Chris Nielsen - Digital Illustrator

Stumbling into the work of Chris Nielsen, I thought I had found a photographer not an Illustrator. His work is exceptionally realistic. Even as I look very closely at his renderings I find it quite flawless and almost unbelievable that it is not a photo.
Chris Nielsen is a digital illustrator located in Southern California. He is best known for his incredible style he calls “Stylized Realism” (Nielsen). To execute his polished style Nielsen takes around 100 photos of a motorcycle on his digital camera for references, and then places the photos into Adobe Illustrator. Nielsen then relies mainly on the pen tool to increasingly map out the details he sees to create the incredible stylized illustration. He focuses on one section at a time, starting with simple shapes before focusing on great detailed sections. When working on exceptional detail sections, “Nielsen would often zoom to a comfortable 300% or so to work” (Shewer, 2009). Chris then goes back to the shapes he has created and selects the shape, “and use the DIVIDE PATHFINDER to cut the shape down into smaller, more descriptive pieces for coloring later on” (Hodge, 2008). Chris’s illustrator files normally have around 500 layers by the time he is finished.

Chris Nielsen did not acquire this extraordinary style over night. He attended California State University, Fullerton and received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Illustration with a focus on digital art. He also has over ten years experience as an instructor at the college level.

With Chris’s illustrations so sharp and crisp with rich detail, many assume his photo quality illustrations are packed with visual effects, and filters to achieve such a lustrous effect. Nielsen is quite clear that this assumption is completely false. He claims, “My work is completely made up of flat-colored shapes... lots and lots of them! I DO NOT work with any types of Filters or Special Effects. I like the process of developing a realistic look in my illustrations with totally flat colors and abstract shapes” (Nielsen).
One of the more ironic things about this accomplished illustrator and his subject matter is that he doesn’t have a motorcycle of his own. In fact he has never even sat on one nor does he have a clue of how they work. Many people would wonder then why he would choose this subject matter. Chris explains that his choice of imagery is a refection of what appealing to him visually. He elaborates this in the ‘Statement’ section of his website, “I choose to work on portraits of motorcycles that you and I do not have the privilege of viewing on a daily basis. I do not focus on the whole motorcycle either. I prefer to crop in on those amazing and complicated, little parts and focus on those relationships. Those are the portraits I like to draw... simply because it’s a challenge to me... and they’re fun to look at and talk about” (Nielsen).

I find Chris Nielsen quite inspiring as an illustrator. I appreciate his discipline to mastering the pen tool and his patient consideration of his subject. When I consider the tedious hours that this master illustrator commits to his work I understand his statement, “I draw what I like to look at” (Nielsen). In general I try to search for subject matter that is somewhat visually appealing or interesting to me. Especially when I will be looking at it so much in the creation of a digital vector illustration. 
Chris’s discipline to detail to make his work as realistic and in some cases better than the original is something I feel I strive to as a beginning artist. Especially when creating vector art, I work toward his style of “Stylized Realism” (Nielsen). Of course I am not there yet, but he is defiantly an inspiration to keep working to become a master of the pen tool.

Works Cited:

Hodge, Sean. “Chris Nielsen Interview”
14 May. 2008: Web. 23 Oct. 2009

Nielsen, Chris. "Statement"
Web. 23 Oct. 2009.
Stewer, Sharon. “Advanced Techniques – Gallery”
The Adobe Illustrator CS4 WOW! Book
Peachpit Press, 2009.384-385.

Vectorvault.com. “AnchorPoint”
2008: Web. 23 Oct. 2009.

Developing A Personal Style

1. Discuss your own personal experience in attempting to develop a certain style and why you favor that approach.

I remember when back when I was in a mixed media class and I was trying to mimic the style of  the 80’s trapper keeper artist Mark Fredrickson. I really liked how he exaggerated his images.
Mark Fredrickson Example:

I tried to find as many resources as I could to feed from.  In the end I remember finding the photo reference of the person I was going to use and actually scanning the photo into Photoshop and using a fisheye effect to get a good reference for my illustration. The final piece was for an Aesop fable of a boy in an almond jar. See my finished drawing on my website here:  

When working in illustrator and producing a digital illustration in the beginning I really wanted my work to look like a photograph. I spent hours creating shapes for every color I could see. I would only use references that were very sharp and clear. I reminded me of how I was really consumed of a technique called trompeloeil, in which you tried to create an image so realistic it appeared that you could just pick it up. See some samples of my early digital illustrations works.

