New Illustration Process

One of the many things I love about art, is that I am constantly exploring.  Even when you nail down a particular skill or principle in art, every application happens in a new way.  I have a great love of children's books and illustration.  One day, I hope to be able to illustrate in my own unique style - which is what this blog post is about.  I started working on developing my own illustration style that combined my love of traditional medium and digital software.  I've done a couple pieces like this, but I will focus on my two latest ones: a historical piece, and a fantasy one.

1st Step: Having an Idea
Especially when working with clients, it is CRUCIAL to be able to roughly present them an idea, regardless of whether they are sticklers or not.  Not to mention that with art there are no numerical answers.  So, I have found that roughs serve 2 purposes:

a - Helps the customer have correct expectations.
b - Helps me discern what the customer wants.

When these two are happening, I can tackle the project with confidence.  Here are 2 examples of roughs:

These were done to establish composition, as the customer had specific elements he wanted in the final piece.

This was done to capture mood.  The customer wanted a dragon fantasy piece, and I was able to have a lot of freedom in it.

2nd Step:  Final Sketch
This is where you want to take out your large sheet of paper, and nail down your final line-art.  This doesn't have to be perfect, as long as you end up with the correct lines at the end.  This should take a lot of time, because it is where you are solidifying a lot of the ambiguous ideas you've had in the concept stage.  Because it isn't even the final art, you might feel the time you spend on this is a waste of time.  NOT SO!!!  Better to fail and redo here quickly, then get to the rendering stage and it be too late.
When you feel that you have everything lined out (not shaded or colored...just the basic outline info), then I trace it over transfer paper to a gray-toned paper, where I can start rendering.  A couple notes on this process:

1 - Use either a blue or purple soft pencil for your lineart.  (I use koh-i-noors lead holders with purple Staedler refills.  Unfortunately they no longer carry the purple, but the blue is also good!).  Keep your lines loose and soft!

2 - When it's time to transfer, use a red pencil to trace over your lines, so you can tell where you've been.  Sounds simple, but it is much more time effective.  ( I use a col-erase red pencil)

3 - Paper is important!  Choose a good quality gray toned paper for the final transfer - something that has a slightly velvety feel will hold graphite and pencils very well.

4 - This is the stage for mistakes - make them boldly and quickly and don't hold on to them.  Fix them!  Gather whatever reference you need.  Don't get too caught up in the details though - this is for large and mid level detail.


Figuring out all those crazy lines!

Transferring line-art to the final gray-toned paper.


3rd Step:  Rendering
This stage is the longest and most tedious - for some reason it is also my favorite!  It's when you have a plan, the dates are set, and all you gotta do is plug in the hours and see the magic happen.  :)  There are a couple things that have helped me last this through:

1 - Draw loosely!  This is where the koh-i-noor lead holders have saved me...they are balanced in such a way that my hand holds them very lightly and loosely, so I can last a lot longer without getting pains and aches.  (these are the ones I have)

2 - Take breaks, and wear a wrist support when not drawing.  This has helped me a lot - also drink lots of water!  I don't know why this helps so much, but it REALLY does.

3 - Use pastel pencils or graphite to cover large portions of value.  This cuts out so much busy work.

Starting left and working right

I will never be awarded the prize for most organized...

cookies definitely help to keep the creative juice flowing!

4th Step: Digital
Now I scan the pencil drawing, edit it in Photoshop, and send it off to be printed on fine art paper.
This should not take long once you have your resources set.  You need to find a good scanner, digital programs, and a printer that fit your needs.  This took me months to find the right resources in the Dallas area.  Once you get it down, you are good.  But up until that point, it can be a nightmare.  For any of you artist's in Dallas, here are some tips:

1 - Scans don't have to be expensive.  You can spend thousands of dollars on the highest quality services if you want.  I can't, so I had to be resourceful.  After trying photographers, scanners, and fine art replicators all over the metroplex, I ended up right where I started - Office Max in Rockwall has AMAZING staff (Call out to you Russ!) and a large drum scanner for blueprints that I use.  As long as the work is on paper and not a hard surface like mounted canvas, I am able to acquire a great scan for cheap.  Would a fine art scanner be better?  Yes, but not hundreds of dollars better.  :)  

2 - Insist on quality!  So, find a local print store, ask them if they have a large format scanner, and BE SPECIFIC!  Be picky and ask questions like these:
is this the highest quality scan you can give me?
is this at 600 dpi?
is this an image scan?
is there something I can do to the art for better scanning?  (for instance, I spray with matte varnish on oil paintings)
etc...
Yes, you will seem high-maintenance.  That is OK!  Kindly insist.

3 - Educate yourself on digital programs.  It is SO necessary to know your way around Photoshop or an equivalent program.

4 - I use American Litho as my fine art printer - they do canvas and paper giclees.  One day, I would love to use them as my scanner as well.  They are an amazing local print shop with all the high end tech.  I calibrated one of my monitors to best match their computers, and this has helped immensely!  I would recommend you do this as well.

5 - Hunt for the papers you like.  Don't use the standards - go look for what you want.  Most good printers can use whatever it is you bring them, and paper largely determines the quality of your print - even more than the printer itself sometimes.

6 - Build a relationship.  In all things, be respectful and kind.  You are building a future with these people, so be a pleasant.  I love my runs to Office Max, because we have running jokes and they serve me so well.  This goes a long way, and allows you to thrive, not just survive.  This process can be frustrating, so everyone needs that.

7 - Try, test, print, re-print, and evaluate.  Don't stick with your first attempt, even if it's decent.  Go out and try different things so that you can make a logical, long-term decision.  Be curious!

Adding subtle washes of color, and adjusting the values for print.

5th Step: Final Coloring
This is the fun stage!  After you've scanned, edited, and are happy with the final print, you can add the vibrant colors and enhance the edgings!  I use colored pencils, watercolors, and some acrylics to tighten everything up.  This is truly a "mixed media" project.  Some tips for this stage:

1 - Don't get carried away.  I do add a LOT of color, but I am careful not to overwhelm my carefully sculpted details.  This is an enhancement, not a re-drawing.

2 - Use your added color strategically to guide the eyes.  Pop some things..but not everything.

3 - Use watercolor and other wet media sparingly and lightly.  I sometimes seal the print with varnish if I plan to use a lot of wet.  I know this is not kosher, but it has worked for me in certain instances.

4 - I use acrylics to highlight and communicate texture.  I am careful to keep pure whites and pure blacks out of the digital print, so that I can bring them out in this stage.


in the process of adding final colors

I used acrylic to pop teeth, eyes, and armor.

the vibrant reds are always hard to capture in prints, so I always go in with colored pencil and pop them - more so than with other colors.

Always tell a story - preferably a good one!

I don't know if this is helpful to anyone, but it took me a long time to figure some of this stuff out.  I figured I might as well share the knowledge!  If you have any questions on any part of this process, feel free to ask me!

- Anna, the quilled muse



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