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Making Maps, Finding Ways

SVA alum David Leutert on Mapping Manhattan

In celebration of summer and art in the streets, SVA Continuing Education (SVACE) is unveiling a printed map of public artworks for New Yorkers and visitors to take on their own public art and gallery tours of Manhattan. We had the pleasure of enlisting David Leutert, alumnus of SVA MFA Illustration as Visual Essay, as the designer for this very special project. Since graduating last year, Leutert has been working on exciting design and illustration projects for major clients like MTV, Variety, PBR, Lollapalooza, Colossal, and The Hollywood Reporter. His eccentric, bold style depicts iconography familiar to New Yorkers and exemplifies many characteristics that make NYC such a unique place for creative inspiration.

To learn more about David Leutert and his process, we organized a q&a with the illustrator.

SVACE: How did you find the process of making the Map for our summer newsletter?

DL: Creating the map was definitely one of the most challenging tasks of my career thus far, yet I had so much fun with the process! Until this point I did not have experience with infographics, so I underestimated how much research and planning would go into creating a comprehensive map of public art.

Upon meeting with the creative team, I was given a spreadsheet of all 28 art pieces and their accompanying locations. I mapped out the pinpoints on a photo of the city to get an idea of where everything was located. With that reference I was able to create a rough composition of the double-page spread while taking into account how much space I needed for copy, headlines, and a separate minimap.

I then created a two-point perspective grid with Illustrator, which I imported into Procreate on an iPad and began working on a more refined sketch. I chose a detailed style of execution and clocked in a solid 30 hours on this stage alone. Thanks to some fantastic art direction from Visual Arts Press, I was able to sketch out a pretty clear concept before final production, which saved me a lot of time for potential revisions.

SVACE: You graduated from SVA’s MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program last year, and took SVA Continuing Education courses. How have these programs informed your identity and interests as an illustrator?

DL: I wanted to get as much as possible out of my time at SVA, so I decided to take additional courses on top of the crazy master’s program schedule. During my first year I audited an undergraduate class in food packaging taught by the wonderful Louise Fili, which amplified my passion for hand-drawn letterforms. During my second year, I came in every Saturday for Matt Rota’s SVACE course, “Digital Coloring for Illustrators and Comic Artists.”

Graduate school was undoubtedly the most intense and thus rewarding education I could have asked for. Illustrators sometimes spend days on end in total isolation trying to meet deadlines or refining their craft. What I loved about the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program was the emphasis on community. For two years, I shared a space with roughly 40 other illustrators who inevitably became my surrogate family. They struggled with the same doubts and insecurities as me; we failed, strived, and eventually, we grew as both artists and people.

Before moving to New York, I was working as a graphic designer in Germany. Although I always wanted to be able to draw for a living, I thought it was safer to have a “real” job and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to pay me for my silly doodles. SVA taught me the necessary skills and knowledge to work in the commercial arts, and gave me the confidence to call myself an illustrator. Looking back, I’m glad to have gained a solid foundation in graphic design and I feel very fortunate to be able to wear both hats today.

Most young illustrators and designers struggle with finding a “style," when finding themselves is so much more crucial.
David Leutert
Illustrator, designer, SVA alum

SVACE: What do you think makes a great illustration?

DL: A great illustration tells a story. It complements an article or ad in a way that cannot be projected through photography or image editing. A successful illustration concept should strike a nerve with the intended audience and the viewer should relate to what you are saying. However, everything is subjective and there’s no one formula for a good piece. Sometimes it just has to feel right.

SVACE: Do you have any advice for emerging illustrators or designers?

DL: I’m not sure I have the authority to give anyone advice, but I do have one theory: draw what you know and tell your own stories. Most young illustrators and designers struggle with finding a “style," when finding themselves is so much more crucial. Learning technique is important, but above all you have to be a great communicator.

The drawing part is easy and you’ll develop your own style over time as you continue to practice. Or maybe you never do, but instead you learn to adapt to each new challenge with a different style—kind of like a Swiss Army knife—and that’s okay.

To this day, I rarely ever open my sketchbook unless I have a project in mind. I don’t pull my inspiration from doodling, but from making memories with the people who mean the most to me. The time you spend away from the drawing board is just as valuable as the time you spend drawing. Go out into the world, make some mistakes, and then express them through your illustrations.

You can see David Leutert’s map in our summer issue of SVA ContinuEd; call or visit for your free copy. And browse our courses if you like drawing, hand lettering, Adobe Illustrator, and our summer “Drawing in the Park” events. See more updates and stories on our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram pages!

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