As I quickly learned this style was very time consuming I went to more of an implied style and tried to find highlights, midtones and shadows. See Samples:

And just recently I have started working in the direction of using more silhouette and implied forms I think this is greatly influenced from itunes advertising.


Creative Process - Thumbnails

I am very familiar with thumbnail sketches. I typically don’t have too much trouble creating about 5-7 thumbnails. I start to run out of ideas after that. Then I usually do more research and come up with a bunch of other ideas. I also have learned in the past, that when you create too many thumbnails, deciding what direction to go in is quite difficult so asking for others to critique your thumbnails is quite helpful. It is best though to hash out concepts quickly and explore all ideas before moving forward. My favorite way to utilize thumbnails is in a group/team atmosphere. It’s amazing what the group can come up with quickly when everyone is thinking and working on a concept with these quick visual sketches. It always surprises me how horrible and embarrassingly messy my thumbnails are compared to everyone else. This is one area I need to work on. Making my thumbnails cleaner, and easier to interpret. Because of this I usually use basic shapes for placeholders.

AIO Week 2 Lecture

Concept, Form, Color - 3 Fundamental Elements

Any effective graphic illustration has the 3 fundamental parts; concepts, form and color.  With these 3 elements working together in harmony, and each contributing its individual essence a graphic piece will be quite effective.

The concept, or thought put into the layout is most often the most critical element. There are plenty of extraordinary ideas out there, but there is also a mess of horrible ones too.  If  color and form are applied to a poorly considered concept the design will not be effective.  A great example of a bad concept is Harley Davidson Perfume.  Quoting from Neil Zawacki’s bog discussing this  poor concept he writes,  “most people *didn’t* want to smell like a biker who’s been chased by the police for three days. Nor did the bikers have any strong urge to pretty themselves up for Rhonda the chain-smoking cocktail waitress.” (Zawacki, 2009)

Form or, the composition, is the foundation of the design. Being able to create harmony, balance or even tensions in a way that is visually appealing takes understanding of how the different elements relate to one another. Form is critical as it has the potential to communicate extremely well quite poorly.

Finally color is the key ingredient to add variety or change the mood of a piece.  Color not only has a psychological and emotional suggestion to its viewer, but it also claims branding, and used correctly will support the entire graphic illustration. A perfect example that comes to mind is how Gatorade used a splash of color in this ad. The color contrast on the dark image identifying the orange Gatorade is very powerful. Not to mention a strong concept like “sweating Gatorade”  as well as a  strong form or composition that communicates, athletes are refreshed with the beverage.  See Ad Here:


Zawacki, Neil. “BAD CONCEPTS – Harley Davidson Perfume.”
The blog of the Bad. April 27, 2009

AIO Lecture

Graphic Design School. David Dabner, 3rd edition


Robert Mapplethorpe - emulation

Robert Mapplethorpe is known for his creative light and use of shadow in his photos of flowers, portraits and the human figure. Knowing a good bit of Mapplethorpe’s work is erotic photography or studies of the human figure I knew I would need to have some figure studies. I also chose to photograph an orchid.

I chose to work from daylight. Of course it was cloudy and overcast. My light source was a window across the room. For the photograph of the orchid I did several studies and settled on shot “A” as indicated in my style sheet. I thought this photo showed rich contrast with subtle texture in the leaves of the plant. I also considered the position and figured under certain pretenses it could be considered erotic.

That same day I shot figure studies B, C, D. I thought these were great photos of muscular legs. Showing power and movement with great contrast creative use of shadow. Mapplethorpe’s dynamic photos of muscular black men with excellent use of light and shadow inspired these shots.

My final sample G. was taken in another session. The light source was the same as the previous session. I wanted another photograph of the human figure, but I wanted to incorporate another part of Mapplethorpe’s style. I used a leather strap to bide the hands of the subject. I thought binding the hands behind the head would follow the S&M style of Mapplethorpe. Although most of his work was symmetrical, he did have some pieces that were not. 



