My process for the WOR assignment, from sketch to final illustration

Hi guys, I just made another tutorial!

This time I'm focussing more on the actual drawing work. I made a lot of photo's to show the entire process in as much detail as possible. In this tutorial I explain what tools I used (and why), how I come up with an idea for an illustration and set up my sketches. And like I said, I also made a lot of photo's to show the whole drawing process since it's a bit harder to just talk about this.

Just click the "read more" button to view the entire post and don't forget to leave me a nice comment when you're done reading. Feedback is always welcome and it helps me improve my tutorial posts.


First I think it's important to explain which tools I used to make this illustration. I use a couple of different pencils and some other materials to make my drawing process faster and easier. And sometimes it's also better to just know what tool to use to get a certain effect or feel instead of just using one pencil for the whole drawing.

Below you can see a picture I made displaying all the tools I used for this drawing. 

1. A large piece of smooth cardboard with a metal clip.

I make most of my drawings on A3 sized Bristol board and sometimes I work on even larger format. In the past I would just put the piece of paper in my desk and draw with no surface under the paper. But I found it was quite hard on my back to bend so far over the paper. Especially if I'm working on a drawing all day (or a couple of days).

Now I can just clip my paper to the cardboard and tilt the drawing a bit while drawing. Plus, the cardboard is a nice surface to draw on.

2. Kneaded eraser.

I love this eraser, you can mold it into any shape you like. Flat for smooth erasing or pointy for more detailed erasing. Plus no annoying eraser residue.

3. Normal white eraser.

Sometimes the kneaded eraser is not strong enough to erase darker pencil lines and I need to use this one.

4. Pencil sharpener.

To sharpen my pencils. I have a whole set of HB and 8B pencils, because sometimes I prefer to have a nice sharp point and sometimes I prefer a more stump point to shade larger areas. Having more than 1 pencil of the same type allows me to switch easily between tips.

5. Chunky mechanical pencil - Koh I Noor Hardtmuth.

This pencil is really nice for sketching the first idea sketches and layout sketches. It handles nicely so I can draw really rough and fast with it. It's also very practical because I can simply click the back to extent the tip and there's a sharpener in the end tip as well.

6. Normal 2B and 8B pencils.

For this drawing I mostly used these pencils. The 2B pencil is for general drawing and details, the 8B pencil is for the darker shades or if I want to draw certain areas in a more smudgy way.

7. Mechanical HB pencil.

I use this pencil a lot for the extra fine details. Also if I want to draw extra fine lines in a darker shade, I have some leads in 8B which I can replace with the standard HB ones, but I rarely use those.

8. Weird fan-shaped brush. 

This is actually a make-up brush I found somewhere. It's very useful to brush off excess graphite. Keeps the drawing from getting too smudgy. 

9. Powdered graphite.

This is actually the first time I used this stuff for an illustration, but I already really love the stuff. It's really useful for fast rough shading, but I'll explain more about that later.

You can buy this stuff in a little bag at pretty much any art-supply store. I put it in a jar myself, so it's easier to handle.

10. Brush - Harold's DS Nr. 8

This is a super cheap, synthetic brush from Harold's (the store where I get most of my drawing supplies). I use this one to brush the powdered graphite on the paper.

11. Make-up sponge stick.

Not sure what the official name for this thing is, but I had it lying around. Normally used to apply eyeshade, but it's also very useful to smudge out the powdered graphite and make even grey areas.


First I usually make some layout and concept sketches on separate pieces of paper. These sketches are generally not bigger than A4 size so I can scan them in really fast and easy. I feel more comfortable sketching on cheap pieces of paper, because Bristol board can get quite expensive and it feels a lot nicer to be able to tear up sketches and trow them away (or against a wall if you get frustrated) and start over without wasting precious Bristol board. 

For this drawing I spend quite some time sketching. I had this idea to make a pin-up girl or a portrait with some kind of reference to the city I live in; Rotterdam. I sketched out a sexy pin-up girl first, but it didn't really feel right, so I went on to the second idea. 

Sometimes it helps to pen down my idea in a few words to flesh out a certain feeling or mood I'm trying to portray. To me Rotterdam is a very rough city, there's a very big vibrant art scene but most of it takes place underground. You have to know where to go to have fun, it's not openly advertised or displayed. I also love the big harbor and I think it's an important part of the city. 

I wanted to make some kind of reference to this rough feeling and the harbor. Sailor tattoos quickly came to mind, plus a while back the organization We Own Rotterdam asked me to design something for them. I think their name and slogan "We Own Rotterdam" really fit with the idea I was trying flesh out. And so this sketch of a rough looking dude covered in sailor tattoos slowly started to form. 

Notice how I also draw some elements on separate pieces of paper. I wasn't sure if I wanted to add a border to the illustration or not, so I just sketched out some things on separate paper. Same goes for the tattoos, I scribbled some fast designs on little post-its and pieces of cheap paper, just to get some general idea for the design.

