It is always fun and interesting to talk about art and find out what inspires various artists and designers. And what better way to do it than getting answers from the artists themselves? Today we have the opportunity to talk with James Boorman, a talented Australian illustrator and motion designer..
James gained recognition on the web with his personal project, Faces of the Universe, a beautiful tribute to the iconic characters from Masters of the Universe media franchise. In this interview we will find out more info about the artist, details about this project and we will get to see a breakdown of his workflow.. Enjoy!
Hello, James! Please, introduce yourself! Could you tell us where you’re from and how you started in the field?
Hey there! I’m James Boorman, a motion designer by day and character designer by night. I’m 35 years old and currently living and working in one of Australia’s smallest yet humble cities, Adelaide.
Originally from a small country town in South Australia, I moved to Adelaide to study graphic design and graduated in 2002 with a diploma degree. I then moved to Melbourne in 2003 to pursue greater opportunities. It’s funny though, I was actually looking to land myself a print design job, but whilst in the middle of an interview I mentioned I was doing some motion graphics projects for myself. I didn’t get the print job, but this somehow led to an internship creating a heap of MTV network motion graphics packages and creating a cool in-house short animation piece that ended up travelling the world with Resfest (Animation Festival) and was exhibited by many other film festivals.
I learnt a huge amount in that 3 months, working ridiculous hours (typical fresh motion designer lifestyle) and taking away probably the best starting experience I could of asked for. This internship rewarded me with a professional portfolio that gave me the opportunity to work at a few other great companies. I ended up living and working in Melbourne for about 6 years before coming back “home” to Adelaide. I’ve been back here now for just over 4 years continuing on with my motion graphics career. Full circle! It’s great being back here as it allows me to spend more time with those close to me and there’s an overall good sense of work/life balance. It’s also liberating living in a small city to free up more time to work on side projects, whereas I never had any time to do that before.
About 10 months ago I really needed to do something different, to learn and create something for myself. As a result, a side project was born where I initially battled through and learnt character design from scratch. I had a terrible start, but with some warm encouragement and advice to essentially ‘throw away your fears’, I pushed through and began to create art that I was proud of.
I’m definitely a late bloomer in the illustration world and my only regret is to have not started my art earlier. In saying that, everyone’s path is different.
What made you pursue a career as an artist and why have you chosen this particular style for your illustrations?
For me, I think art is a part of who I am. I’ll always be a creator/maker. If I’m not creating something of value, I feel like there is something missing in my life. That alone fuels me to keep making the things that I want to make. Lately I’m finding illustration and character design to be incredibly satisfying (especially working on 1 still frame! Haha!)
In terms of style, I have always had a connection to nostalgia (especially growing up in the 80’s) and in particular the qualities that retro/vintage art has. I love cartoons (new and old), art books and various 80’s toys.
I guess I try to apply a sense of nostalgia or yesteryear to my art in a contemporary way. I would also say that coming from a background in graphic design, I really love graphical/shape driven character work, so I try my best to really push my designs through the use of primitive shapes.
Tell us a few words about “Masters of the Universe”. What is the background of this project and what made you love it so much?
This print was an after hours/night time personal project that pays homage to the iconic characters from the Masters of the Universe vintage toy line. The project began after ongoing weekend visits to thrift markets and vintage toy stores, finding, collecting and rediscovering my childhood love of He-Man. I saw the project as a great learning vehicle – a way to force myself and push through my initial character design ‘teething phase.’
I saw each portrait as a bite sized chunk that I could chip away at in my own time without frustrating or overwhelming myself initially. The real challenge here though was to capture each character with their own personality through just their face in it’s most minimal/stripped back form – it was a true exercise in restraint. A good analogy would be an animator bringing just a primitive shape to life and giving it personality through the use of animation.
Do you have any ongoing or upcoming projects you would like to share?
Yes! I have just finished up a fun piece for a Game of Thrones art show I was invited to contribute to. The show is currently exhibiting in Paris with a bunch of crazy, heavily talented artists. I really wanted to do a character piece based on King Joffrey. I saw it as an opportunity to combine everyone’s most hated King and play off his age and the fact that he’s really just a kid trying to rule the world with his position of power. To help strengthen the idea, I suddenly thought of incorporating the game Crossbows and Catapults (probably the best board game growing up in the 80’s for sure!) It ties in perfectly with the general time period and theme.