Robert Mapplethorpe - Derrick Cross

This piece is completely amazing. Not only does Mapplethorpe go back to his roots here and once again used the crucifix figure, but he captures the power of human form. His keen eye for light and shadow has revealed the detail on the figure.  Once again strong contrast with the subject and background makes the subject a defiant focal point. 

Robert Mapplethorpe - Calla Lily

This is a very dynamic photo of the Calla Lily. What makes this photo so successful is the elegance of the organic shape along with the captured delicate texture of the bloom. Robert Mapplethorpe focus is so sharp you can see the subtle texture and soft folds of the bloom. Using high contrast of subject with background and light and shadow he is able to create this rich high contrast photo that still has an essence of soft delicate bloom.

Robert Mapplethorpe Research

Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait, 1982, Printed 1991

I chose Robert Mapplethorpe after I saw his powerful photos. I love how he captures the human figure. His great lighting and use of shadows on the human from are very dynamic. Even his photos of flowers are very interesting. He captures unique angles and arranges unique compositions using creative lighting and shadows.

Robert Mapplethorpe was born November 4, 1946 in Floral Park, Queens. He was the third of six children in this family living on Long Island. He is know for reflecting on his safe and secure childhood by saying, “I come from suburban America. It was a very safe environment, and it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave” (Connelly, 2009).
Mapplethorpe began to study drawing, sculpture and painting at the Pratt Institute in 1963. He enjoyed creating collages with photographs and materials from various magazines and books. He admired artist like Marcell Duchamp and Joseph Cornell, and revealed their influence in is work. It was not until 1970 that Mapplethorpe began to produce his own images with his Polaroid camera for his collages.

While Robert Mapplethorpe may be associated with beautiful photographs of flowers, orchids, calla lilies and even portraits of famous people like Richard Gere, Grace Jones and Andy Warhol, he is also known for his study of classical nudes and even capturing homoerotic acts including bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism. His erotic photos of black men a have brought on much criticism and even been labeled be some as exploitative. Most of his early work is considered the most controversial with photographs of explicitly exposed sexual organs, positions, and acts. While his imagery captured the subculture of the homosexual community exposing the humanity and emotions of his subjects, many consider his work obscene and even pornographic.

Mapplethorpe was introduced to photography with his Polaroid camera, but in the mid-1970’s he started working with a Hasselblad medium format camera. He worked mostly in his studio in Manhattan. In the 1980’s Mapplethorpe was given $500,00.00 to purchase a top-floor loft on West 23rd Street. He lived in the loft and had a studio there as wall, but kept his previous studio as a dark room.

The style of Robert Mapplethorpe is strongly influenced by Edward Weston. Weston also had hundreds of nude studies, which examined the human form under magnification and unique angles. Mapplethorpe’s creative use of shadow and light gives his work a look all of its own. His work shows the structure and discipline of being raised in a strict Cathloic Family. In much of his work geometric layouts can be seen and many pieces relate back to his religious roots in how the elements are arranged. Mapplethorpe has even made the statement, “I was a Catholic boy, I went to church every Sunday. A church has a certain magic and mystery for a child. It still shows in how I arrange things. It's always little altars." (Levinson, 1990). A great example is in his portrait of Andy Warhol. The portrait is framed by a square-shaped cross and the subject in the photo is encircled by a glowing halo. This piece has been said to have, “a look on his face like a Christ stunned at the revelation of his own godhood”
(Levinson, 1990).

In 1986 Robert Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS. He continued to build and master his photography skills despite his battle with AIDS. Mapplethorpe died March 9, 1989 in Boston due to complications with AIDS.

Work Cited:

Connelly, Brenden. "Eliza Dushku, Movie Producer, Casts Her Brother as Robert Mapplethorpe". FILM blogging the real world. January 19, 2009; March 20, 2010, .

Levinson , Deborah A.. "Robert Mapplethorpe's extraordinary vision". The Tech Online Edition. Friday, August 31, 1990; March 20, 2010,

Other Resources:






When Does a Flash Enhance or Detract?

