The Illustration Process

The Illustration Process

This illustration process will help you seamlessly take your illustration project from start to finish whether you’re working on a commissioned piece or a personal project.

Please keep in mind that this process is just a suggestion and the steps will sometimes vary depending on your project, so don’t feel forced to follow this exact process if it doesn’t feel right for you. As an artist, you have full control over your process so you can take what you like from this video and leave whatever you don’t like.


Project Scope 

You should always begin an illustration project by answering questions like who, what, when, and where. This is a great way to start a project, whether it’s a commissioned piece or just a personal project. The purpose of these questions is to determine who is the target audience for your illustration, what is the purpose of the work, when is the project due, what type of media you should use, and so on. At this point you may or may not also have an idea of what style, colors, artwork dimensions and subject matter you’ll want to use—this can vary from project to project and it’s not a big deal if you’re starting out without knowing any of these things because the first few steps in the process will help you narrow it down as you go. 


Step 1: Research

The first step is to begin with research. For your research you can look at anything that might inspire you—there are no rules to this but if you’re not sure where to start, it’s always a great idea to begin a project by seeing what’s already been done before, whether it’s for the same type of project you’re working on or something similar.

When you’re doing your research, allow yourself to remain open to any new ideas that arise—let yourself fall into rabbit holes and explore even the weirdest ideas that come to you. Sometimes the best results come from the sources you least expect.


Step 2: Thumbnails

The next step is to create lots of little thumbnails. The purpose of thumbnails is to put down all your ideas as quickly as possible—to explore every avenue you can think of. You may want to work on your thumbnails as you do your research or you may want to soak up all the information you can, let it marinade in your head for a while and then dump it all onto paper—again, this is up to you and you can feel free to use either approach depending on the project.


Keep in mind that when creating your thumbnails, your job is not to judge your own ideas. At this point you should allow yourself to sketch any idea you come up with, even if it’s a total cliché or too simple or just plain dumb. I usually go for 15-30 thumbnails per project but you can make as many as you want. By the end of this exercise you should have a large spectrum of ideas and options to consider.  

Once you have all your ideas down on paper you can discard the ones you know for sure you don’t want to use. So you narrow down your options to maybe 3 or 4 of your best ideas. Depending on how excited you are about an idea, at this point, you may be able to choose the one you want to pursue or you may need to develop a couple of them further before you make a final decision—Either way is ok.

At this stage you’ll likely have to do more research based specifically on the idea or ideas you’re considering. You’ll want to look into style options, different artists, historical references, and so on; pretty much anything that can help you develop your simple thumbnails further.  

A slightly larger and cleaner version of a thumbnail is called a rough sketch. These should have a bit more detail and the elements in the design should be more defined. Someone who is not familiar with your project should be able to look at it and have a general idea of what it is.

The next step is a tight sketch, which is cleaner and even more detailed. This should be very close the final design. 


 Step 3: Color Breaks

The next step is to create color breaks. At this point, you may have 1 or 2 ideas you’ve taken to the rough or tight sketch stage. Now it’s time to look at some color and style options. If you don’t have a clear idea of what color scheme you want to use, you’ll want to explore as many color combinations and style options as you need to feel sold on one design. This step can be quick or long depending on the project—remember to be patient and take your time. These preliminary stages are very important and they make all the difference in what your final piece will look like.  


Step 4: Final Draft

Next is the final draft. This is the stage where you create the final product and finalize all design details.


Obviously, not all projects will require all these steps and you can jump back and forth between steps as your process requires—this isn’t always a simple linear progression but in many cases this process can ensure that you’re moving toward a finished piece.  

This was a really basic overview of the illustration process. If you’d like to know more about each step, please let me know and I can make more detailed videos on each step in the near future. I could also make case studies where I describe the process I went through for a specific project. Is that something you guys would be interested in? Please let me know in the comments below.

Drawing From Life

Drawing From Life