In our latest Overtime episode, Dan chats with Linda Eliasen—a designer, illustrator, art director, and all-around creative. Linda currently freelances in NYC, but before that, she worked at Ueno, Dropbox, Mailchimp, and Squarespace.
In this episode, Linda walks us through her illustration workflow and shares her process for creating production-ready work with the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro. In addition, you’ll learn about Iceland’s terrifying Yule Cat. She also shares the story behind Dropbox’s recruiting video starring puppets. Lastly, Linda talks about her recent move to New York to try something new—improv. “It’s awesome to be at the stage in my career, where I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for 9 years. To start over—it feels like being a brand new baby junior designer.”
This episode of Overtime is brought to you by SiteGround. SiteGround offers web hosting crafted for the creative community. Whether you’re using a custom solution or a popular open-source software like WordPress, SiteGround has plenty of hosting options that your website can grow into. Overtime listeners get 50% off at siteground.com/dribbble.
Links Mentioned in Overtime
- Linda on Dribbble
- Linda on Twitter
- Linda’s website
- Yule Cat
- Apple Pencil
- Apple iPad Pro
- Astropad App for iPad
- Adobe Capture App
Dan: Hello, everybody. Welcome to Overtime. I’m Dan Cederholm your host. This is Dribbble’s official podcast. Today, it’s Episode 12 with Linda Eliasen. Linda has worked with Dropbox, MailChimp, Squarespace, and most recently ueno. Today we have a fun chat about a variety of different things, including Icelandic folklore and puppets. No joke. It’s really fun, and we had a great time, so thanks to Linda for being on. Today’s episode is brought to you by SiteGround. SiteGround offers web hosting, crafted specifically for the creative community. What’s cool is they believe in keeping the web open and independent, and give you more freedom to get crafty with your design, own your website content, and move freely between platforms, which is all really good stuff. Whether you’re using a custom solution or a popular opensource software like WordPress, SiteGround has plenty of hosting options that your website can grow into. And get this: Dribbble members get 50% off at siteground.com/Dribbble. So big thank you to SiteGround for sponsoring this episode. Please be sure to rate and/or review us in iTunes. We’d really appreciate that. And now let’s move onto our chat with Linda Eliasen.
Welcome to Overtime, Linda Eliasen.
Linda: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Dan: Thanks for being here. We met a couple of times way back when. Always been a fan of what you’re doing, your presentations and all that stuff, so it’s great to have you on here.
Dan: Excellent. Where are you calling in from?
Linda: I’m currently in New York.
Dan: That’s a new thing?
Linda: It’s a new chapter in my life.
Dan: We caught you at a good time.
Linda: You did. Transitions are always fun. Everything is up in the air right now. I just moved here from San Francisco almost two weeks ago.
Dan: Super new then.
Dan: Welcome back to the other coast, the best coast.
Linda: It is a good coast.
Dan: Not the best coast, I don’t know. They’re both good coasts.
Linda: I missed weather. I said that because I was in San Francisco for three years, and I would lose track of what season it was because it’s always around 65 degrees or something there. When I would go home to my parents in Atlanta, or come back to New York, I’d have to think really hard about what temperature it would be. It’s the middle of July and I’m thinking wait, is it cold times or hot times?
Dan: That would help you know what part of the year it is?
Dan: I would totally do that.
Linda: You lose track of what’s going on. Months just slip by.
Dan: I don’t know what I’d talk to people about. Here in New England that’s all we talk about is the weather.
Linda: It’s what merges people together and you’re forming an alliance against the elements every day.
Dan: We’re aligned against science or something. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Welcome back to New York.
Linda: Yeah. I used to live here.
Dan: A big fan of your work. You’ve been doing all sorts of cool stuff over the years. I’ve got a couple of shots lined up here that we chose beforehand to guide our conversation today. The first one is really fun. The title is “Happy Whatever!” and it’s an illustration you did for – I always get this name wrong. I don’t know how to pronounce it.
Linda: They’re the number-one thing in Dribbble right now. You should definitely know.
Dan: This company is huge, and very influential.
Linda: For the record, for everyone who is listening, it is pronounced [wen’-oh]. It’s like bueno but without the B.