A flash can make the photo a great; at the same time, it can ruin the perfect setting. A flash can be quite effective if it is used in a way to create a small quantity of illumination on the subject. Many factors play in the effective use of a flash, for example the distance of the subject to the camera. If the subject is too far the flash will not reach the subject, but it the subject is too close the flash will wash out the subject. Using a flash can also create red eye as well as an outline shadow of a subject. A flash in many situations will take way from the photo when the lighting creates an atmosphere or environment. For example photographing performances where colored lighting creates an atmosphere, also in many performance settings flash photography is banned.
Samples of great non flash performance photos by Mike Thompson:

Sample 1. Flash Enhanced: I have a shot of my cat, “E-sue”  I shot him in front of the window. Although I love using daylight, I knew there would be a shadow on his face if I didn’t use a flash.

Sample 2. Flash Detract: I shot two bottles of wine in my kitchen using tungsten light. You can see in the photo a serious reflection down the center of both of the bottles as well as a nice outline shadow. The flash was not a helper here.


Photographing 2-D.

Photographing 2-D can be difficult. Especially if you art shooting a piece that is on a glossy paper. Lighting is key to successful photography. Sunlight, tungsten lights, florescent lights or flashes can all be used as light sources. Position your artwork on a flat surface. Your camera should be mounted on a tripod directly above the subject, perpendicular to it. 

I personally think using two lights, one on each side of the subject, works the best. Lights should be positioned at a 45-degree angle to the subject. A good test to see if the lights are both at 45 degrees is to place a pencil (eraser side down!) in the center of your subject. The two shadows of the pencil should have the same darkness.

Here are some samples:

1.     “A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains…” 
Light: 2 Tungsten at a 45 degree angle
Camera Settings: Manual F13  1.3”
Material: High Gloss Digital Print
Comments: This was the first piece I attempted. I had to shoot it for the last class I had. It didn’t go well. I was glad to see I was able to remove the glare and have it in focus. It is a very dark print; I should probably have it reprinted. But this photo captures it very well. I took 7 photos of this piece total.

2.     “GBX  Shoe”
Light: 2 Tungsten at a 45 degree angle
Camera Settings: Manual F8  2.5”
Material: Marker and Marker paper
Comments: I wanted to get a variety of paper types and media. I took 5 photos of this piece total.
3.     “Lost Journey”
Light: 2 Tungsten at a 45 degree angle
Camera Settings: Manual F4.0  .4”
Material: standard laser printer print
Comments: This is a book cover I created when I was an Art Director at a book publishing company. I thought this would be good  to play with as it has lots of color I took 6 photos of this piece total.

4. “Jade”
Light: 2 Tungsten at a 45 degree angle
Camera Settings: Manual F13  2.5”
Materials: Pen and Ink on Drawing Paper
Comments: A strong black and white pen and ink figure drawing.  I took 4 photo of this piece total.
AIO lecture Week 3


Apeture Settings Experiment

I line up three objects. I focused on and close to the FIRST object at all times, and took photos of the object using at least four different f-stops (aperture settings) from the smallest to largest number. Place two photos that show the most difference in depth of field. 

Using Aperture (F-Stop) To Enhance Composition

Using manual mode I captured 2 photographs. Photograph 1 is an object close up including a small portion of the background for the framing. I opened up the lens to the widest aperture/lowest number possible F2.8.

With the second photo, I shot a landscape using the smallest aperture/highest number possible on my camera F14.

What Is Graphic Design? Video 2

What is graphic design
Uploaded by huubkoch.

What Is Graphic Design? Video 1

Great Web Scripts To Look Like A Pro

A great spot to find some great scripts for your website is http://www.dynamicdrive.com/. Here they have a great selection of scripts to take your website to the next level. I especially like most of their Menu and Navigation scripts

Be sure you check it out!


Like Flash But Don't Have A Clue?

If you are like most people you like Flash. I personally like a little flash, but absolutely do not like a site that is completely flash. The key is creating a nice marriage of code and flash elements.

Many would agree, but they would say "BUT I DON'T KNOW FLASH"!

