My process for an illustration assignment, Working with a deadline

I've had these photo's lying around for a while now. I made them to write another tutorial about my drawing process, but things were so crazy around here that I never really felt like writing the text. Luckily things have calmed down a bit this week so I took some time to make new drawings and also write you guys a new tutorial.

I'd like to show the process from start to finish for the illustration you can see on the photo below. And also talk a bit about the entire process of the assignment I made for Label Magazine some time ago. In this tutorial I will explain a bit more about making sketches, show some other tools I use and there is some info on my work space and working habits.

Just click the Read more... button to view the entire article.

So, of course every illustration starts with a first idea. For this assignment I didn't really have to think about typography getting in the way or a specific layout. I just had to make 3 full-page illustrations that could stand on their own, so they could be placed anywhere in the article later on. I received a rough draft of the text because the final article wasn't complete yet, so I had to keep in mind some text might still be edited or scrapped. We decided it was best if I worked with some key sentences plucked from the text. 

The first idea sketches I send them were really rough because I basically had only 5 days to make 3 full-page illustrations. So we spend the first day discussing the article and I send them rough drafts of some ideas I had. I didn't want to spend too much time detailing the first sketches simply because we didn't have much time.

Below you can see the 3 sketches they eventually picked out.

After the sketches got approved I started collecting some reference material (this involved me making some pictures of myself posing) and I drew the outlines of the illustrations on A3 sized Bristol board. 

I prefer sketching out my first ideas in a sketchbook or just on cheap printing paper, because I'm too scared to damage the expensive Bristol board with excessive erasing. If I grab a couple of cheap papers to sketch on first, I feel a lot less pressured to get it right on the first try. I can even tear up and trow away the really ugly sketches if I want to. This puts less pressure on the whole sketching process and makes it more fun and gives me more freedom to just not worry and try different things.

I also feel much more comfortable sketching on a smaller format. You can't really move the big Bristol board around very easily, or scan it in quickly and move pieces of my sketches around in Photoshop (this is something I also do a lot).

Eventually I'll end up with bits and pieces of sketches pasted together together and some reference photo's. Then I can roughly start drawing out the final illustration on big format.

Below you can see the images I send them of the first set-up for the final illustrations. In this stage you can already see the outlines and some details I plan on drawing. But everything is drawn very lightly in pencil, so I can still erase areas or move things around if necessary. After this stage making changes would be a lot more difficult and take more time, because the lines will be harder to erase. Or if I also work with ink (which I do a lot) erasing and re-scanning the drawing would be even harder. 

That's why even though I didn't have much time, I did scan the drawings and email them before continuing to work out the drawings and spend a lot of time on detailing and shading. I did work out one illustration a little bit more, as you can see below, to show where I eventually wanted to go with the final illustrations. 

As you can also see, the scans I send them are barely edited and slightly smudgy. Normally I would spend a bit more time cleaning up the first scans to make them more presentable, but as I mentioned before, I didn't have much time so this would have to do. I figured the scans were clear enough and they would understand the concept like this. Of course I explained this in the email I send them along with the files.

Luckily they liked the sketches and I didn't have to make any edits at all, so the next day I could just start working out the rest of the illustrations right away. This is my favorite part of any assignment. I grab a cup of coffee or tea, put on some nice music and get into the zone!

While I'm drawing I always turn on a lot of light to make the room as bright as possible. After all, I have to stare at the same piece of paper for a very long time and I get uncomfortable if there isn't enough light to see what I'm doing. I have 3 big lights: One on my left, on in the middle on my working table and one on my right. 

I should probably mention that this often results in me not noticing it's getting dark outside and completely forgetting about time. When I'm drawing I like to just keep going until the drawing is done. I used to work a lot at night and be completely trashed the next day, but I try to avoid that these days. I figured in the end I'm more productive if I stop on time so I can draw again the next day. Although sometimes it still feels really good if I'm working on a personal project and pull an all-nighter. 

Any way, here are some photo's showing the drawing process. I usually start drawing with a basic HB pencil and shade with a softer 2B pencil. I use a really soft 8B pencil to shade the really dark areas and use a mechanical pencil for the really fine details.

I wanted to add some color to this illustration to make it pop more and the headband seemed ideal for some nice red coloring. I found reference for a scarf with a nice pattern and I decided to use a red fineliner pen to draw it out.

After this I tried to keep in mind all the illustrations would have to have some red in them to make them into a nice series.

Eventually I used a very thick, soft pencil to draw the background. I wanted the background to be more smudgy so the figures would really pop out. The pencil might look a bit like a normal mechanical pencil in this photo, but there is a 2.0 mm 2B lead in it. You can buy mechanical pencils in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I'm always buying new tools to try out, especially if I want to try new drawing techniques.

I have even better stuff to make blurry lines right now, but I'll show you another time.

I drew all of the 3 illustrations first before scanning them in. I didn't really Photoshop them much, I just played around with the contrast a bit, set the layer to multiply and added some blue tones to the background on a new layer. Because I penciled and smudged the background on paper, I already had a nice texture and tones to work with. I really just had to add some blue colors with a basic Photoshop brush on a layer under the drawing. 

I prefer working like this: Draw out as much as possible on paper and just use Photoshop to make some small edits and maybe add some more color. 

So that was basically it, one done and on to the next illustration! 

What's so satisfying about editorial assignments is the instant gratification. You work on an illustration for a short amount of time and you also see the final result in print in just a couple of weeks. 

I hope this was another useful article. If you have any suggestions for a new tutorial or questions feel free to leave a comment!

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0 #4 2014-04-14 19:49
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0 #3 janet 2014-03-09 19:22
Thank you so much for posting your process. Its amazing to see the initial sketches and then such gorgeous final illustrations!
0 #2 Sabine ten Lohuis 2012-06-13 19:02
Hi Kate,

Thank you for the sweet comment.
This was actually printed at about half the size as the original drawing. I always try to work on a slightly larger format as the printed version. It usually makes the final illustration look better.

Hope that answers your question.
0 #1 Kate 2012-06-13 15:30
Hello -- Thank you for the very clear tutorial, your illustrations are gorgeous. I have a question for you, if you don't mind: are your illustrations printed in the same size as the original? That's what it looked like, and I was just curious...
Thanks again for the great read!

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