Dan: Oh, it’s like bueno without the B. That should be the tagline. That would make more sense to me.
Linda: Our H1 is Ueno, our H2 is bueno without the B, and the H3 is oh, by the way we’re a digital design agency.
Dan: Ueno, I just of want to say it like [ḥwen’-oh] if I was one of those people that dipped into accents.
Linda: It’s a fun word to say.
Dan: It is fun. This was an illustration while you were working with ueno. What I love about it is – well, a lot of things, but the color and just the fact that everything is connected. It’s just really fun. I particularly like what you said in the comment about it. If it doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, that’s okay, because sometimes life doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I was like that’s pretty good stuff.
Linda: Thank you.
Dan: I could say that about a lot of things. I think if people had that attitude about things more we’d be in a better place. Sometimes we’re making pictures to make pictures. Sometimes we’re solving problems. I was wondering if you could tell us about the origin of this one.
Linda: This one was done because we needed to make a holiday card at ueno. I had a whole wish list of illustrators I wanted to work with for this. Just to preface this; for the last year, I was at ueno as an art director, which means working with other companies to help them establish their brands, or their visual identity in whatever capacity they need help with.
I was also working on the ueno brand itself. I hired a lot of people to make us art that felt kind of ueno to us. So I saw the Christmas card as an opportunity to do more of that. I had all these illustrators that I’d been really wanting to work with. Halli is the design director. He’s from Iceland, and he had this idea of creating an illustrated card about this Christmas cat. Apparently in Icelandic folklore there’s this Christmas cat thing. I’m going to Google it right now, because I don’t want to completely butcher it.
Dan: This is a real thing, Christmas cat.
Linda: Yeah. “Christmas cat Iceland,” and I think it’s basically – it’s called the “Yule Cat”. Let’s see what Wikipedia says: “A huge and vicious cat said to lurk about the snowy countryside during Christmas and eat people who have not received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve.”
Dan: What the heck?
Linda: An Icelandic folklore, they this cat that walks around and eats you if you don’t have new clothes on. It’s such a bizarre thing.
Dan: That’s amazing. I was like oh, this is great up until you said eats people. What the heck?
Linda: It’s a way to scare people into consumerism.
Dan: I’ve never heard of this before. I did not plan this. I picked this because it’s a beautiful illustration and there’s a lot of things to talk about. I had no idea that would come out of this. I’m really excited that it did.
Linda: Exactly. So he had the idea to frame it around the Yule Cat. I was like oh, my God, so I had this idea to make this huge foldable cat that’s like an accordion-style card, that when you open it you can see all the people in its belly that it’s eaten. It would be like yeah, Merry Christmas, I guess would be the tagline.
I was really excited to do that. And I had the perfect illustrator in mind, but we were a bit behind in our schedule. Then we had a few talks about it and were like maybe we should just do something a bit more friendly. So we moved away from that idea of a cat who eats humans. I just had an idea. I started drawing cats in my notebook, and just wanted to card to be an actual physical container for these people and their cats, and things that are semi-related to the holidays, but just whatever. Then since none of the other illustrators were available, Haley was like why don’t you just do it. I thought well, okay. So there you go.
Dan: I’m so glad I asked about that.
Linda: That was the long way to get to that. In my notebook, what I literally did is I filled up – doodled, filled up an entire page with basically what you see in the shot. Then I took it into the computer. Lately I’ve been finding the Apple pencil to be my new jam. I love that thing. That with the tile brushes. Forget about it. And I use the iPad and this app Astropad that turns your iPad into a screen you can draw on. It’s showing you what’s on your computer screen in real time. Kind of like those Wacom things.
Dan: It’s connected to your desktop. You’re using the iPad as the tablet.
Dan: Did you trace the stuff? You said you drew it in your notebook.
Linda: It’s a combination of those two things. So if you look at the guy in the bottom left, his arm is kind of a perfect circle shape. With things like that, I get really anal and I end up using actual shapes in Illustrator. Just adding the brush effects to those. There is a subtle brush on these lines.
Dan: Just to make them more hand-drawn.
