My Illustration Process

Having studied architecture before delving into the world of full-time graphic design and illustration, I tend to take quite a geometric approach to illustration. I have always been interested in illustration, from making intense geocities websites with sparkly GIFs when I was 12 to creating photo-realistic images with traditional tools such as pencil and graphite in highschool.

When I studied architecture at uni, a big part of the design process was representing my concepts graphically. I had always dabbled in digital art, but it was here I decided to learn the Adobe Creative Suite, and transitioned from mostly creating illustrations by hand, to mostly creating images digitally.

Why I work digitally

A lot of people ask why I don’t create illustrations by hand anymore.

I now prefer to and solely create illustrations digitally for many reasons. Digital illustrations are easy to scale (if kept in vector format, which I mostly work in unless I feel the need to add more texture). You can also completely alter the colour scheme with a click of a few buttons. Digital illustrations can easily be exported to any size or format for websites and apps. They’re clean. They’re easy to duplicate and iterate on.

More and more digital companies are looking for illustration to provide warmth to their product. Illustration is likeable. Illustration introduces a more empathetic and personable element to a product. Paired with some killer copy, illustration can give the user something human to connect to.

Tablets vs Mouse

Another question I get asked a lot is why I use a mouse to create a lot of my work, and a lot of it comes from personal preference.

As I have been illustrating for many years and have been uploading my work online for most of that time, my style has developed. My style is quite geometric and flat, but also colourful and experimental. For many years while I was studying I couldn’t really afford the best tablet. Instead I had a horrible cheap one, and honestly (at the time) it was just easier to manipulate curves and use the pen tool with a mouse. I adapted to this way of working and it is now my preferred way of working.

As my style is quite geometric, I find myself often mapping out the basic form with simple shapes, triangles, circles, squares - and then merging these together and manipulating them to create the form I want.

Of course there is always a place for hand drawing, and the organic form, texture and intricacy is something computer generated illustrations can lack. Looking back at some of my previous projects such as the illustrations below, based on the film American Psycho, you can see how working with different tools influences style. These illustrations were originally sketched out by hand, then traced using a Wacom tablet and the brush tool in illustrator to keep the organic form of the hand drawing. Texture was also added in Photoshop to replicate the look of paper.

How I work now: a layered approach

I begin by mapping out the basic form of whatever I am drawing in simple shapes, such as circles, rectangles and triangles. I often use the pathfinder tool to find the intersection of two shapes, or to delete one shape from another to get the form I am after.

I then begin to map out the second layer - the overall shadows and highlights. Below you can see my progress on this. You can also check out this video where I recorded my process.

It’s all in the details

One thing that really makes an illustration stand out is the minute details. From the small details of a curtain in the top right window of a house, to drawing out the hubcap on a car, it all brings an illustration together.

I use the blend tool a lot when repletion is necessary, for example the scalloping on a blind can be created by a half circle duplicated and blended over twenty times, and then grouped together.

Shadows and depth are also important. Sure, flat illustration is in at the moment, but shadow can add a certain level of depth that really makes an illustration pop out. Here's a photo of the original house vs my final illustration.

My tips for creating illustrations

Do not underestimate how important or valuable a good colour palette is. I love a good contrast, and am not afraid to play around with bright colours to really make something (dare I say it) ‘pop’.

Start simple (conceptually and literally)
Don’t attempt to draw the world most complex scene the first time you give digital illustration a go as it may end up leaving you frustrated. Inanimate objects are definitely easier to draw.

Watch DKNG’s process videos

Share your work
I have received so much valuable feedback from sharing my work online. I post my illustrations on Instagram, Dribbble, Behance, Twitter and design forums. Even if you don’t get constructive feedback, it’s always interesting to see what people react to most. Not to mention this has lead to me receiving a lot of freelance work offers, which is never a bad thing.