Creating Portraits and Caricatures with Jason Seiler
Ever since we first worked with illustrator Jason Seiler, back in 2014 (when he created a series of caricatures for our Adobe MAX coverage and participated in a Creative Voices video profile), we’ve wanted to work with him again. Our latest “Create With” webinar provided the perfect opportunity. Here, we discuss a few of that session’s highlights, answer a few questions we didn’t have time for, and share our recording of the full session (at the bottom of this page).
Watching Jason work is a real pleasure, and we’re glad to be able to share the experience with a wider audience. Jason specializes in caricatures and portraits, as well as illustrations that fall somewhere in between those two descriptions. But no matter what you call his work, he says his goal when illustrating is to capture a person’s essence. And that’s what he does, for magazines like Time, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, the Weekly Standard, Der Spiegel, Billboard, Guitar Player—we could go on, but you get the picture! (See Jason’s portfolio site for more.)
Jason works both in traditional media and in pixels. For much of his editorial illustration, he works in Adobe Photoshop CC, using a Wacom Cintiq—in part because painting digitally allows him to work faster and meet tight deadlines.
But one of the things you discover when you watch Jason work is just how closely his digital techniques mirror traditional techniques: He starts with a sketch. He relies on color and line to craft caricatures, using a limited number of brushes and blending techniques, rather than using any distortion effects. And—to answer a participant question we didn’t get to during the session—he doesn’t even use masking as he works. “It’s all straight-up painting,” he says.
In my conversations with Jason, he stressed the importance of this painterly approach when he’s working in Photoshop. And although many of his images—even the caricatures—have a photo-realistic feel, he’s not working in a “pixel-perfect” manner. He’s judicious about where he goes for fine detail, and as he’s working, he frequently zooms out from an illustration to judge how it will look when it is reproduced in, for instance, an 8-inch-by-6-inch box on the page of a magazine.
Unlike some Photoshop artists, Jason doesn’t generally use a lot of layers; rather, he layers “paint” on a small number of layers. (But not always, as you’ll see in the Steven Tyler snippet, below.) And in many pieces, he employs an underpainting technique to help define color values and provide depth.
Our hour with Jason flew by (and a couple of minutes’ worth of technical difficulty about halfway through didn’t help!), and one thing I wish we'd had more time for is Jason’s Rick Ross portrait. So here’s a closer look:
We hope we’ll be able to work with Jason again soon. In the meantime, some other questions we didn’t get to during the session addressed the professional side of things: “How do you get the attention of art directors?” and “Do you need an agent?” for example. Jason says, “An agent can help for sure, but really what I suggest—besides having a strong portfolio—is to visit art directors in person. I also suggest entering your work into shows like Society of Illustrators, for example. That’s a good way to get your work out there.”