A 2013 University of Michigan graduate working as a freelance artist, Ronan Lynam may be young and new to the scene, but his work proves he’s a rising talent to keep an eye on. Already published on a variety of design sites and commissioned by big-name franchises, Ronan has wasted no time getting his work discovered and appreciated, and deservingly so. Widening his retail portfolio, he officially opened his very own Threadless Artist Shop, featuring a breadth of inspiring work that speaks for itself. Read on to learn more about Ronan, and check out his Artist Shop here!
Hi, Ronan! Welcome to Artist Shops. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! Thanks for the interview. I’m a US based illustrator who loves digital drawing. I went to college at the University of Michgan’s School of A&D, and I currently live tucked away in the mountains of southern West Virginia.
After graduating from college in 2013, you began a career as a freelance artist. What were the challenges and benefits of beginning your solo career right off the bat?
Jumpin’ into the tough questions right away, I see! I’ve been working towards building a freelance illustration career for about two years. The challenges have been many, but like all problems they can eventually be solved. The biggest problem is just a complete lack of direction. The crippling question of “Well, what do I do now?” is incredibly difficult to deal with when starting, especially if you have limited resources to help guide you.
Figuring everything out for yourself is tough. I think not letting yourself get overwhelmed with the endless possibilities your career can take is important. In my experience, it’s best to try and take things day-by-day. Having long-term goals can help paint a broad picture of what you need to do, but not having smaller goals can leave you dumbfounded and lost. I think creating a day-to-day list of tasks can help people consistently and effectively make progress.
Of course, there plenty of benefits to working as a freelance anything. Setting your own hours and working when it fits your needs is great!
It’s a competitive world out there, and you’re new to the ball game. How have you worked to break in and stand apart from the rest?
There are a loooooot of illustrators online and standing out from the crowd is outstandingly difficult. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to even appear on the radar, but the more you try the easier it gets. Learning how to work social media is a big part of that. So many successful artists have hundreds of thousands of fans across the web, but it’s important to understand that they all started at rock bottom too. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try!
I’ve personally tried revamping the way I share my illustrations. Instead of just posting to Tumblr & Instagram, I’ve started looking for new sites to share work on, like Reddit or dedicated illustration blogs. Instead of just sharing a file straight from my hard drive, I take the time to make art prints and photograph them outside. I’ve found that to be a very engaging way to share work. Plus it gets my butt outside.
What was the most helpful or impactful thing you learned as an undergraduate in art school?
I went into school wanting to be the most technically proficient and masterful illustrator ever. I just wanted to blow people away with crazy good drawings, and that’s all I really cared about. However, I started to learn a bit more about my skills and how they can be used. At some point, I learned that good drawing isn’t always about making the best work, but rather the right work. A lot of super popular designs on Threadless are a great example of that. Why is “Funkalicious” so insanely popular? It’s just the right type of drawing that resonates with a massive amount of people. If the artist drew an impressively photorealistic spaceman, it would be a great drawing but it just wouldn’t have the same appeal. It’s just the right type of drawing for the job.
How did you develop your distinct aesthetic, and what words would you use to describe it?
Coming up with my own voice was a long and creatively tortuous process. Around a year ago, I decided that I wanted to work towards having a more unified visual style. The problem was that I was torn between two very different types of work – loose, digital painting and more graphic illustration (for things like shirts). After struggling with what I thought I should do, I’ve come to sort of combine the two. I enjoy the organic detailing and rendering of digital painting, while I enjoy the succinctness and vividness of more graphic work. I also used to be very reserved when it came to using color, but now I enjoy making work that is brimming with saturation and fun colors!
What’s your general process when creating new pieces?
When it comes to ideas, I think the good old dictionary is one of the best places to help expand an existing idea. Simply looking up synonyms to words does wonders towards seeing things from a new perspective.
Everything I do is drawn in Photoshop. For most drawings, they start with the usual rough sketch, and then I’ll draw a more refined sketch. I personally enjoy working in greyscale for getting down all the important values and details, and I’ve really grown to love colorizing greyscale work. I use a combination of the layer modes Color, Soft Light, Overlay, and Multiply to get down my initial colors. I use a lot of layers, as I enjoy the freedom of easily editing things that I just laid down.
It appears animals have a great influence on your work. Why is this?
I guess I just love animals! They’re fun to draw, more so than people. They especially fare well on shirts.
Of all the opportunities you’ve pursued as an artist, what makes opening your Artist Shop different?
The Threadless Artist Shops beat out all other PoD platforms in so many different ways. Some of my favorites include the completely independent site for every store, and knowing that the shirts will be Threadless quality. Of course, the massive commissions per product sold is incredible. The margins are VERY artist-friendly. Everything is so artist-friendly that I plan on making my Threadless store the only online shop that I exclusively promote.
What are some of the coolest projects you’ve worked on as a freelance artist?
I’ve been able to work on a few different projects that I’ve really enjoyed. Recently, I contributed a drawing towards promoting a concert with the Colorado Symphony. I really wanted to combine my illustrations with a custom typography treatment, so that was a perfect opportunity to do so.
I’m also pleased to become the illustrator for a podcast called Professor Blastoff, featuring three awesome comedians. I’ll be contributing the artwork for their weekly podcasts, and I’m excited to be possibly getting more involved with the comedy/podcast world!
What well-known artists do you look to for influence?
There have been so many amazing illustrators that have influenced my own work. I’m just flabbergasted at the amount of amazing talent online, and I’m very inspired by the well-deserved success of many different popular artists. There are a handful of artists who I can really articulate why they inspire me. Some of these include:
Digital painter Sam Spratt has always been one of my favorite illustrators. I really don’t know where to start with this guy. I’m a huge fan-boy. His career itself is an amazing achievement. It’s great to know that a single, hard working illustrator can enjoy such immense success. His work taught me more about how to incorporate more traditional techniques into a digital workflow. His dominant online presence taught me that sharing something is just as important as making it, as he shared in this useful list of lessons he’s learned since art school. His brushwork taught me how to better incorporate stroke into my work. He’s just an all around amazing artist!
Threadless superstar Mike Mitchell‘s illustrations really inspired me to create more vivid illustrations. His drawings are so colorful and fun, and it really taught me to make sure my illustrations pack a punch. I love how his drawings are so succinct, and that really helped play a role in helping merge my love for digital painting and more simple graphic illustration. I enjoy everything he makes, from Skully to the Marvel prints to the fat cats. I love it all!
Louis Roskosch is probably my favorite shirt designer. Another Threadless artist, he has dominated all the best shirt sites with his extraordinarily unique style. One of the most important things I think I’ve ever read is a quote tucked away in the depths of his Tumblr:
“Try not to draw things ‘on model’, it can be boring and end up look bootleggy. Developing your own original and recognizable style will pay off better in the long run for you. And besides, it’s fun to see an original take on a character and not just the same official art copied over and over again.”
This quote helped me a lot understand that it’s important to have your own visual voice & style. People like to see something different, and simply making original work is the best way to do that!
What’s a typical day like in the life of Ronan?
Everyday I crawl out of bed and eat my ceremonial oatmeal or yogurt. I then sit on my butt either trying to think of stuff to draw, or how to attract new opportunities. I live in the wild and wonderful southern West Virginia, so I try to get outside when I can. When the day’s all done, I’ll probably wind down with some video games and a nice cold beer. I almost beat Dark Souls 2, which is a significant accomplishment in my life.
Any other shout-outs?
To you Shawn! Thanks for coming up with such great questions. I hope people find the interview interesting, and thanks to the ThreadStaff for everything!
Content Manager & Writer at Threadless. Into the usual stuff like words and music and internet animals.