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 PJ Loughran
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By Joe Shepter

Nothing throws a wrench into a workaholic's lifestyle quite like an IPO. Just ask the guitar that sits in the middle of PJ Loughran's (U.S) home office.

A year ago, you couldn't have fit a stringed instrument into Loughran's Agency.com (U.S) workspace without a shoehorn. Then Agency went public, and Loughran did what comes natural to an artist in a corporation: He took his options and ran. The guitar appeared at his desk soon afterward.

"My family keeps asking me if I'm enjoying my retirement," says the 26-year-old. "And I say that I'm enjoying it very much."

Which is not to say that he's a millionaire, or that he's given up working. It's just that he's not working in Manhattan, and he's not building Web sites. In fact, Loughran, who lives under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, keeps quite busy. He plays in a couple of jazz bands and turns out between four and nine illustrations a week, serving clients like ESPN and The Village Voice.

To learn techniques used in making this image, click here.

©2000 PJ Loughran. All rights reserved. Cannot be reproduced or repurposed without permission.

It hasn't always been this way. Four years ago, Loughran, then a recent graduate of the Parsons School of Design, took a job with Agency.com. At the time, Agency was a hip little Web firm in New York's Silicon Alley with modest expectations. And then everything went nuts.

In three hectic years, which Loughran incidentally rates as some of the best of his life, Agency grew into a monolith employing more than 1,100 people across three continents. Loughran found himself creative-directing projects for Fortune 500 corporations and scouring the Earth for the talent to help him. In the end, though, he found it a bit of a mixed bag.

"It was great to go down at 25 and pitch a job to Coke," he says, "but at the end of the day, my job was to sell more Coke."

Part of the problem was that Loughran had never felt comfortable about working in the design industry. At school, he had studied illustration, not design, and had already published dozens of pictures, with the first one going into The New York Times. "Designers solve problems," he likes to argue (while he admits that he loses this argument sometimes).

An illustrator, on the other hand, is paid mostly for how he looks at the world, and Loughran certainly has an interesting way of doing that. His vision involves misshapen faces, animals that look like lunch boxes, eyeballs that come unglued from heads, and a sense that, somehow, you should be laughing at all this.

To keep that vision while at Agency, Loughran took on freelance work. Three days a week, he would get up at 5 a.m. and draw pictures for magazines and newspapers. Then, he'd shuffle off to the job, work a ten-hour day, go home, and drop dead. An earlier interest in music somehow got lost along the way.

"I think a lot of people in new media would rather be doing something else," he says. "They don't want to package the content, they want to create it."

One IPO later, Loughran is trying to do just that. He still rises early, but commutes about ten feet to his workroom. Several days a week, he receives a magazine story, normally proposed by his agent, and retires to his "thinking" couch to read it. His preference is for "emotional" pieces, ones in which he can interpret some kind of human problem, rather than illustrate a clever trick.

For this reason, when he sits down to work, Loughran tries to avoid the first idea that pops into his head. He translates the next idea, which is usually much better, to a sketch pad and later makes it into a brushed drawing. From there, it passes into Photoshop, where the unique painterly effects shown in this gallery get thrown onto the canvas. The whole process takes anywhere from three to six hours.

After that, Loughran picks up his guitar and heads out to practice. Sure, he's still a workaholic; some things never change. He's just selling a lot less Coke than he once did.

Adobe.com Senior Editor Joe Shepter can't draw or play guitar, and he's not retired. In fact, the only thing he has in common with PJ Loughran is that he's not a millionaire.

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