Terry Edward Elkins

Illustration tutorials, tips & tricks,

How Much Further?!? - Illustration Tutorial

I've received a number of requests from folks asking about my illustration process, so I thought I'd put together a multi-step breakdown of how I do what I do!

Below you'll find a series of images with accompanying thoughts about each respective phase.  Hope you find it interesting and informative. If you have any questions about any particular step, creative inspiration, etc., please comment below OR send me an email – I'm always happy to talk shop.

Let's jump in... Part 1, the sketch!

 Humble beginnings - Sketch created in Procreate Pocket for the iPhone

Humble beginnings - Sketch created in Procreate Pocket for the iPhone

Not every illustration I create starts with a sketch, sometimes it's based on a photo or a pre-existing set of asset elements that I've previously created (where I take the elements, place on an art board and just start building – kinda like lego). More times than not though, I rough sketch first. For this particular project I created the sketch using Procreate Pocket. Yup, sketch completed via fat fingers on my iPhone whilst taking the LRT! (Shout out to Savage Interactive for the software download).

 Step 2 - Blocking in shapes and establishing basic tonal values

Step 2 - Blocking in shapes and establishing basic tonal values

I've used Adobe Illustrator for years but have become increasingly frustrated with many aspects of it – cost, program size, frustrating tools (I'm looking at you pen tool) and user-interface, etc. etc. A year or so ago after a recommendation from a couple of friends I jumped ship, landing on Affinity Designer by Serif. Since making the move, all of my illustration work has been based in Affinity Designer (you should check it out, it's pretty cool).

Back to the illustration.

In this step, using the sketch as a guide (it's placed as my top layer, set to "multiply" so it's transparent, all other layers are underneath), I build up the basic layout using shapes and grey tones. Grey tones are great to work with as you can focus on defining depth, contrast and focus without being distracted by colour, texture, etc.  

 Step 3 - Adding shading for depth and dimension

Step 3 - Adding shading for depth and dimension

After some adjustments and tinkering with the tonal values, I start adding gradations - establishing a light source and a sense of depth to the image. Here I include shadowing and a subtle vignette.

 Step 4 - Let there be colour!

Step 4 - Let there be colour!

With the black and white version feeling pretty tight, I jump into colour. Colour is an interesting thing, it can be insanely tricky and frustrating figure out sometimes. I typically go with a "less-is-more" approach. Stick with an limited palette, using one primary colour with a complementary secondary colour OR use an analogous series of colours as your main set and introduce limited complementary colours to contrast. The latter is used here. My main colours are yellow, orange and red. The limited complements are teal and blue.

 Step 5 - Subtle texturing added

Step 5 - Subtle texturing added

To give things a bit more texture, I do a couple of things. First, I add in some noise (I actually do this in step two when I'm creating the base grey shapes). Secondly, I paint in some shadows and highlights using a spatter-like brush (check out Frankentoon, they have some awesome brush sets for Affinity Designer and Procreate). Note: Careful not to over do it with the texturing, although fun to use, it can make the illustration overly busy if you go brush crazy.

 Step 6 - Final illustration complete!

Step 6 - Final illustration complete!

You'll notice some subtile differences between this final version and the step preceding it. As you can see here, the colours seem to harmonize better than the previous image. A trick I learned awhile back is to overlay a colour over the entire image (set as a multiply layer at a low opacity). This layer can be cool, warm, neutral - whatever you're going for. A simple trick to tie everything together. For those of you with a traditional painting background, it's like applying a tinted wash over your painting (something I often did for my acrylic paintings).

Now that I've covered the basics of my process, here are some key take-aways:

  • Be progressive and consistent with your illustration process, break it down into parts. Complete each phase before jumping into the next one.

  • Work in greys before you use colour! Establish your tonal values and depth early! This will save you time (learn from my pain).

  • Trust the process and don't be intimidated by the "ugly phase." Your illustration is likely going to look like crap at some point. It's supposed to, it isn't complete. Embrace it. Don't expect it to be awesome before its time, it'll get there. Trust the process. 

  • Finally and most important, have fun and remember, you're creating something. Whether it's good or bad, gets "likes" or not, you're making something and that's awesome. Keep doing it and push yourself to learn more and grow!

Thanks for hanging out and sticking with me. Until next time.

Terry

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