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Graphic designer Stuart Wade on developing a holistic 3D practice (and streaming it to the world)

The Diligence Studio founder is evolving his design practice at community scale through The Practice, a behind-the-scenes look at how he tackles designing in 3D.

Working under the moniker of DLGNCE from his San Francisco studio, his practice exemplifies the singular vision that emerges when an artist's technical skills and voice unite.

Wade's work is defined by his complex use of simplistic geometry and a versatile skill set that includes graphic design, traditional illustration, 3D, and VR.

How did you get into 3D and VR?

To really start at the beginning, I've always been into art and creating stuff. I was lucky that my mom is fine artist and my dad is a musician. They're all really into the arts, and always had crayons and paper for us to use. We were just all making stuff constantly.

Around high school I realized you could get a job making stuff, so I decided to go to school for illustration and graphic design. And that's still before I started getting into 3D.

A few years after I graduated from school, I was doing corporate design and business-to-business marketing at a little studio. Cinema 4D had become much more affordable, much more usable, and I could run it on my iMac. I was seeing all this incredible stuff that people were making on the Internet and I just wanted to be a part of it.

With things like Greyscalegorilla and all the YouTube tutorials, it became...I don't want to say easy to pick up. But doable.

I think 10 or 15 years ago you would have needed a specialized rig and education, particularly in 3D design. It was almost like coding more than it was a visual thing.

Anyway, fast forward several years later, I love 3D software so much I'm finding myself doing more 3D stuff than 2D stuff. It's really become an integral part of my workflow.

Then, about a year and change ago, I quit my full time job at an experience agency—which I'd been with for about six or seven years—and decided to take the 3D illustration and animation thing on the road and start working for myself. That brings us to where we are today.

Tell me about diligence studio. How has your technical or creative capacity changed since then?

I have found that the gap between the work I want to make, what my real artistic voice is, and the work I'm actually able to technically produce, is narrowing. So, you know, the technical skills are a great thing to pick up. If you want to make digital art, if you want to use computers to make images, you're going to need a certain amount of technical skills.

I find that the real beauty, the real interesting work, comes when those technical skills are married up with an artist's vision and their voice. Taking so much time to not only go after the commercial projects and clients I wanted, but having much more time in my schedule to experiment and figure out what I want my voice to be and really sit with it for a while—I couldn't do that when I was at the agency.

This past year has really afforded me the opportunity to sharpen up the tool kit a little, but also to figure out what it is that I want to make. The type of work that really gets me excited. I consider myself really lucky, not only having a certain skill set and enjoying the type of work that I do, but also that I'm able to make a living doing visual stuff.

You know, some folks don't get that opportunity, and I was able to even narrow that further, right? I was still a graphic designer, I was still doing some pretty cool work at my last gig. It's just been really exciting and I feel blessed in a lot of ways to be able to really focus on the type of work I want to do now. It's awesome.

Do you have any advice for others interested in entering the field, or going freelance?

It's going to be different for everybody. Make sure that you have a handful of clients that you know are going to be coming back and wanting more work. If you can't secure a routine client base, then save 10 months of rent.

If you're leaving a day job to pursue something that is going to be creatively exciting but compromised by the fact that you still have to pay rent and buy food, it's counter-productive anyway. I'd say build that that safety net and over-engineer it a little so that you can focus on the types of work that you want to be doing.

The other thing is knowing that there are ups and downs. If you have a really good month, don't just go buy a computer right away or whatever.

I've had my ups and downs in the last year. I'll have super-busy months and then I'll just be sitting on my hands. And it's great because I can still work on the type of stuff I want to work on, because my schedule's not full, but I'm not necessarily earning a paycheck.

And that leaves me to one last bit of advice: if you have a day, or a week, or even a month, with no specific projects that are client-based, you need to make your own. You need to get up at a reasonable hour every morning, you need to go to your workstation, and you need to work, like, every. Single. Day.

If you're sleeping till noon and staying up drinking beers every night, when that big opportunity to does come a-knockin', you're not going to be prepared for it. Even if the work's not coming in, you need to get ready to have the work and keep yourself sharp, so to speak.

To add to that, make sure you're going freelance not because you don't like your day job. Make sure you're going freelance because you're passionate about what you do want to be making. Because if you're leaving for greener pastures, who knows if they'll actually be. If you don't love the work it's not necessarily an improvement over your previous setup.

There's just endless, endless tutorials on Youtube and on places like 3D for Designers and Greyscalegorilla, and I even do a weekly show on YouTube where I share tips and tricks and my workflow.

It's really about how much tolerance you have to just sit there and bash your way through YouTube videos, and how much you want to learn. The great thing about being a creative in today's world is that the information is out there.

A lot of the time information is free or cheap. It's just about what your appetite for learning is.

Tell me about The Practice. What compelled you to start that? How have people responded to it?

Social media is a great way to get yourself out there and to hopefully increase demand for your work. It was a space that I wasn't operating in at all, and YouTube's really cool because you can monetize your content. But the other thing was that it was a project for myself.

It's important to stay hungry and to keep a professional schedule even though you may be working in your pajamas at your kitchen table. So this was sort of a self-inflicted, repeat project that would come up all the time and keep me under deadlines to a certain extent. It was also a personal challenge. Something to keep me motivated.

