The Apple Matters Interview: David Lanham
Earlier this week I had the absolute privilege of interviewing David Lanham, a graphics designer over at www.iconfactory.com. He’s currently an Internet favourite with beautiful animations such as KittyTank, outstanding artwork along the lines of Katie and my personal digital favourite, Oscar. If you’re a regular user of Iconfactory.com or another Mac Theming website, you’ve probably come across some of David’s work before.
His work is simplistic and complex with a broad range of emotions, both funny and sad, being shown in between. David appears to have a bizarre but appreciated imagination as some of his work shows talking soda bottles chasing, well I’m still not 100% sure what, a hippo? How about a hare and a tortoise chilling out by the pool? Sound interesting? Read on.
Aaron: David, for those unaware, could you give us a brief biography?
David: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing, growing up my family and friends were always either giving me lessons or encouraging my creativity. I haven’t always drawn really good, but I honed my technical skills in after school lessons during high-school and some incredible professors in college. But I’ve also always been around computers and everything has sort of flown together and now I’m doing digital illustration for a living and it’s really quite nice, though I do love to work with pen and paper still and always have my sketchbook handy.
Aaron: You currently work at the Iconfactory.com, could you tell us a little bit about your role there?
David: I’m one of the designers on staff at the Iconfactory and spend my days doodling around and being creative. We mostly make icons for software products, but there are occasional surprises thrown in and lots of fun internal projects as well. It’s a really a great environment there, couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.
Aaron: How did you manage to take part in such a fantastic opportunity working for them?
David: I had been a fan of their icons and site for some time, and then in 2003 I entered their Pixelpalooza icon contest and ended up placing first in one of the categories. About a year later they called me asked me to come up for an interview and it was just a perfect match since I was finishing up my senior year of college at that time.
Aaron: Where do you see your career heading now? Any specific plans for the future, such as projects?
David: Nothing concrete at the moment, I’ve only been an official part of the working world for a few years now. As far as the projects at the Iconfactory go, there are some really great things on the horizon, but most of the really juicy stuff I’m under lock and key about.
Aaron: David, some of my favourite pieces of your work include ‘Oscar The Fisherman’ and ‘Lure’, most probably down to their simplicity. What are your inspirations for these and other work you’ve done?
David: My inspirations vary a lot, and sometimes they don’t even exist. They can be as simple as ‘I think that could look cool’ or more complex thoughts I had about a subject and worked into visual metaphors. I also get a lot of inspiration from absorbing things I see, other artwork, nature or even just people watching. But overall, I do try to keep things simple, I’m still learning to keep a balance on things so I know when to stop and when to push further.
Aaron: As you’re using the Internet as one of possibly many mediums to show off your work, would you say there were any other websites out there that have perhaps opened your mind to aid in creating your art?
David: There aren’t really any specific sites, but I do love just how diverse the internet is. I browse all sorts of design and art sights and it’s just amazing some of the work people put out. Granted there is a lot of bland and overly trendy stuff to wade through, but you can tell who’s sharing their soul and passions and who is just regurgitating other people’s work. But all the diversity definitely brings a drive to keep pushing myself and learning new things, experimenting with various ways of drawing and bringing compositions together.
Aaron: Is there any artwork you’ve done that has drawn a tear to your eye, or at least had some saddening effect on human emotions?
David: Some of my older work used to be really dark and vicious, but after a while and I guess as I paid more attention to the world, I found that there was enough depressing things going on that it really didn’t do too much good to add to it. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, but for the most part, I tend to keep my work on the happy side of things. It’s probably because I do feel that emotional connection to my work and looking at something that brings a smile to your face and a warm feeling inside is just really nice, even if it’s only a brief distraction.
Aaron: Of all the work you’ve created, or at least the ones submitted onto your website, can you name the three that you have a special love or connection to?
Aaron: You also have a variety of animations available. Are there any that make you particularly happy?
David: I absolutely love the kitty tank animation. I could play that one all day!
Aaron: Growing up with a clear passion for art, who would you say have influenced you the most? Is there anyone that you look up to especially?