What is your usual approach for new illustrations? Describe us your regular workflow by breaking it into key steps.
My process is fairly simple at this point. I usually find and build up a lot of reference for the character I’m depicting. I go through some of my art books for inspiration. But for the Masters of the Universe portrait piece, it was looking at my vintage toy collection as a guide. When I feel like I’ve got to know that character well, I shut down/close any of my inspiration and references to pour out my take on the character. At this point, I really feel it’s more of a pure process if you just work through problems and see what happens during the process, than to constantly go back to your reference all the time.
If I was to break my process into key steps, it’d look something like this:
1. Madly scavenge through inspiration books and find more than enough reference.
2. Sketch out and work through the main design structure. Some of these are incredibly crude, but if I can see nice shapes and forms in these, I’m happy.
3. Bring my sketch into Illustrator as a base design and structure for my overall piece. I then work over the top of the sketch in vector using shapes, line work and colour, but everything always evolves during this part of the process. I rarely stay within the lines and the design always becomes much stronger.
4. Once the piece is structurally sound and I’m happy with it, I export the art as layers into Photoshop.
5. I do a huge amount of colour adjusting in Photoshop. This is where things really start to click for me and I can see it all come together through colour tweaking each element. This is also part of the process that I feel I overcomplicate haha! I’m really striving to get my colour palette sorted in Illustrator before I jump into Photoshop…
6. Once I’m happy with the colour of the character I generally apply a very subtle colour and curves grade over everything. It never ceases to amaze me that the slightest incremental tweaks can impact the whole piece. It’s like kerning a piece of type, suddenly it just looks right.
7. I usually add some subtle texture over the top of the illustration to help lock everything in.
Most people have only one area of expertise, but you are also a motion artist! How do you combine illustrations and video editing? Do they influence each other?
Yes! As mentioned earlier, I’ve been a motion designer for about 9 years and an illustrator for about 10 months! Crazy huh?
I really try to keep each discipline separate, I also try to not get bogged down with a style with my motion work. I treat each new project differently. Commercial clients love variety and staying versatile is key I think.
But I think I am subconsciously incorporating more illustration work into my motion design projects. Here is a recent example of that:
If you could choose anyone as a mentor, who would he be and why?
There’s so many things that inspire me. The list is endless and I could go on and on. I’ve made a bunch of friends on the internet through sharing my work online over the last year. The illustration community is a very constructive and warm one. But if there’s one thing that I have a chance to say here, it’s the ongoing encouragement/inspiration/passion/dedication of Christopher Lee and Andrew Kolb that have motivated me to do art or create something for myself. Realising the pure joy and reward in doing just that makes me happy and inspired to create more and more art. These guys clearly love what they do and the fact that it shows is incredibly inspiring.
I really think mentors are important. Sometimes it can be very isolating in that respect, living in a smaller city to just put your head down and be your own critique. It’s great to share your work and learn from others.
I’m also consistently inspired by the daily output of many other people past and present. A few notable modern day illustrators are (in no particular order): Andy Helms, Glenn Thomas, Matt Kaufenberg, Dave Mottram, Joey Ellis, Jason Yang, Cole Roberts, Erin Hunting, Ryan Marshall, Anna Hurley etc. etc. Some of these guys are high up on the professional chain. And there are some, like me, making art on the side of their day jobs creating beautiful dreams for themselves to one day be creating art all day, every day. Sometimes people inspire me more than just the work they produce, it’s also their passion and motivation that really drive me forward and try to be better than yesterday.
Where do you plan taking your art career in the future? What do you hope to accomplish in the next couple of years?
I see my art as an open book…..I’d like to see where it takes me.
Thank you, James, for this opportunity to interview you! Any final thoughts for our readers?
The best advice I got was to basically throw away your fears and focus on just doing it, challenge yourself and push through it.
“The journey takes time. If you put in the time, it will happen. It just can’t be forced.” Thank you.