One of my favorite things to learn about is how other artists, illustrators, and designers create. I'm super curious about their process, how much research they do, what materials they use, or what's happening in the background while they're working. It's all so interesting to learn how they get from inspiration to final creation.
In interviews and when working with young designers it's a question I get asked a lot, so I thought I'd share a bit about what is involved in my illustration process. This is a general look at how I created illustrations for projects like I Love My Hair, and most of the digitized illustrations I do for projects with the National Museum of African American History and Culture licensing project, Lenny Letter, and the recent BlackStar Film Festival graphics.
Depending on the project and topic the project typically starts with me looking at references or gathering inspiration. Usually with commisioned illustrations, clients have a pretty clear vision of what they're looking for, so I take that information and run with it. After gathering all the details I need (dimensions, printed or digital, projects goals, etc.) the sketching stage begins. This ideation part of the process is my favorite part so I end up doing A LOT of sketches. My go to tools for sketching are: a Pentel Twist Erase Mechanical Pencil and a Staedtler eraser which is great because it has minimal crumbling. At time, I also use Sharpie Markers and Uniball pens for sketching.
Once I have a direction I'd like to pursue the next step is to ink my sketches. Whether the end result is a coloring page or digital graphic for a Instagram, my drawings are always inked. To get a range of line sizes I also use Sharpie Markers in this stage, along with Micron Pens (my faves!). For a really clean line that will be scanned I use layout bond paper which is placed on top of my sketch, and then sketch is traced. The drawing on the layout bond paper is what will be scanned. I never ever trace directly on top of the original sketch to avoid having too many messes and having to erase any pencil lines. My goal is to have a pretty clean scan that requires minimal if not any manipulation when taken into Photoshop.
Layout bond paper is super great because it has perfect transparency, the texture is pretty flat so the ink doesn't bleed, it isn't marbly like tracing paper which can be terrible for scanning, and it allows me to make clean adjustments to my sketch. Overall layout bond paper gives you a clean line and a clean scan.
Next, I take that final drawing and scan it in using my Epson scanner. For coloring pages that need to be in black and white, like for I Love My Hair, I scan the drawing at 400 dpi in color to maximize the quality of the scan. Since the final file will be in grayscale (since it's just black and white line) I change the color mode to grayscale later to make the file size smaller. For projects like the 6th Annual BlackStar Film Festival I wanted to maintain the integrity of the drawn line and keep the drawings in color so the color mode is kept in CMYK.
For other illustrations that will be digitized in Illustrator (like some of the BlackStar drawings that were turned into icons in Adobe Illustrator—see below) I will scan between 150-300 dpi and always making it bigger than what I need, so at double the size or 200% at least. The black and white drawings will be taken into Illustrator where I will live trace or convert the line to vector shapes. Live trace can be terrible because it makes the lines wobbly and funky. So I always have to go in and clean the vectored shapes. If I have more time (which usually isn't the case), instead of inking the drawing I would scan the sketch and open it in Illustrator to redraw the drawing with the pen tool. I love the pen tool.
Now that the shapes are vectorized I can add color, change sizes, and adjust accordingly. For final files the illustration is prepared in Illustrator, for coloring pages or drawings with textured lines the final files are left in Photoshop.
Because my life has become so mobile, with me going back and forth between Sweden the States and other travels, I've been trying to be better about using my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I was introduced to these tools last spring when I was invited to participate in a Adobe workshop and they gave a group of us artists an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to experiment with. They're great because they allow me to make on the go. But I really love the feel of pen and paper, so it's been tough for me to make that full transition. I have to say, though, so far the end results are very similar. My goal is to keep playing so I can eventually eliminate scanning and live tracing. I like the idea of using one device and having minimal materials to carry.
What about you? What digital tools are you using to make your art? What's your process?