Today I interview a truly great and talented Graphic Designer and Digital Artist who has been featured in many publications both for his artwork and tutorials.  To be quite honest he is one of my personal heroes in the creative industry and possibly one of the most talented Digital Illustrators I have seen! Many of you will be familiar with his work! He is UK Digital Artist David Cousens of Cool Surface

David its an honor to be interviewing someone as talented as you, who has been featured in Digital Arts, Advanced Photoshop and several other magazines! Let’s start with you telling us a bit about yourself.

Thanks very much, you’re too kind!  I’m 29, I run Cool Surface with my lovely wife Sarah in the South West of England. I’ve been designing and illustrating full-time since 2006, although I did a few things before that to get my foot in the door.  Our list of clients include the BBC, Kingfisher/Macmillan Publishing, Adidas, Letraset, Tick Tock Publishing, Franklin Watts/Hachette and just about every digital design magazine out there.  I’m normally cheeky, sarcastic and friendly, unless you catch me before 9am where I am sluggish, incoherent and almost borderline hostile; I am not a morning person!  Oh, and I love drawing!

When did you first get into digital artwork, and how did you know it’s what you wanted to do with your life?

Artwork of David Cousens

I first got into Digital artwork in 2002 when I was asked to produce the advertising poster for the UK Transformers convent ion “Transforce”.  I’d done the previous year’s poster in black & white, but this year the poster needed to be in colour.  Now, I’d never made a proper bit of colour work in my life; I had this stupid idea that I only needed to draw in pencil because I wanted to become a comic book penciller, I didn’t need to know about anything silly like “colour”!.  Fortunately my Dad had been nagging me to try digital art for a while and had already got me a copy of Photoshop to practice with (Thanks Dad!).  A quick search online later and I’d learned the basics of Photoshop colouring and painted the entire image with a mouse!  Impressed with my tenacity (or possibly filled with pity!) Dad bought me my first graphics tablet so that I wouldn’t have to endure colouring with a mouse ever again!

Working digitally was amazing; I could suddenly use colour in my pieces because it wouldn’t cover/ruin my linework.  The extra impact that colour gave my work also got people actually looking at my art and appreciating it.  Being such a sucker for praise and flattery, there was no turning back.

Your Digital Illustrations are nothing short of amazing, how did you develop your particular style, and why illustration?

Artwork of David CousensI remember spending years worrying about finding my style and one day I realised it was there all along, which I think is probably the same with most artists.  My style most likely came about through my love of comics and cartoons, it’s been described as “a fusion of Eastern and Western influences” which is a fancy way of saying it’s a mixture of Marvel comics and Manga/Anime.  I love dynamic images with lots of action and movement, interesting colour schemes and humour so I try to incorporate those elements in as often as possible.  I also love throwing in lots of small details in my images for people to find.  I love it when people tell me they’ve noticed bit of symbolism or a small reference or joke in my artwork because it means that they’re really looking closely and enjoying my work.

I chose illustration initially because there were no degrees in sequential illustration in England at that time (they started a year later funnily enough) and I thought that having a degree would look better to future employers.  As it turned out, illustration was a better choice for me as I really enjoy seeing an image through from start to finish and I can get to flex a few more artistic muscles by doing illustration than I would be if I was drawing comics.  There aren’t nearly as many rules in illustration, pretty much anything you think of can be incorporated into your work.

We’ve seen your work as well as tutorials in magazines all over, is there a secret behind your success?

Art of David CousensI have incriminating photos of every magazine editor; either my work gets published or the photos do!  I think the real reason my tutorials are well received is because I don’t hold anything back.  If I know how to do something I’ll gladly share it.  There is nothing sadder than somebody with a skill who won’t pass it on to other people.  It’s like they’re afraid that telling people how to do something will make their own art less special so they keep everything to themselves and only give vague answers.  I also try to make my tutorials as friendly and accessible as the word count allows.  Magazine word counts can be restrictive sometimes but I always try to explain why I’m using a certain method as opposed to just giving technical instructions as it’s much more helpful to people when they can understand why I’m doing things in a certain way.

Another tip I can give to people for getting magazine work is to NEVER miss a deadline; deadlines are the most important thing to a magazine so you can’t disappoint an editor.  If you have to stay up late and work weekends, that’s what you do.  It’s a small price to pay for a job where you get paid to do something you love.  Make yourself really easy to get hold of whether it’s through email, Twitter or by phone; it’s very reassuring to clients that they can find out how things are going at a moments notice.  Being reliable and friendly will get you a long way in this industry.

As an artist where do you draw your inspiration from for these fantastic images?

It’s funny, last month we met with a friend in publishing who saw our image “Passengers” that we made for Advanced Photoshop and she said “Wow!  That’s really surreal!  How do you come up with these images”  and I was a bit surprised as I didn’t really think there was anything surreal about a white haired girl in a cocktail dress riding a giant turtle suspended by balloons with two engines coming out of it’s shell.  Then again, Sarah and I are a bit weird.  It’s living out in the countryside that does it!

I’m drawn to fantastical things; they tend to float around my head after I’ve seen them and then they seem as normal as someone walking a dog.  Sometimes things will just inspire me; an attractive model, an exciting scene in a film or even playing a computer game.  I tend to look and examine things more than some people as I’m always trying to work out how to draw things.

