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If you're a designer or illustrator you've probably heard of Von Glitschka. He has a portfolio that designers dream of filled with amazing clients and even more astounding work. But he also generously shares his knowledge with other designers. You might know him from his popular courses on Lynda, his best-selling book Vector Basic Training or his frequent workshops at conferences like Creative South.
Recently he was kind enough to let me interview him. In this interview not only does he share inspiring stories and advice, he also shares his secrets to massive productivity and his philosophy on consistently making great work.
Enjoy the interview!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your work, Von!
Can you tell us a little bit about your earliest memories of wanting to be an illustrator/designer?
I remember picking up my first MAD Magazine and being captivated by all the illustration in it. My favorite was Sergio Aragones and his intriguing scenes drawn in the margins of the magazine. I knew someone was making money drawing like this, so that was one of my earliest thoughts about making it a career choice. Another moment was when my Dad was washing his car one weekend and had a bottle of a new product he was using called Armor All, I liked the Viking artwork on the packaging and that was the first time I comprehended commercial art and how it worked.
With so much information online how important do you think it is to go to a brick and mortar school for design (as oppose to learning through mentors, online training, etc).
I think a good school can be a great thing. A good example of one is the School of Advertising Art in Ohio. Great program and they really equip students to pursue a career successfully. That said one of my best friends is a great illustrator and never went to art school. I could walk into any grocery store nationwide and find his entire portfolio on nationally branded products and packaging. He literally walked into an agency with his work years ago with zero experience and they hired him on the spot.
When it comes to creativity the best education isn't found in school, though, it's found in real-world experience. I learned more in my first 7 years of working after school than I did in school.
The access to information today via the internet makes learning far easier than when I entered the industry. But when it's all said and done no on in this industry is going to hire you just because your resume is in order. It'll come down to your work. My daughter just graduated from the local college visual communications program and she's been working with me on projects. But soon she'll be looking for her first job and her strongest asset as a new hire is she has real-world experience already and the work to go with it.
All of your work is so consistently well executed. Plus, you have a distinct style that I think other designers can spot from a mile away. How did you develop your style (i.e. ignore others work, try to emulate heroes)?
Number one rule: Never show work that sucks. LOL, I do my fair share of work that I never want to put in my portfolio or post online. That's normal. But I'm marketing my potential, I want people to see the best they can get. There are a lot of variables when you work with clients that can derail a project, and a design can go south fast. I'm working on an identity for a law firm and one of the senior partners is now playing art director. I gave them five great design directions already, but he insists he knows what is better and mocked up a design with a gif he found online. So as much as I try to be consistent, I don't always succeed.
A good baseball analog with design is a designers batting average. At bats are our projects, and we don’t get a homer every time at bat. Sometimes a single is all that is needed to win a game. The analogy falls apart though, a baseball player is considered an all-star with a .300 batting average (3 hits out of 10 at bats) yet if we performed that badly at design we’d lose our clients.
I have a saying though, "Practice doesn't make perfect, a process does." You can practice something all the time, every day for the rest of your life, but if the process you're using is flawed than the end result won't be as strong. So I'm relentless on my process. I approach everything very methodically and systematically. I don't even think about it anymore it's just how I do things. This allows me to nurture a project through each phase and helps me ensure a high standard. I like to think about projects for at least three days before I start on them, I call this slow boiling. Helps me think through the best way to approach what I need to do.
I'm also a big list maker. I write a daily list each night for what I plan on getting done the next day. I also write on it long term projects even if I don't get to it so it's fresh in my mind at least.
Some designers I know spend many years kind of lost. While others seem to find their creative voice very early on. Did you start with a distinct style or did you have your "lost years"?
The first five years of my career I worked for a large sportswear company in Seattle. It was fun, but I didn't take my career too serious. Keep in mind no internet, no social media, no cell phones, not even AOHELL. I did however do paintings and small sculptures back then, though, so I pursued creativity on my own time when I could.
The next seven years I worked at a small design firm here in Oregon, I'd consider this my lost years because I think I worked there about three years too long. The internet came into play and around 1995 I made a conscious decision to take my career serious.
In 2006 I put out feelers for a new job, and I was offered an assistant art director position with Adidas America but turned it down. I spent the next year questioning that decision. Then got hired by Upper Deck in California and started working on MLB, NFL, NBA licensed products.
People recognize my work as my own style even when I think I'm working in a different style? It's funny how that works, it's like the art becomes encoded with my personality somehow? I have definitely finessed my own style since 2002 when I started my own business. When I look at work I did even five years ago I can cringe now. I think most designers are like this though.
Your book Vector Basic Training was a total game changer for me with Illustrator. In the book, you describe a step-by-step formula for getting high-quality results in your illustration work each time. Can you explain a bit about how you developed this unique approach to vector Illustration?