After this stage I usually look trough my huge inventory of collected photo's for reference for all the bits and pieces I want to draw. This makes it easier to work out the drawing later on.

But first I scan in all the sketches I made and paste them together into a nice composition in Photoshop. Somehow I feel more comfortable adjusting my sketches in Photoshop and tweak the composition a bit.

On the computer I can very easily move objects around or re-scale them. Maybe even sketch in extra bits and pieces with my pen tabled. I hate erasing and redrawing sketches, so I usually just edit my sketches on the computer if I'm not completely sure about the composition or if I just want to try out some things before drawing out the illustration on large format.

It's very easy to do this; Just make sure you draw everything on white paper. Then scan it in and tweak the contrast a bit: Go to your Photoshop options, Image > Adjustments > Curves. Then play around with the curve settings. After that (assuming all your sketches are on separate layers) set all your layers to Multiply (see the image below). This will make all the white in your drawings transparent so you'll be able to layer them over each other.

It doesn't have to be clean or pretty, I just do this to figure out the composition of my drawing.  

When I'm satisfied with the result I keep the file open on my computer screen for reference (along side some photo's I've collected for detailed reference). I grab a big sheet of A3 sized Bristol board, clip it to a piece of cardboard and very lightly I start sketching out the drawing with a big chunky pencil. 

This step is quite fast and easy because I have the sketch on my computer screen for reference. Also, it's not very important yet if the details are correct or not. I just try to get the right composition on paper and make sure the portrait is anatomically correct. I work out the details later on, because it's mostly shading that gives my drawings character.

Below you can see some photo's of the first composition sketch. I usually still make small changes later on in the drawing process. At this point the lines are still very easy to erase. 

And then I tried something new! I had just bought some powdered graphite and I wanted to use it for this illustration. I figured it would be great stuff to rough out the shading in the drawing. Powdered graphite is great for this and it works really fast. Just grab a nice brush, dip it in the powder and brush it onto the paper. 

This stuff made it really easy for me to figure out the shading and give my drawing a more powdered feel. I later on used a little sponge to even out the grey areas some more. 


After setting up the composition sketch I grabbed my trusty 2B pencil and started working out the details.

I usually start working on the face first if I'm drawing a person (or an animal). The face shows a lot of character and emotion so I prefer working this part out first while I'm still fresh and enthusiastic about the drawing. This also helps to make sure the focus in the drawing is on the face. 

In the photo below you can clearly see how important the shading is in a face. The set-up lines are the same in both eyes, but the left eye is already more worked out than the right eye and you can see it makes a big difference in the expression of the face. 

I usually spend quite some time figuring out the right expression for a portrait. I slowly jot down some lines and try out different things. A few extra lines or darker shades here and there (especially around the eyes) make a big difference in the overall look and emotion someone is showing. I spend a lot of time drawing and erasing parts over and over until I have the exact look I want in someones eyes. A small mirror or a good photo is also useful as anatomical reference. 

Also something as simple as making the eyes darker or lighter can make a portrait look completely different.

When the face was mostly worked out I decided his hair was too poofy, so I erased most of it and made some changes. I find hair quite easy to draw so I usually just freestyle this part of the drawing. 

I jotted down a really rough shape to kind of figure out his hairstyle and then just went straight in with a sharp 2B pencil and drew out the details without much erasing. I later on used the 8B pencil to make extra dark shades in the hair (to give it more volume). 

I made some parts of the hair a bit too dark so I kneaded a little tip onto my kneaded eraser and used it to "draw" in some more highlights.

Below you can see a detail shot of the face.

Notice how I made the ears darker and more blurred in with the background. The powdered graphite was very useful for this (I used the brush not the sponge) and I like the effect of a very bright and detailed face versus more blurry parts in the hair and ears. I think it gives the drawing more depth.


At this point the face was done and I felt super enthusiastic I drew this up so fast. I felt like the whole illustration was almost done and I could easily finish everything in just a few more hours. I also finally got to work on the tattoo designs on his chest and arms which I was really looking forward to. 

I decided to use a HB mechanical pencil to work out the outlines of the tattoos because actual tattoos are made with a tattoo machine, which is kind of like an engraving machine for your skin. This also gives tattoos clean crisp lines like you get with the sharp point of a mechanical pencil.

For this part I looked up a lot of reference of actual tattoos on other people and I tried out different types of fonts in Photoshop for the lettering on his chest. 

The birds, the anchor and the banner were quite easy to draw. I made some small changes to the banner, in the original set-up I think it was too static so I made it more curved and organic to bit the shape of his chest better. But I did have some trouble with the waves of water on his arms. I actually ended up looking for pictures of Japanese wood prints of tsunami waves and used those as reference.

