Meet Illustrator Carl Wiens

A versatile artist with lots of clever and curious ideas, gives us a glimpse into the world of his art.  Introducing illustrator, Carl Wiens, represented by i2i Art.

  This self-portrait titled, Work and Play, is a tribute to the life of an illustrator – chasing deadlines and relaxing with a pint at the end of the day. Image created for a group show at the Land Gallery in Portland.

This self-portrait titled, Work and Play, is a tribute to the life of an illustrator – chasing deadlines and relaxing with a pint at the end of the day. Image created for a group show at the Land Gallery in Portland.

i2i Art: How long have you been illustrating for a living?

Carl Wiens: I’ve been drawing pictures for as long as I can remember. I started illustrating full time 26 years ago. That sounds like a long time, but my work has evolved an grown over the years. Even after all this time I am always looking for new directions and sources of inspiration.

  This signature piece is titled, The Dragonfly Effect: How to use social media for social good. Cover image for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

This signature piece is titled, The Dragonfly Effect: How to use social media for social good. Cover image for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

i2i Art: Describe a dream assignment?

Carl Wiens: It’s hard to pick a favourite; I work on so many different projects. I like to get involved with a series of images or dive into a book project.

A couple of years ago, I was contacted by publisher Brian Kaufman, and offered the chance to illustrate an entire issue of a magazine, cover-to-cover. SubTerrain is a Canadian arts and literary review, offering short stories, poetry and art. Its tagline is ‘Strong Words for a Polite Nation’. I haven’t had the chance to work illustrate fiction and poetry very often. I reviewed the articles, scribbling down the images springing to mind. I wanted to create strong images to go with the words.

Working on this project was like a night at a gourmet restaurant. One tasty dish after another, each with a different flavour. The work I did for the magazine was recognized by The Society of Illustrators and published in their annual, Luerzer’s 200 Best Illustrators and won a gold medal from the Western Canadian Magazine Awards. Here’s my favourite piece, for a short story by Lee Kvern called ‘Detachment’.

i2i Art: What would be an illustration assignment that you’d love to land?

Carl Wiens: I would love to work on a book project, illustrating a novel or developing visuals of characters and settings for a fictional novel. I have done some fantastic cover assignments for Tor.com and worked with writers like John Scalzi, Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling. If I could find the right vehicle, I would love to see my Mecanismos characters developed into a book, animation or app.

  Loco – Cover image for a Science Fiction short story, involving organic memory storage, scientists and exploding heads – for Tor.com

Loco – Cover image for a Science Fiction short story, involving organic memory storage, scientists and exploding heads – for Tor.com

i2i Art: What personal interests have most affected the direction you’ve taken with your art?
Carl Wiens: When I started out in the business, I was interested in whimsical illustrations and cartoons. My work matured as I moved through my career, and I was able to add more depth and conceptual strength, expanding into serious subject matter and op-ed illustrations. At a certain point I returned to the subjects that have inspired me throughout my life and decided to focus on nature, science and collage. I alsogot back to producing prints and creating art for gallery shows. That focus has driven my work to new levels and allowed me to establish new assignment work along with greater creative satisfaction.

I like the idea of an eccentric scientist, creating experiments in the lab, as a model for my creations. I think that sense of curiosity and playfulness still informs what I do.

  Title: Wavelength – Illustration for NPR calendar – these are the little beings that live inside your radio.

Title: Wavelength – Illustration for NPR calendar – these are the little beings that live inside your radio.

i2i Art: How do you get started with a creative brief for an assignment?

Carl Wiens: It is critical to sit down with paper and pencil and allow things to flow. Sometimes the act of drawing can bring to mind associations and concepts that lead to a series of visuals that solve a problem or arrive at an image that never would have presented itself. I also have an extensive library of old ephemera, encyclopedias and reference books that I can pour through to get inspired. I collect a lot of obscure manuals, vintage textbooks and other sources of odd and unconventional ideas.

i2i Art: Tell us a bit about your process?

Carl Wiens: I work primarily in Illustrator. I know my work doesn’t necessarily look as though it’s vector-based, but it is how I developed my technique and prefer to work with. Vector illustrations give me the flexibility to edit and experiment with colour and balance. I also like the way that the final illustrations can be scaled up or down without compromising detail and resolution.

I always start with pencil sketches and usually present initial concepts as such. I fill in the details once sketches are approved. I ink the drawings, scan them, then vectorize the linework. I can add in other elements from my large collection of vectorized vintage objects and textures. The mechanical elements in my illustrations come from my archives. I spend a lot of time balancing the elements and getting them to work together as a whole. So yes, the finished pieces are often a hybrid of traditional and digital work. I don’t want the pieces to look to digital, unless I am working on small icons or on a quick-turnaround assignment.

i2i Art: You created this illustration for the Work/Life series published by Uppercase.  Tell us about this image?

I worked in construction and have done a lot of hands-on labour over the years. I bring a workman-like approach to the things i do. It’s important to understand process, and how to build and image, to plan things out and bring all of the elements together to produce the final. I built my last studio in a dusty old barn. I cleaned it out, re-framed the inside, put in the drywall, wiring, windows and trim. When it was finished, I took a lot of pride in what I accomplished It’s important to have a space you feel is your own, where you feel comfortable and can make things happen.

i2i Art: What was the inspiration behind it this image, which you have available as a print?

I love to cycle, so drawing a bicycle and creating a print was a natural fit. I used a pair of old kids’ bikes as a basis for the drawing. I overlapped the images and screen printed them in different colours on a collaged background. There is a faux 3D feeling to the pieces. Remember the feeling of freedom and joy you had as a kid riding a bike? Those memories get fuzzy over time and this piece is meant to evoke that.

i2i Art:  Have you ever worked in animation with your art or had a client animate it?
Carl Wiens: I did some character design for Nelvana when I started out in the business. I also helped to develop and design segments for a show called Freaky Stories. My work lends itself well to motion and it is something that I intend to develop. I recently did a test, with a walking cycle for one of my mechanical collages.

See more of Carl Wiens’ work. Represented by i2i Art.