Richard May and fellow pixelsurgeon.com founders Jason Arber and Rina Cheung are playing Photoshop Tennis in front of a centre-court crowd. Two or more creative types work on an image bouncing the file backwards and forwards across the net in a game invented by Jim Coudal, founder of a Chicago advertising and design agency, to wile away a wet Friday afternoon in the office. Richard and co are struggling with a shiny new G5 loaned by Apple that inexplicably keeps crashing and doesn’t like Adobe’s elderly but effective Streamline, used for converting images to line art.
Images copyright www.richard-may.com
The game came to a frustratingly premature end – more pong than ping-pong – but not before Richard and friends have helped demystify the art of illustration and inspired a number of newbies in attendance, myself included. Refreshingly, the trio is happy to show the tricks of the trade, proof that computers and software don’t require a steep learning curve even when faced with one bad Apple. “Ah, you know…” says Richard, “they look like giant cheese-graters from space anyway. But seriously, that was simply due to the fact that when presented with our list of software and hardware requirements, they chose to ignore us. Lovely, attentive people. No, really.”
Now fresh from a trip to the other Big Apple, with plans for a joint exhibition at the hopelessly trendy The Apartment HQ (www.theapt.com) in New York, Richard remains both fashionably contemporary but continually in demand due, in part, to a body of work showcased on his own Web site. Richard-May.com acts as an extensive digital portfolio of backbreaking proportions and a free-roaming agent available 24/7 but without those agent’s fees. Regular updates create an impression of a productive mind, looser experimental work collated in a sketchbook section showcasing Richard’s often deceptively simple style. The site loads quickly on dialup and any browser, free of Flash and unnecessary trickery that could lose potential clients, saving time and money.
Since graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University in 1998, Richard has built up an impressive client base that includes The Guardian, Financial Times, Time, Time Out, British Airways, Warner Bros and Peugeot and Waterstones marketing campaigns. He cleverly combines hand-drawn artwork with Photoshop and the Mac, citing the machine’s intuitive design as a major bonus. In person Richard is an amiable and modest man towering over his contemporaries, and happy to offer words of advice and warning, particularly to the students he teaches.
A couple of hours a day and some late nights are taken up with Richard’s regular contributions to the truly wonderful pixelsurgeon.com which, along with macworld.co.uk, is the place to check throughout the day. Loosely a portal for designers, pixelsurgeon.com is a digest of the creative, strange and interesting from the internet; covering design, illustration, photography, art, technology, culture, music, games and movies, that in the creators’ own words “isn’t afraid to be uncool”.
New features are added weekly; the great and the good profiled alongside more-obscure artists. Daily news feeds are updated consistently, offering a quick fix for those to busy or lazy to surf the net in pursuit of the next big thing or the weird and wonderful. Links are provided by a hand-picked team of contributors who seek out some of the best new work around at a time when seemingly everyone and his granny has a Web site. Pixelsurgeon.com regulars share common interests including links to Mac-related news and views and the uncanny ability to spot new talent. A recommendation by Richard, Jason, Rina and the many others should guarantee increased traffic to a site. Much of the work highlighted is excellent, a real find for any commissioning editor or art director, the general standard high – even among those just starting out. Pixelsurgeon.com also creates a feeling of community linking those with shared interests and common goals.
Macworld: Apple has profiled you in its Pro series and your arsenal of illustration tools includes two Power Macs. So why Macs?
Richard May: Simply because they were the only machines available at university. Before that, the only computer I'd used for creative purposes was the Commodore 64 with some obscure little image editor; buxom Amazonian warrior chicks and killer robots in glorious pixel-vision – lovely. I have nothing against using a Windows machine, but I'd rather stick with what I know.
MW: Do continued improvements, such as the introduction of the G5 and Panther plus advances in Photoshop, make the job easier or do clients become more demanding as a result?
RM: I won't deny that owning a faster machine (which I don't, yet) will make things easier to a certain degree, but really only when working on enormous double-page spread illustrations in Photoshop. As far as clients go, it depends on who you're working for. There are a few art directors out there who still believe that using Photoshop automatically overrides any traditional sense of composition and design – but, to be blunt, they're idiots. It's one thing to adapt an image as you go along – for example, if more stuff needs to be crammed onto a page layout halfway through the job – but to change things purely on the art director's whim…
MW: As a part-time lecturer, what advice would you give students when choosing a computer?
RM: If you've got the cash, go for a Mac any day of the week, but don't feel pressured by conventional thinking and anally retentive graphic designer geek-advice if you don't. You'll get more bang for your budget with a Windows machine. But if you were to put a gun to my head, I'd say Apple.
MW: What general advice would you give someone starting a career as an illustrator with thousands about to leave college for the real world?
RM: Be prepared for long hours and little money, at least to begin with. You'll need a thick hide and plenty of patience and perseverance – it isn’t not the easiest profession to make a living in. And get your finances sorted from the get-go. Other than that, good luck, because you'll need it.