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'Wearables' has become the catch-all term for any wearable tech that we have on our connected selves. Whether it's watches that do more than just tell the time, virtual reality headsets, or bands that enable us to track our fitness as we run to our desks, wearable tech has infiltrated just about every area of our lives. 

  • The 6 best smartphones for designers in 2018

And of course, wearables can also help you be more productive, reminding you about client meetings and helping you be more aware about taking breaks from your computer (the Apple Watch reminds you periodically to get up and walk around).

Here we’ve listed our favourite bits of wearable tech in each category, plus two alternatives at varying price points. Naturally, as designers we want the tech we own to look good, so we’ve made sure that all our options look the part, too. 

The best smartwatch for designers

Has there ever been a better smartwatch? When it comes to wearable tech, the answer is no. The cellular connectivity is nice to have, but remains an expensive luxury at £5 per month. Added to which, it’s still only available through EE, which isn’t much good if your iPhone isn’t on the network, too (it has to be, you see). 

If you have an Apple Music subscription, or iTunes playlists synchronised to your phone, then getting music onto the Apple Watch is a cinch anyway. On the fitness side, it’s no Garmin (see below) but if you’re a casual runner, swimmer or gym-goer then its fitness tracking is more than enough. 

The battery life is a lot better than other similar devices, and you can get nearly two days out of it. The integration with iOS is predictably excellent and the waterproofing welcome. Plus, there are numerous finishes to choose from and plenty of choice in terms of straps as well. And if you have trouble remembering to go to meetings and keeping track of notifications then the Apple Watch will certainly help there, too.

The best fitness tracker for designers

Although Fitbit keeps trying to get into the smartwatch space (currently with its Versa and Ionic), fitness trackers are still what it is best at. The Charge 2 is the company’s best fitness tracker at the moment, and can track step counts and sporadic exercise. 

The key benefit is that this band doesn’t need you to say you’re starting exercise to track it – it just keeps a log of whatever you’re doing. That should be standard for many pieces of wearable tech, but the fact is that a lot of smartwatches and trackers need to be told when you’re starting a period of increased activity. And nobody remembers to do this every time. 

It isn’t a running watch, however, and it also isn’t that smart, with notifications limited to call, text and calendar. That’s a shame, since the large screen is perfect for additional information. It is comfortable, however, and tracks general fitness consistently well. The sleep information provided within the app (iOS and Android) is also very welcome. 

The best headphones for designers

Like other products from Bang & Olufsen’s more accessible sub-brand, the H8i’s are superbly finished. And, like other B&O Play headphones, they’re designed by Copenhagen-based Jakob Wagner Studio, one of Denmark’s most respected design studios. The H8is are brand new this year, are wireless via Bluetooth, and feature active noise cancellation that you can toggle on and off with a switch. 

Available in black or ‘natural’ (the tan colour you see here) they feature up to 30 hours playback, though you can get a lot more than that by attaching a cable. They will even pause your music when you remove them thanks to a proximity sensor, while a transparency mode means you’ll always be able to tune into an office conversation should you need. There are two voice microphones for making clear phone calls. It helps they sound fantastic, too.

The best VR headset for designers

If you’re interested in VR and the potential of it as a platform of the future, there have so far been two ways you can go; a cheap headset (like the Daydream View below) that you pair with a compatible smartphone, or a high-end super-expensive headset that requires a fairly powerful PC. 

The Oculus Go fits into neither camp; it’s a comfortable, smartphone-free headset that doesn’t cost the earth. It’s similar to the more expensive Oculus Rift (which does rely on a PC). The Go doesn’t need a smartphone because it basically is one, running on a similar Qualcomm Snapdragon platform to many high-end phones. 

It has its own 5.5-inch display and 32GB of storage (there’s also a 64GB option). It’s not as immersive as more expensive headsets on the market as you are limited to three degrees of freedom, and the app selection isn’t the best, but there’s a lot more to come here. 

  • The best VR headsets for designers

The best wireless earbuds for designers

The AirPods have one big disadvantage: they look silly. It would be way better even if they were black or grey. Anyway, once you’ve got over that, they will gradually weave themselves into your life as one of the most versatile pieces of tech you’ve ever owned. While they can work with other types of Bluetooth devices, they’re designed for Apple gear, obviously. If you have an iPhone 7 or later they will automatically sync, and they work particularly well with Apple Watch. 

