A Chat with John Lisle about Vectors, Palettes and Fashionable Figures

Posted at 5 am on August 6, 2014 by

Posted in: Character Illustration, Digital Illustration, Vector Illustration

We can’t get enough of John Lisle’s vividly striking figurative illustrations. We had a chat with him to find out more about the influences and techniques involved in developing these entrancing characters.

The accentuated female figures in John’s work could be elegantly walking down the catwalks in Milan as much as stepping off a spaceship for all their mysteriously alien qualities. This is an impression reinforced by him citing an iconic female sci-fi character as being a heavy influence.

It’s this blend of fashion and futurism seen in the colours, strange forms and use of vectors that we think works so well. We discuss how he developed this style and the reasons for working mostly digitally.

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How would you describe the kind of illustration you do?

When I tell people I’m an illustrator they usually ask what I illustrate and I usually say something like, “It’s mostly women, and it’s digitally created.” Which I think applies here, too.

Your figurative style is great and immediately recognisable. Was there anything in particular that influenced you as you were developing these characters?

Thank you! My proportions are usually somewhere in the fashion illustration canon, long necks and limbs, small heads. I usually have this urge to render some sort of super-natural feminine force.

I’ve joked that my gender identity is Sigourney Weaver in Ghost Busters when she’s possessed on the roof by Gozer. I think my illustration is definitely a way to express my feminine side with the world.

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What would you say your influences are in a broader sense? You seem to have an interest in colour and pattern, where did that come from?

Growing up, I was pretty focused on and obsessed with the different styles different children’s illustrators would use to illustrate books, and would try to replicate my favorite styles. Then I was exposed to anime in late elementary/junior high and it was just like, “BYE!!”. That’s all I drew well into high school, so it probably has a big influence on me.

As far as people, my friend Brad Callahan, a fashion designer and illustrator, was a pretty big influence on me when I first saw his illustration a few years back.

Creating work digitally, I think I had a preoccupation with giving things a hand drawn look, which is great, but I remember coming to his place for the first time and seeing a huge digital print on his wall he had done that completely blew my mind.

It was dancing, anthropomorphic cat people, full of rainbow gradients, and looked super vector and computer generated…but it was embracing it.

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There was this sort of immediacy that drawing has in how obvious his simple vector forms came across, and I loved it. He also got me really into gradients, they’re a great way to move the eye around, I love them.

Most of my work has some gradient. My use of pattern is similar, it’s just really strong way to move the eye around. I think most illustrators realize at some point what a powerful visual tool pattern is. You almost feel like you’re cheating when people like your patterned illustrations! You’re like, “Oh, it’s just the patterning… “.

Color wise, I’ve always just gravitated to bright and saturated. CMYK palettes usually get me going, but I like exploring weird color combinations. Screen-Shot-2014-04-15-at-2.26.16-PM

What would you say your process involves in relationship to computer verses working by hand?

Sometimes, things start as drawings that I digitize and take to a different place on the computer, and some things are start to finish in the computer. I usually work in illustrator, and often feel like working in this program is less like drawing, and more sculptural. Often, it feels very much like cutting up, and arranging construction paper.

I think working digitally has pros and cons just like drawing, but I do like that a lot of fun mistakes I end up using can still happen digitally.

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Are there any techniques that you haven’t tried that you’re interested in?

I was really into collage in High School, and usually have some note written on my desk to remind me to do something more “collage-esque”. I’ve started some 3-D modeling recently, and am excited about creating future renderings with 3-D elements.

Where would you like to take your illustration moving on from now?

I guess my previous answer starts that question, but I’m always thinking of new ways to render ideas. It may not look it, but each illustration I make feels like I’ve gotten something out of my system and tried something new, and I always want to keep doing that.

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© John Lisle, 2014