There is something so compelling and satisfying about simplicity, and Ryan Putnam gets it. The San Francisco-based artist is equally at home in illustration, pottery, and design, and in all three areas his focus shines though. From line drawings and black-and-white photos to clean white vases, Ryan’s creative projects come off to viewers as effortless, but his students know that he’s worked his ideas thoughtfully and imaginatively. The work lies behind his art.

Avatar Illustration by Ryan Putnam
Avatar Illustration by Ryan Putnam

On the heels of Ryan Putnam releasing a brand-new digital illustration class (his second on Skillshare), we asked him a few questions about his favorite tools and advice for illustrators. He wisely advises avoiding the temptation to chase gear or procrastinate in pursuit of a perfect idea. The important thing is to get started with what you already have.

What’s in your illustration toolkit?

RP: Most importantly, pencil and paper. Most of my work is digital, but you still can’t beat pencil and paper to get ideas out quickly. After that, a computer, two tablets, and my camera. I try to capture as much inspiration as I can. My iPhone’s camera does the trick most of the time, but really any camera will do.

What tablets do you recommend?

RP: My mainstay is the 22 Wacom Cintq; that’s the big guy that I have at home. I use it all the time to illustrate and design. But, I also use a Wacom Intuos Tablet. I work in a number of different offices throughout the week, and this travel table is essential for illustrating and designing. It’s not that you ever need a tablet, but as a professional, it keeps my work efficient.

What’s most surprising about your workspace?

RP: I like to keep my desk relatively clean of trinkets and clutter. I try not to add in extra tools just because they seem trendy. The magic happens in your head and quick sketches. There is so much you can already do with pencil, paper, computer, Wacoms, and camera.

Do you have advice for beginning illustrators?

RP: Practice. Never stop growing your style, and never stop growing yourself as a human being.

Ryan Putnam shares more about materials, techniques, and illustration in his two Skillshare classes — Digital Illustration: Design Your Avatar and Exploring Your Illustration Style: Exercises to Push Your Work — both available with Skillshare Membership.

Written by:

Alyssa Demirjian