The main advantage of the AirPods is that you hardly even know you’re wearing them. You can use one or both as a headset, which is brilliant if you make a lot of calls. They automatically switch depending on which one is in your ear, and auto-pause if you take one out to talk to someone. 

Sound quality isn’t top notch but is so much better than the wired EarPods that Apple bundles with its phones. The battery life is a disadvantage – you will wear it out in a long morning – but the charging case carries enough juice for 24 hours of total listening. 

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This month's roundup is a mixed bag of new books, news skills, and new tools. One of the best titles out this May takes a modern, engaging approach to mastering to art of how to draw people – plus we look at the best pencils and papers to go with it. Another new book aims to demystify art, by explaining in simple language exactly what 300 iconic texts really 'mean'. Elsewhere, we look at a guide on how to give your landscapes new depth using mixed-media techniques – including found objects.

Struggling with artists' block? We've got something for that – a book that explains what creativity is and how to unlock yours. And if that doesn't work there's a tried-and-tested resource from which everyone from Botticelli to Damien Hirst has found inspiration. Ever heard of 'snitte'? We sharpen our knife and take a look at the craft that is described as "a rite of passage for most Scandinavians".

01. Danish whittling

Create everything from toys to butter knives from wood

In The Danish Art of Whittling, Frank Egholm teaches you the ancient Danish craft of 'snitte'. This new book gives you a visual, step-by-step guide to a range of simple whittling projects for the home – wooden toys for children, a necklace, butter knives, and pretty much everything in between. It's a relatively cheap craft, since you don't need many tools to get started. And it's a relaxing, satisfying, and productive way to get away from the computer. Could it be your new favourite creative hobby? 

02. Whittling knife

Over time, the birchwood handle will mould to the user’s grip

This whittling knife is specially designed for woodcarving. It has a thin, tapered edge of laminated steel, which is tough, so it'll withstand lots of snitte before it's needs regrinding. And it also comes with a storage case, to keep it in good shape. Best of all, as you use it, over time the oiled birchwood handle will slowly change shape until it perfectly fits to your hand – which is when you'll know you're a true master of snitte. 

03. Good wood

Basswood is ideal for whittling

People have been using basswood for woodcarving for thousand of years. It makes for a particularly good material for whittling because it doesn’t have much of a grain and it's soft and therefore easier to work with. This 10-piece pack is free of acid and lignin, plus each block is quite small, making it ideal for the beginner whittler, and for practising detail and finesse work. It's good snitte. 

04. Art made easy

The meaning behind over 300 famous artworks

Patrick De Rynck and Jon Thompson hit the nail on the head in their new book, Understanding Painting: with all its talk of  themes and symbols, art can be intimidating. Here they look at over 300 famous pieces – from the middle ages to the 20th century – and explain clearly and concisely what they 'mean'. Vermeer, Picasso, Hopper and more feature here. The language is simple and engaging, and it looks smart too. 

05. Creativity unblocked

Tips for unlocking your creativity

In Being Creative: Be Inspired, Unlock your Originality, artist Michael Atavar talks about creativity and how to find yours, how to develop ideas, and how to bridge the big gap between the development stage and completing a projects – something even the most experienced creative can struggle with. With this book, Atavar aims to prove that creativity isn't some magical, possibly mythical thing floating about in the ether, but something real, inside everyone, waiting to get out. A good read for creatives in any field.

06. If all else fails …

Artists throughout history have stolen ideas from mythology

You've heard how talent borrows but genius steals? Well, the best of the best regularly steal ideas from classical Greek and Roman myths. In Flying Too Close to the Sun, James Cahill looks at how mythology has inspired the work of Botticelli, Caravaggio, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst – plus the Coen Brothers, Margaret Atwood, and Arcade Fire – and how they've taken these ancients stories and weaved them into their own work. It tackles big themes like fate, jealously, and redemption, and is full of ideas on how you can use them in your work. 

07. Mastering portrait technique

A modern take on an age-old skill

This Pocket Art guide to portrait drawing offers a lively, modern approach to this fundamental skill. London artist Miss Led is your teacher. She tells you what tools you need, how to understand the face, its features and expressions, and how to master the tricker stuff, like hair and skin. Best of all, she does it in just 112 pages. This is another title that is helping to bring art theory into the 21st century. 