Linda: Exactly. Then for most of it I did it by hand. I like that organic feeling. I feel like my work since I started out has always been super geometric and everything is kind of based around math and right angles and 45-degrees. So lately I’ve been pushing myself to not do that. It’s getting played out and you’re seeing it all over the web. How can we make things freeform but still be somewhat decipherable?
Dan: I love it. I’ve been having the same sort of feeling in my head. Everything is math and straight lines and things. This is organic, but at the same time, because you’ve done the line work on the iPad, that’s consistent. So there’s a very consistent feel to it, even though it’s handmade.
Dan: I love that. I’m curious, because I have the pencil as well, and I really dig it but in terms of I haven’t been able to get it into the workflow in terms of applications to use that make it easy to turn what I’m drawing into something I can use.
Linda: That was the hardest part for me. I think for the last couple of years, from when I was at Dropbox, I have really struggled with that. It’s such a silly nuanced thing, but you have the iPad or whatever, and you’re drawing in it. And you’re like this looks kind of cool, but this isn’t like production-ready work.
I went to our office in New York. I was working on a different project there for a different client. But in my free time I was determined to figure this thing out. I want to be able to make production-ready work that’s more free-form, or by hand, or whatever. I just did a bunch of trial and error. I talked to a bunch of people. Brandon Land helped me a lot. I asked him what he’s been using. I’m always stalking Putnam and trying to get his secrets. With Putnam it’s just well I’m just a wizard and it happens.
Dan: Stalking Putnam is a great film title, like a horror movie.
Linda: It would be amazing. So I found that for me personally, I do have this crazy backwards workflow that is nine steps. It’s probably not the most efficient way to do things. What I actually do is I take a photo of what I’ve done, or scan. Bring it into Illustrator. Use the pencil tool when you hit the letter M. Brings up that little pencil. And then with the iPad tethered to Illustrator via Astropad, I trace my drawing in Illustrator. I kind of like the pencil in Illustrator because if you adjust your settings it does this thing where it’s not copying exactly what you’re drawing the way it does in Photoshop. And it’ll kind of fudge those imperfect lines that you draw for you.
Dan: That’s great.
Linda: From there, I take those vectors from Illustrator. I take all of those lines, bring them into Photoshop as paths, and then I apply my custom brush strokes to them in Photoshop.
Dan: This is cool. I appreciate you going this deep on the techniques. Some people might not want to share their secrets.
Linda: I don’t really care. It’s still hard.
Dan: It’s still a lot of steps.
Linda: If someone wants to go through my crazy weird process of drawing stuff, go for it.
Dan: I’m going to try doing it after this. Drawing – I’m not a very good drawer.
Linda: Me either.
Dan: Then looking at this, it’s like you’re an amazing drawer. If something can smooth out those rough spots for me, that’s really cool. I remember playing with Adobe Capture and it’s an app for the iPad or iPhone. You use the camera. You could draw something on a page, take a picture of it, and it turns into vector on the fly.
Linda: Like Live Trace or something?
Dan: Yeah, like Live Trace but actually on your phone. It works cool. It’s not perfect. But what it does do is it does what you’re saying. It smooths out all those edges and makes a vector of it. It almost smooths it probably to an extreme sense. You can’t use it for a lot of things, but for some stuff it’s pretty cool. It makes it look like you’re better at drawing shapes than you are, at least in my case. But that’s really fascinating.
Like I said, I think because you’re using a mixture of drawing it and bringing it into Illustrator and Photoshop, the lines are so consistent. It makes the whole thing cohesive.
Linda: Thank you. It’s so nice to talk to somebody who can see that stuff. I’m just the crazy person in my apartment late at night, obsessing over something that probably doesn’t look any different to somebody else.
Dan: No, that’s the thing; I guess if you’re not into this stuff you don’t really know how much goes into it. Someone would look at this and go she drew it and painted the colors and that was it.
Linda: I wonder if you have this thing. When I work on an illustration like this, I’m looking back at it now and I’m looking at where the cat is licking her lips at the chicken, and there’s a string of Christmas lights next to her. I remembered redrawing that strand of Christmas lights seven or eight times. I remember exactly what I was watching while I was drawing that particular part. It was the Robin Williams robot movie. What’s it called, where he’s a robot? Is it Centennial Man or something?
Dan: Yeah, I think it is Centennial Man.
