If you run on autopilot with your blinkers on like we do while making the annual run through the gauntlet of busy shopping streets, it’s possible you may have missed some of the illustrative gems that were around. Ben Kirchner created beautiful festive illustrations for the Ted Baker Christmas campaign and window, and takes us through the steps in the process.
It’s very interesting to see how they were able to take Ben’s illustrations and realise them in three dimensions. It must be one of the most fun kinds of commissions to have your designs translated in that way, and for all to see no less!
The designs themselves were created with the idea of having a vintage Christmas card feel to them. This plays perfectly into the kind of influences Ben has most recently found himself leaning towards.
(For further reading, Ben makes some great references very much worth checking out!)
I specialised in illustration at Bath Spa University and, during the course, I began using Photoshop to create my illustrations. This was in the late 90s when digital illustration was still in its infancy so it was exciting and liberating experimenting with a new medium.
I think this is one of the reasons my work caught the eye of illustration agency Heart and I was fortunate enough to be taken on by them immediately after graduating in 99.
Since then, I’ve developed an interest in classic mid-century modern illustration typified by Little Golden Book artists such as Alice & Martin Provensen, Harry McNaught, J. P. Miller & Joseph Giordano as well as the travel books by Miroslav Sasek.
This has steered my work in a less overtly digital, more textured direction. I try to capture that sense of wide-eyed, childlike wonder that those illustrators convey so beautifully in their picture book work.
I love the flat, bold colours and restrained, cubist-style shading. Golden Book shading is the best! A lot of my work is centered around figures and capturing character and expression either in humans or animals.
The bulk of my work is editorial so I’ll focus on the process behind that: The first step when I’m approaching a picture is to read through the brief, highlighting sentences that lend themselves to illustrating.
This helps me to quickly zero in on the essence of the copy. Then, I grid a piece of A3 paper up according to the required dimensions so that I have multiple windows to quickly sketch ideas and compositions into.
If need be, I’ll trace over a sketch to create a 2nd more refined drawing (I have a frosted glass Ikea table with an angle-poise underneath that works brilliantly as a giant light box!)
However, I try to keep the sketches as loose as possible so that drawing can occur straight on screen during the artwork stage. If things are too hemmed in by a tight sketch, it kind of drains the energy out of a picture, I find.
After I’ve scanned the drawing into Photoshop, I start building the main coloured shapes up using the vector tools, which give me nice sharp edges that I can manipulate later if need be.
I use these shapes as clipping masks to drop textures and shading into. Finally, I add line work over the top for detail such as facial features, fingers, shoe laces etc.
I also do portraiture which has proved a great source of work as they’re much more straightforward than my other work as there is no concept really— just capturing a likeness and drawing for drawing’s sake. I tend to think of this as a totally separate thing that I do. For these, there is no sketch stage.
They’re drawn straight into Illustrator using a tablet, the artboard window sat next to the source photo, side by side on the screen and I just look and copy, distorting or abstracting elements of the face as necessary.
© Ben Kirchner, 2014