Everything You Can Imagine: Digital Illustration Process

Hello! Here’s a little post on my process for this illustration 🙂

I really like watching people’s process videos when I have time. Not only do I learn a lot, it adds so much more context to the final product. I know it takes away some of the mystery, but overall I think it’s nice to be open about it. So this is by no means a “Here’s How You Do It” tutorial. It’s just to share, on a high-level, how I created this drawing. My process is a little different for each project, so this is just one way to do it! Hope it’s helpful 🙂

1. Inspiration: I’m inspired by all sorts of things, and I keep a quickly-accessible note in Evernote to jot them down. For this piece I came across a Picasso quote I really liked, and could immediately envision an illustration/feeling that I would want to do with it. Browsing Pinterest, going out for a walk, reading a book, or even watching TV with a critical eye can be sources of inspiration. It’s all about being an active observer rather than a passive consumer.

2. Sketch: I had a general sense of the placing and flow I wanted, but other than the leafy seadragon and the kid and boat nothing else was crystalized until I started sketching. Usually this can require multiple sketches, but in this case I just did one thumbnail because I had in mind what I wanted.

3. Letter: Since this involved some lettering, I made the decision up front whether I wanted the illustration to be led by lettering or by illustration. I chose the latter, so drew my thumbnail first and then designed the lettering around it. For this purpose I like to use marker paper (basically like tracing paper) so I can keep iterating on one focused area. Lettering is not my strongest suit so this one required many iterations. I knew the feeling I wanted, but to create it on paper I needed to try several approaches.

4. Finalize Sketch: Once I had a lettering style I was happy with, I made a clean brush pen copy and then used a new marker paper to combine the letters and drawing into the final sketch. This is not totally necessary, but gave me confirmation that I was happy with the overall composition. I knew there were some details I’d need to iron out on the computer, but this was enough to get me into the digital side. I personally find it most efficient for me to do everything up to here on real paper, but it can vary person to person and project to project.

5. Digitize: I scan my sketch into Photoshop, clean it up and start making color and line choices. I usually have a line style drawing but I wanted to try a more color and shape approach here. Digital painting is great for that as you can really play around with placement, tone and shading. I also start spotting areas that need some more work, such as adding the little spirit trios in the back. So this is both a production and creative back and forth process.

This part arguably takes the longest for me, as I’m still working on my digital painting skills and experimenting with techniques. I’m sure it’ll get faster over time. I used to always be in a hurry to finish something in quickly, but now I find it’s really important to not expect that to happen. Taking a step away to work on something else or rest my eyes always results in coming back and spotting areas to improve. I sometimes also show it to someone whose taste I really trust, and that person always gives me good notes on things to consider. Fresh eyes are important. Good things take time.

6. Final Print: I do some test prints to make sure I like it on paper as much asI do on screen. It’s always rewarding to hold in my hand what used to only be in my mind 🙂

Since people on Instagram asked about prints, I will do a limited print run of this drawing 🙂 Weekly illo post coming tomorrow!
-MC
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