What I saw on YouTube is there's tons and tons of really technical tutorials that show you exactly which buttons to press and with The Practice, I didn't want it to be like, here are the buttons you click and the settings you use exactly in this prescriptive way to create a red sphere.

What I wanted to was to share the way I work through things. I'll make mistakes and figure out workarounds.

In digital applications there's always more than one way to skin a cat and I like to share the whole creating process, warts and all. There wasn't really a show out there that gave you some sort of an overview on the technical skills, but also focused on more comprehensive design principles like composition and texture and color.

That's where the name The Practice came from. It's just a creative practice that's working. It's almost like how people have a yoga practice or a meditation practice. This is part of what we do every week just to keep our skills sharp, stay on the ball, and keep learning.

There are handful of folks that come back every week and that is fantastic. I never expected that I would be the next Casey Neistat and just have the hugest YouTube channel ever, and I recognize that my offer is fairly niche.

Not everyone is interested in Cinema 4D and a lot of people looking for Cinema 4D stuff are looking for specific tutorials on how to get a particular motion graphic working. But there has been some connections with fans—and I hesitate using the word "fans"—but there are routine visitors who it's been absolutely great to connect with.

I think the ones I have connected with on a certain level understand that I'm trying to share high-level design advice and to encourage participation and healthy habits. It's been fantastic.

I don't have any specific plans to expand it. It's sort of evolved organically over the years. It's changed a bit too. It used to be just a screen capture, livestreamed, no voiceover or additional notes, just a capture from an hour or two of my creative practice.

Over the years, I've commissioned some intro music to make it feel a little more professional, and I've been doing more in terms of production and voiceovers and sharing. As my schedule shifts and evolves, I have to allow The Practice to shift and evolve with it.

It'll probably change in the years to come and I'm not sure what it'll look like a year from now, but I'm pretty sure I'll still be doing it. Which I think may be an analogy for many people's creative practice anyway, that it shifts and grows and you just gotta keep doing it. That's the important part.

How is 3D situated within your creative process?

That's a good question. It depends on the project itself or the image I'm looking to create. Sometime it's as simple as like alright, it's Tuesday morning, it's time to make one of these things, and I start bashing around in the program to see what happens.

Other times I'll have a really specific idea and I start with rough pen sketches, just getting some basic thoughts down on paper before jumping in. Of course, I also use Photoshop and Illustrator as adjuncts before the process to create vectors that I extrude.

After the fact, I'll bring my images into Photoshop or After Effects and color correct, light balance, and sometimes I'll even do little paintovers as well. That's a long winded way of saying that the 3D program, Cinema 4D specifically, is a major part of the creative process—right in the middle.

I think you get overwhelmed by all the buttons in a program like Cinema 4D and it's important to just be really simple and start out with some pen sketches, whatever; grab a crayon. You can make some very, very cool stuff with primitive tools. You don't need to make everything on the computer all the time. I think that can be counterproductive.

You often make complex use of simplistic geometry in your work. Does that inform your design approach?

Totally, and I think it sort of differentiates my work in a lot of ways. Sometimes I'll share my practice videos and people will be like, "What the hell are you doing, man? Your topology is all over the place. That's not the way you model a character."

And to that, I respond, "I don't know. This is the way I model a character."

I think that comes from my 2D illustration background. When you're roughing out forms, if you're going to make a character, you draw a circle, then you draw maybe an oval shape for the torso. You use very basic forms to flesh out shapes.

Wade recalls the step-by-step drawing methods of Ed Emberley as one of his early influences. One of my favorite things growing up was Ed Emberley books. It's this really rudimentary step-by-step drawing tutorial for kids and novice artists. It's like, first, draw a circle, *next, *add two little lines.

A few steps later you've got this really cute drawing of a bird or a truck or whatever. And it's all comprised of really simple forms.

I also think that my graphic design influences that a lot too because so frequently graphic design is reductive and stream lined and you're using simple forms to create visual metaphors or to block out space.

If you're thinking about a really successful logo, a lot of times it's just a couple letters and a shape. It doesn't need to be this beautifully drawn and hatched illustration. So I guess it's just a mix of influences and techniques. I don't feel the need to do things the right way.

I struggle with how to describe my work sometimes. When artists describe their work it can often be so grandiose or self-important, and sometimes, it's just a goofy smiling character made out of bunch of circles and cones and that's cool too.

Like, flag design it an interesting thing. The Japanese flag is a red circle on a white field and it's memorable, it's satisfying, it's amazing. And it's just a red circle! It's great.

What's next?

I recently started a really exciting contract position that may lead to me having a typical full time employment situation again. It's very very exciting and a fantastic opportunity for me.

I was with that previous agency for about 6 or 7 years. I left about a year ago with the idea to work on my own personal work, and I didn't really have a specific goal in mind.

Just like The Practice, and my work overall, things shift and evolve and the targets and the goals change. Now I'm finding myself in a different situation with the potential to go back to work for someone full-time and it's great. It's all part of the journey.

I don't think you should limit yourself in anything, regardless of whether it's the type of images you want to make or the types of places you want to work, or whether or not you're full time or freelance. There's a ton of really awesome options out there and the exploration and the journey is just part of the fun.

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