Are there any special tools that you use to create your images?

The main thing I use to create my images is my pride & joy: The Cintiq 21UX!  It’s a thing of beauty.  I was worried whether it was a wise investment when I first got it, as Sarah was more than a little reluctant to invest so much money in one piece of equipment (it cost more than my car!) but it improved my workflow so much that it must have paid for itself within the first few months!

My other favourite drawing tool is a Prismacolor dark blue pencil (the same sort of pencil as used by 2d animators).  They have such a nice texture to them & you don’t get any smudging that you do with standard pencils.  I only tend to use these when I’m just sketching for myself, my paid work is pretty much 99% Cintiq based these days.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as an artist?

Artwork of DavidCousensOther than getting over the initial fear of failure and rejection that stopped me getting my art out there for a couple of years after my degree, I’d say the biggest challenge I faced was developing RSI (repetitive strain injury).

As an artist the 2 things you need are your hands and your eyes and one day without warning my arm developed a pain so intense that I couldn’t actually grip a pen; it was actually terrifying.  I rested it for an entire week hoping it would simply heal, but then I started to draw and it came back, quickly and fiercely.  I had magazine deadlines to hit and had just signed a contract to draw 2 books so I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  I needed to draw but whenever I did my arm was literally burning with pain.  I developed a temporary workaround of heating up a wheat bag in the microwave and resting it on my arm to relieve the pain when it got too much, give myself 20 minutes and start again.  Outside of work hours I would do as little as possible with my right arm, I even learned to brush my teeth left handed!

Instead of being smart and going to the doctors I figured this would just heal itself eventually, but even with a lot of rest I felt pain every day.  It occurred to me that this may be permanent and that I would feel this pain for the rest of my life, which as you can imagine was a little depressing.  After a year of learning to do everything but draw left-handed I’d decided that enough was enough and I should seek some medical advice.  It turned out that although teaching myself to use my left hand was “impressive” it was actually harming my recovery.

Apparently my years of slouching and not doing much other than type and draw had slightly compressed my spine which meant the signals from my brain to my arm weren’t getting to my arm properly causing nerve damage.  Luckily I was sent to a physiotherapist who cracked my back and my arm started to improve immediately.  Within a month I experienced a day without pain for the first time in over a year, which was amazing, especially as I’d consigned myself to my arm feeling bad as a permanent thing!  I now stretch every day and my arm is almost back to normal.  I still can’t type for great lengths and the amount of time I can play computer games is limited but to be able to draw without worrying about permanent damage is just lovely.  Nothing will make you appreciate something as much as almost losing it.

The moral of this story: Stretch every morning and try not to slouch!  Oh and if you have something wrong, don’t self diagnose and live with suffering.  Go see a specialist!  Medical healthcare exists for a reason!

Who would you say have been your biggest supporters as an artist?

Artwork of David Cousens
Ooh, tough question.  My Dad has been my biggest supporter (actually my entire family have been great in that respect) but we’re probably looking for a slightly less obvious answer here.  I’ve been lucky in that a lot of the people I’ve met have been extremely supportive.  Emma Davenport (formerly Emma Cake, editor of Advanced Photoshop magazine) has been one of my biggest supporters.  She saw my work when I posted it in the Advanced Photoshop Peer Pressure forums and not only put it straight in the magazine but commissioned me to write my first tutorial for the following issue.  Emma was lovely to deal with and offered me a lot of work (both illustrating and writing) which really helped me out during my first year of professional work.  Emma and I remained good friends after she left the magazine and she still does everything she can to support my work.  Excellent artist Matt Dixon was particularly nice and offered me some great advice when I was starting out, and was the first “big artist” to link to my website, which was particularly good of him because my career hadn’t even got moving at that point.  It was a nice endorsement as it he didn’t link to many people, and I was the only non-established artist on his list.  Shout outs should also go to author Clive Gifford, author Adrian J Watts, former Digital Arts editor Lynn Wright, ex-Computer Arts editor Garrick Webster, and artists Steph Laberis, Aly Fell, Jonny Duddle and an artistic collaborator Tom Scholes who was good enough to give me some great crits without knowing how I’d respond to them!

Is there anything you’d like to say to up and coming designers and digital artist out there?

The design industry is a great place; it’s full of amazingly talented and generous people, and unlike other industries, very supportive of new talent.  Just be polite, listen to the advice people give you and work very VERY hard and you’ll do fine.

Most importantly: Enjoy what you do.  There are times when you’ll be inclined to complain about being an illustrator which is quite frankly ridiculous.  You’re getting paid to draw, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

Thanks again for an amazing interview!

You’re entirely welcome.  Now where’s my money?  Hello?

LOL we love a sense of humor around here! Again David thanks for a great interview! To view more of David Cousens work you can visit his websites, and get in touch with the following information. And please remember to show your support by spreading the word on twitter, facebook, digg, or wherever you feel like!

The Art of David and Sarah Cousens –
Cool Surface Lite – The Art blog!


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About Roberto Blake
Roberto Blake is a Professional Graphic Designer, Photographer and Digital Artist. When working with clients to develop their branding, Roberto creates content to support Designers and Artist in the creative community through online articles, tutorials and videos.