The chair of the local visual communications program at the college contacted me years ago and wanted to have lunch. She asked me to consider teaching, I'd never done that before so of course I said yes. Planning out how I was going to teach vector based illustration made me think through how best to explain it and make it easy to discern and apply. That was how I even started thinking about documenting a systematic process. The students liked it and after about five years of teaching I was approached by a publisher to do a book.
I'm really happy with how the second edition came out and it augments all my Lynda.com content at DrawingVectorGraphics.com
You seem to be everywhere at once. You've written arguably the best vector book on the market, have some of the highest viewed Lynda courses, have a loyal following in social media, and just generally seem to be everywhere.
I told my clone people would notice, but it didn't listen to me.
Seriously, though, I'm a one man shop so I like to stay active and engaged with the community, I get as much from it as they do from me, probably more actually.
I also know from working with you that your output is insane.
Blame the clone. I was able to open a portal to a parallel universe and they have a day in-between Sunday and Monday called Someday. So that's where I get all the work done so fast. So if you need something and I say "I'll get to it someday." you know what I mean.
How do you do it? What's your secret to being so productive? (Please give actionable details if possible)
I'm a relentless list maker. (My wife says I have way too much energy) I also have organized my project folders the same way for over a decade now. I like turning mundane routines into muscle memory because I don't have to think about them, I just do it. Where did I place the client notes? It's in the same folder now as it would be seven years ago. My desktop on my computer has what I call a "Desktop Organizer" basically I created a zoned grid of sorts and place folders in it for current work, ongoing work etc. So I know where to find things fast. Once I’m done with a current project it gets sent to my archive on my Drobo and redundantly backed up. (See pic)
In reality, I get a lot done because I don't like wasting time. So I don't watch a lot of TV. I'd rather create art or read. I do watch TV shows while I work though, but only via Netflix or Prime. I find that getting a lot of small steps done each day accomplishes a lot. People try to kill off stuff too fast and get frustrated or aren't happy with the result, just figure out a sustainable timeline that requires you to approach a small chunk for each day and slay it.
RetroSupply just released your latest font, Nincompoop. Can you tell us a little bit about what influenced it and how you built it (how did you first create the forms and convert to vector, did you use the Vector Basic Training formula?)
Most creative people want to create their own Christmas card each year but usually never do and then feel guilty buying cards to send out. What? It's just me? Liars. Well, I get that way in regards to typefaces at times. I'm creating an illustration or design and want a fun typeface but can’t find anything I like. So years ago (around 2005 or so) I started just creating my own type to use on various projects from scratch. I kept a file so each time I worked out a new word I'd make a copy and paste into my file. Well, a decade later I pretty much had the whole alphabet. So it only took me about three days to polish up all the base vectors and finalize the font.
Remember the lost years as mentioned above? I designed five fonts for that company that was sold through T26, you can see one of them called BeatStreet here: http://www.t26.com/search?q=beat+street
I've spotted this typeface on movie posters, products, t-shirts, DVD packaging etc. over the years. Nincompoop is my eighth typeface design actually.
No doubt this font will start appearing in lots of designers work. What kind of projects do you see this font being most at home in?
FBI wanted posters? Trump campaign logo? LOL, I could see this being used on anything from t-shirts, packaging and maybe a nice tramp stamp tattoo? It will be fun to see how people use it.
Thanks again for taking the time to let us interview you. It's been an honor to work with you on this font and get to know you. Any final advice for other designers and illustrators?
Never stop drawing! Draw until it hurts.
What's your biggest frustration with your job? Your biggest enjoyment about what you've done?
Anyone who follows me on social media knows my love/hate relationship with Adobe Illustrator. I think I piss-off their engineers a lot because I'm pointing out shortcomings with their app all the time. I can't help it, I probably use it more than their own engineers do and they don't really create anything artistic with it. I just run into all the bugs because of the sheer amount of time I spend in the program. So my biggest frustration is failing technology on the software side that pulls me out of my creative focus. I really don't like when that happens.
So if you see me rant on twitter something like “Apple invented the beach ball, but Adobe made it annoying. #FrustrAitor” it’s a safe bet illustration just crashed on my end.
My biggest enjoyment about what I've done? Easy, I love seeing my daughter Savannah draw and enjoy it. Love seeing her create her own artwork! She's going to put me to shame some day.
But what cracked me up is she came into my studio the other day and said "Stupid illustrator just…" and proceeded to tell me about a bug I'm well aware of. I just smiled like the Grinch and said, "Welcome to my world."
Von is principal of Glitschka Studios a small boutique design firm located in the Pacific Northwest.
Their diverse range of illustrative design has been used by some of the most respected global brands. We creatively collaborate with ad agencies, design firms, in-house corporate art departments, and small businesses to produce compelling illustrative design.
Purchase his newest font Nincompoop. Available now exclusively from RetroSupply Co.
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