From his early love of skateboarding and snowboarding to founding a punk rock band with his brother Ryan in the 1990s, Don Clark has moved through life embracing his passions. Eventually, Don turned his attention to design.
In 2006, Don and Ryan formed Invisible Creature, a highly successful creative firm. The firm's client list includes Target, Nike, Hasbro, Google, Nordstrom, The New York Times, and dozens of others.
Adobe asked Don to create an illustration, giving him the words fearless, modern, and reborn as the only direction. Here Don explains first-hand his process and the Adobe Illustrator CC features he used to create "Reality Reborn" (see Figure 1), including patterns, the Touch Type tool, multiple-file place, and file packaging. — Inspire editors
I never studied design, but I had an initial base of skills I learned growing up. My grandfather inspired me (see Figure 2), but my dad bought a Mac in 1984 and it had MacPaint, so I started dabbling in digital illustration as a teenager.
I am a big mid-century modernism fan. It was a time of simplified forms and firsts in design, architecture, and automobiles. I have folders filled with characters, environments, advertising, my grandpa's illustrations — it's a large arsenal of inspiration, all from an era 40–50 years ago.
Modernism and bright, highly contrasting colors have always moved me, as do wonderful typefaces. I also love texture. I add texture last, using brushes, or experimenting with masking and layering colors and textures.
When Adobe first contacted me about this project, the concept was wide open. I had a few keywords for inspiration, but it was ultimately up to me.
Since I just recently bought a 10-acre farm, I thought it would be fun to incorporate our family's new lifestyle into my concept for this project. One of the keywords that Adobe gave me was the word reborn. The optimism and thrill of something new, generated by both the exciting features of Illustrator CC and our new life in the country, inspired me to create "Reality Reborn."
My initial sketching phase is usually pretty loose. I didn't spend too much time dialing in the details for " Reality Reborn." First I focused on the rough concept and composition. My process between sketch and final art is a bit different from most artists. Instead of tracing my sketches, I use them as a starting point, keeping them off to the side of my artboard for reference (see Figure 3).
The content evolved quite a bit over the course of the illustration, but the concept stayed intact. That's pretty normal for me because my illustrations tend to take on a life of their own as I'm working. I don't like to be locked into the sketch too firmly. New ideas come to me as I'm working on final art and color, and many times the illustration needs to be rethought a bit. That clarity doesn't always happen for me in the sketching phase.
Because my concept was vertical in layout and mostly symmetrical, I established the center of my artboard by using the new enhancements to guides in Illustrator CC. I was able to hold down the Shift key while double-clicking the center point in my ruler. I ended up creating all my guides this way. So there's no more need to drag guides from the top and side of the screen.
The next step was blocking out shapes. I finished the base of the main vehicle or structure and came up with a pretty good idea of the colors I'd be using (see Figure 4). I did away with the helicopter I had in the original sketch and replaced it with a tractor, which is more fitting for the piece. These kinds of decisions happened throughout the drawing process.
I began to fill out the piece with branches, a silo, and a fish tank, and then I started adding in more detail. I also added a roofline and treetop to give the illustration proper weight and balance (see Figure 5). My artboard became much more vertical, and I realized that the poster was a whopping 46 inches x 25 inches.
Once my overall structure was complete, the next step was to add life to the illustration by populating it with characters (see Figure 6). I also made some tweaks by removing items that didn't fit right.
Then I was ready for the ink-and-paint phase: shading, lighting, and line work. This phase is essentially my point of no return. I spend a great deal of time dialing in the details with textures and brushes, so it's best to get client approval at this stage before diving headfirst into finishing the piece.
For this phase, the pattern-making capabilities in Illustrator CC are great, as is the Touch Type tool so I can manipulate type without creating outlines. It's freeing to make changes while keeping everything editable. I use Adobe InDesign CC, Photoshop CC, and Illustrator CC all day, and the seamless integration among all three is huge. I use my Wacom Cintiq for any painting and then easily move between the desktop and the Cintiq as needed.
For this piece, I used Illustrator. However, I decided to create three halftone patterns in Photoshop and place them in Illustrator to use as my shadows. To create these textures, I started with three shapes: a rectangle, a reverse circle, and a circle (see Figure 7). I used these shapes for every angle that I would be shading.
To generate the desired effect I was looking for, I chose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. I double-checked that my Image Mode was set to Grayscale.
Next I chose Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone (see Figure 8). Once I had the desired gradient I wanted, I saved these three images as bitmap TIFF files.
I placed all three bitmap textures into my document at the same time using the new multiple-file place in Illustrator CC. One of the coolest parts is that you can adjust the size of the placed file before you drop it onto your artboard.
Once I dropped the three textures into the document, each on its own layer, I could then copy and paste them throughout my piece as needed.
When I was doing the shading, the first step was to copy, paste, and color one of my bitmap files. I used the Illustrator Eyedropper tool or the Color panel to choose the color I wanted.
I wanted to place the texture inside the llama, which meant creating a clipping mask so only the texture inside the llama shape would be visible (see Figure 9). To do this quickly, I copied the newly colored shading file, selected the llama shape, and with the drawing mode set to Draw Inside (Shift+D on the keyboard cycles through the drawing modes), I pasted the texture inside the shape.
I then repeated this step for every object that I wanted to shade.
For the type on the capsized boat, I used a cool new feature in Illustrator CC: the Touch Type tool. You can now manipulate and edit individual characters without creating outlines. Everything was always editable in case I wanted to go back and change anything.
From the Tools panel, I selected and held down the Type tool to access the Touch Type tool (Shift+T). I wanted to adjust the baseline of a few characters in my word, so I clicked the I in the word HIGH and nudged it up a bit (see Figure 10). I repeated this step a few more times and flipped the word upside down.
Once the illustration was finished, the last steps were to add the title, copy, and logos (Figure 11).
Finally, I used one more new Illustrator CC feature: file packaging. Instead of embedding all of my bitmaps and manually dragging fonts to folders, I chose File > Package to quickly prep my document for printing.
The Learn Illustrator CC show on Adobe TV has videos covering essential tasks, advanced techniques, and new features, including several of the tools I used in "Reality Reborn."
If you're new to Illustrator, you can get your feet wet with the getting-started tutorial. Check out other Illustrator CC tutorials on Adobe Creative Cloud to learn more fundamentals about Illustrator.
Don Clark is an illustrator and Grammy-nominated music package designer. He now runs the creative firm Invisible Creature with his brother, and he never knows who's going to call. He might be working with a hip-hop artist in the morning and finish the day working on a mural for Facebook or a gift card design for Target.