How Technology Is Changing Visual Art

Minh Uong, a visual editor for The Times’s business section, uses a pen and a notebook to sketch early ideas for illustrations.

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Minh Uong, a visual editor for The Times’s business section, discussed the tech he’s using.

Can you explain your creative process for making and planning illustrations for The Times?

Being the visual editor for the business section, I’m responsible for providing artwork that illuminates stories that are hard to photograph. It’s a challenging task at times, since our section features articles with topics that are difficult to visualize. Try to think of images that relate to private equity, net neutrality or the trade deficit.

Recently, I had to art a story about fake Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg accounts on Facebook and Instagram that scam people out of their money.

I doodled my first thought in my sketchbook using a black Paper Mate pen showing people stealing and running away with images of Mark and Sheryl. Then I sketched a different concept showing a group of scammers hiding behind Mark and Sheryl masks.

My second sketch got approved. To finish the illustration would require some time to draw the masks of Mark and Sheryl. I was planning to use Adobe’s drawing program, Illustrator, and my old 10-inch Wacom tablet. But with only a few hours before our print deadline, I decided to pursue creating the art with photography instead, and needed to create props for people to hold during a photo shoot.

So I printed out 10 full-size faces of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg on our color Canon copier-printer combo. I trimmed them with my X-Acto knife. Luckily, I had saved disposable chopsticks from my Chinese takeout orders, and they made perfect handles for the masks. I proceeded to Scotch tape all the chopsticks to the back of each mask.

After I finished with the props, I wrangled eight colleagues to be in our photo shoot. We went to our in-house photo studio in the basement, where our staff photographer tried several lighting techniques to capture the moody and surreal picture.

You also hire illustrators for The Times. Have tech tools like the iPad and Apple Pencil, or Microsoft’s Surface tablets, made it easier for people to draw things and lowered the barrier to entry for becoming a professional illustrator?

No doubt these tech tools make it much easier to create artwork, just as the high-quality cameras that come with today’s smartphones have turned us all into “photographers.”

But I believe you still need certain artistic skills to become an illustrator. You need to have a discerning eye and to be able to communicate by creating a visual vocabulary that’s uniquely your own. As an illustrator, you have to establish your point of view to solve problems and to go beyond just tracing a picture.

Are the works by illustrators you commission created by pen and paper or on the computer?

Time is of the essence when dealing with editorial illustration. Today, most artists are tech savvy. Some will start their project using traditional techniques like drawing in ink or painting with acrylics. Then they finalize it in Photoshop or a graphics program. This ultimately will save a lot of time.

Working digitally makes it even easier to send in the final artwork. Before, I used to wait for overnight packages from FedEx or U.P.S. Now artists can take work right until the deadline and then just send their projects by email.

The beauty of that is the artists get to keep their original work. And since The Times buys only the first-time printing rights, original artwork has to be sent back to its creators. I don’t miss having to repackage artwork to send back to people in the mail.

Have you tried doing your entire workflow on a tech product such as the iPad or a drawing tablet?

I use my Wacom tablet whenever I need to create colorful portraitures of C.E.O.s. My 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop with Adobe Creative Suite is my daily workhorse. I love the convenience of this powerful computer, and it’s ideal for working away from the office. When designing the Sunday Business section, I use NewsGate with Layout Champ, part of the suite of tools from CCI Europe that The Times uses to produce the print newspaper.

Is there anything that tech companies could do to improve their products to get you to adopt a completely digital workflow?

I wish there were a better tablet out there that could convert my sketches into editable vector images while I am drawing. There could be one out there that I’m not aware of.

Outside of work, what tech products do you and your family use heavily?

My wife loves her Fitbit Charge. Her goal is to reach 10,000 steps every day. Several times she has discovered before sleeping that she was a few steps shy of that, and has jumped up and walked around the house until her Fitbit vibrated in an indication that she had reached her goal.

As for me, I stare at my monitor at work all day. When I’m home, I try to limit my time playing with other devices. But I’m perfectly content with my iPhone. Every day, I enjoy using the usual apps, such as YouTube, Google Maps, Words With Friends, Pinterest — and of course The Times’s app!

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