Tom Giesler is a special illustrator with an eye for detail and a playful style. earlier this year, we posted a few of his illustrations and were overwhelmed with feedback. It seems as though Tom has struck a cord with many young illustrators and designers within the Vectorvault community.
Here is a montage of his work:
His anatomical posters grossed out half of our readers while the other half fell in love (Fifty fifty is a pretty good start).
This time around, we wanted to put some focus on his patent illustrations. While drawing patents may seem quite structured, Tom has infused his with a great deal of personality. He has helped to bring ideas to life and assisted inventors with their dreams of converting a concept into reality. There’s something to be said about that.
For those of you out there who genuinely enjoy the precision of vector art and have an interest in product development, this may be a career worth exploring. Tom was kind enough to give us some insight into the niche industry of patent illustration.
VECTORVAULT: Tell us about yourself.
Tom Geisler: As for my background, I’m a self-trained illustrator and painter. I began carving out a niche for myself as a patent illustrator while working as a gofer/office assistant at a medical device company about 13 years ago. At that job I was exposed to a lot medical technology. I started out simply setting up computer software and medical hardware for the engineers. Later I began doing some drawings for the company attorneys as they patented devices and minimally-invasive procedures to correct heart disease. Eventually I was invited to observe heart surgeries from the O.R., which truly sparked my interest in human anatomy patent illustrations. Since that first job I have been collecting vintage anatomical books. I spend a lot of time flipping through the illustrations, admiring their beauty and the way information is conveyed through them. I guess it’s sort of pleasure reading for me.
How is this particular branch of illustration different from others. What challenges do you face?
Half of the job of being a good draftsman is drawing what the client has invented; the other half of the job is understanding what the client has invented. Since I never really know what project will be crossing my desk next, it has helped me to be a fairly quick study at a wide range technologies. I often quietly Google while I’m on the phone with the client to get up to speed on the terminology or to take a quick look at a device or component or anatomy that the client is throwing at me. A bit nerve racking at times but this is the part of the job that keeps things fresh and interested.
How profitable is this line of work?
The standard price for drawings has traditionally been based on a “per sheet” rate. I never really understood how that became the standard because the draftsman would charge, say, $100 per sheet whether the drawings was a crazy cutaway perspective view with multiple figures on a page, or whether it was a simple 3-box flow chart. Even though I bill as “per sheet” the actual charge is based on an hourly rate.
How time consuming is it?
The illustration requirements for patent illustrations are less aesthetic than many other illustrations. The final drawings simply need to be clear, concise and easily understood. I’ve developed a system for drawings isometric and orthographic views to keep things simple and clean and to allow Adobe Illustrator to do what it does best. I often approach my drawings like a story board to give the Patent Examiner, who is the final judge of whether or not the illustration depicts the invention, a clear demonstration. Sometimes the details of the illustration are intentionally vague in order to give the broadest possible coverage for the patent. Other times the novelty of the patent is based entirely on the smallest details. It usually just takes a quick discussion with the client or attorney to figure out which style is required.
Everyone has a “million dollar invention” these days. How often do you discover flaws in a client’s design through the process of illustrating it?
I regularly work on patent drawings for inventions that don’t exist yet. Some will never exist in a physical sense. Often an inventor or engineer can only imagine the details through theory if there is no prototype or 3D model created. I find these jobs particularly fun to work on because it gives me a lot more room for stylizing the drawings. In these cases the client often asks me to come up with several embodiment of their idea so they can visualize and sort through their options more easily. I often find mistakes in the concept as I “build” the drawing, too.
Some of your illustrations seem to purposely emulate late 1900 technical drawings. It helps to make these objects tangible and believable. Have you noticed a demand for a revival of this style or diagram?
When I first entered the field most draftsmen were still using pen and ink for drawings. I immediately saw a great opportunity for electronic drawings. My rates were lower as a result of working electronically so I got a jump start in the business. There also seemed to be no one using email for delivering drawings to clients at that time. It seemed like magic to my first clients when they received a PDF that they could print themselves instead of waiting for Bristol board copies by mail. I offered quick same-day (or same hour) revisions which also helped set my services apart.
What advice would you give to a young artist who is interested building a career in patent illustrations?
Since I started as a patent draftsman the field has gotten much more competitive. There are several large drafting firms around that have big budgets for marketing their services. It’s impossible to out-spend those companies so I’ve found the most effective way of growing my business is through the recommendations of happy clients.
Tom Geisler is a seasoned illustrator who has taken client relationships to the level of an art form. If you have a product to patent, or know someone who does, please consider Tom for the job. He has made a living out of making ideas come to life – and we think he’s pretty terrific.
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