David Cousens on the future of illustration with Adobe mobile apps

David Cousens is all about ‘illustration gone insane’. In fact, that was the subject of his recent masterclass, where he shared incredibly useful insight, advice and tips on how he develops his work using Adobe’s mobile apps. Afterwards, we sat down with David to talk a bit more about his work and his process. That conversation has been edited for clarity.

Thank you for your time, David. Ok, so you’ve been illustrating for almost a decade. What do you feel has changed in terms of the tools you have today vs the tools you had when you first started?

David Cousens: So much has changed with the tools I have today versus when I first started! It’s staggering! Everything has jumped to digital for me now, it’s much more efficient and economical.

When I first started, I was using non-repro blue animators’ pencils, mechanical pencils and fine-liner pens on paper. I had to scan everything in and spend a lot of time cleaning up grime from the scanner and trying to boost the contrast of the line work! Today I skip all of that hassle and use an iPad with a stylus and a Wacom Cintiq 21UX to draw my rough sketches and final lines. It gives you so much more versatility with your work too! If 90% of your sketch is good, but a few things need re-sizing, you just Free Transform it in Photoshop instead of tortuously re-drawing.

Both software and hardware are constantly improving, which makes life better and better. For example, stylus technology for iPads is so much more advanced than it was even just 3 years ago! They used to be such clumsy devices, it felt like you were a drunk caveman finger-painting! But now I can fire open Photoshop Sketch and draw away happily. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the new Apple Pencil and iPad Pro can do for artists. With things like Creative Cloud making files accessible anywhere, I can foresee in a couple of years’ time I’ll be able to do my work anywhere in the world, which is a lovely thought.

Why do you choose to mix Eastern and Western visual styles in your work?

DC: You should create art that you love and I’ve always been inspired by both Western storytelling and comic art as well as Eastern animation, including the old Transformers cartoons from when I was a really young kid, right up to recent cartoons like the Legend of Korra, which is just gorgeous. I take the elements that I like from both visual cultures and amalgamate them into something that’s very fun for me to draw.

What is your favourite Adobe mobile app? Why?

DC: My favourite Adobe app changes the more I play with each of them! I instantly took to Adobe Color as the ability to instantly capture colour schemes and access them from anywhere is so damn useful! The more proficient I get with drawing with a stylus, the more I’m drawn (no pun intended) to Illustrator Line as you can make some really nice looking images that are vectorised, which is really helpful, but I’d probably single out Photoshop Sketch as my current favourite. Being able to scribble an idea while sitting on the sofa watching TV is nice because it’s so much less anti-social than disappearing up to my office to draw something like some weird illustrating hermit!

How do you feel your routine has changed since you started using Adobe’s mobile apps? For example, is a walk on the street just a walk on the street anymore or do you tend to stop and capture more things you find interesting, and more often?

DC: Adobe’s mobile apps have really opened up creativity on the move for me. Once upon a time you could be out walking and see a beautiful scene where the sunlight is bouncing off some leaves and it would be inspiring, but you’d have to hope that you’d still remember what it all looked like in a few hours’ time when you finally got home; invariably you couldn’t as memory is such an imperfect thing.

Now it’s literally a case of “Wow! That looks gorgeous! That would make a fantastic colour scheme for this illustration I want to work on!” and you take your iPhone from your pocket, grab the palette with Adobe Color and it’s waiting for you the second you fire up Photoshop CC 2015 in the office. Or you can see a really cool pattern that’s naturally occurred and instead of just thinking “that would make a really cool brush”, now you can actually make it there and then with Adobe Brush! As an artist you should always be on the look out for inspiration from even the most unexpected source and Adobe’s mobile apps are really empowering that experience.

Do you carry a notebook for sketching or do you rely increasingly on mobile apps like Photoshop Sketch to draft most of your ideas before developing them?

DC: I actually do both! I do still carry a sketchbook around, because sometimes it’s nice to just scribble something imperfect on paper, and it’s nice to have a random collection of thoughts and ideas. However, I have the best of both worlds as the Adobe Moleskine app can take any sketches that went well and make decent images just by taking a photo of your Moleskine sketchbook. I am much more likely to start developing an idea in Photoshop Sketch on my iPad though, as it’s much easier to draw something and send the file straight to Photoshop CC and carry on there when I’m ready. There’s no need to locate and open a file and the rough lines are already on their own separately named layer which is exactly what you want from a sketching app. The quicker I can get to just working on an idea the better. Photoshop Sketch incorporates itself into your workflow so well.

What are your preferred pieces of hardware to make the best use of the apps?

DC: For Adobe Color, my iPhone is my hardware of choice, as I like that you can grab colour schemes from both your camera and any images you have saved on your camera roll. I currently use an iPad 3 with an Adonit Jot Touch Pixelpoint Pressure sensitive stylus, because having pressure sensitivity on a sketching app is essential to me and Photoshop Sketch has built-in software to recognise a pressure sensitive stylus. Like I said earlier, I’m excited to see what an iPad Pro and Apple pencil could do with Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Line!

Tell us a bit about ‘The Mighty Pencil’. How did it all start? How do you invest your time there?

DC: ‘The Mighty Pencil’ was all started by the excellent illustrator and all-round lovely guy and co-founder of the Huddle Formation, Ben O’Brien a.k.a Ben The Illustrator. A lot of illustrators had found each other on Twitter and Ben saw the need for us to have a place we could talk freely, share feedback and ideas, or even just be there to support each other if one of us was going through a hard time.

It’s an invite only group, not to be elitist, but to make sure we maintain a friendly environment; there are no large egos in ‘The Mighty Pencil’ and you know everybody is a professional with a good attitude. One of the nicest things about the group is that none of us feel like we’re competing with each other, as we all bring something different to the table and we can collaborate or recommend job opportunities for each other that we can’t take ourselves. I managed to get a multi-book deal for one of the illustrators there, Ben has secured me a book before, we all help out where we can. It’s a fantastic resource for us all.

If you could go back 10 years and give yourself a piece of creative advice, what would it be?

DC: That is a really tough question. 10 years ago, I hadn’t started my business and I was afraid to get work out there because I was worried I wasn’t ‘good enough’ and didn’t know as much as people with experience. Now, I’m happy to be live streaming masterclasses for Adobe, so I’d maybe tell myself to stop worrying about ‘knowing enough’ because you’ll never feel that you’ve achieved that level; you’ll never stop learning!

Everybody has something to teach you and there are exciting new developments and opportunities cropping up all of the time. Learn to look for the new and exciting things and don’t rest on what you already know. There are always innovative ways to solve problems and create new things.

I’d also advise myself never to exercise with my iPhone in my pocket. That mistake will cost you.

About David Cousens

You can follow David’s work on his personal website, Behance and Twitter. Also make sure to check out his masterclass ‘Illustration gone insane with David Cousens‘.

Featured image source: Behance