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- Today's Inspiration
- UPPERCASE Magazine
PILAR ERIKA JOHNSON
Pilar's clients say she's a superstar with good reason. Her sense of humor from working as a kids art teacher for 10 years, coupled with her love for pop culture help inspire her edgy, cute, and whimsical illustration and design style. In addition to working freelance gigs for such clients as Charles Schwab, Comcast, and Hewlett Packard, Pilar also holds the "Chief PUFF" title at PUFFY P, her company focused on licensing art for the teen and tween market.
When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
I don't think there was a pivotal moment in my decision to do illustration and design, but more of a gradual push in that direction. My mom was an artist / graphic designer and toy package designer for companies in Manhattan in the 70's - 80s when I was growing up, so I must have been somewhat subconsciously attracted to it through her work.
I always was interested in art, and liked to draw and get crafty. I studied art through high school and college, but I think I really got serious about it as a job 8-9 years ago, when temping as a receptionist for Macromedia (I live here in San Francisco) . I had internet access all day long (which was a novelty for me then), and started looking at web sites. I didn't know how to do any coding or use any of the graphics programs, but i had ideas on how to make the sites more clearly organized, and more attractive. I started using Freehand and taught myself HTML with a 'how to' book. Soon after that, I was able to get web design jobs, and start working as a web designer. At the time I was also working as a kids art teacher, which I did for about 10 years in New York, and here in San Francisco. I kept catching colds from the kids, and could much more easily pay my rent with design, so I soon fully switched to web design. I liked working with the kids though, that was fun.
Who or what inspires you?
I just love kitchy stuff. I think I am inspired by a lot of things that seem funny or extreme to me from pop culture. I LOVE monster trucks, and machismo sports like lumberjack championships, moustache growing contests, things like that. I also am crazy for teen pop culture, and good kids cartoons, like Samurai Jack. I subscribe to several teen mags and enjoy the design sensibility of a lot of kids and teens media - bright, bold, colorful, and trendy.... and well, David Hasselhoff entertains me to no end. He is hysterical, he makes me laugh - hard.
I also research a lot, look at work and products I like, window-shop, and get out in nature and exercise.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
A lot of my skills are self taught, mixed in with formal training. I'm pretty self motivated and take on self directed projects often. My tech skills are mostly self taught, sometimes taking a short class here and there. My traditional art skills I picked up from studying Life Drawing and Studio Art (Photography, Jewelry, Ceramics, Printmaking) in college at Hunter College in NY. Right now I've been feeling really rusty in the drawing / anatomy area, and am taking a life drawing class to brush up on my skills. It's nice to get away from the computer and not rely on it so much. It's in a cool old building in the middle of Golden Gate Park so that's really nice. http://www.sharonartstudio.org/
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
I really enjoy looking at current trends in clothing, urban culture, and kids and teens media. There is a lot of good design stuff going on there, in certain publications like Cosmo Girl!, and on channels like Nickelodeon, etc. Those outlets have to be trendy and edgy and cool, which I like. Also the kids and teens stuff tends to be brighter and use bolder colors than most ofther markets, which I like too.
Also I watch a lot of commercials, and study ads. There is of course a lot of noise and crap, but some of the most creative stuff is happening in the commercials. The limits are pushed a bit more, IMHO.
What are some of your current projects?
I've spent the last year or so building my brand of art for licensing, PUFFY P, so I've been pretty busy with that, creating art and doing the business and marketing stuff around that ( writing press releases, designing sales materials, calling potential clients ).. PUFFY P a collection of several different lines of art and character properties, mostly aimed at teens, tweens, and kids (see more at http://www.PUFFYP.com) . I launched the brand at the Licensing Show in NY back in June 2006, and got my first licensing deal for mobile content (woopie!). I am developing some of the lines for use in animation, and other markets like paper products, apparel, among others. I'm firming up the brand for the 2007 show, and working on getting some more deals signed.
I also do a bunch of freelance illustration and graphic design. Currently just finished a few characters for some tv spots, and working on an identity package (print and web) for a Therapist's office.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
Last year I did a poster for a Tiffany concert here in town. Yes, for the 80's Tiffany "I think we're alone now". Since I am such a pop culture dork, you can imagine my excitement about it. I sold my posters at the event, and I got to meet her after the show. She hugged me, signed my poster, and squealed about how much she LOVED it, and how perfect it was, what I captured in the drawing of her, etc. That was pretty fun , and made me feel proud that I hit the nail on the head with that one. http://www.pilaromatic.com/tiffany.html
My first PUFFY P deal was pretty exciting, I signed a deal with Berazy Mobile Entertianment, and they are now distributing 80+ images internationally to their partners. You can see some of the images here:
Also getting a few press write ups over the last 6 months on the PUFFY P brand was really exciting for me. I learned the power of the press release! You can read some of the articles here
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I want to do a bit more with texture, and with decorative delicate vector flourishes, surrounding a bolder image, or being used in a background. I also want to do a bit more realistic work. Hopefully my drawing classes will help with that.
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
I think you have to have faith, and really learn all you can. Be willing to put the time in to build your portfolio and figure out your personal style. Also, don't listen to those people who are discouraging. Even after drawing for my entire life, I had some "friends" who said discouraging things, but that was really all about their own doubts around making a living from art and creativity. For me learning the technical skills was really key, because I made a living as a web / graphic designer before moving into more illustration. Those design skills really help in doing all your promotions, etc.
What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
So many things, but mostly for me, a sense of balance and good composition is the most important. Color is also really key for me, ie trying to create some kind of balance or feeling with my color use. I can see perfection and beauty in other peoples work even without having an emphasis on color, I just get hung up with that in my own work. Also since I work in Illustrator, I am a bit obsessed about clean edges and tight design.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
I have way more ideas than I can devote time to, or complete. Lately I've had to really prioritize, and focus on just the most important ones. I work on not getting to scattered and remembering my focus by making prioritized lists. I also have to be careful to not overwork, and make sure I get enough sleep and downtime, and take breaks.
I am very motivated by seeing things out in the world that I want to be a part of or are personal goals of my own that someone else has achieved.
I also try to be as positive and encouraging to myself as I can be, and take time to do things that are fun and interesting to me, see my friends, watch TV, see art and events I like, and surf the web.
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
I love love love 24. I'm completely hooked.
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