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I believe any illustrator’s style evolves over time, whether they move into realism, trendy fashion or cartoons. For me the evolution came from pain – pain in my hands that moved down into my arm and up into my shoulders.

It’s the pain that comes from repetitive strain injury.

Early on in my illustration career I was worried that I was going to have to move from drawing into a different creative field, simply because of the pain. It was becoming unbearable.

My need to change my working style lead me to create images like this…

And this…

and it saved my hand.

Let me explain.

I was working at Bioware Corp. and had just finished doing some portraits for the game NeverWinter Nights. I had been lucky enough to do a number of the creatures and we were on a tight schedule so I only had a few hours for each one. After two weeks of doing these images my hand started to really hurt.

Using the pressure sensitivity of the Wacom tablet and trying to create different brush widths and colour opacities was really taking its toll on my arm. I was trying out different programs and constantly adjusting Wacom’s sensitivity settings and while I would find a bit of relief in each change nothing would really last longer than a few hours.

Luckily, Adobe was releasing a version of “Illustrator” that finally allowed different opacity in shapes. I did an experiment over a pencil drawing I had laying around and this was the result…

I call this image “Nick of Time”  because I have always felt that I produced it just before I was going to quit drawing because of the pain.

I worked on “Nick of Time” for six hours straight – at the end I had not used the pressure sensitivity once – but even better was that I really liked the effect. There was no use for work like this in video games so I didn’t think too much about it. But when I showed it around I was really happy with the feedback I was getting from other professionals.

For the next several years I would think about this technique every time my hand hurt. I would wonder how I could use this technique to produce illustrations and continued to do more experiments. These trials with started with portraits and evolved into figures and eventually I started to do portraits of the people I knew (something I had been putting off until I found an effect that I liked).

Twelve portraits later there was no pain and I was really enjoying the process.

This may not be a trend setting style and it may only appeal to a certain type of art director, but I have gone from suffering for my art to just enjoying the process. This has lead to less struggles, more experimentation, and longer more enjoyable illustration sessions.

How is your style evolving?


About Michael

Michael Grills Illustration is located in Calgary Alberta Canada. The business was established in 2005 and since then I have been collaborating with design agencies, editorial, publishers, video directors, and game makers from all over the world. As well as doing art for illustration fans.