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A picture of Taylor Dow

Taylor Dow

Cartoonist, game designer, teacher

in cartoonist, designer, game, teacher

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a cartoonist, game designer, illustration MFA candidate, and art teacher living in St. Louis and Seattle. I'm currently working on a comic about knights, a ~secret~ tabletop card game, and my thesis project at WashU. I'm also teaching a bunch of virtual summer camps for teens including a camp with cartoonist Dawson Walker called INTERNET WIZARD SCHOOL.

I went to a bunch of freaky alternative schools for weirdos when I was a kid, which compounded my freak powers and made me insufferably confident in my weirdo energy. I try and make comics, classes, and games that reactivate that wacky kid-brain in adults. I think kids are the smartest and coolest people in the world and that if human beings are going to stop putting each other in cages, they need to remember how to be playful and strange.

What hardware do you use?

Unfortunately I love Apple hardware and own a lot of it.

I have bottom-of-the-line 13" 2017 MacBook Pro that I keep perched on a big, stupid laptop stand I bought on Amazon that I am pretty sure is just made of K'NEX. I won't link to it here because I don't want you to buy it. The computer is way underpowered and can barely handle Photoshop, but I like that it's small and sturdy and that I get to rest my sweaty palms on brushed aluminum.

I also bought a 27" 2019 iMac last year for 3D animation, but it broke when I stuffed it into a suitcase that I put it on a plane. I absolutely covered it in bubble wrap but when I landed in Seattle the logic board was toast. It was the most expensive mistake I ever made, even worse than the time I lost my other MacBook Pro on an airplane six days after I bought it. Sometimes I stare at my ceiling in the middle of the night and think about this until my heartbeat shakes the bed frame.

I use my 11" 2017 iPad Pro with Apple Pencil as a budget Cintiq and secondary display via SideCar. I have a rule against using it for non-art, non-cooking activities so that my brain associates it with working (and cooking) instead of procrastinating.

I have a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet that I've used consistently for fifteen years, original nib and everything. The scrappiness of this achievement grants some comfort when I'm thinking about my abysmal track record with Macs on airplanes.

I own one hundred black Sharpies and one hundred black Paper Mate Flair pens (this is the best pen because Lynda Barry uses it and Lynda Barry is a genius). I draw the people around me with Sharpie on Fabriano EcoQua notebooks, which I burn through like crazy. I like to use Sharpie for life drawing because I'm usually drawing strangers who are far away and they end up with these super thick lines and solid black fills that look great when scanned and enlarged using my Epson Perfection V19 scanner (every scanner is the same IMO but there you go). Drawing from afar also reduces the chance of a stranger asking to see what I'm drawing which I HATE.

I do idea-level creative drawing (thumbnails, character ideas, scripts) with the Paper Mate Flairs in a small notebook with off-white paper. I prefer smaller, thinner pages for these so that I don't get anxious about filling up a large piece of paper with beautiful things.

And what software?

I use Photoshop a ton. It's the best, even if a lot of things about it (what's up, brush organization) make no sense at all. I actually met Kyle Webster and got to ask him why every new brush I create has the default name "ktw tree 1 1237," and he told me he had no idea.

Sometimes I use Procreate for quick iteration of a sketch but its wack layer and resolution limits prevent me from using it for print-quality work. I love how snappy and clean Procreate is though, so it's still ideal for fleshing out a sketch.

I use Affinity Designer on both iPad and Mac for its stellar vector brush. I love that it has a draw-with-pull-string option and that it draws curves instead of expanded shapes. The Affinity suite is ugly and cluttered, especially on iPad, and you can't import Designer files into Adobe Illustrator, but I have a real fondness for it anyway.

I use Calligraphr to make typefaces from my handwriting. I absolutely hate lettering by hand and Calligraphr is pretty robust for the priceā€”It's "8 dollars a month," which really means you pay eight bucks every time you need a font, which is very reasonable. I have a custom font for my vector drawings, and another for my Sharpie drawings.

I use Flickr for photo reference, with search results sorted by date uploaded. This way you get the most candid images, uploaded by Flickr's absolutely bizarre user base. If you use Google or Pinterest for your reference photos, your drawings will take on a generic quality, like clip art. If you use Flickr, you will absorb some of the candid dissonance of actual human beings taking photos of their actual dog with the flash turned on. Another way to think about it is that with Pinterest, your references are more likely to be in the current zeitgeist so your art is going to look a bit like everyone else's. Flickr is solidly uncool, which makes it cool.

I also love to use Google Street View and Google Earth for photo reference of buildings and environments for similar reasons. You can actually explore, make decisions, and discover mundane things no one would think to point a camera at and tag for searchability. Walking outside into the actual world is also good for this, but if you live in Seattle, all your drawings are going to look like Seattle.

What would be your dream setup?

A stone tower, perfectly round and well exposed to the sun. My studio is on the third floor out of seven, and as I draw I can hear the sound of artists I love working on projects above and below me. We work all day but we take a lot of breaks to talk and roll around in grass, and every night we eat meals together on the top floor, which has stained-glass windows all the way around.

Additionally, a Mac Pro + Cintiq would be sick as hell, plus one of those chairs that fixes your back pain forever the moment you sit down.