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Creative illustration production process

14th January, 2014

In this article we share a bitmap illustration process which was used on a bespoke piece for the blog.

Everything starts with the brief and for this particular piece the creative director asked for an eye-catching illustrated banner to be used on the blog homepage. The idea was something that brought all the ideas and characters together from the other bespoke illustrations that had been produced for the blog.

tom woolley illustration sketch composition ideas blog

The creative brief was for something exciting, and a bit fantastical, with some citation to the wonderfully intricate pixel landscapes of eBoy (see below).

london eboy illustration reference pic for tom on curve blog

The first step was to produce quick thumbnail sketches to test out a number of overall compositions. After looking at these, our creative director requested more Drupal logo icons to be integrated into the design. These were worked up from the thumbnail sketch to a more complete, larger sketch that used the same dimensions as the final banner.

This was then scanned into Photoshop, with the dimensions set to the right aspect ratio. The sketch was put into the top layer of the new document, set at 600 dpi to give more control over the pixels when adding small details. It also means that the image can be printed in future, without losing edge definition. (edit - all illustration work is now done working with vector formats, so that print work can be done at any size. Vector illustration assets are much more flexible for use across a variety of projects).

The blending mode of the sketch layer was changed to 'Multiply' so that the lines alone showed through. Underneath the sketch, the colours are built up layer by layer, painting directly into Photoshop using a Wacom tablet and the Brush tool.

Each colour is a separate layer so it's easy to change and tweak the colours using the Hue/Saturation option in the Adjustments menu. The original sketch layer is regularly toggled on and off, to make sure that the colours are working and the lines are crisp.

The sketch is more of a guide, and often the original composition is moved around to produce a more cohesive layout as colours are introduced. It is useful to keep zooming out to see the full image and ensure the layout works as a whole.

After the colours are blocked in, the next phase of work is neatening up the edges with the Brush and Eraser tools. After this detail, shading and texture is added. For these details, the flow of the brush is decreased so that secondary colours and shading can be built up more gradually, with more accuracy.

Glow can be added to various elements in the illustration (such as the lightbulbs), by duplicating the layer of base colour for that area, then changing it to white, and blurring it using a Gaussian Blur filter.

tom woolley curve blog illustration

For textures, it's possible to make your own very easily, or simply head to one of thousands of free PhotoShop resources online, and download a bunch of brush packs. In this illustration, grungy brushes were imported into Photoshop. Texture was then added by selecting base colour areas of the image using the Magic Wand tool, creating a new layer above, then stamping the customised brush onto that selected area in the new layer.

There are many ways to produce the same effects achieved in this illustration, and we hope that you found the process we've shared here insightful!

Drupal and UX Design Agency

UK Drupal Agency and UX Design Team with our very own usability testing lab in Leeds. We work with national charities, NGOs and private sector clients.