08. Portrait pencils

These shades are perfect for portraiture

This 24-piece set of pencils is perfect for portraiture, particularly certain skin and hair tones. It gives rich, creamy, vibrant colours, which are easy to blend, and look smooth on the page. They give a much more professional finish than your average coloured pencil. Not the cheapest, but excellent quality as always from the ever-reliable Prismacolor brand. They don't break easily. And come in a proper tin for safe storage.

09. Toned paper

Toned paper is great for practising light and shadow

Strathmore is one of the leading brands in art supplies – trusted by students, hobbyists, and professionals alike. This toned paper is an immediate way to refresh your portrait work. On white paper, you tone down. With this range of toned paper, you have to shade both down and up, which is great for practising light and shadow. Plus, non-white paper helps with eyestrain.

10. Textile painting

Learn how to create impressive mixed-media landscapes

Textile Landscape Painting encourage you to use paper and paint, fabric and thread, and found objects to create stunning landscapes with added depth. Author Cas Holmes guides you through it step by step – from coming up with ideas in your sketchbook, to stitching and painting them on cloth, and even completing these projects digitally. The book doesn't just focus on pastoral scenes either. It also looks at urban environments.

Read more:

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  • 20 phenomenally realistic pencil drawings


There are many tools available for the digital artist, from graphics tablets to the best software to a whole range of learning resources. However, one tool that is often overlooked is the podcast. While it may seem like an odd choice, podcasts are a great way for artists to get inspired, connect with other artists, and learn more about the visual and creative arts industries. But with so many to choose from, where do you start?

Good news! We've compiled a list of 10 of the best to help get you going. So scan the list, and put one of these on in the background the next time you sit down to create. See if it doesn't help shake some of those cobwebs loose. 

For more info on treats for your ears, take a look at our posts on the best podcasts for graphic designers and for web designers.

01. Chris Oatley Artcast

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: Visual Development Mythbusting :: ArtCast #108

Description: "A Disney character designer answers your questions about concept art, character design for animation, digital painting and illustration."

Chris Oatley's podcast provides valuable information to aspiring artists who want to become professional visual storytellers, or artists already in the business. Each episode, Oatley interviews a professional artist, past guests include Jake Parker and Stan Prokopenko. These talks are both informative and inspirational.

02. Lean Into Art

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: LIA Cast 225 – Creative Monsters of Doubt

Description: "Topics and conversation that explores design thinking, creative communication, visual arts, comics, illustration, creative coding and more."

Hosted by visual storytellers Jerzy Drozd and Rob Stenzinger, the Lean Into Art podcast focuses on the process of good design and living the life of uncertainty as a visual artist. The hosts tackle topics like composition, colour and the best way to communicate ideas visually. This is one of the best podcasts out there, especially if you're a comic book artist or enthusiast. 

03. The Lonely Palette

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: Ep. 16 – Vincent Van Gogh's "Postman Joseph Roulin"

Description: "The podcast that returns art history to the masses, one painting at a time.”

The Lonely Palette podcast is more about traditional art and art history rather than digital design and illustration. Each episode focuses on a different painting, with host Tamar Avishai interviewing unsuspecting gallery visitors in front of it, and then going on to explore everything about the painting, from the artistic movement it comes from to its social context. Listening to the Avishai explain the history behind each painting and its artist immediately (and deeply) connects you with some of the most well-known artists in history.

04. The Collective Podcast

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: Ep. 174 – Marco Nelor

Description: "Weekly episodes of entertaining, informative, honest discussions with creative industry professionals from around the world.”

The Collective Podcast with Ash Throp is a notable choice if you're interested in learning more about the individuals behind the creativity. In each episode, Throp interviews different artists – from creative directors and illustrators to game designers and programmers – about their work, the struggles they face as a creative and how they achieve proper work-life balance.

05. 3 Point Perspective

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: 2. Am I Too Old to Get Started?

Description: "Illustration, how to do it, how to make a living at it, and how to make an impact in the world with your art."

Relatively new to the podcast scene is 3 Point Perspective hosted by Will Terry, Lee White and Jake Parker. All three are professional illustrators and collectively have published over 50 books. Each has also taught art and illustration at US universities.

