SPECIAL REPORT: Fresh Talent

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Introducing our favorite fresh talents in photography, design and illustration, whose dazzling visuals and though-provoking points of view inspire extended moments of pause.

I Love Dust

For U.K.-based mag Computer, illustration about the influx and popularity of designer toys
For U.K.-based mag Computer, illustration about the influx and popularity of designer toys
"We embrace a variety of design disciplines and find it hard to pinpoint one particular style or look, which is why we called ourselves 'I Love Dust,'—we cover everything," explains Mark Graham, co-founder of the U.K.-based design and illustration trio, whose handiwork spans a spectrum of approaches, splicing together traditional and digital media for a variety of projects ranging from websites, album sleeves, music videos, to a recent cover for Wired and illustrations for yours truly (they created the likenesses for the Creativity 50 in our anniversary issue). Graham, joined by co-founder Ben Beach and Singapore native Sian Jian, a new addition to the team, make up I Love Dust, and all hail from diverse backgrounds in fashion and graphic design, which might explain why the artists don't like to be held down to any technique or approach. "We really mix the mediums we use," Graham says. "Pens and pencils are just as important to us as PhotoShop or Illustrator." But more significantly, "we just try to put as much time and effort into every project we undertake. Our disciplines as designers are all very different and those all add to a mix of methods that create our house style. We all have input into every project and we believe that's a very important part of our process. We like to think of ourselves as a full course meal with different flavors—sometimes sweet, sometimes sour—and this purely depends on the brief. As a group we try to execute every project individually, and try not to create the same work time and time again." Ann-Christine Diaz

Parra (a.k.a. Pieter Janssen)

'The Hoax' sefl-portrait
'The Hoax' sefl-portrait
30-year-old Dutch illustrator and designer Parra has decorated the Amsterdam underground with his playful, bizarre graphics that span a broad base of themes, from introspective to audacious and bawdy. The mostly self-taught artist seems to channel a Saul Bass with curves, yet with a decidedly modern, post-pop approach. His vibrant images, which feature a distinctive, hand-drawn feel, frequently grace posters and promos for music, nightclub and fashion clientele, but from time to time Parra peeks out for commercials stints, on shoe designs for Nike, print for Ben and Jerry's and decks for skate label Colorblind. Parra typically works with a basic palette of just a few colors, taking cues from fine arts (his father was a painter/sculptor), skateboard culture and hip-hop, and also drawing his inspiration from "people in everyday life, in nightlife, comedy of any sort, other people's nice drawings, girls, women, old stuff, older stuff and the alphabet," he says, the latter evident in his loose, spirited typeface designs. Parra's creative reach also extends to his own clothing line (see rockwellclothing.com) as well as recent exhibits at London's Kemistry Gallery. As for his perspective, check out his piece "The Hoax," his designated favorite. "It's a drawing of a dog-faced creature who has taken off his bird-face mask and just found out that someone was looking," he explains. "That drawing, for me, is about myself and my sometimes double character. It's about being yourself and being absolutely not yourself. I go through that a lot. Life is weird." Ann-Christine Diaz

Mark the CobraSnake

20-year-old Mark Hunter aka The CobraSnake has become the designated documentarian of the hipster party scene, having photographed everyone from Paris Hilton to Paris clones in non-retouched throes of fun-making and intoxication. A former assistant to "Obey Giant" designer Shepard Fairey, the L.A. native started out as a party-crashing photo-hobbyist, two years ago launching photoblog thecobrasnake.com to archive his celebrity-strewn snapshots. Since then, his site has become the go-to stop for idol oglers and the spotlight has turned toward Hunter himself. The former amateur shooter isn't even legal yet but now flashes a permanent backstage pass to velvet-cordoned events, has launched into commercials projects and has been approached by Tinseltown about his own reality TV show (which he politely turned down, he says). "Photography was always a passion of mine—one of the only reasons I ever showed up to high school," he says. "I hope I'm able to capture a moment in time with true rich emotion. I love being at a party and coming across a naturally occurring situation that couldn't and wouldn't ever be staged." And while his images are indeed fodder for narcissistic nightlifers, "my original intent was not only to cater to the subjects of my photos, but also to give a peek into a world most would never get to experience," he says. "Looking at a group of my photos should make you feel like you are a part of what is going on. Some of my favorite emails have been from people who live in boring cities and spend hours looking at my photos trying to imagine what it would be like. In my opinion what I have created will never get old. There is always a need for event photography. There will always be new material to consume." Teressa Iezzi/Ann-Christine Diaz

