Freelance character design, illustrator and dinosaur enthusiast Devon Cady-Lee talks inspiration, experimentation, working on "Gigantic,” and drops in some fantastic advice for aspiring artists...
3dtotal: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
My name is Devon Cady-Lee; I am a character designer, concept artist, illustrator, dancer, Dinosaur enthusiast, videogame player. I currently live in Seattle where I am recently delving into freelance as my main source of income. In the past I've worked mostly in-house as a concept artist or illustrator video game companies. I've also done contract work for FX and animation studios.
3dtotal: What inspired you to get into art? Who are your favorite artists?
Art was something I was naturally fell into. I had a family that fostered creativity and had artists, so it felt like something that was normal. I started it taking it seriously once I hit junior high school, and frankly it was because I wasn't very good at anything else!
I've drawn inspiration from many different artists depending on what I'm focusing on at the time. A lot of my early inspiration came from nature books; things like anatomy cross-sections, dinosaurs and extinct animals, that sort of thing. After naturalist illustrations, it was definitely comic book artists like Jack Kirby and Jim Lee as I started studying characters.
I looked at Orientalists like Gerome and Singer-Sargeant when I was practicing painting, as well as painting masters like Leyendecker and Andrew Wyeth. When I started really getting into design, people like Miyazaki, Moebius, Wayne Barlowe, and James Gurney have been my biggest inspirations. Lately I've been looking more at children's book artists and animators.
"it's a rewarding experience to create a character, give it life and a personality, and then throw it into circumstances to see how it fits and how it reacts"
3dtotal: Tell us about your creations and the type of work you love to make.
I have generally focused on character design work, because it is the most fascinating to me. I think it's a rewarding experience to create a character, give it life and a personality, and then throw it into circumstances to see how it fits and how it reacts. It is also a fun puzzle to think about how that character looks, acts and feels in a way that makes sense for the world and also for me to relate to. I love stories and telling stories, and character design is my favorite way to tap into that visually.
3dtotal: What type of software, plugins, techniques do you use to create your art?
I almost exclusively use Photoshop
to create my artwork. I do pencil sketches sometimes as a jumping off point and then bring it into a digital medium. I don't use any plugins, but I might look for brushes that might help me get a certain look. Most of my techniques are straight forward, and honestly I try to minimize the amount of layers simultaneously being juggled so that I can really focus on making a good painting and not micromanaging adjustment layers. I'll make adjustments on a layer above, and then merge down when I get the chance to keep the layer count down. Not having the ability to commit when working digital is pretty stressful!
3dtotal: Do you like to experiment when making art, or do you keep to a rigorous procedure?
I tend to experiment with every project, both personal and professional. I think when I start working on a new game, there are going to be stylistic choices that are going to be specific to that game and it wouldn't make any sense to make it exactly like the last thing I did. Likewise, I like to use my personal work as a safe place to experiment with new looks and new techniques. All that being said, People will hire me for a specific look, or follow me for drawing a specific thing-- and that's fine, because I think that personal touch comes through unavoidably. The important part is that I always post work that I enjoyed working on, so that if someone is looking at my portfolio to hire me for a look they can only choose from ones I like.
3dtotal: What has been your favorite, or the most enjoyable project to work on?
Working on Gigantic
was very rewarding for me, from an artistic standpoint. It was a fresh indie project three years ago, that's the most fun time for me. I was really able to start making characters that reflected the amount of movement, fun and charm that I was seeking but hadn't previously been able to express. It was a rare opportunity to make a huge, diverse cast of heroes with no rails, but at the same time maintaining an art style and a cohesive world. The work remains as some of the stuff I'm most proud of.
3dtotal: When designing a character, do you have a firm idea of what you want before you start, or do you like to let them evolve as you draw?
My first step when creating a character is really studying the parameters I need to obey. What the camera angle of the subject is, what's the purpose of the character in the story, how is the character required to move through X environment, things like that. Once those are established, it evolves out of those limitations and all my decisions try to fit that puzzle in the most interesting way possible that I can think of. It is definitely an organic process for me if I am working from one-hundred percent scratch.
3dtotal: If you could give your younger self advice when it comes to art, what would it be?
Make art for yourself! Even if during your day job you might have to do something soul-crushing or not even related to art, it's important that you use art for its therapeutic purpose of making you happy. You will come across people worse than you, and you will come across people better than you, but comparing your own level of success against them based on your notoriety or your Instagram followers is distracting you from the real purpose of why you got into art in the first place, because it makes you happy.
3dtotal: What are your artistic ambitions?
I just want to be more diligent about art and how I train myself. I want to just get better at drawing, paying, and being intuitive about my decision-making. This is something I've been constantly struggling with, but now that I've learned more it only sets the bar that much higher because I am aware of where I can go. It's intimidating and exciting at the same time to think about.
3dtotal: What do we expect to see from you next? Any cool projects we should look out for?
Unfortunately there are a few projects I'm excited for but can't really discuss yet! Right now I want to give this freelance thing a shot and see how it goes and that has provided me with a lot of new outlets to put my art into. It has been fun working on these very different projects because I get to handle many styles at once. It would also be nice to set up a shop for prints for once now that my schedule is more malleable!
Take a peek at Devon Cady-Lee's portfolio
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