Linda: I have a very vivid memory. When I look at that Christmas light I remember Robin Williams as this robot who’s very kind.
Dan: It’s Bicentennial Man. It’s a little freaky the way he looks in that movie.
Linda: It’s really funny.
Dan: Are these good memories or bad memories?
Linda: They’re great. I just think it’s funny how the work that we do can retain other useless information like that.
Dan: I think it makes sense. Like you said, you were obsessing about this string of lights and line probably that has to look smooth and natural. That’s tragic. I can’t think of the right word to describe it – it was a moment that was a big deal in your brain.
Linda: Exactly, a moment of focus.
Dan: I love the turkey in it. Maybe the person’s offering that as a “don’t eat me but eat the turkey instead” kind of thing. If I could pick one of the cats that might be the Yule Cat, as an Easter egg, maybe the yellow one standing on someone’s head. He’s kind of the only one that’s not super happy.
Linda: He’s got something going on.
Dan: He’s like I eat people. But all these people have new clothes on so I’m going to leave them alone.
Linda: Exactly. Look at their sweaters. They’ve all got dope sweaters on.
Dan: I could look at this – I have the attachment open, and I’m scrolling through the whole thing. I’m looking around for stuff. Did you put a word in here? I see an L. This is not intentional, like L C O S. I feel like a hidden word right under the menorah.
Linda: Maybe it’s an LE for Linda Eliasen.
Dan: I love it. Is that true?
Linda: Yeah. Nice, it’s like where’s Waldo.
Dan: I love it.
Linda: He’s referring to the ball of yarn that’s holding up a menorah. I redrew that string a couple of times, and it was actually unintentional where the L came out. I was like isn’t that a bit douchey to hide my own initials in this. I was like well, I am sitting here for hours on end drawing it, I might as well.
Dan: I love it. You should always do that. This is vastly different, but I used to put a signature in my CSS or markup, like an ASCI beer at the end. I forgot about that. I haven’t done that in a long time. But yeah, I think if you’re putting this much effort into something, it’s great. Plus you’ve hidden ueno’s letters in there too.
Dan: I think it works.
Linda: I really liked – sometimes companies are like it needs to be a card that says “Happy Holidays,” and it’s pleasing to everyone from every denomination. And it has our logo, and you have to use the actual logo. I liked that I was able to kind of spell it out and not have it be all about who we are. It was more like hey, this is the season of hanging out and being with cats.
Dan: Being happy with cats. I love it. Nice work.
Linda: Thank you.
Dan: I’m going to switch gears totally. I hope you don’t mind us talking about this one. I have a personal love of puppets, particularly Muppets. I remember when you shared this on Dribbble and then seeing the video you made that involved puppets. I wanted to bring it up because it seems like a very different project than what you’re used to doing, unless I missed a puppet part of your career. Could you tell us about these “For Your Puppets”? It’s about a recruiting video for Dropbox, I believe.
Linda: Yeah. It was a recruiting video. This story has so many different beginnings, and I’m trying to figure out which one to take. I had worked at Dropbox for a few months at this point. I was working on the jobs page. It was kind of like a difficult project because the jobs page before was just a link bay, a ton of links to jobs. There wasn’t anything really super designed about it. We were trying to figure out what that new world would look like. I think we realized we need to show what it’s like to work here, because nothing on the site had any images of the company. It had no images of the people who worked there. There as a yearbook style layout of everyone who works there. They’re about to take that down.
It was a fun time in problem-solving, where you’re like okay, we can show a bunch of sexy shots of the office and we can put in words: “Here’s what it’s like to work here,” but I was like we should probably make a video and let people see it for themselves. Let them walk through the office on their own. Then we were talking to a lot of stakeholders in the company and figuring out what it actually needs to show. You’re like well, it needs to show lots of people. Then I watched a bunch of other recruiting videos from Facebook, Google, and other companies like that. And one of the biggest problems is showing how diverse your staff is, and people from every background, and people of every age.
