Sunday, March 18, 2012

Step by Step Illustration

I have recently added a new piece to my portfolio and while creating this illustration I documented the various steps I go through in creating my work.  You can view the full portfolio here.

I am going to use this post to demonstrate my process in creating an illustration step by step. Here you'll see the work in it's various stages throughout creation. This is a stand alone cartoon illustration, the sort of thing I would do for a freelance job or use as a sell-able print. Let's begin...

The first step to any illustration or comic I do is the pencil sketch. I start out rough to get the basic idea down on to paper and through a lot of erasing, redrawing and refinement I end up with something like this. The edges are sketchy, the eraser lines are visible and some of the lines are thin and faded, but the full idea is clear and down on paper.

The second step I do is to translate the pencil sketch into a non-photo blue version of the sketch. A lot of artists will actually start here, drawing the initial sketch with a non-phot blue pencil, but I find that those types of pencils are hard to erase. I scan the original pencil sketch into my computer on the 'True Gray' setting to be sure I get every pencil mark and, using Photoshop, turn the gray pencil lines blue (I'll explain why in the next few steps) and then print the blue line sketch back out onto high grade 32 lb  printer paper.

The blue lined image is where I start inking. Using the blue sketch as a guide I lay down a thin carful ink line over the whole image. I do this using a 01 size Micron pen.

Here you can see the illustration fully outlined with the thin ink line. I go over the whole sketch like this to finish off the initial ink. The line is thin and the same thickness throughout the whole illustration, which leaves it kind of flat and boring.


With the thin ink line in place I begin the real inking. This is where I feel the image really comes 'alive'. I use various Micron pen sizes for this part, 03, 05 and 07. I go over important parts of the illustration to thicken the lines, to make it 'pop' off the page and to give emphasis to areas that are supposed to appear closer to the viewer. Varying the line widths is a crucial element to inking and really gives the image character.

Sometimes I fill in large areas of black at this point, but it also helps conserve ink if I leave that to the coloring stage later on.

Now that the inking is complete I scan the image into my computer. This time I use the scanner setting 'Black and White' at 400 dpi. By doing this the scanner only picks up the inked lines and the blue sketch underneath is ignored. This gives me a final inked image that is clean and crisp. No dithered edges, no erasure marks and no sketchy lines are a part of the line work. Now I can begin to color the illustration.


I use Photoshop to create the color for my illustrations. I first set the line work on its own 'layer' and color the layers 'underneath'. This allows me to slightly overlap the line work lines sometimes, sort of like how an animation cel was painted on the back of the drawing during the days of hand drawn cartoons.

Here you can see the final colors without the line work layer. By setting the line work layer to 'Multiply' I allow the white to become clear, leaving just the black ink work to remain while I color the layers underneath. Large areas of the image can be colored using the 'select' and 'fill' tools. Other areas need to be touched up using the 'pencil' tool.

The final image. I keep adding and refining the colors until I end up with what feels right. Here is the completed illustration ready for print.

The time for the whole process from sketch to final colors varies wildly depending on the project. This one in particular took about two hours total to get to that final image. I use a MacBook computer, a Brother 11 x 18 scanner / printer combo to scan and print the paper and I use Photoshop for Mac to work with the images once they are scanned into my computer. I have a small Wacom tablet next to my laptop I use for the finer points of image manipulation in Photoshop.

Well, that's the whole thing from start to finish. Each illustration or comic I create goes through these steps to get created. Different artists have different techniques, tools and ways of accomplishing their goals all developed over time through experience. These are the steps I've found work best for me, but I'm always on the lookout to improve the way I do things.