For this week’s feature, we chatted to immensely talented Baltimore illustrator Tima Aflitunov about his children’s book ‘On the Backs of the Endangered’ and art more generally.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
My name is Tima Aflitunov. I am a graphic designer, illustrator, creative writer and a professor’s assistant based in Baltimore, Maryland. I graduated from Maryland Institute College of Arts and went back to help teaching students. While I have finished my studies for now, I feel like I never stop learning.
I’ve been doing illustrations for over six years but I’ve been an artist at heart for most of my life. I solidified my interest in art when I realized that even though I speak four languages, I was still very limited, in the sense that I could only reach the minds of the people that speak the same tongue. I view art as a universal language that stands above any verbal communication. So, I want to create meaningful and impactful art that I could share with others. Projects that challenge creativity and have a positive message are the most satisfying.
Can you tell me about the projects you’ve worked on?
I like having the freedom of making art out of love towards something. So, my uploaded works on twine are mostly personal projects. For example, On the Backs of the Endangered is a series of illustrations for a children’s book of critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species to raise awareness in the current and future generations about the rapidly disappearing species. Because there isn’t something like this out there, I think it is essential to teach children about the importance of environmental responsibility and preservation for the future. I’m planning to make these illustrations into a children’s book. I draw most of my inspiration from the human element, experience, existence, sciences, history and the natural world.
What are your top tips for other creatives and illustrators?
Always sketch and write down your ideas, no matter how dull you think they may be. There aren’t bad ideas; a bad idea is a dead idea. Sometimes, some of my best works come out of reviewing my old ideas, which at the time I thought weren’t worth my time.
After illustrators and artists have accumulated a strong portfolio, they should make “cold calls” to art directors. There is nothing to lose by letting art directors know you’re interested in their publication/work and telling them that you exist and would like to be considered for future projects. In addition, the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is a great guide which covers all subjects of being a freelance artist, I recommend investing in a copy.
What’s freelancing like as an illustrator?
Freelance work is interesting, because you get to work with variety of clients and projects, develop relationships and often you get returning clients. The most fun is when the client gives you complete freedom with the project execution. However, many times clients aren’t familiar with art at all, and they try to control every aspect of the project, which can make things very difficult, because you have to sacrifice your aesthetic and adjust to theirs.
I think people need to realise they shouldn’t hire an illustrator solely based on the lowest price. Ultimately, you’re paying for a product/service and if you expect to them to perform like a Lamborghini but you’re paying the price of a Prius, it’s not realistic. Do some research on how much the product/service usually costs. Many people view illustration as a hobby and for some, it may be. However, in reality it is a profession. Illustrators go to college and earn their bachelor’s or master’s degree in illustration like any other professionals.
How can clients help make a project a success?
The brief should be very clear in what kind of product/service the client seeks. If the client wants to create a children’s book, they should define the purpose of the book (learning the alphabet/numbers, story book, etc.), the number and size of the illustrations and pages (ten 8×10 illustrations or 5 spreads and 5 full page, etc.), the target audience (age, gender, interests, etc), the deadline (2 months or a date, etc) and maybe the styles they like.
Some of the best experiences come from art directors that know exactly what they need for the project, they outline the guidelines and let you take the reigns in execution. Some of the worst, come from clients who have no clue about art/design, but they try to control everything. For instance, to make a brochure they would select obnoxious colors like bright red for the background and bright yellow comic sans text that has a drop shadow effect on it, thinking it would draw more attention and is comic. Something like that, I cannot put in my portfolio. To be honest, my former typography/graphic design professors would’ve probably laughed at me and gave me a zero for something like this.
What’s your creative process?
The number of steps in my creative process varies from project to project. For example, for my Illustrated Poetry book, I drew inspiration from the imagery in my poems. I would sketch on paper, scan the sketch and then finalize the illustration digitally. For my On the Backs of the Endangered series, I research the species that are categorized as critically endangered, endangered or venerable and collect references of the animals, environments, country or culture. I make very general sketches of the animals, plants and people on paper. I then scan them, finalize the sketches, outline and color them digitally.
Sometimes, I am satisfied with the first draft and other times I’m ten drafts in, and I am still unsatisfied. It depends how I feel about them. However, working digitally saves a lot of time and makes it easier to revise.
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