ARTISTS: How to create illustrations FAST and earn what you are worth

Financial success with illustrations seems to be fitting the time to completion into the clients financial expectations. So during a very intense contract I figured it out!

Believe it or not my first illustration was a logo I did for a bus company waaaay back in the 1950s. Over the years there were many, many more images created for many more clients and all of them took a great deal of time and energy. The tools were crude and perfection always seemed to be one step away since we worked with pens and ink in a bottle and the reproduction equipment was ponderous to say the least – everything from lead type to humongous cameras and mammoth printing plates.

Today computers have made the whole process so much easier and all phases of illustration and design are available to everyone and I for one jumped into this at the earliest possible time. But I always preferred the look and feel of a hand-painted work over the digital renderings that are used today. Fortunately I discovered the quickest way to completion is to drive the illustration back and forth between computer and manual rendering. Using both computer generated colors and color rendering with todays excellent pens, acrylics, conte, chalk and other media that provide the desired result. Clear transparent spray seals it all.

Illustrating as a business

Is illustrating “art”. I’ve always thought that it was. After all you use the same abilities, talents, imagination and skills. But lately I have changed my mind. I now see “art” as something from within … something that you feel compelled to produce … something that should be produced outside the so-called “economic imperative” that seems to drive many of us in these tough times.

But “illustrating” is clearly perceived and created by interpreting the mental perceptions of your client … something that, from the beginning, is done for money. It’s a business. But after many years as an illustrator, I find my business has become harder. Now the internet is literally packed with talented folks. The field is international and some talented illustrators can sell their work cheaply in American dollars which, when converted to their country’s currency, can add up to a substantial payment.

So the rules remain. Build your clientele in a niche market, foster clients who prefer working face-to-face, develop a reputation as a professional, and learn to do professional quality work … but FAST.

Is it worth it? Who knows. Remember you can always become a starving artist if nothing else. In the meantime here are some ideas for working FAST.

Some Examples – Fish for infographics, brochures, articles and more

One of my jobs was to create brochures, posters, infographics and other products that featured some of the common fish of the northeast. There were literally dozens and dozens of graphic elements created and the time was short. The client had contractual deadlines to meet and, of course, that flowed over into my work as well. So there was little time to play artist … the images had to be anatomically correct from the get-go, colorful, and artistic without being photographic. These examples were all created using the techniques outlined below.

Alewife

Alewife
Art MacKay
Artctic Char

Artctic Char
Art MacKay
Brook Trout

Brook Trout
Art MacKay
Brown Trout

Brown Trout
Art MacKay
Salmon Parr

Salmon Parr
Art MacKay
Pickerel

Pickerel
Art MacKay
Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout
Art MacKay
Salmon Sac Fry

Salmon Sac Fry
Art MacKay
Shad

Shad
Art MacKay
Striped Bass

Striped Bass
Art MacKay
Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass
Art MacKay
Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon
Art MacKay

The old-fashioned “swipe file” is modern now

Before the internet became mature, artists and illustrators often required reference photographs, drawings, paintings and illustrations to provide a guide in their work, particularly where accuracy was required. So we bought books and magazines and collected images whenever possible … the offices of doctors and dentists were particularly good places to surreptitiously gather images of people, animals, scenes and equipment. All of these “references” were compiled into our “swipe files” and whenever we set to work the books and pages would be brought out and arrayed on the drawing table as visual guides and stimulation.

The old fashioned “swipe files” and reference library are things of the past. Need some good refences? Just do a Google image search and there they all are. Need information? A search on wikipedia and one of its associated wikis will give you what you want in minutes. No need for destroying the magazines in waiting rooms … it’s all right there … right now.

Good reference images or your own photographs allow you to create your illustrations.

How to build up the image FAST

To start, select the image that is most like the one that you want to produce and save to a work folder. Open the image in your image editor (I use photoshop), size it as you require, clean it up with the eraser, reshape it if necessary, and print it out on suitable size paper. There is no need to spend a lot of time on this since you will only used it for your outline and anatomical or other details.

Using a quality tracing paper, trace the outline in ink using a graphics pen … fine or medium point. Once you have finished this, give your drawing some form using water and a suitable size brush. The images below show some birds that have been completed to this stage.

Scan the image back into your image editor, clean it up and start adding some background colors if you like. I use the airbrush set to 50% to get a light coverage that I can work over with real media.

Once you feel you have a good foundation for your illustration print it out on suitable illustration paper. I prefer a smooth paper rather than watercolor paper unless I want an “artsy” look.

 

Loon

Loon
Geese

Geese
Hawk

Hawk
Owl

Owl

Time to become an artist!

Well, you have the basic illustration printed on a good quality illustration paper of the right size. Now you get to add color and texture using conventional media. This is really a matter of personal choice or the look-and-feel that your client wants. Personally I use whatever works. Sometimes I get to a place where I think some digital color would work best. Usually this is for eyes, legs of birds, large areas of color, cartoons, etc. If that happens I scan it back in, work on it and scan a new working copy.

1. WATERCOLOR. This is the foundation for much of my work. Originally I used watercolors or acrylics with a brush and lots of water. However, I found that watercolor pencils with a brush and water worked better for me and gave me more control.

2. PASTELS & CHALKS. Blend. Blend. Blend. For fish and some other animals it’s really hard to beat conte and pastels. And, yes, even chalks work well in some cases where there is a lot of area to cover. I work totally with my fingers and find I can create the exact blends and transitions I am working for. The Arctic Char above is a good example of blending with pastels. Underlying work will be masked somewhat by the pastel layer but will reappear with a coat of clear acrylic spray which should be applied lightly at this point

3. PENCILS. Colored pencils are used throughout the work where solid links of small fills are needed.

4. INKS. Inks are applied at the beginning of the illustration and for details at the very end. There are many good graphics pens available today and they come in a variety of colors. You will need most point sizes down to very fine. I primarily use V5 Pilot Hi-Techpoint pens

5. ACRYLICS. I now use acrylics mainly at the very end where a need strong solid color in a detail like the white eye reflection.

6. OTHER MEDIA. Clear Acrylic Spray is essential. It can be used sparingly throughout the process and several coats are applied to the finished illustration. Matte or gloss can be used, but matte is preferred if the illustration is to be scanned into a large work with other separate elements as would be the case with an infographic.

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