Simply Illustrated: An Interview with Ty Wilkins

Do you ever wonder what happened to that kid in your kindergarten class who could make the Taj Mahal out of building blocks? These beautifully arranged illustrations are the handy work of that kid all grown up, Ty Wilkins. When you see his work it makes a lot of sense that he was first a designer, and then migrated into the world of illustration. His uncanny ability to create full illustrations with only the most basic shapes is a big indicator… and he made a note to mention that the same process he went through in making logos, he did for his illustrations. Despite the apparent simplicity, he is able retain a high level of sophistication in his work, which is what really is impressive.

Ty currently is working independently as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. Also, due to his deep love for typography, he teaches an online type course. He was kind enough to speak with me and answer a few questions I had for him about why he does what he does. The interview went as follows:

1. As a designer and illustrator, which came first for you?

Ah, this is an interesting question. Not long ago no one would have asked this question because my portfolio only consisted of graphic design work. Two years ago when I went independent, I decided to include a few illustrations in my portfolio. Since then the illustration side of my career has expanded tremendously. Probably one in two assignments now are illustration projects.

2. How does your graphic design background influence your illustration style, or vice versa? 

My interest in illustration grew out of my experience as a logo designer. Crafting a symbol for a logo requires a very reduced form of illustration. A vector logo often has to work for a billboard and reduce well as an application icon on a mobile device. Therefore I give much consideration to line weight and the degree of detail. I approach my illustration work in much the same way as a logo design project. I focus on crafting forms that create iconic silhouettes and can scale easily. In contrast to logo design, illustration provides an opportunity to create a series of forms that are in the same style.

3. As you are a typography instructor, what is it about typography that intrigues you?

Ultimately I love well crafted forms. I am a big fan of type designers such as Ken Barber, Christian Schwartz, Kris Sowersby, Cyrus Highsmith and the fellas from Underware (Akiem Helmling, Bas Jacobs and Finn Sami Kortemaki). I am most interested in the subtle beauty and craft of individual glyphs.

4. Who or what inspires your work?

There are so many tremendously talented artists I admire. I love the mid-century modern masters including Charley Harper, Alexander Girard and Jim Flora. I also admire many contemporary artists including Kevin Dart, Matthew Lyons and Lab Partners (Sarah Labieniec and Ryan Meis). Additionally, many of my friends are incredibly talented illustrators, including Brent Couchman, Luke Bott, Matt Lehman, Richard Perez and Curtis Jinkins. I am motivated to produce better work when I see the latest amazing thing one of my friends has produced.

When it comes to creating new work, originality is paramount. I have amassed a small library of vintage books that act as helpful research tools. When researching online I typically like to focus on photographic reference to avoid being influenced by any particular style. Prior work that I have produced informs much of the new work that I create.

5. What is the most important thing you learned from being an instructor?

Teaching at the Academy of Art University has reminded me of the importance of using a grid, assymmetry, strong hierarchy and tasteful color palettes. I have also learned that curiosity is the best way to learn. The students who ask the most questions tend to grow the most over the course of the semester.

6. What mark do you want to leave on the world of design?

I hope to be a good mentor to younger designers.

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