Hi-fi Q&A Hero

Getting to know: Filo


Brandon Laufenberg AKA filo is a long standing illustration contributor on iStock. His work is bright, saturated and punchy, and covers a wide range of subjects from sports to technology to agriculture. Let's take a minute to get to know him better!

How did you get started as an illustrator? Are you formally trained?
I’ve been passionate about visual culture for as long as I can remember. I have to give a lot of credit to Chris “Dandi” Willman for my early exposure to digital design in some particularly forward-looking programs offered by my high school that got me started in a creative direction. I have also worked in creative fields for almost two decades. Prior to becoming a fulltime contributor to iStockphoto 8 years ago, I was a web designer for several software companies as well as a photographer and graphic editor for a local newspaper. I have a degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin Madison but I also took many traditional and digital design classes while pursuing my undergraduate degree.

How would you describe your personal style as an artist?
I like to think of my work as a balance between pure modern art and commercial or industrial design. I have a fondness for extremely practical work as well as bizarre and fantastical design. I have always been drawn to vibrant color and high contrast and I think my iStockphoto portfolio reflects this. I think many illustrators fall into the trap of too strongly mirroring current trends without thinking about future ones. Some of the illustrations I am most proud of have had success because they were able to tap into these emerging areas.

What are your artistic influences or inspirations?
Inspiration is everywhere for me. I try not to discount anything as a possible source for my next design. I try to travel and explore as many new experiences as I can as a way to inform my creative style and subjects. Outside of stock illustration, I have a tendency towards more surreal work as I have always been a fan of Salvador Dali and other surrealist artists.

"I think many illustrators fall into the trap of too strongly mirroring current trends without thinking about future ones."

What are your favorite subjects to draw?
Technology and new trends are some of my favorite illustration areas. There have been so many major cultural changes over the decade I’ve been part of the iStockphoto community. My goal is always to try to find new ways to illustrate and define these changes visually. Recreational and professional sports are also some of my favorite concepts. I’m also drawn to the challenge of creating backgrounds or settings that elicit a certain emotion. As a lifelong Wisconsinite, I also try to represent and capture local subjects and culture.

What equipment / tools do you use for your work?
I create all my illustrations on a PC running Adobe Illustrator CS6. I also have a variety of analog tools and a scanner for sketching out and capturing ideas. I contribute both illustrations and photos to iStock so another important tool is my Canon 5DMII and a full range of lenses.

"It’s important to learn how to take criticism and work from it."

What is the most important thing you have learned as an illustrator?
It’s important to learn how to take criticism and work from it. Some of my favorite designs haven’t resonated with buyers and I’ve learned not to take this personally. At the same time, I try to learn lessons from every illustration I create. As creative people who put their heart and soul into their work, we’re very in touch with how our work is received. It’s important not to get too discouraged (or encouraged) by any one particular failure or success. If you have faith in your vision and continue a high level of artistic execution, you will have a chance for success.

What are your 3 favorite websites and why?
Other than iStockphoto of course, when it comes to design inspiration… www.dribbble.com: This is ground zero for many emerging design trends (along with other design aggregators like designspiration.net and www.ffffound.com ). It’s a great source for creative insight for anyone aspiring to improve their illustrative style. www.soundcloud.com: Music is key to my creative process so I am always searching for new sources of audio inspiration.www.reddit.com: There is something for everyone on Reddit including many subreddits for all aspects of design and illustration. There are also as many cat pictures as anyone could ever want.

About how long does it take you to create an illustration for iStock?
It varies a lot. I’ve spent weeks on a single illustration more than once. On average, I try to take a few hours per illustration. I try to clean up the details and paths as well as label layers in a useful way to make it easier for buyers who want to do their own editing of the vector files. Buyers appreciate files where it’s evident that the illustrator has made an effort to create a well designed and organized vector. My goal is always to produce files that I myself would be easily able to edit and use if I were downloading them.

What are your favorite subjects to upload to iStock?
I try to create work that targets themes that are not currently well represented in the iStockphoto collection. This covers a really wide range of subjects. Experimenting with new themes, like flat icons and responsive web design for example, is a big part of my approach as well as more traditional subjects in which demand remains constant.

How has your iStock style evolved over the years? What do you think looking back on your first uploads to the site?
I look back at some of my earlier work and am amazed at how far I’ve come. My goal is always to continue learning and improving my style so that I can look back in another decade and have the same sense about my current work. As iStock standards have changed, new techniques have been made available that have greatly enriched illustrations that are created right now.

"I love the flexibility of being my own creative director. The only limits are my imagination and motivation."

What is your favorite part about having an iStock portfolio?
I love the flexibility of being my own creative director. The only limits are my imagination and motivation. I’m able to explore a wide range of illustrative concepts that wouldn’t be possible in a more conventional position. I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know many people, both professionally and personally, through my iStockphoto work. Also, the feeling of seeing my work on a billboard, in a magazine, on a book cover, a website or a tv program is just as thrilling as it was when I first started as a contributor.

Do you have any advice for new iStock contributors?
I would encourage new users to focus on developing their own style and working hard to create unique and high quality content. Stay in touch with trends but don’t be confined by them either. Not all illustrative “experiments” will be successful but those types of graphics are also where some of the greatest opportunity lies. Above all, don’t get discouraged and work hard.

How do you come up with new ideas for your iStock portfolio?
Coming up with ideas is always challenging. I try to talk to people who are either buyers of stock, potential buyers or people who have good creative instincts. Some of my best ideas have come from ideas mentioned to me by friends who wouldn’t know the first thing about creating a vector. It’s important to always be hunting for the next great concept.

Who are some of your favorite iStock illustrators?
Sodafish creates some of the cleanest icons and most useful illustrations I’ve seen on iStock. The quality of his work is always top notch. JohnWoodcock’s unique illustrative style is a great asset to the iStockphoto collection. His natural retro style is unmatched.

Describe a typical day in your life.
Outside of working on various freelance projects, most of my day is spent on conceptualizing and creating work for my iStockphoto portfolio. I start off by setting illustration goals for myself. I spend hours designing in illustrator and preparing files for upload. While working, I’m constantly thinking about the next concept I want to create. I also make sure to give myself fairly regular breaks to try to avoid creative block that can result from too relentlessly focusing on every point and path.

"It’s important to always be hunting for the next great concept."

If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you take with you?
Other than a fully charged satellite phone, a sea-worthy boat or volleyball named Wilson, I would bring enough pens and paper to last until I was either rescued or expired. Sketching and bringing ideas to life is one of the most fulfilling things for me.

If you could jet off anywhere, where would it be?
I think New Zealand would be my first choice. I’ve traveled extensively on the north island but haven’t yet been to the south island. It is a especially inspirational place for me. Travel is definitely a hobby of mine and I would be happy to jet off almost anywhere as a source for new photos, illustrative ideas or life experiences.

What's your favorite vice of indulgence?
My wife is a phenomenal baker so most of my favorite indulgences are food based. She makes a particularly good batch of chocolate cookies.

Is there anything else that we should know about you?
I’m 6’6” (198cm) and am an avid Volleyball player. If I’m not illustrating, I’m probably playing volleyball or spending time with my wife and our cat, Jack.

Check out filo's portfolio

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