, which is why you’ll see differences between the ink sketches and the digital mock-ups above.

These concepts have been sitting on my computer for months, figured I’d post them. And the thing is, this isn’t all of them so you might see a ‘Part II’ to this post in the future.

‘The Arrival’ illustration

The Arrival illustration

The Arrival illustration

The Arrival illustration

I’ve been creating illustrations in this style for about a month now, a kind of ongoing experiment of forcing myself into a new process. I was hanging out with some friends last week and one of the bits of feedback I got on the new work was “create some original material”. As in, not something attached to a franchise. Good point there, so I got at it.

Here’s an illustration titled ‘The Arrival’, depicting an adventuring kid out in the woods who witnesses a big meteor falling to earth. Simple little idea. Maybe the start of a story? Who knows.

I’ve been getting a lot of people asking what software I’m using to make these things, so seen above are 3 versions of the illustration. The original concept from my sketchbook, the straight vectors in Illustrator, then my final in Photoshop. Should give you a rough idea of how I build up the illustrations.

Help Japan: 2 years later

Help Japan

If you know me at all, you’ll also know that I don’t discuss my Help Japan poster very often. Of all my posters and designs it was the one that reached the furthest, was seen by the widest audience, and galvanized charitable funds far above my expectation. This all happened 2 years ago and it’s taken me this long to approach the subject publicly, and personally.

I create lots of stuff, the size of my portfolio is proof of that. So when something happens where I think my creative efforts may help, I’ll give it a shot. That’s what happened on the morning of March 11, 2011 when news reached me about what happened in Japan. I made something to raise money, much the same as the ladies in the seniors’ home who held a bake sale around the corner from my house. I’d sell my poster via my online store and donate the proceeds to the Canadian Red Cross. A simple little idea, I thought. So I got started.

Within an hour my poster went viral.

I started getting phone calls from the New York Times and other big publications. The response was intimidatingly positive as I started setting up the print run, ordering shipping supplies and enlisting friends to help me with all the work. A LOT of work, hundreds of tubes to be packed, processed and shipped but it was definitely worth it given the cause. I couldn’t believe it.

Then the unexpected happened. Even if you have the best intentions possible, sometimes things can come out of left field to give you a knock. When a story, video, or piece of art goes viral it breaches the bubble of personal audience and goes out to the general online public, which exposes you to not only the positive, but to the negative. It’s no secret that the negative screams louder than the positive, especially with the anonymity of the internet. This was a harsh reality hit me head-on.

Each morning during my time packing, shipping, corresponding and donating I was receiving emails and blog comments from those who took it upon themselves to tell me I was doing something horrible. The remarks were almost frightening, ranging from harsh design critiques, cultural differences and personal attacks on my character. They’re all still live here and here, if you need some context. For a time I was even scared of answering my own phone. For a freelancer working alone out of a small home office, this wasn’t easy to deal with in the least. But I kept forcing the bigger picture into my head: the good cause.

This is when Fast Company decided to rear its head. In this article entitled ‘Is This Poster to Aid Japan’s Tsunami Victims a Crime Against Design?’, John Pavlus took it upon himself to voice his opinion about my charitable endeavour. It should be noted right away that neither Fast Company, nor John himself, contacted me for a statement prior to posting the article on their very well-travelled website. A pretty key mis-step in journalism I would well imagine, especially given the gravity of the topic at hand. Unknown to anyone but myself (and close friends), this article alone caused the most damage to me and my campaign, igniting not only a new round of harsh emails and comments… but this time, from within the design community. A field I love and respect. This alone caused me to almost shut down the campaign.

Despite all of this, the campaign was seen through and raised around $20,000 for the Canadian Red Cross as I shipped posters out of my basement. I said earlier, far and above the original little idea.