Ryu Itadani

CD artwork for the album 'Smile' by Orca
CD artwork for the album 'Smile' by Orca
With his straightforward combination of bold black outlines and unadulterated swaths of primary color, Tokyo-based illustrator Ryu Itadani brings out the playful, coloring-book core of quotidian objects and everyday vignettes, whether it be a styrofoam container of Cup Noodles or a hectic London street. After graduating with honors from back-to-back arts and graphic design programs in Canada, Tokyo, and London, the 31-year-old began illustrating professionally in late 2004. Since then his patrons have included various Japanese and international clientele, including GQ (Japan), Dazed and Confused (Japan), the U.K.'s The Independent, Samsung and Aquent. While his technique sounds about as simple as his images—"I see the things, then I see the lines, then I see the colors," he says—effort is a key ingredient to his mix."I try my utmost when I create," he notes. Among his favorite projects is a commissioned landscape for Dazed and Confused. The three-part assignment called for illustrations of a city, a room and a forest, the latter a subject he'd never drawn before. "It was a bit difficult to do the forest because I didn't know how. I went to the library, got loads of books about national parks around the world and photographs of forests. I looked at the books quite a lot and then I got the image. It's always exciting to do something you haven't done before." While Itadani has yet to work Stateside, it may only be a short while before his work debuts on these shores. "He's very simple, naive, joyful, unpretentious, honest, un-slick," notes Euro RSCG creative Marcio Kelmanson. "That's one thing the ad scene in this country needs badly. And despite the naivete in his work, he's got incredibly fresh and smart use of color, layout, narrative and mood. I think viewers would really relate to his drawings." Ann-Christine Diaz

Steve McNiven

Marvel Knights 4 cover
Marvel Knights 4 cover
Widely recognized as one of the hottest talents in a new generation of rising stars in comic book illustration, Steve McNiven blazed trails with his distinctive penciling style, blending the dynamic linework of classic comic book capers with stunningly nuanced renderings that give his art a photo-realistic edge. The artist also places a premium on the importance of panel-to-panel storytelling. "I'm always trying to bring the story across as succinctly as possible in my work," says McNiven. "And I try to have as much fun as possible, hoping that it will show through." McNiven started his career in 2000 with the now-defunct CrossGen Comics, moving over to publishing giant Marvel Comics in 2002. Billed as one of Marvel's "Young Guns" (the moniker for the company's stable of up-and-coming artists), McNiven turned heads with his stint on Marvel Knights 4, a Fantastic Four spinoff series, which established him as one of the most sought-after artists in the business. When Marvel approached Hollywood director Bryan Singer (of X-Men and X2) to write a much-anticipated storyline for the popular Ultimate X-Men title, Singer hand-picked McNiven as the artist he wanted by his side. While that series has been delayed due to Singer's post-production work on Superman Returns, Marvel wasted no time in reassigning McNiven, along with colorist Morry Hollowell (his artistic collaborator since his CrossGen days) to its blockbuster 2006 summer event, a mini-series titled Civil War. In the meantime, McNiven continues to experiment, drawing inspiration from fellow comic artists like painter Adi Granov. "I've been playing with inking and placing a watercolor wash on my cover work, after talking to Adi about the technique," says McNiven. "Although a bit more time consuming, it comes closer to the feel that I want my art to have." Richard Ho

Vincent Laforet

New York's Sutton Place and the FDR highway
New York's Sutton Place and the FDR highway
A Pulitzer-prize winning former staff photographer for The New York Times and now its first national contract shooter, Vincent Laforet has documented the sweat and tears behind public spectacles like the Olympics and devastating calamities like Hurricane Katrina. Although the majority of his assignments have been journalistic, his images, featuring startling compositions adorned with what might seem like meticulously placed splashes of color, suggest the sensibility of a painter rather than a lensman on call. "On a basic level, if the image bores me I assume it will bore the audience," Laforet explains of his approach. "I simply refuse to make an image that I've already seen or made myself. I like to try new things and take chances." While it's hard to believe, Laforet captures his images entirely in camera, thanks to a discerning eye and confident grasp of technique and tools, which range from digital (his usual method) to pinhole cameras. As he continues his editorial work, he's recently turned his viewfinder toward the commercials world, with projects for Canon, Apple and agencies like Grey and TBWA/Chiat/Day. Although his father was a photographer, the 31-year-old entered the field late in the game. Originally, "I'd never really had much of an interest in photography at all," he says. "I was into oil-painting, architecture, life-drawing and music." Once he finally took to the camera, however, he found his calling. As for how he makes art out of the everyday, "I think a lot first," he explains. "Who, what, where, when and why. Those are the basic questions any photographer, be they journalists or commercial shooters, should always ask themselves." Beyond that, "I like to have fun," he says. "It's great to think things through, but at the same time it's important to remember to breathe and feel alive. I think doing so in turn breathes life into your photographs." Ann-Christine Diaz

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