Kyle Smithgall

Part 1: From Coder to Designer

Green Sea Turtle, 2019, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

I am constantly reflecting on the events that lead to my current art style and creative process, so it is only logical that I introduce my work from the start of my journey at Whitworth. When I transferred from Spokane Falls Community College, I originally planned to major in Computer Science. My interest in this field stemmed from my fascination in video games, as I wanted to program similar digital experiences for others. It was not long, however, before I realized that the visual aspect of video games is what captured me, and not the tedious background coding. After a spring and summer hiatus to reevaluate my passions, I landed on Whitworth’s Graphic Design program. It was the perfect combination of technological and visual creativity, and my first class in Adobe Creative Cloud resolved any doubt I had about switching career paths. 

Lionfish, 2019, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

Growing up I had always been obsessed with nature and wildlife, so when it came time to create my first zine on “anything we wanted,” I immediately jumped into working with sea life.  I chose to use Adobe Illustrator for this project, as the versatility of the vector format interested me. My primary goal with the booklet was to draw attention to the complicated and fascinating characteristics of marine animals through simplified vector shapes. The formal strategies used in my marine life booklet also reflect my work’s conceptual basis, that the contemplation of simple components, complex systems, and the relationship between the two allow for one to experience true beauty.

Biscuit Sea Star, 2019, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Atlantic Sea Nettle, 2019, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Chocolate Chip Sea Start, 2019, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Cuttlefish, 2019, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

Part 2: Growing My Illustration Skills

Circle Icons: Wave, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

After taking my first Adobe Suite class and discovering my love for design, I was able to improve my skill in a Graphic Design 1 course. I was originally concerned with the amount of layout and print design in this class, as the rigid structure of body text and magazine formatting did not lend itself well to my design style. Luckily, we eventually started an assignment called “Circle Icons” where were needed to illustrate different subject matter within the bounds of a circle. I took this project as an opportunity to test what I could do with Adobe Illustrator. Opacity, gradient, and shape builder tools were all used to create these icons. I think the koi pond is my favorite because the transparency of the water and the unique colors of the fish forced me to learn new illustration strategies.

Circle Icons: Koi Pond, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

This course narrowed my focus in illustration and allowed me to experience what my profession might look like after graduation. While the stylistic choices for this project were beginning to emphasize simplicity within complexity, it was not until the following semester that I began to use abstraction as a means for expressing this concept.  

Circle Icons: Planet, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Circle Icons: Desert, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Circle Icons: Cookie, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Circle Icons: Hamburger, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Circle Icons: Turtle, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Circle Icons: Cat and Moon, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Circle Icons, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

Part 3: Developing Design

Kyle Smithgall Logo, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

After enjoying the Circle Icon project, I began searching for more opportunities to incorporate illustrations into design. Logo design works best for this because it often requires creative use of iconography. In my Typography 1 class, I had a chance to create a logo for myself. While the process of brainstorming was fun, I found that settling on a personal brand was rather difficult. It is one thing to create for another company or person, but it is a lot harder to examine my own identity in this way. I eventually came to a design that communicated my interest in illustration while remaining simple.

Kyle Smithgall Logo and Wordmark, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Kyle Smithgall Brand Style Guide, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

Since my Typography class my design style has changed to incorporate more geometric forms. My current Graphic Design course offered an opportunity to show my growth through a fictional rebranding assignment for the Whitworth Art and Design Department. This minimalist pinecone design better represents my current design style, and if I were to rebrand myself, I would use this project as a starting point.

Whitworth Art and Design Logo, 2021, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Whitworth Art and Design Brand Composition, 2021, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

Part 4: Abstraction and Illustration

Despite being in the Whitworth Art Department for only two years, I truly feel that my skill in design and illustration has improved significantly. One of the main benchmarks for my success is the incorporation of abstraction into my art. Geometric Portrait and Fruit Triptych are currently being exhibited in the Bryan Oliver Gallery, and are great examples of how my work has taken an abstract direction.

Geometric Portrait, 2020, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

The Geometric Portrait was my attempt at taking traditional “vector portraits” a step further. Each shape and color were meticulously altered to create its current appearance. I chose not to vectorize the hair of the figure, as the interplay of thenegative space between the two main forms allows for subjective interpretation by the viewer. I am pleased with the finished product and plan to create more illustrations using a similar technique. 

For my Fruit Triptych, the creative process was much more succinct. My process of abstraction considers both the color and form of each piece of fruit. The apple incorporated more rectangular shapes, the orange focused on curves and crescents, and the banana included both circular and square forms. After abstracting, I used a function in Adobe Illustrator to give the fruit a layered paper effect. I enjoyed this project because it allowed me to experiment and have fun with digital abstraction.

Fruit Triptych: Apple, 2021, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Fruit Triptych: Orange, 2021, Adobe Illustrator, size variable
Fruit Triptych: Banana, 2021, Adobe Illustrator, size variable

Find me on Instagram @kyles_illustrationsanddesign or on Redbubble at KyleSmithgall

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