David: My biggest influences have always been my teachers and family that kept pushing me to continue developing my talents.
Aaron: On that note, has anyone ever approached and told you that you were an influence in their creations?
David: I’ve gotten quite a few emails asking for advice and guidance, and there have been a few people that have done some brilliant stuff that’s really flattering, but overall I try and encourage them to explore as diverse amounts of artists and styles as they can so that they can develop in their own ways.
Aaron: I’m presuming artwork was always a hobby for you, allowing you time to relax and show your creative side. However, do you feel that now your hobby is also your job you don’t enjoy creating art as much? I know many people who strive to make sure their hobbies and work don’t clash.
David: I’ve struck a really strange balance there, although I’m not sure that it makes total sense, but the projects I do at work and home are very different types of illustration. Drawing realistic icons is very technical while my personal work tends to be more loose and free and I don’t have to think about all the minute details that I would if I were drawing something completely realistic. There is a lot of overlap with elements of each crossing over to both sides but they really use different parts of the brain, and I’m just enough of a computer addict to not mind doing both digitally.
Aaron: Do you have any other ways of relaxing?
David: Getting outdoors is always good, hanging out with friends, running or hiking. I try to stay fairly active since I’m sitting down so much during work hours.
Aaron: Your website www.dlanham.com is obviously the hub for all your creations. How long ago did you start to learn the fundamentals of web creation and all that coding malarkey?
David: I started playing with it maybe 7 or 8 years ago, just doing really basic stuff and setting up personal portfolio sites for school and such. It has slowly developed over the years and as I learn more I try it out on my site. I’m up to hand coding everything with css and incredibly basic php includes now, so it’s coming along quite nicely.
Aaron: Any plans for the website in the next couple of years?
David: My site is still more of a pain to update than it should be, but I’ve gotten it much better than it used to be. I imagine I’ll work on optimizing that in the future and probably some more design tweaks, a lot of stuff that isn’t completely up to my liking yet.
Equipment plus Apple Computer
Aaron: Time for you to cheer up the Mac lovers out there, what hardware do you use for your creations?
David: I’m currently working on a PowerMac dual 2.3GHz G5 with a 20” ACD and a 19” CRT (though another ACD would be nice at some point!)
Aaron: And software?
David: I primarily work in Adobe Illustrator, though I tend to be in Photoshop a lot too for all my other projects and exporting things.
Aaron: How long have you been using Macintosh computers, including your first Apple product?
David: My first experience with an Apple computer was in grade school with an Apple IIe, but the first one I owned was a 667MHz Powerbook G4 in 2001.
Aaron: Do you feel the Macintosh is a better platform for creation than say a Windows or UNIX machine? If so, why?
David: I really only have experience working on windows, but I can definitely say it’s much more pleasant to work on Mac. There’s just something about their design, the computer just stays out of your way so you don’t have to worry about anything other that what you are working on.
Aaron: Have Apple released anything this year that particularly enthuses you? For example the Intel machines or perhaps the new iPods.
David: I’m really excited about the Intel machines; they are really quite snappy and quick in both the hardware and the OS. I’m definitely looking forward to getting one, though my current G5 is still running great, so I really can’t complain much.
Aaron: Is there anything in Apple’s upcoming operating system, OS X 10.5 Leopard, that will be tickling your wallet for an upgrade?
David: I’m actually really looking forward to the updates to iChat, Mail and iCal. It looks like some really useful things going on there. There are a few other things too.. but I can’t talk about those
Aaron: Where do you see Apple heading in the next 10 years? Possibly removing Microsoft from number one spot?
David: Heh.. I’m sure anyone that has stock in Apple would love that, but I think it’s a pretty far shot. I can definitely see them taking a chunk of the users out there though, Apple seems to be taking steps in the right directions and they really don’t have anywhere to go but up. Though I wouldn’t call MS dead in the water either, should they ever get their act together, it could be tough competition. No matter what though, it will definitely be an interesting decade for computers and even more so for Apple fans.
Aaron: David, thanks so much for your time and good luck with the future
David: Thanks again, I appreciate the new questions!