Like watercolours, spray cans and crayons, vectors are just a tool. But in the right hands, powered by the right imagination, they can be spectacular.
There are certain areas where vectors really seem to take flight. For character art, the ability to render figures in a couple of shapes is hugely attractive.
“I think there is something appealing about the simple, geometric shapes vector-based characters are made out of,” says Jon Ball, of Poked Studio. “Also, [character designers like] the clean lines and fills that are a feature of much vector work.”
The combination of the digital crispness of vectors with raw, natural scenes – as shown by Adrian Van Delzel – makes a gorgeous counterpoint which hints at a sharper version of nature hiding inside your computer like a 21st-century Narnia.
Adrian says: “I needed a medium that enables me to give expression and inspiration to thousands of details; the light forms and lines [of vector art] seemed very attractive for this.”
Others prefer a less obviously digital look, painstakingly recreating a hand-drawn style, like Magnus Blomster. Or they combine Illustrator artwork with textures and distressed finishes, like Cryssy Cheung.
Vector art has its pitfalls, though. Jon Ball says: “Vectors can be very hard to work with in terms of layers and file size if you're working at 300dpi, and it can get very fiddly grouping and selecting stuff within groups. Start adding in effects and the file soon starts to lag.”
He gets around this problem by taking vectors and laying them out in Photoshop - “I feel [this gives me] more control over the layers. Using Photoshop's Smart Layers means you can still edit the assets as vectors if needed,” he says.
One problem is that Illustrator can seem so easy that it's easy to get caught up in the whizzy features while forgetting artistic basics.
“There is a lot of samey work out there,” points out Magnus Blomster. “I guess people find it easy to trace photographs without adding any sort of personal touch to it.”
Adrian Van Delzel adds that just because Illustrator puts the rainbow at your fingertips, doesn't mean you have to use it all. He bemoans “the strange use of colours – often you come across very good compositions, very well though-out, but they're ruined by their colour range.”
Meanwhile, Gary Fernandez finds that there's a more fundamental issue, one that's at the heart of the phrase 'digital art': “I feel that the digital is considered an end, rather than a means. In general people tend to think about how to resolve an image in the least time possible, rather than thinking about how to obtain a better image. The result is an image that lacks soul and is crammed with effects.”
Each of the artists we showcase here has gone beyond the boundaries of genre to create images that, while they're made from vectors, are so much more than their means of creation. Perhaps the key is to master the tool – and then focus on the work.