So, why am I writing this 2 years later? It’s not out of disagreement with nay-sayers and it’s certainly not an attempt to garner sympathy or encouragement (seriously, please withhold comments of that nature, guys). I’ve been running this blog for 5 years and I’ve always felt a certain responsibility to my audience (specifically designers) to discuss the industry through experience, as transparently as possible. We all have ups and downs, and we all have stories surrounding them. My reasons are 2-fold…

First, be careful. If your main goal is for something to “go viral” in whatever form, be careful. Your work will be reaching a much wider audience and in some cases people won’t think twice about voicing harsh opinion several times over to a complete stranger. Growing a thick skin only comes through experience. Even though you have the best intentions, your truth might get contorted and thrown under the bus. So be careful.

And second, stick it out. If you are doing something with nothing but the best intentions do NOT let those people stop you, whether they are anonymous critics or writers on respected websites. If you’re doing what you believe in, and you’re doing it for others don’t let an elusive negative force stop you, even if it sticks with you well after the fact.

2 years later, I’m thinking hard on all this stuff and despite the harsh language directed toward me, my design and my campaign, I wouldn’t have done it any differently.

TARDIS, Darkseid and Mega Man

TARDIS illustration by James White

Darkseid illustration by James White

Mega Man illustration by James White

Darkseid illustration by James White

My illustration and the original pencils by Jack Kirby.

Mega Man illustration by James White

My illustration and the original game graphics.

More and more and more illustrations. Seen here are 3 more completed over the last few days: the TARDIS from Doctor Who, Superman’s nemesis Darkseid and video game star Mega Man. A motley crew of subject matter. I went to visit my pal Ben Jeddrie the other day and he gave me a list of stuff I should illustrate, which is where the TARDIS and Darkseid came from. Good ideas.

I posted a couple of split images to show what my illustrations were based on. I wanted the Darkseid illustration to directly reference a drawing by creator Jack Kirby because I didn’t want some bullcrap “modernized” version of the character. Same with Mega Man. My pal Lucas requested that one and the last thing we wanted was some manga lookin’ thing, so we went straight to the original 8-bit.

As always, best way to see these things as I make them are via Instagram and Facebook. Big thanks for the response and feedback everyone, the help and encouragement means the world to me. More to come…

TIE Fighter illustration

TIE Fighter by James White

Yet another illustration completed today, my favorite vehicle from the STAR WARS franchise: the TIE Fighter. After putting some hours in on the Clint illustration, I wanted to relax and make something with some logical surfaces and design.

A lot of people are asking me what the destination and goal is of these illustrations, and in all honesty I don’t know. This new exploration was born out of the urge to create different material, at least different for me, and it was only meant to be an exercise. I had no idea the online response would have been so loud, completely unexpected given this stuff is very different than other stuff I’ve done.

So now I’m in a place where I’m starting to ponder a method of getting these out there to interested parties. Prints? A book? I’ve had some interesting ideas sent my way from reputable sources, but still undecided. Guess we’ll see what happens as I continue.

As always, if you want to see these as I make them, Instagram and Facebook is the place to be.

‘Man with No Name’ illustration

Man with No Name illustration

Here are my clean vectors beside the Photoshop texture work.

Here are my clean vectors beside the Photoshop texture work.

I’ve been consciously putting off doing a “person” piece in this new style, focusing more on boxy shapes, robots and characters. But after doing the DRIVE illustration that featured a human hand, I decided it was time to tackle a face. Even bigger than that, capturing likeness. Yikes. In a low-poly, painterly style? Yeah right. So last night I found some photos refs and dove in.

Seen here is my illustration of good ‘ol Clint in his classic role of the ‘Man with No Name’. Lots of trial and error in this one as I built all the shapes and shading, even brought a bit of Picasso’s Cubism into the fold (unintentionally). Still in the experimental phase of this illustration stuff, but it’s getting somewhere interesting.

This one is for my Dad who loves a good western.

Hammer and a Cylon

Drive illustration

Cylon illustration

Here’s 2 more recent illustrations: a Cylon from the old BATTLESTAR GALACTICA show and the hammer from DRIVE. These are pretty opposite in their content, one being really simple and the other having a ton of surfaces to play with.

I’ve been burning these things out over the last week and posting them all on my Instagram and Facebook as soon as their done. As I said before, the amount of helpful feedback has been wonderful as I find my way around this new stylistic turf. Big thanks everyone.

I’m sure you’ll be seeing more illustrations really soon as I continue…