No stress, it's a complicated process.
I wanted to share this little thread on how I generally approach my projects. Of course, every project is unique and comes with its own individual challenges but I figured it might be interesting to share an overall approach to my work as it is often a little vague to people who are not part of the design industry.
The purpose of this is to increase my transparency and show what potential clients should expect when they want to collaborate with me as an illustrator & designer.
1, 2, 3 Start.
It all starts with a briefing. It's very useful for me to receive as much information as possible before starting on any sketches/ideas for the project. The more information I receive the more correct I can visualize the idea and the intent of the client. This information is usually delivered in a pdf and consists out of*:
- The intent of the project
- A clear description of what needs to be illustrated.
- File delivery setup
I also like to have a call with the client where I go through the initial briefing, chat about certain things in detail or ask about notes that might be unclear or need further explanation.
Once the briefing is lined out, I 100% know what the client expects and what I need to deliver. This means no surprises or any confusion in the process and marks the start of a successful collaboration.
For a briefing, anything goes really but here are a couple of things that make a really good briefing to me personally.
- Clear intent on what should be created: Is the client looking for a detailed illustration to print or is the client looking for a design that he could use for packaging / merchandising. This is very useful for me to know because this impacts the design process massively. Things like artboard size, content, layout, drawing / coloring method... all depends on the intent of the project.
- Visual information: Usually the intent of a project is supported with a written text with what the client likes to see illustrated. This can range from vague (ex. a tree) to very specific (ex. a maple tree standing on a mountain with a swing attached on it and birds sitting on its branches).
Personally I prefer the vague option because that leaves me with room to approach the project in a more unique way. From experience, these projects are more rewarding for both parties involved.
- A visual direction (a collection of images that the client likes) often is presented in the form of a mood board, a Pinterest board or even a carte blanche. This gives me a good insight into what the client likes and expects out of the collaboration. When the client doesn't have a visual idea I'd like to present a visual direction myself that suits their particular project.
- File delivery: when starting on a project it is crucial for me to know in what format the files should be delivered. As I mainly work in photoshop, a pixel-based program, it is difficult to scale up images without losing quality.
Next to that, each purpose has its unique file size (ex. a beer label isn't the same format as a social media banner). Print and digital are a whole different world, therefore it's very important to consider all usage and applications before sticking to 1 format.
Before delving into sketches I like to explore Pinterest, Béhance & Instagram to see what's out there. It's important for me to delve into this and collect as much visual stimulation as possible for the time invested. I also like to take notes of any additional ideas/elements that could fit the project. This gives me a great overview of potential ideas and often gives me insights I didn't think off initially when reading the client's briefing.
Next to the internet, I have a big collection of books where I can look for visual stimulation. Yes, there is a lot of information available online, but I often come across things in books that I have never seen anywhere else.
I also spontaneously collect references and inspiration on Pinterest. This allows me to explore things I am interested in but can also be a starting point of inspiration for a client's project.
Once I've collected inspiration and references I like to print these out and stick them on a board in front of me. I usually have a general idea of what I need to draw but in this phase, it's all about finding a suiting composition to start working from.
Sketches are pretty loose at first because that allows me not to concentrate too much on details but rather show an overall look and feel for the illustration. Because of the looseness, I am able to create a couple of different directions without spending too much time.
As an example, I like to highlight my Jordan Shijiazhuang Project I did with RoyalClub Shanghai. The client's brief was very clear. They asked me to create 6 sketches in total. 4 of them were going to be developed into final illustrations to print on t-shirts. The main concept of these illustrations was to combine basketball and local elements/landmarks from Shijiazhuang. With that in mind I created the following sketches:
As you can see, these sketches are clearly showing the intent and composition but do not define small details. There is still room to wiggle.
Once the client has approved the sketches, with or without further amendments, the sketches are ready to go into the final stage. In this stage, I put down the final lines that define the illustration. It is very important in this stage that the client is 100% happy with the sketch. This is because it takes a lot of time to make any changes once the sketch is done.
Whilst drawing these lines I think about things like focus vs background, shading, level of detail, etc...
The following illustration is an example of the final line-art for sketch #6 displayed above.
When the line-art is done I move over to coloring. This phase ties the whole image together and sets the general mood and lighting for each project.
What really makes an illustration unique is that you have control over the full lighting setup and this can translate in a certain mood.
I personally tend to gravitate towards brighter and more saturated colors but picking colors all depends on the purpose and theme of the project. If a theme is more horror-esque I tend to pick a darker- than a bright color palette.
For this project, I was given a color palette (Jordan Brand Colors) to use throughout the illustrations. I always find it interesting to receive this as it challenges me to think about which color to use for lighting and shadows even though it's not always convenient.
I usually send over a quick color scheme to the client before moving on to fully coloring the illustration. (see image below) That way I can quickly consider different applications before committing to any final color scheme. This way the client can also see where the colors are headed and suggest feedback where needed.
Whilst sending over the color options I further refine the illustration on my side with my preferred color option. I continue to apply shading to the illustration whilst sticking to the already existing pallet finding new ways of using colors in darker and lighter areas. This way I can keep the pace of the illustration going and eliminate waiting on feedback. I keep my colors tidy and on separate layers. In case the clients like to see a different panel applied I can easily adjust this.
When the coloring is done I go over to apply textures to the illustration. This gives the illustration a little wear and tear and adds another layer of depth to the illustration. I use a collection of halftones, crosshatching, lines, patterns to achieve this effect.
When I'm done applying textures I send the illustration over to the client for final approval. Once the client approves of everything I continue to clean up the file, make exports in the requested formats and deliver these to the client. This also marks the end of the project.
When working together with clients I always see this as a collaboration rather than an individual task. I find it very important to always be as transparent as possible with the client about ideas and thoughts. To me it is a more successful project when both parties are equally involved in the progress from beginning to end.
I hope this read was informative to you and If you happen to have any questions about my work or things that you would like to know more about, be sure to get in touch. I'm always happy to answer any questions.
Feel free to get in touch in any way if you have any questions, would like to collaborate on a project or just grab a coffee/beer, I'm all ears.