You want it to look like no, really, whoever you are, if you’re super talented and excited about what you’re doing, we want you here. But it sucks if you’re one of those people and you look at one of these videos and you don’t see someone that resembles who you are. You’re like this isn’t a place for me, probably. I wanted to solve that problem, the age problem, ethnicity problem. I was out having a drink with a buddy of mine who worked at Dropbox, this guy named Cody. And we were like what if we just did the whole thing with puppets. It was one of those half-drunk ideas, that we’re like we’ll come back to it in the morning. If tomorrow morning at work we still feel this is a good idea, then we’ll go forward with it. Yeah, so that it was it. The next day, we were like actually, I think that would be pretty cool. At the time, we had maybe 30 or so designers on the design team, maybe 20 something. But we were still finding our structure as a company. I didn’t really have a direct boss at the time, like Soleio Cuervo was overlooking me. I had one on ones with him once a week. But other than that, I was free to do work the way I saw fit. I just remember asking him in this one on one, “Hey, so I want to make a video with puppets for the jobs page. I know it sounds weird, but hear me out.” You know, and I gave him my whole elevator pitch. I literally gave it to him in the elevator. He was like “Go for it. That’s awesome.” So we wrote a quick little script. We came up with our idea and a few little mood boards. It was three sheets of paper. We showed it to the co-founder the next day, and they were like sure, do that.
Dan: You had the support all around from the beginning. That’s super good.
Linda: Yeah. I think it was at a time where you had to create your own destiny at that company. People aren’t going to ask you to make a puppet video. If you had an idea, it was up to you to see it through and go for it.
Then there’s the second start to this story. Figuring out how to make this thing.
Dan: It’s one thing to be like this would be cool if we did a puppets video.
Dan: They actually look like the people there and they actually look like authentic Muppets.
Linda: We wanted it to be real people’s’ stories, so we figured the best way to do it would be to interview a bunch of Dropboxers and actually talk to them and ask them about their favorite things at the office, and what they like about working there. Then from those people we gathered a collection of voices that all sounded unique, and a unique set of things they liked.
We helped – the script built itself around what these people genuinely said. Once we had the select group of people we sent their photos to the puppet people to have their likenesses made in puppet form. The puppet thing, when I was a little girl my parents did youth group and led a lot of different church – Vacation Bible School, that kind of stuff. At one point, they were doing this church thing with a group called Baskin and Sunshine, I think it was called. It was this husband and wife who dressed up like clowns and stuff. They had puppets and all these funny things as a part of their routine.
They would go to different churches and do these performances with their puppets. They had a son who was a few years older than me. I remembered meeting them when I was a little girl, and really liking these puppets.
Fast forward about 20 years, and I was with some friends and they were like our friend Raymond is about to come meet us. Raymond came and met us, and he looked kind of familiar, but not really. We started talking and I immediately got onto the fact that both of our parents were heavy into church stuff when we were little kids. I was like, “What do you do for a living?” He was like “I’m a puppeteer, actually.” I was like “What?” I was like wait a minute, no way. “Were your parents in this Baskin Sunshine thing?” He was like “Yes! That is them.” Holy crap because they were from California at the time. They ended up moving to Georgia where I was.
Dan: This is cosmic, like it was meant to be.
Linda: Yeah. Our parents knew each other when were like toddlers. Here we are in our 20s and he’s this amazing puppeteer. He’s traveled the world doing puppetry stuff. He’s brilliant. He builds these – Walking with Dinosaurs was a show with these big mechanical robot dinosaurs. He was the head puppeteer for that show and a lot of shows you see on kids’ networks.
He’s trained with people from Sesame Street and Jim Henson Studios. He’s all about it now. He even has his own puppet building factory. I don’t know what you would call it, but so him and a friend build all these things. Since I had that connection to Raymond – I hadn’t talked to him in a few years but I called him up and asked if he’d be willing to make us some puppets and fly out to California and shoot with us, and he did.
Dan: Oh man, this story gets better and better. Incredible.
Linda: It was cool, because this process has a lot of moving parts you don’t realize. A puppet needs two people sometimes, and we didn’t realize that. He had some friends in Oakland who were puppeteers, so we brought them on set too. He was also like we need monitors so when we’re laying on the ground we can see what the camera sees.