Every week, Terry, White and Parker tackle a different subject related to art and illustration from three different perspectives. They break down each topic, and answer questions like ‘My art is great, why won't anyone hire me?’ and ‘Am I too old to get started?’

06. The Modern Art Notes Podcast

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: Episode 338: Terry Winters, Stefanie Heckmann

Description: "A weekly, hour-long interview program featuring artists, historians, authors, curators and conservators.”

The Modern Art Notes Podcast, hosted by Tyler Green, is another podcast that is focused more on traditional art rather than digital illustration, but the interviews are fascinating and well worth the listen. In this podcast, Green talks with artists and curators and helps listeners gain historical insight while providing a conversational style that's enjoyable and informative. Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee called The MAN Podcast “one of the great archives of the art of our time”. 

07. The Creative Pep Talk Podcast

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: 177 – Are You Sabotaging Yourself?

Description: "Through talks filled with bizarre analogies and Fraggle Rock references, and interviews with top creative professionals, Dr. Pizza is ready to PEP YOU UP!"

The name says it all. The Creative Pep Talk Podcast, hosted by Andy J. Miller (a.k.a Andy J. Pizza), is an excellent podcast if you need a pep talk. This inspirational and motivational podcast breaks down the various processes needed to help you plan out a successful career in the creative arts industry. 

08. Roundabout: Creative Chaos

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: Episode 60 – Aaron Blaise

Description: "Join Tammy Coron and Tim Mitra on an epic journey. Topics include interactive design and development, animation, creative writing, technical writing, gaming, movies, music and zombies. Yes… zombies."

Hosted by me (Tammy Coron) and Tim Mitra, Roundabout: Creative Chaos explores the personal stories behind what drives a person's creativity. You'll hear from different creative individuals from all walks of life about how they got started, where they draw their inspiration, and what keeps them going.

09. 99% Invisible

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: 296- Bijlmer (City of the Future, Part 1)

Description: "Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we've just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture."

99% Invisible is a fascinating look at how design and architecture has an impact on how we interact with our environment and the objects within our world. The host, award-winning producer Roman Mars, is a wonderful storyteller and creates a visual image in your brain like no other. This is an especially useful podcast if you're an environment or concept artist.

10. TECHnique

  • Listen on iTunes
  • Recommended episode: Episode 16 – Interactive Narratives

Description: "TECHnique is a podcast where artists talk about how technology is affecting them and their practice. Sam Fry and Richard Adams speak to artists who tell their stories, explain their choices and the lessons that they have learned."

Hosted by Samuel Fry and Richard Adams, the TECHnique podcast interviews artists about their use of technology and how it's impacting their work. They also discuss their creative process and the challenges they face in today's rapidly changing world of visual arts.

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With digital art, anything is possible. Whether you're still learning how to draw or you're already a digital pro, master your art and you can create anything you can imagine. In this article, we've rounded up some of the best digital artists around. The following artists prove that nothing is off limits with a humble tablet and some decent digital art software.

01. Jeszika Le Vye

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Jeszika Le Vye describes herself as an “imaginative realist painter”, combining her loves of Classical Realism with a passion for sci-fi and fantasy. Her work explores themes of psychology and philosophy. “In my art, I explore what gives a thing its substance, its soul,” she explains.

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The above painting appeared to Le Vye almost fully realised in her mind, and she began working on it before planning a concept or narrative. “As I painted it, the piercing eyes of the boy kept bringing to mind Peter Pan,” she says. “I imagined this ageless child living away from reality in his own world, kept company by natural wonders and his own shadow.”

02. Kaya Oldaker

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British artist Kaya Oldaker specialises in visual storytelling, and her work is heavily influenced by nature and rural life – along with absurd, almost surrealist fantasy. “I create a lot of extravagant, colourful and weird creature designs for the various stories I am working on,” she explains. 

The painting above shows a character from one such story: The Increasingly Absurd Endeavours of Gretchen Goosander. He’s a young honey dragon named Mumbeltrousse.

03. David Villegas

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David Villegas – better known by his alias Deiv Calviz – is a digital concept artist based in the Philippines. He specialises in hyper-realistic, stylised illustrations. 

