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My Start To Finish Illustration and Design Process

I am going to run you through my start to finish illustration and design process, the tools I use and what I've learned. Before jumping in, please note that this is simply what works for me and hopefully you can learn a thing or two for your own process, but in the end, your process will be fine tuned over time to suit your creative practice.

When inspiration strikes

When I'm driving, taking a shower, out for a surf, sharing a beer with a friend, trying to get some sleep.. inspiration strikes! I often get asked "how do you come up with your ideas?!" and the truth is... I don't. They hit me like a bus when I least except it.

Okay that sounds a little extreme, but it's true! Random ideas will pop into my head or I will see a color, shape, or something in my environment that will give me an idea. And they can be forgotten as easily as they come to me. Which is why it is so important to right them down. I currently use the Google Keep app on my phone to store all my drawing ideas.

From idea to concept

When I have an idea and I am ready to start drawing- I either start sketching (poorly, I might add) on paper or in the procreate app on my iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. I like to sketch in procreate using the "Dry Ink Brush" listed under "Inking" in the brushes library. I like using this brush in a light blue color. To me, this just allows for a natural flow of the pen with a rough pencil like look to it. It's very satisfying.

I let myself sketch the first draft super sloppy. I am talking scribbles. This helps me get an idea of the overall shape and composition. I then take that sketch layer in procreate and lower the opacity, add another layer and use the same brush to make a sketch that is more neat. This sketch becomes a guide for my final illustration. These "neat" sketches are the ones I show to my clients for feedback before starting on the final design. I share a lot of these sketches on social media, so clients know what to expect and how I can go from a sketch to the complete design.

What happens when you don't have any ideas?

When I don't have a strong idea or I'm experiencing some creative block, and I've already looked at list of drawing ideas I keep in my phone and I am not quite feeling any of them- I simply start doodling with no direction and allow myself to get it all out. I prefer doing this on paper with pencil. This is great to do when you need to boost your creativity or just as a daily practice to help clear the mind. I simply start doodling and fill an entire page with pencil sketches. You'd be surprised what scribbles and randoms shapes turn into. There are often some golden gems that arise from this practice and become final designs. The key here is to put zero pressure on yourself. No one ever needs to see these sloppy scribbles of yours. If no ideas come, just chill! You can't force art. Do something else and come back to the drawing board later (literally).

Drawing the final illustration

Once I have a sketch that I want to use as a guide for a final design, I copy the sketch layer in procreate and paste it into Adobe Fresco. If I am sketching on paper, I will simply upload a photo of my sketch book into Adobe Fresco. I take my sketch layer, lower the opacity and add another layer to begin working on my line work.

You can create a final design in procreate, but I do not recommend it if you are going to be using the designs for any clients or merchandise products like T shirt designs. I use Adobe Fresco because it has Vector Brushes.

Vector Vs. Raster

Vector formatting essentially means the shapes and lines in your designs are made up of points. these points can be moved and expanded without compromising the quality. A vector design is infinitely scalable, meaning it will look just as clean and crisp on a T shirt as it does a billboard or food truck wrap. Raster formatting means your design is made up of a limited number of pixels which results in a pixelated/ low quality design. Adobe Fresco allows you to draw in vector brushes, which brings a whole new level of ability to hand drawn design. The lines are smooth, crisp and versatile. I recommend learning and paying for adobe fresco if you are an aspiring illustrator.

Procreate is a wonderful app, and I love many of the brushes and ease of drawing it offers, which is why I still use it for sketches, but I prefer to use softwares that allow me to draw print ready designs. Yes, you can upload your procreate drawing as a PSD file to adobe illustrator and use the image trace tool to vectorize it after the fact, but this is an extra step and often only works if your drawing is very simple with little detail.

Long story short: USE ADOBE FRESCO :)

Line work, then color.

I like to start each design by drawing the final line work (usually black or another dark color) tracing over my sketch. I use the "Drawing Brush" in Adobe Fresco for my line work. I've customized it to my liking with the right taper, pressure and streamline. Explore on your own and find out how you like your brushes!

Once I have all my line work complete, I create additional layers for each of my colors in the design. These layers live beneath the line work layer. It's important to separate each color on its own layers for a couple reasons. 1. If you design ends up being screen printed, often times screen printers will use each layer as its own file and lay down each color separately in the printing process. 2. It makes it way to easier to tweak colors later.

Here's what it looks like inside Adobe Fresco. As you can see, in the layers panel located to the right, I've got each color on its own layer, with the line work layer at the very top.

If you want your designs to be product- ready, keep it around 5 colors or less.

Don't get me wrong... I LOVE me some color. But I've learned that most companies looking to create merchandise like apparel, are working with printers that charge per color and often are unable to print more than 10 colors total. 5 colors or less is usually the sweet spot. If you are creating illustrations for wall art or other printing avenues that don't require color limits, go crazy! But if you are designing for apparel or hope to eventually see your designs on apparel, keep it simple.

One trick I use to keep a lower color count is to use an eraser instead of a highlighter. If I know the design will be on a light colored/ white shirt or product, I will simply using an eraser brushes to draw "white" strokes in the design as a highlight instead of using an additional highlight color.

Final touches in Adobe Illustrator

When I am happy with the design, I will simply export the .PSD file and air drop it from my iPad to my Macbook Pro and open the file in Adobe Illustrator (AI). In AI, I tweak the colors if needed. This is another reason why its good to keep colors separate from the start. In AI, I can select everything in a layer and change the color of the entire selection. I also add text if needed and my artist signature "@loindaflow ___ (year created). Don't forget this step! always have your artist signature somewhere visible in the design. From AI, you can export it in all the different file formats you may need (JPG, PNG, PDF, PSD, TIFF, Etc)

I hope this information is helpful! happy creating!

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