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Panda bears, cuddly tigers and friendly aliens populate miniature cities in Stephen Chan’s bright, funny vector art. “I try to implement as much detail and make the illustration as fun and interesting as possible,” he says.
“It’s characterdriven, and often involves large, isometric detailed landscapes and scenery.” His distinctive style has won him work with magazines and big brands: he has shown work in exhibitions for PlayStation, and Tiger Beer, and he won a poster competition for Don’t Panic!.
His works have been displayed in Japan and shortlisted in a competition in Guatemala. He has also produced work for government departments – including DEFRA – and graphic design magazines.
Chan trained originally in product design, but had second thoughts about the discipline when he graduated in 2006. “I then went on to do several placements in design studios, where I learned about the design process, graphics and visualization.
"I already had some exposure to Photoshop and Illustrator – I’d taught myself from books and magazines – but the experience at the design studios really helped me find my way,” he says.
Although he’s a big fan of illustrators such as Aya Kato, James Jean, Vault 49, and Autumn Whitehurst, their influence isn’t especially visible in his work, which has a clean, cutesy aesthetic all of its own.
“They influenced me a lot when I got interested in illustration – and I guess they inspire me indirectly, creatively,” he says.
“It’s surprising how looking at simple things in life in a different way or a different angle might inspire you.”
He is now based in Liverpool, where he has a solid base of freelance clients. He says that competitions have played a huge role in his current level of success, advising aspiring illustrators: “Never stop trying, never stop illustrating and designing. Enter as many competitions and design-related projects as you can, and get your work seen. It’s amazing how much exposure you can get, and who ends up seeing and loving your work from those projects.”
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Creative collaboration Two-Pence – Dan Sharpe and Deus – met in Birmingham, where they both studied. “Between us we have degrees in fine art and product design; the collaboration came about as a creative outlet after graduation,” explains Sharpe.
“Two-Pence started out as a digital interpretation of Deus’s sketch work but progressed into something more dynamic as our individual skills progressed through live art events, and work in the graphic design industry,” he continues.
Although the duo’s main focus is art, they have also completed illustration, installation and branding projects for clients including Dephect Clothing.
They also regularly appear at live drawing events such as Secret Wars, Sketch City, For Boarders By Boarders and Subism. Their collaborative efforts produce fanciful, beautifully created cityscapes blooming with goblins and strange creatures, where the buildings have eyes and trains have faces.
“Our initial pieces were created with the intention of bringing our often dull surroundings to life, finding and creating faces in objects and places. Working as a collaboration allows us to approach our work from multiple angles drawing influences from digital art, graphic design and the graffiti and street art world,” says Sharpe.
“Deus’ interests lie within street art and graffiti, whereas I’m more influenced by graphical illustration. Two-Pence is where these two influences collide.”
Although both have now moved away from Birmingham, their collaboration continues. They work predominantly in Illustrator, finishing pieces in Photoshop. “Future projects are likely to make use of Flash and After Effects – you can’t go wrong with the Adobe CS packages,” adds Sharpe.
They attribute their success to their proactive attitude towards getting their work seen. “Networking is the key – don’t sit around and expect to get noticed,” advises Deus.
“Submit your artwork wherever possible and don’t be afraid to work for free. Put the time in when it’s needed – you can sleep when you’re dead.”
“So far our work has been kept quite simple, printing onto paper and getting a few screen-printed T-shirts,” says Deus. “We do a lot of individual work off the computer with pen, pencil and paint. It would be interesting to start producing some bespoke mixed-media pieces.”