Kyle Webster is an accomplished illustrator. He regularly contributes his illustrations to publications like The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal and has worked for such big-name clients as Krispy Kreme and Tori Amos. Like many illustrators today, Webster creates his illustrations digitally. Unlike many illustrators, Webster is making an extra $100k a year selling art supplies.
Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator come with pre-loaded brushes, and while it’s certainly possible to create great work with them, they do have their limitations and can leave an artist feeling restricted. Webster creates his own digital paintbrushes and they’ve become very popular with everyone from artists on “Game of Thrones” to Rockstar Games and Disney. Webster’s brushes allow an artist to create flowing watercolors, dusty pastels and other brush strokes that just wouldn’t have the same texture if created with pre-loaded Photoshop brushes. Webster told Wired that stumbling upon this lucrative side business came out of experimentation.
“I never wanted to be known as a person who only created one specific kind of imagery,” he says. “Creating brushes, in my spare time, that emulated different kinds of natural media, allowed me to experiment more and then eventually work those experiments into paying work.”
“Everything changed for me when I realized I could use some of Photoshop’s brush tool settings in ways they were never intended to be used,” says Webster. “Certain combinations that do not seem logical yield amazing natural media results, and when these settings are combined with the right brush shape, you have something really special and new.”
One thing that has made Webster’s brushes so popular — they sell for the incredibly reasonable rate of $3-13 — is that they have a certain unpredictability, allowing the artist to develop a skill exclusive to a particular brush. Samantha Kallis, a concept artist at Disney says that Webster’s brushes create “happy accidents” and allow for a certain amount of magic to happen when working with them. The problem with many digital brushes is that they function like a rubber stamp, providing the exact same results time after time. Webster’s brushes act much more like a real brush, providing different results based on stroke, pen pressure, and tilt.
The brushes have not only provided Webster with a lucrative side income, but elevated his own work as well and given him a portfolio just as impressive as his brushes.
“Most of the work I am making now for clients is work I am proud to show in my portfolio, as opposed to a mix of jobs that pay the bills and keep me busy,” says Webster who now has to regularly turn down big gigs to handle tech support and marketing.