Interview with Ty Wilkins

02 Jun 2011

I always have utter admiration for graphical artists who are able to stylize something to its bare essentials using only a few lines or shapes and yet keep things very recognizable. There are only a few who are really good at it. Ty Wilkins, an independent graphic designer and illustrator living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is definitely one of these talented few. He can draw illustrations in such a way that they look like logos. Ty worked for Gardner Design where he had the opportunity to redesign LogoLounge. He's also the founder and editor of the contemporary typography blog Type Theory. He currently teaches Typography for the Academy of Art University online undergraduate program. In his free time, Ty spends his time illustrating, drawing and collecting books by mid-century modern illustrators. His beautifully crafted style made me want to interview him, and this week I had the honor…

Logo for Peachpit Press and Illustration for Monocle.

Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator, or did you do something else before you started freelancing?

I have always been interested in illustration. Growing up I wanted to be a Disney (and later Pixar) animator. I would carefully study photos and photorealistic illustrations like that of Norman Rockwell and meticulously recreate them in pen and ink. Over time I grew comfortable drawing with ink without preliminary pencil sketches. I later studied graphic design at Auburn University.

I rediscovered illustration several years ago when I realized that I could illustrate in much the same way that I design logos. I worked as a professional graphic designer for six years before going independent. I created a few personal illustrated pieces, such as the fox, horse and toucan, and was surprised at the response online to my illustration work. I started being contacted by design firms looking to hire me to create commercial illustrations. At this point I decided that I should go independent so that I could pursue these opportunities. This all happened about a year ago.

Icon design work for Monocle

How would you describe your creative process?

As an illustrator I feel that it is important to develop original work that is conceptually and stylistically unique. At the same time I feel that inspiration is very valuable. If your source of inspiration is very limited it can be far too tempting to lift the ideas of other talented people. In order to make sure that I always create original work, I do tons of research. I buy books, make trips to the library, search online and visit the thrift store.

Once I have collected heaps of inspiration, I start to envision unusual relationships between colors, forms and concepts that were never there before.

Writing down words is very helpful. When working on a logo or editorial assignment I make a list of keywords and then list related words and visuals. This helps keep me on track conceptually. Sometimes the best solution is simply finding a witty way to combine two unrelated symbols.

I am a big advocate of sketching. I find that ideas flow out of a pencil much faster than a mouse or stylus. So I spend about 50-75% of my time on each assignment sketching.

Illustration work for Monocle

Could you describe a typical working day?

I generally have anywhere from 2-5 deadlines in a week, so I am often working today for something that is due tomorrow. I prefer to dedicate large periods of time to a single project rather than jumping around frequently within a given day. I am quite the night owl and find that I can be very productive in a short period of time in the late hours of the night. I am passionate about my work so I sometimes forget that I work long hours.

Illustration for Poster Cabaret, Real Men Real Heroes logo, Monocle Issue Opener Illustration for Monocle, and Cheerios Polar Bear illustration for Cheerios.

We hear that you are planning to move to Austin soon. What takes you to the Lone Star State?

That's right, I am moving to Austin this summer. Austin has a flourishing entrepreneurial economy and really embraces the arts. In addition to great weather, Austin's economic climate continually ranks among the best in the country with strong education, government and tech sectors providing a strong foundation. I was born in Texas but this will be my first time living in Austin. I've really enjoyed my time in Tulsa and hope to return to visit often.

Illustration for Listopedia.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

When I'm not working, I love to be outside enjoying the sunshine with my wife and kids. My daughter is fascinated with insects and is currently trying to create her own makeshift ant farm. I bought her a sketchbook recently and she often asks me to sketch with her. We like to create hybrid portraits with features illustrated by both of us. This results in some unexpectedly bizarre faces. My son is 1 and he loves to play hide-and-seek. I also enjoy grabbing empanadas at Mi Tierra, a local Latin restaurant.

More of Ty's work


  1. 1 Kenny 02 Jun 2011

    Lovely and inspiring illustrations indeed!

    PS: The link for the Type Theory blog points to

  2. 2 Veerle Pieters 03 Jun 2011


    PS: The link for the Type Theory blog points to

    Link fixed. Thanks for catching that one!

  3. 3 Kenny 03 Jun 2011

    @Veerle Pieters
    You’re welcome.

    Forgot to say two things: interesting interview too, and love the typography on this page :)

  4. 4 Ryan Feerer 07 Jun 2011

    Fantastic and super inspiring :)