If you’ve been wowed by the illustrations that define DC Design Week, then you’ll want to hear more from their creator Austin Breed. Austin is a Kansas City transplant who landed in DC as Creative Director at Peer Insight. We checked in with Austin to ask about his creative process.
AIGA DC: How did you get started in illustration — why were you attracted to it?
Austin Breed: I made a lot of cartoons in Flash when I was a teenager. In the days before Twitter and Instagram, internet communities opened me up to new ways of making work and also provided a way to get valuable feedback. We were all kids without formal training and embraced a devil-may-care quality to everything we did. I was attracted to the DIY attitude and the notion to collaborate on everything, just because it’s fun.
AIGA DC: What are your favorite tools for illustration?
Austin Breed: In school, I estimated that I wouldn’t be able to finish my thesis project by the deadline unless I did all of the illustration work — from thumbnail sketch to finished art — directly in the computer. That kind of training became insanely beneficial to my workflow and speed. Nowadays, I do everything digitally on a laptop. I use Photoshop and Photoshop Actions, Clip Studio, Illustrator, and After Effects, with a Huion H610PRO drawing tablet. A Cintiq Companion pen-on-screen tablet is a recent purchase that’s changing the way I work. I use it a lot at Peer Insight to draw storyboards. When I’m not on the computer, I like sketching with blunt colored pencils, Blackwing pencils, and fine pens with little stroke-weight variance.
AIGA DC: Which areas of design are you interested in right now?
Austin Breed: My education is in graphic design. Due to the nature of my job, I’m required to dabble in a wide scope of things and have to learn new principles quickly. This year, I’m learning more about motion graphics and 3D modeling — trying to close gaps and read books on UX. I enjoy any project where I get to work with smart people and learn from them. It’s valuable if the project has a positive impact, even a small one. I love working on projects where I get to say, “I have no clue how to do this, but I’ll figure it out.” Also, book covers are really satisfying.
AIGA DC: What was the process behind creating your DCDW illustrations?
Austin Breed: We drafted a brief with the prompt “DC Is Design.” We compiled a huge list of things we thought made DC unique, plus things we wanted to highlight about DC’s design communities. After some initial thumbnailing and settling on a concept for the look, I used Photoshop to rough-in blobby shapes, figure out placement and how each thing would flow into the other. A lot of cutting-and-pasting was involved, and I utilized Actions to turn flat art isometric so I could create mockups faster. I’ve learned that it’s painfully boring to draw out everything perfectly in the sketching stage and then essentially trace on an inking layer.
Austin Breed’s illustration for DC Design Week
I kept my sketching vague and blobby so I could have a lot more fun developing things during the inking stage. For example, initially every character in the drawing was just a blank slate I duplicated over and over again. Then I got to invent what they looked like on the spot.
It was a bit of an experiment. I have enormous gratitude for DC Design Week Chair Dan Rader for his trust during art direction. It was also a serious pleasure getting to work with DCDesignWeek.org designers and developers Marcus Relacion and Greg Fisk. There are lots of Easter eggs in the illustration, and I’ll give a proper high five to anyone who finds them.
AIGA DC: What do you think designers can glean from DCDW events and activities?
Austin Breed: When I went to DC Design Week last year, I was still pretty new to the area. It was a way for me to get a pulse on what’s going on in the DC design community, and meet lots of other talented people. We have the coolest jobs in the world, and we can use Design Week to highlight how we make DC awesome.