All this stuff you don’t realize, but it was so fun. We interviewed all the actual people. We interviewed them with video. We recorded them talking. That way the puppeteers studied the videos of the people talking and they were actually miming and mimicking the mannerisms they actually used while they were talking. He had already rehearsed and stuff, so when it came time to shoot we were playing the audio of that actual interview. He was puppeteering along with the mannerisms he remembered. It was incredible. He’s basically holding a crunch or sit-up position doing all these things. He’s multitasking and moving the arms around.
The one I have here is Justin stroking his beard. I loved that, because he immediately picked up on those little quirks that people had. Justin strokes his beard a lot while he’s talking.
Dan: It’s like animation in a way, when you record the voice first and the animators come in and animate over that to the voices.
Linda: Yeah. It still is like magic to me, the way it’s done in animation. Don’t understand it.
Dan: I don’t either. That’s so cool. Did this lead to more desire to do more video and/or puppets? Was this one of those crazy things that happened?
Linda: Before this, I don’t have a ton of my work on Dribbble. I should be better about posting things. Before this when I was at Squarespace, I got to help shoot a Super Bowl commercial and a few different campaign spots with them. They didn’t really need an illustrator. We figured that out after I started working there, and I was like what else can I do to help. We started helping on other campaign stuff with writing and video work. I had a bit of experience in that world coming into the puppet times. I think that more than anything it’s realizing that as creatives our answer isn’t always in our own skill set. It’s not always an illustration that’s going to be the best thing for that job’s page or whatever. Sometimes it’s going to have to involve other people who can create something that is just different.
I think I’ve tried to broaden my toolbox a bit. I love working with 3D people and photographers and videographers. I think that all things creative satisfy that same itch to me.
Dan: That’s right on. It’s another way of illustrating. Illustrating in a way is just one aspect of conveying something. Makes sense. I hope you do more puppets videos specifically. That’s me being selfish there. That’s super cool.
Linda: it’s funny you say that because to take a totally new path here, I started doing improv in San Francisco, improv comedy. I’ve gotten really into it, so that’s part of the reason I moved to New York because the UCB, the Upright Citizens Brigade, they have a really great school out here for improv, comedy, and sketch writing. I’m taking sketch writing and improv classes here. A girl who’s in my class was talking to me the other day and was like “I just found these great puppets at a thrift store, and I’ve been looking for another woman to do a show with them. Are you interested?” I was like “You have no idea.”
Dan: Let me tell you about my puppet expertise.
Dan: So we might possibly see some more puppets.
Dan: Improv comedy, that’s amazing. That’s something that would scare the hell out of me.
Linda: Everyone says that. Yes, it’s scary. But it’s like anything. You get better at it the more you do it. The first time I did a show, the way improv works is there’s a stage and there are a few people standing on either side of that stage. They just take turns going into the center and creating scenes together. Usually two people are performing at a time.
Then if you see – while you’re standing on the side, if you see something potentially funny that could happen, or if you see a way you want to build their story, you walk into the scene and tag somebody out. Then you start acting in that scene with that person. The first show I did, I didn’t walk into that stage once. It’s kind of awesome though to be at the stage in my career where I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for like nine years. And to start over. It feels like being a brand-new baby junior designer again or something.
Dan: I can totally relate to that kind of thing. I think as a creative person you do get kind of restless sometimes with getting into a groove. Learning new things is half the fun.
Linda: Oh, yeah. It’s good to mix it up.
Dan: That’s amazing. I thank you so much for joining us today, Linda. We learned a ton here. Really just by talking about a couple pieces of your work, and it was super fun. I’m not going to go to Iceland during the holidays.
Linda: The Yule Cat will eat you, unless you have a brand-new suit from Barney’s or something. Then you’re in the clear.
Dan: That’s right. Make sure you wear new clothes if you go to Iceland. We’re going to look for you on stage soon.
Linda: Who knows? I’m just going to do it all. I’m going to do standup and sketches.
Dan: I’m so impressed. Where can people find you? What’s next for you?
Linda: I think right now the best thing to follow me on is probably Twitter, @littlenono. I’ve left ueno, and I’ve been freelancing out here. Freaking loving it.
Dan: That’s great.
Linda: That’s what I’m up to.
Dan: Awesome. Thanks again. Keep up the awesome work. We’ll see you on stage soon.
Linda: Thank you so much, Dan.