Currently Listening To: If U C My Enemies by Rubblebucket
Favorite Video Game Character: Kefka Palazzo (Final Fantasy 3/6), the first video game villain to make me genuinely fear for the protagonists.
tell us about yourself and the kind of work you create.
My name is Alex Clauss and I’m an illustrative designer based in Phoenix, Arizona. I spend my spare time collecting video games and vinyl toys and hanging out with my wonderful wife and daughter. I studied art at Arizona State University, then after graduating I worked in marketing for a number of years. I really enjoyed the work, but struggled with not having control over the workflow and policy that affected my day-to-day. After spending a year laying the groundwork to do so, I gave my notice and switched to full-time freelancing.
I’ve always been a jack of all trades, and that mentality definitely carried over into my freelance practice. Illustration is my passion, but I’ve worked in creative consulting, branding, and website design as well. I love making work that is bright, playful, and sometimes cheeky. I’ve tried to carry a positive and collaborative mentality into all aspects of my creative practice.
what is your typical day like? are there any challenges that you face on a consistent basis?
My days are extremely varied, but typically as soon as I drop my daughter off at daycare I pour a cup of coffee and sit down to get to work. Depending upon the types of projects I’m working on in a given week, that usually means either sitting at the computer or maybe outside on my iPad doing concept work (except in the summer months — it gets hot here in Arizona!)
The main struggle that I tend to have is shifting gears; doing accounting, then working on an illustration, then having a conference call, and trying to keep my head on straight in the midst of it. Being “creative” for me requires a very specific mindset, and dipping in and out of it to do other non-creative things can be tough! My ability to make that pivot has improved over time, though.
your work is heavily influenced by video games and retro illustration. how does this influence your process?
Gaming has been my primary lifelong hobby, so elements of video games always bleed into my creative work. My genre of choice is the roleplaying game, so I tend to create lots of “concept” characters for my illustrations with silly costumes or quirks. Growing up in the 90s gave me a real soft spot for the limited color palettes of the video games in that era, and I work almost exclusively in small palettes even today. This aesthetic must come across, because I’ve been hired to work on art for multiple games since going freelance!
As far as the retro vibes go, I have a huge passion for mid-century design, decor, and artwork. I love the simple geometry of everything and every piece I make could definitely be seen through that lens (some more than others).
while you work on a wide range of projects, your minimal color palettes tie everything in your portfolio together so well. can you tell us a bit about the science behind your color development?
My color philosophy original came from doing pixel art as a hobby. I grew up with the Nintendo and Super Nintendo and liked to emulate their limited palettes when I made pixel art, so I would build out really minimal color ramps to challenge myself. I always make better work when I’ve got limitations placed upon me, so I carried that same mentality over as I transitioned into illustration.
How I actually build palettes will vary from piece to piece, but my favorite way is to pick a base color, then build out a ramp of 4-6 colors around it by using the HSB settings in Photoshop. I usually shift hue towards blue or purple for the darker colors and lower the saturation, then go toward yellow for the lighter colors with a higher saturation.
you’re at a point in your career where you’re not only running pretty picture club, but your managing your own freelance business, being a family man, and still ending up with a good night sleep! what’s your secret formula for crafting such incredible time management skills?
All of the above is true except for the “good night sleep” part! Between having a toddler who wakes up early and always having projects on my mind, sleep is not something I get much of. I’m always juggling numerous projects in totally different realms (illustration, design, creative coaching, managing PPC) so I create LOTS of documentation to keep it all straight. My memory is terrible, but between comprehensive google docs, a bunch of spreadsheets, and a really big Trello board, I somehow manage to keep it together.
you’ve made a lot of opportunities for yourself by meeting people from different fields of work, being business savvy, and simply being a friendly human, and your approach eventually helped you in creating what is pretty picture club. can you talk about the importance of the collective, and how to approach people you want to work with?
Wow what a good question! I’m of the mindset that if I’m able, I always want to help others. Everyone has pain points in their life, and I think a lot of freelancers have the mentality of, “I’m a designer. I design things. Pay me money and I will design you a thing. Any issues outside of that are not my problem.” Although my favorite things to do are illustration and design, if someone needs career advice, or a project referral, or just help moving a heavy box, why not lend a hand?
I’m a very introverted person, so “selling yourself” is an aspect of freelancing I have always struggled with. It took way too long, but I eventually realized that being a GOOD person, and being genuinely helpful to those around you makes people want to work with you much more than sending out cold emails to 1,000 art directors every week. Very often I connect with someone over something entirely unrelated to my artistic side, and after forming a relationship, they eventually end up hiring me when they find out what I do for a living. Put out good vibes and the universe will listen!
what is the prettiest picture you’ve made recently?
I had a lot of fun making a self portrait for the latest Pretty Picture Club theme!