Illustrating Under Water

Illustrating Under Water

The creative process here has always been a fun one. Many times it’s collaborative, other times, you’re left to explore on your own, and really own a project, top to bottom.

Back in 2007, we landed a great client: Melitta, who are best known for their excellent coffee filters. For their new website, they wanted a rich, illustrated world that evoked old-world Europe. They wanted to avoid photography, so as to stand out from the rest of the crowded coffee market. In our process designing the Melitta website, we found a great stock option for an illustrated character enjoying a cup of coffee, which we intended only as a place holder. Of course the client fell in love with that image, so then we found ourselves having to adopt that style as best we could.

Unfortunately for me, I had to come to terms with the fact that my illustration skills were a bit underdeveloped at that time (this was nearly 10 years ago). I had the passion, but lacked the skills and experience to deliver that exact style. We ended up having to contact that original illustrator to have them create other characters for that universe. They delivered, and they were gorgeous.

But I felt defeated, because I realized I was not up to the challenge. It took a few years, but eventually, I started to beef up my illustration skills with some freelance work I had started on the side. I started to rediscover some latent abilities, but also seriously challenged myself with tutorials, and online classes to help bring up my game.

This side work eventually led me to a company called Creative Allies, which in case you’re not familiar, is a company that challenges the design community to come up with custom poster and album artwork for various bands and concert festivals. I noticed a contest was being held for a design for the Hangout Festival in Alabama. The design prompt was only a few key words. Music festival, rides, the ocean, and originality. As I began to conceptualize and brainstorm, an image of a humpback whale acting as a floating/swimming billboard kept popping up…Which lead me to the idea that there could be this underwater carnival going on.

From there, all these little questions presented themselves…How would carnival goers survive an underwater festival? They’d need helmets! So the patrons all have these fun bubble hats…How would an underwater rollercoaster work? They’ve have to be little submarines on a track, of course. For the whale billboard, I came up with this rig it would wear so it could haul the billboard around under water. The rig also had these lights that would help the whale see deep underwater.

Another really fun aspect of this design was the use of multiple layered textures. Above the flat colors of artwork are several layers of watercolor-esque washes. These last little touches on the piece add a lot of atmosphere and depth to the piece, to really make it feel like it’s in this deep dark place.

The most rewarding projects we’ve had here at MadisonMott all present these same challenges. They challenge you to create something from nothing, and force you to learn new skills to actually pull it off. When we created the Hobnopolis city for HobNob wines, or the Pulp Sci-Fi narrative for the CADC awards, I was tested as a creative director. There were no specific prompts from the client, we had to create something compelling, and original. An entire world.

These projects taught me to have fun, and also to not stop just because I had reached the limits of my skill set. Projects like these are my classroom, my crucible, and my playground.