Here is a great place to get started. Check out
They have some great flash apps. That even the beginner can get working on their site.

Some of my favorites would include:
Flash Carousel:
Auto Changing Picture Gallery:
Flash Pixel Explosion:
Flash 3D Flip:
Mac OS X Style Menu:

Thanks Xuroqflash!
You guys ROCK!

Add The Favicon To Your Web Page

Its the little touches that take your website to the next level.

A great little touch I would always suggest is the Favicon.

Its is very simple as you just create a small 16x16 graphic, run it through a .ico generatior. upload the icon and add a little code to your header.

Great sites to make the magic happen:



Aperture Settings - F-Stop

On my Canon PowerShot A40 the Aperture settings are a range from F2.8 to F14.

F2.8 - F3.2 - F3.5 - F4.0 - F4.5 - F4.8 - F8.0 - F9.0 - F10 - F13 - F14

The F-stop settings control the amount of light allowed to enter the lens. A larger number creates a larger opening, which will allow a greater amount of light to enter the lens. It is important to keep in mind that the F-stop number is actually the denominator of a fraction, the larger the F-stop number, the smaller the opening will be. For example, F14 is really 1/14 compared to F4.0 is really 1/4. By adjusting the F-stop a photographer is able to change the depth of field in a scene. In other words, a small F-stop of 2.8 would have a larger opening than F4.8 and would allow a great amount of light in. Therefore reducing the depth of field.

The camera in relation to the distance of the subject or scene, and the lens focal length are both variables that will affect the depth of field. The closer the camera is to the subject reduces the depth of field options. Using a wide angle lens will create more depth options than using a telephoto lens.

AIO Lecture Week 3
Canon Digital Camera Users Guide PowerShot A40


Photography Composition - Line

Line is an important element of design. Lines can be used to create texture, shapes and tone. Go exploring indoors and outdoors with your camera and look for examples of line in its simplest form. Think formally and conceptually about the term “line.” Take many photos of lines while exploring different angles and proximities to your subject. Create a contact sheet showing at least two photos that best express the design element of line.

This assignment I found to be more difficult than you would think. It started yesterday when I went driving around looking for line element photograph subject. While I found many things that would have worked great I found it hard to find a place to stop, park, and get close enough to shoot. One of the best things I found was a barn falling down with all kinds of incredible lines with the exposed roof and beams, but due to the 2 feet of snow this month, I really could not get close enough to it.

I settled on 4 photos. You will see the “beautiful” gray skies of Ohio in each photo. All photos were taken on My Canon Powershot A40, using a cloudy light balance.

1. The transformer power station. From the highway driving by this seemed like an ideal place to find great line subject. Once I was able to find it, I discovered the entire station was fenced off at quite a distance. I decided to use the element of the fence as an a close element but not the focal point of the photo. Even though the transformers are in focus there is so much going on the lines seem to blur together. It is great contrast with the simple diagonals form the fence and with straight free lines form the wires above. I shot this 1/50 F14.

2. Best Buy was one of the first things that came to mind with this assignment. A few weeks ago I remember walking in and noticing the many posts blocking the entrance and how they were not all straight in a row. I remember them being bright yellow a few months ago, so I was slightly disappointed to find them muted down. I think this photo is really interesting as it does have the reflection in the door and interesting grid from the door as well as the perspective created by the posts, which lead to the red horizontal lines going up. I shot this photo at 1/80 F14.

3. This photo was taken at the transformer power station as well. As I was getting into my car somewhat disappointed I looked up and saw the chaos of power lines crossing as they moved away from the station. I thought it was interesting how they created a natural focal point on the dark pole towards the center. I also like the contrast of thick and thin lines. I shot this photo at 1/200 F14.

4. This power line structure I drove past thinking, “I should really stop that is perfect, and there is a great place to pull off the road”. But of course I didn’t stop. The next day I made a trip back out. I took a few different shots of this, looking straight up from inside, looking from a distance, and this photo, which is looking up one of the large corners. I like the complexity of this structure. There are so many angles and different sized lines. I like how the corner takes you up into the structure I shot this photo at 1/1500 F8.