Ryan Putnam is an amazingly talented designer and illustrator. Many of you are probably familiar with his popular Illustrator tutorials at Vectortuts and his own blog, Vectips. Ryan also provides services to clients through Rype Arts, and I recently had the opportunity to ask him some questions about design and business.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do?
I have been drawing and doodling my whole life. When I was a kid, I loved drawing comic books, cartoons, and re-creating magazine advertisements. I continued drawing and explored fine art in high school and graduated college with a BFA in Fine Arts with a Concentration in Graphic Design from Colorado State University.
During my time in college I worked for the student newspaper laying out pages and designing ads. After college, I worked for a print shop as a designer for a short time, then worked for a smaller design agency designing and illustrating. While working at the small agency, I contributed stock illustrations to iStockphoto, did some freelance work, and started Vectips. Eventually all the extra work generated enough income to go into business for myself. Currently, I do client work under Rype Arts, still contribute to iStock, and write tutorials for Vectips, other blogs, and books.
2. As someone who does client work, blogging and tutorial writing, what does your average day or week look like?
In a typical day, I wake up in the morning and devote about an hour or two reading through emails, reading RSS feeds, and play around on social networks. Then I get down to client works or whatever is on my to-do list. Around lunch time, I go through emails again, work-out (try to at least), and then eat lunch. In the afternoon I jump back on client work and at the end of the day I do one more round of email checks.
Throughout the week it has worked best for me to schedule certain tasks on certain days. For instance, Fridays I spend time on bookkeeping, invoices, and estimates. On Mondays I like start fresh so I go through my to-do list for the week, cleanup my workspace and computer. I also usually have a day strictly for writing tutorials and articles. This day fluctuates depending on how much client work I have.
3. How has your exposure through sites like Vectortuts helped your business and your career?
It has helped a great deal! The guys over at Vectortuts and Envato are awesome and I really look up to them. Writing for them has landed me clients and created relationship with industry experts I would have not received if I didn’t write for them. Through the work on Vectortuts and Vectips, I have contributed lessons and art for the Adobe Illustrator CS4 WOW! Book and built relationships with others involved with Adobe Illustrator.
4. What type of graphics tablet do you use?
I use a Wacom Intuos4 Medium and I love it! I don’t think I could back to using a mouse. I was thinking of upgrading to the Cintq, but it is expensive and I haven’t figured out how to integrate it into my work space. For me, using a good tablet like my Wacom, expands capabilities with design programs opposed to just using a mouse. With a pen tablet in Illustrator and Photoshop you have access to creating lines and strokes that are pressure sensitive. This makes it a more natural way of creating illustration and designs for me.
5. Can you tell us a little bit about your process for taking an illustration from concept to completion?
For client work, I start by gathering all the relevant info. This can be samples, illustration requirements, and other research. I do numerous sketches and if the concept of the project is somewhat open, I send off a touched-up sketch to the client for approval. Once that is approved, I start putting together the illustration, which most of the time is in Illustrator. Depending on the illustration, I send another proof to make sure the illustration is still on track. Then I finish up the illustration with final tweaks and changes and send a final proof. Once approved, I send an invoice and the required files. For personal illustrations, the process is a little more organic. I usually take a sketch or idea and play around in Illustrator until I get something I like.
6. What resources do you recommend for designers who want to improve their abilities in Illustrator?
If you have access to Lynda.com‘s Illustrator learning series, that is a good place to start. They take the beginner Illustrator through all the relevant steps of learning Illustrator. They have videos for many versions of Illustrator which is great if you have an older version. Some of the videos are done by Mordy Golding, who used to be the project manger of Illustrator, so it is learning from the best. I would also suggest the Real World Illustrator book series (Mordy has also written in this series). I wrote a couple basic lessons for the Adobe Illustrator CS4 WOW! Book, which is also a great place to learn tips, tricks, and best practices. All these suggestion cost money and I know that is not always an option for the designer / illustrator just starting out.
One good web resources for beginners is AiVault.com’s “Lets Get Started : A Guide to Learning illustrator“. This post lists many articles about getting started with Illustrator. Another great beginner resources is Vectordiary.com’s Learn Illustrator CS3 in 30 Days” (which like the previous resources, go through many of the basics of working with Illustrator).
7. What aspects of running a design business are most challenging for you?
Probably the most challenging is all the administration work. You have to stay on top of estimates, invoices, your books, marketing, and all the other little nuances of owning a business. Sometimes it eats up a good deal of design and illustrating time. Recently, my wife has taken on a larger roll in the administration responsibilities which helps out a great deal!
Another area that is a challenge, but fun, is staying on top of current trends and technology. Almost every week there is a new web technology or technique, social network, trend, or gadget. You have to be aware what is out there and how it can contribute to you and your clients needs.
8. What aspects of design or business would you like to improve in?
I really am working to create a consistent design process for clients. I want to streamline the estimate, contract, proofing, and invoicing process. Currently some of the stages seem too cumbersome which really drags down a project from the client’s perspective as well as mine. I really just need to find to right tools for the job and cutting out the time it takes to do certain things on the administration side.
9. What are some of the most important lessons that you have learned about running a business?
When running a business, it is not all about just doing what you do best. In my case, I don’t just design and illustrate all day. I have to be a marketer, bookkeeper, project manager, and more. When Rype Arts gets bigger, some of these responsibilities will be passed on , but you always have to keep an eye on the business and make sure it is performing to you and your business’ standards.
I have also learned the glory and heartache of contracts. Having a contract signed before starting any project is one of the most important things. If you don’t have a contract, you run the risk of not getting paid, feature creep, and loss of control of the project. Conversely, I have signed contracts and NDAs that I wish I wouldn’t have. None of these have really been detrimental to my career, but just annoying.
10. Do you have any projects planned for 2010 that you are especially excited about?
I do have a long list of things that I want to accomplish in the near future like: exploring video podcasting, writing an Illustrator book, illustrating and writing a children’s book, practicing more fine art, and so on. Still, I haven’t really planned for any of these in 2010, but I guess I should get on it! I guess I am really trying to concentrate on building up Rype Arts with more clients and seamless design process. The nice thing about running my own business is I can make time to explore anything I want!