You’re sitting in a design review meeting. In a conference room. The dull buzz of the fluorescent lights match the mono-tone static of some voice in the room, but who cares, you’ve got a pen. Before you know it, you’ve inked an entire mural across the wall, the whiteboard and your boss’ face. He would be upset, but he’s quite amused that you were able to hold him him down long enough to draw a small robot holding a laser gun in the crevice of his cheek. Inspiration can hit us at any time.

It hits all the time for one engineer who turns color into some of the coolest environments you’ll ever see. Introducing Shaun Mullen. He’s an engineer, but he’s also an artist and quite an amazing one at that. From Cumbria UK, Shaun brings forth the beauty in illustrations he creates with finger and stylus using Sketchbook Pro for the iPad. Yes, all of the artwork you’re about to see was done on an iPad. I had the opportunity to talk with Shaun and learned more about his background in engineering and what inspires him.

where’s the bridge – © Shaun Mullen

Your background is engineering. Can you tell us about that and how your interest in art began?
My home town has a large ship yard and the surrounding area has various engineering based industries supporting this and other manufacturing processes. As the main employer of the area since 1871 the main drive was to recruit the community into the manufacturing and engineering sector. I have always had a passion for art and showed an interest in pursuing this further whilst at school but during the mid to late 80’s art wasn’t classed as a viable career path for a young man in our community.

I ended up starting an apprenticeship as an electrical technician but wanted to continue my art studies so I took a night school art course, it was during this period I was exposed to the range of different art techniques and media.

I have continued my career working in engineering and its taken me worldwide on some of the worlds most complex engineering projects and I have also had the pleasure of taking on freelance art commissions. Being able to unwind from work with my artwork is a pleasure but its also emphasizes my desire for working full time in the art industry and having my passion for engineering as a pass time to be incorporated in my art.

Explorer – © Shaun Mullen

How do you feel art compliments the engineering and design process?
Without that artistic flair and passion then the majority of engineered products or processes would be stagnant, linear and simply a case of designed for purpose. We all want a product to work perfectly and consistently but we also want it looking good and its this artistic process we have to design and engineering that gives us this blend.

Honestly? Straight Up. – © Shaun Mullen

What other software programs do you use?
In 2D work I predominately use an older version of Photoshop but recently I acquired the amazing Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (SBP) and Designer and I’m looking forward to getting to grips with both. I also use Google Sketchup for simple 3D models which I sometimes use as a base for my 2D work. I have also used the trial versions of Cinema4D and the 3DS Max but due to the costs involved in these professional 3D packages I havent explored them further.

The view – © Shaun Mullen

Do you do any other sort of artwork? Painting? Sculpture? Graphics?
I love all forms of art and have probably tried most of them in both digital and traditional methods, a bit of a ‘Jack of all trades’ master of none. I adore fine art painting, graphic illustration, typography and caligraphy, product design, tattooing and the list goes on. I have recently ordered some new sculpting materials to help balance my art processes, for such a long time now I’ve been using mainly digital media and I felt I needed to get my hands dirty again.

Plasma syphon – © Shaun Mullen

What’s your inspiration for the artwork you do with Sketchbook Mobile?
The million dollar question, this is always a tough question to answer. I generally dont start with a predisposed idea of what I want but I let the tools and colour’s help define where the piece goes. For example I fill the canvas a colour, doesn’t matter what colour but get rid of the whiteness. From there I throw down large random colour’s and shapes from the range of texture brushes within SBP, out of this abstract form comes an idea and an image, almost like seeing shapes in clouds. Once the ideas popped into my head I start to chip away until the idea starts to solidify into a rough sketch or in digital terms a speed painting, from there I render it to a finished piece.

Misty Forest – © Shaun Mullen

Along those lines, are there certain things you really enjoy drawing?
Environments, I’ve always had strong ties with landscape and environment pieces. Living in this area of the UK its hard not to be inspired by our landscape but its also nice to mix it up with adding that sci-fi element, gigantic beast or the half naked fantasy chick. But the way SBP works it allows the artist to explore smooth, intuitive lines which blends itself perfect for automotive design.

refuel – © Shaun Mullen

What kind of stylus do you use?
I currently use the Ozaki iFinger (large) [now the iStroke], I’ve tried the majority of different makes and models but this particular type felt right for me and the way I work. I still sometimes start my SBP pieces with finger for that quick, loose, instinctive touch that a stylus can’t replicate.

Spaceboots – © Shaun Mullen

What’s your favorite piece you’ve ever done with Sketchbook Mobile?
Another tough question as with most artists you are never fully satisfied with your work, well I never am. If I was to select just one piece then it would probably be the Mountain Doodle as I really enjoy painting mountains. I also like the results of the newer pieces like Spaceboots where I feel my use of SBP is getting better.

Mountain Doodle – © Shaun Mullen

Here a final video showreel of Shaun’s work with a bi of the process he goes through in creating the art.

Inspired? It’s truly some amazing work and definitely shows engineers can work with more than just numbers. I’d really like to thank Shaun for sharing. You can view much more of his work on his Flickr profile. If you want to get start as Chris did you can get a free trial of Sketchbook Pro or download Sketchbook Pro for iPad immediately.

Author

Josh is co-founder of EvD Media. He engineers and designs, is the Director of Marketing for Luxion, is CSWP certified for SolidWorks training and support and excels at falling awkwardly. He is editor of SolidSmack.com and co-host of EngineerVsDesigner.com, a weekly podcast about design, engineering and what makes it all happen.