Stockxpert Contributor Profile: Solarseven

By Ben Kessler of the Network

Dateline: June 7, 2007
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Here at, we're blown away by what contributors to have been coming up with lately. In case you're not already familiar with this site, it offers graphic designers, illustrators, and photographers a chance to market and sell their work on a per-download basis as royalty-free stock imagery to a large community of creative professionals.

The user known as "Solarseven" has consistently impressed us, and judging by the number of sales/downloads, he seems to impress quite a few. His eclectic portfolio jumps confidently from dreamlike digital illustrations to black-and-white portrait photography. The environments he depicts are equally varied: Browsing his work online, you'll be taken from office to dance club, with several stops in between. Many of his standout images, however, have no definable real-world milieu; their environment comes entirely out of Solarseven's imagination.

This adventurous artist shed some light on his creative process, answering my questions via email.

Ben Kessler: Let's start with the basics: Your name, location, and age (if you choose to reveal it).

Solarseven: James Thew; Bath, UK; 26

How did you get started as a designer and photographer?

I've always been interested in art and design. I used to paint abstract and sketch in my childhood and as a teenager worked a lot on Web development—so the digital move was a natural progression for me.

Are you freelance at the moment? What are some of your most recent projects outside of Stockxpert?

About a year and a half ago I set up as a self-employed designer, but my move into the microstock industry now dominates. The original plan was to sell images as a part-time movement, but due to the success I've had I have little spare time for client projects.

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How do you create your designs (equipment, design software, etc.)?

I work solely with PCs, mainly due to the fact that I used them throughout my Web development days. I have a dual screen setup and mainly work with apps such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop CS2. A relatively standard Nikon D50 carries off any photo work I carry out—although this is due to change at the end of this year, when I plan to expand my photography. Illustration and design still dominate my time at the moment, though.

What are your work habits? What is your preferred workspace like?

I work from home, which like most things has its advantages and disadvantages, the advantages being I'm free to set my own hours...the disadvantages being I'm free to set my own hours!! A normal day would be: Start work at 11 a.m. after the gym, work through till about 6 p.m. (with breaks), stop for a few hours, then work from 9 p.m. to 12(ish)... I love my work with a passion, but sometimes I don't know when to stop! I always keep weekends free for the girlfriend, though!

I try to keep things varied. One week I might be out and about with the camera, shooting for my own stock elements, mixed with a bit of illustration, another week I might be working on design and illustrations. I work quite neatly, I like all my equipment close—but with room to breathe. I make sure all my paperwork is taken care of at the end of each month—otherwise it's just a nightmare to keep on top of.

When you get stuck, where do you look for inspiration?

I normally flick through digital arts and design mags—I mean, taking a look at some of the work on Stockxpert is an inspiration in itself; so many talented artists out there. Mainly, though, it's getting out of the house and taking my mind off work—that's when the inspiration and the ideas come back. But I've got lots of ideas flowing at the moment, so it's been a good week.

Does your experience as a photographer at all inform your design work? Do you believe that being a photographer makes one a better designer?

That's an interesting question, and hard to answer. Most of my design work is full of elements taken from my photography; a large section of my photography is taken solely for using in my illustrations. The two for me go hand in hand. But does that make me a better designer? As a creative understanding, photography has benefited my design work greatly and in the long run can only serve to enhance it.

You frequently use fully silhouetted human figures in your designs. What are some of the advantages of that technique?

I use silhouettes to enhance my work in many different ways. Firstly, to help portray a simple message. Using fully silhouetted humans doesn't distract from the message. Also, using silhouettes serves to enhance other design elements in an illustration while adding meaning to the final production. One example would be an illustration I produced called Funky Young People (shown below), which includes four silhouettes of young adults jumping in a field. The secret to its success is the simple yet meaningful design. Using the silhouettes helps simplify the whole scene. If this had been a photograph it just wouldn't have had the same impact.

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Quarter to Midnight is one of my favorites. You turn Halloween iconography upside down by showing a young male witch riding a broomstick (which resembles a segment of an uprooted tree) through a rainstorm. How did you come up with this idea?

Yes, I love this image. I had so much fun creating it. It was a bit out of season when I came up with the idea, but I just had to follow it through. I guess I just want to portray someone just wanting to get up and out of the "relentless storm" of everyday life, using a male is a reflection of modern culture, and a Halloween theme seemed to fit the image.

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You repeat the "riding" motif in Riding the Profits, though in a vastly different style. How do you match style to concept?

I look at how I can make the concept work and how it will fit into the marketplace. I was having fun with this image and decided to inject some humour by using a bit of surrealism. With this particular image it seemed obvious to go with a straightforward style, nice and simple, to give the message full effect.

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World Communication shows a glowing planet Earth at the fingertips of an outstretched hand. The image seems to dramatize the concept of the internet. Do you design for Web use primarily, or do you have both Web and print formats in mind as you work?

Yes, both go through my mind. Having a wide variety of work means you can cater for both print and internet-based designers. Internet concepts are great as I come from a Web background, but coming up with original concepts isn't easy!

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There are some unconventional Christmas-themed images in your portfolio. Instead of the familiar yuletide color scheme, an icy blue and black predominate in your depictions of Santa's Christmas Eve rounds. What inspired this break with holiday convention? Have these images proved popular?

With those images I checked the marketplace and decided I was going to be different. In some areas I stick to a growing market, but I strive to produce images that just haven't been seen before. An original spin on a traditional theme normally pays off for me, as did the Christmas images.

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What advice would you give to designers who want to create effective stock photos and illustrations?

My advice would be keep your work as varied as possible. Try not to get stuck into one style, one way of working. Variety is key. If you find a style that is working for you great, and well done—but if you can vary your style and keep things original and technically special, you're on to a winner.

Where do you see your work going in the future?

In the future I want to see 50/50 illustration styles and photography. At the moment I'm about 70% illustration and design work. I expect my work to grow ever more technical, whilst maintaining simple and effective design.

To see more of James Thew's work, visit his gallery on the site.