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Artist Advice: David Graham

By David Graham

Web: http://dgrahamdesign.com/ (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 11th January 2018

Designer David Graham offers some brilliant guidance on getting started in a new field and embracing your flaws...



Hi! My name is David Graham and I'm currently a designer in the entertainment industry. My day to day activity, mostly involves designing key art for theatrical standees and film posters, but I also have a passion for concept art and 3D art.

I tried to convey the graphic nature of the Alien life cycle, in a single image

In a nut shell, I love bringing interesting ideas to life visually. My tools of choice are Photoshop, my camera, Maya, ZBrush, and a sketchbook to jot down any random ideas that may come to me throughout the day. Aside from creating art, I like to listen to audio books in LA traffic, adventure around town, travel the world, collect "Art of” books and interesting objects, and spend as much time as I can with my wife and daughter.

How you got started

While searching for reference, I noticed what I thought was a "Chestburster” silhouette, in an anatomy illustration. So I just added color to a few areas, and called it day

I started in the entertainment industry about ten years ago, when a friend called me up and asked if I needed a job, it mainly involved designing corrugated displays to sell DVDs and Blu-Rays. From the beginning, I understood that this field probably wouldn't have a long lifespan, because streaming was the future, so I invested my time in creating a backup plan. This included learning matte painting, concept art, and 3D design, in the hopes that it would pay off one day, and land me another job.

Last year another buddy called me up, encouraging me to work on key art, so I combined everything I learned up until that point, to start building up my book. I realized that this was an area that I had a great passion in. I began investing my time in my work while keeping a healthy and supportive social network. When getting started in a new field, it really pays off to surround yourself with positive people who will uplift and encourage you, when you're feeling like your work sucks.

I noticed they used toys to plan their robberies in the trailer, so I set up a photo shoot, in my drive way using Hot Wheels to replicate a car chase

My wife is my biggest fan and although she may not know much about art, she's the most important person when it comes to my success, because she keeps me going and kicks me in the butt when I want to quit. Little by little, the uplifting support of the artist community, helped change my attitude and now key art is primarily what I do on the side, until I land a full time gig.

Advice for aspiring artists

A reimagined version of the classic film, The Birds

Just start! I joined an online community and started posting my work, entering competitions, and started sharing the social media love. Feed your imagination and creativity, as much as you can, whenever you can. Experiment and figure out what you like, because getting good at anything, takes time.

I used Maya to model all the hands in separate poses, than combined them to illustrate the milky white substance that is predominate through the game trailer

My thoughts on school… In my experience, I've noticed that it doesn't really matter what school you went to, what matters is your drive, experience and what's in your book. This is not to say that education is unnecessary or unimportant, as it's something I'm a huge proponent of. With school, you're immersed in different social interactions, networking/connecting with a cohort, who understands what you're trying to accomplish. It's a mind opening experience, that's irreplaceable.

I thought it would be fun to illustrate the grotesque nature of The Thing, using beautiful scientific illustration

That said, I've found that you can learn a lot from simply engaging in practices like watching tutorials and meeting like-minded individuals who you can ask questions and learn from. Ultimately what I took away from my college experience is; to keep your mind open. Never assume you have mastered your skills, because there's always somebody out there who knows what you know, and is taking it to the next level. These are the people who get noticed; the inventors, the innovators, the people who do the next level sh*t!

Being an LA native, seeing stars in the sky is not the norm, but up at the Griffith Park Observatory, the city lights below resemble twinkling stars

I also learned that you can't just pick up a tool and master it instantly. So much experience, education (and even one's perceived disability) go into the strokes of mastering a particular art or skill set. Don't feel like quitting because you are not at a particular level. Embrace your level! We're all gifted, with different skills and talents, and we use them and hone them every day. Embrace who you are, and produce interesting stuff that sets you apart. For instance, I'm dyslexic, I've been seeing life differently (which may be a perceived disability, as mentioned above) and yet still accomplishing tasks, for as long as I can remember.

I cheated the portions of the Megalodon fin for this one, but it was for good cause, I swear!

When I approach a design challenge, I'm proud of the fact that most of my ideas don't usually match up with the norm. And to be honest, a lot of my ideas fall flat, but the ones that actually land, have set me apart from the pack. Lastly, don't be afraid to go for it, reframe your thinking from negative to positive surrounding yourself with that energy, and embrace all of your perceived deficits, as something that's advantageous and sets you apart from everyone else.

I wanted to convey how the protagonist is seen as a savior, while still being a total bad ass

Related links

Check out David Graham's portfolio at his site
Follow David on twitter
Follow David on Instagram

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