Villegas initially studied multimedia arts with a focus on graphic design, but decided to start taking illustration more seriously after being awarded second place in a contest by Blizzard Entertainment. Villegas’ ultimate plan is to create his own worlds and stories.

Dragon Watchers (above) was inspired by Dark Souls and Game of Thrones, and mixes 3D, photobashing and a lot of painting. “I really pushed myself with this – it was a rare chance for me to make something personal at this level of detail,” he says.

04. Lim Chuan Shin

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Lim Chuan Shin is now a successful freelance illustrator and concept artist, and regularly creates fantasy and sci-fi book covers and concept artwork for game companies. However, growing up in Malaysia in the '90s meant art initially wasn’t a career option him. After several years as a pharmaceutical rep, he decided to take the plunge and chase his dreams. “It’s been a tough fight but it’s all been worth it,” he says.

Mech Bay (above) was created using interesting silhouettes in a flat black. Shin changed the tone of the shapes to create the illusion of depth of field.

05. Małgorzata Kmiec

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Małgorzata Kmiec is a freelance artist based in Berlin, who specialises in stylised and colourful portraits. She believes anyone who thinks magic doesn’t exist has never heard of art, and aims to put a bit of magic into all her work.

“I’m often inspired by seasons and nature, and this painting is a tribute to early spring,” she says of Spring Spirit (above). “I wanted to surround my character with warm colours that reflect the spirit of the season.”

06. Alyn Spiller

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Alyn Spiller is a concept artist and illustrator who specialises in environment art. He’s been in the industry for over six years, during which time he has worked with clients such as Cryptozoic Entertainment and Fantasy Flight Games.

He took inspiration from the Northern Lights when creating the colour scheme for his Northern Kingdom painting (above). "The sky lanterns were a late addition – I think they create a nice contrast of warm and cool colours,” he says.

07. Dang My Linh

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Dang My Linh is a Vietnamese concept artist based in the USA. Recently, she has been refining her portrait style. “I focus on observing people around me, the way light hits their face and changes colour,” she says.

She painted the two figures above at the same time, with the aim of creating a series of portraits. "I was keen to use a new style that was different from what I’d done before," she says.

08. Finnian MacManus

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Finnian MacManus' explorations of – among other things – architecture, history, art, design and science fiction all inform his work. Currently working at 20th Century Fox, he has recently contributed to Star Wars: Rogue One, Pacific Rim 2 and Transformers: The Last Knight.

His tips for working as a concept artist in the film industry? "No matter how skilled you are, be humble about your work, always respond well to critique, learn from those around you, and be generous in helping others. Your attitude will go a very long way in this small industry, where you regularly reunite with past colleagues."

09. Alayna Danner

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Alayna Danner (formerly Alayna Lemmer) is a digital artist based in Seattle, Washington, who works mainly on video games, board games and CCGs. 

"My favourite thing to paint is environments," she says. "I love to draw people and characters too, but there is just something about painting wispy clouds and mountains. I am lucky enough to live in the Seattle area, which is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and the Puget Sound, so there is inspiration all around me."

10. Simon Cowell

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No, not that one. Originally hailing from Sydney, Australia, Simon Cowell first explored fantasy art in the original Half-Life’s world editor. Since then he’s tinkered in 3D and traditional art, and is now a freelance concept artist.

"From an early age I was fascinated with creating. As I grew I experimented with many means of creativity, ranging from sculpting and drawing to digital animation and graphic design," Cowell says.

"I’d wanted to make a forest-style monster for a long time," he says of Swamp Thing (above). "I imagined something perhaps created from the woods and foliage, and held together by magic."

11. Ricardo Ow

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Having begun his career as a 3D artist, Ricardo Ow later started to focus on illustration. “It’s the perfect marriage between software and artistry,” he reveals. He is currently based in Vancouver, Canada and has worked on AAA video games, mobile games, concept art, T-shirt designs and illustrations for tabletop game publications.

Ow's Drake painting (above) is a ‘David vs Goliath’ dragon story. "To spice things up and suggest scale, I decided to include a human rider. I imagined a world where humans had tamed a smaller species of dragons to stand a chance against the bigger and more menacing drakes," he explains.

These artists appeared in ImagineFX magazine's FXPose section (subscribe here). To submit your own work for this section, take a look at the guidelines here.

Like this? Read these…

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