When I had all the outlines for the tattoos done I started shading all the tattoos. I stuck with the mechanical pencil to give the tattoos a more graphic feeling.

You can see the process of the shading in the photo's below.

After shading all the tattoos I could finally start shading his chest and arms properly. I took my brush and the powdered graphite and carefully applied some more shading over the tattoos. I also added some extra dark shading with a 8B pencil in some areas like under his arms, on his shoulders and the neck.

After doing this I noticed the tattoos weren't really popping out enough because the shading was too light, so I used a very sharp 8B pencil to add some more shading to parts of them.

At this point I also figured the border wasn't really going to work but it looked really nice to just erase the lines and have a background fade out into white. So I worked on that as well. 

I did decide to keep the roses on the bottom, to finish the drawing nicely. I worked on the roses in the same style and technique I used on the tattoos on his chest. You can see the process in the photo's below.

At this point the drawing was pretty much done and i took some time to sit back and take a better look at everything I drew to figure out if some parts needed more detailing and if the overall drawing felt balanced.

I decided the face needed some more work, so I went back to that to make the hair and eyes a little bit darker. In the photo below you can see I already worked on the right eye, it's slightly darker than the left eye. I also worked on the right side of his beard some more and added a bit of extra shading.

And the drawing was finally done! Hooray! All I needed to do now was scan everything in and make some small edits in Photoshop.


I have a pretty good scanner, but it's an A4 sized scanner so I have to scan the drawing in 2 or 3 parts and paste the parts together in Photoshop. How I do this is better described in an earlier tutorial I made.

I like to scan in my drawings on a ridiculously high resolution. I size them down in Photoshop afterwards, but scanning them in with more resolution first somehow gives me better results. I also scan the drawing in color even if it's a black/white pencil drawing. Also because this just gives me a better result. 

I make the scan slightly less saturated after scanning, keeping just a little bit of color int he drawing. I do this because adding a little bit of color to the grey lines makes the lines look a bit darker and warmer. 

I also adjusted the contrast a little bit. Just like with the rough lay-out sketches, go to your Photoshop options, Image > Adjustments > Curves. I did this to make sure the background was really white and to make the lines of the drawing a tad bit darker.

After adjusting the overall contrast I felt some parts of the drawing could still pop out a bit more. To do this I duplicated the layer with the drawing on it, set the copy to "Multiply" and added a layer mask to it (see the photo below). 

This mask enables you to hide or show certain areas in your layer. The color black hides your layer and white shows it. So if you click on the layer mask (next to your normal layer) and fill it with black the entire layer becomes invisible. If you then take a white brush, you can draw out the areas you of the layer you want to show. 

I duplicated the drawing and made it transparent to layer the 2 drawings on top of each other. the drawing on top will make the entire illustration darker without loosing any details (which would happen if you play around with the contrast too much).

Setting it to 100% made it a bit too dark though so I set the layer to 60% (see the photo below).

Below you can see a little animation I made, showing before and after darkening some areas, to show the effect of doing this.


Finally the entire illustration was done! I had been working on a big assignment for a really long time so it felt really good to finally have this drawing done and I was really eager to post something again on my website after so long. I put a lot of effort into this illustration, working on it on and off for about a week and carefully making photo's of the entire process.

But... I hated it. 

And the worst part was I couldn't figure out why! The drawing looked kind of ok on paper but the digital version looked horrible. At this point I wanted to crawl into a little corner and tear up the entire drawing. 

I usually have this after working on a drawing for too long (which is why I prefer finishing my illustrations in 1 or 2 days). So I figured I just needed to take some time to distance myself from the illustration and take another look at it at some later point. I put the drawing in a drawing under a pile of papers and tried to forget about it. 

It turned out I needed a full week to feel comfortable again with the drawing. I decided the roses didn't fit the drawing and the background was too white. I scanned in some different types of paper to try out as a background for the illustration and I worked on the roses some more to make them more rough and fit the illustration better.

After that I just had to repeat the process of scanning and editing and the illustration was done! This time I felt better about the end result.

Below you can see all the steps of the drawing process displayed in the different files I ended up with.

You can also view the original post of this illustration here.

I hope you enjoyed this post about the process for this illustration. I tried to make it as detailed and informative as possible, but if you have any suggestions feel free to post a comment. I'd also like to know if there is any subject about my work you would like to know more about. Maybe I can write something about it next.

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0 #3 Sameer 2013-04-03 10:38
very good
0 #2 Sabine ten Lohuis 2012-03-30 16:35
Quoting Jiayi:
Wow, I really appreciate that you explain the entire process of finishing this illustration. I really love how it turns out in the end! And I totally get it when you talked about the "hate it" part. I'm a designer myself and I guess it's all part of the process.

Hi Jiayi, thanks for the comment!
0 #1 Jiayi 2012-03-30 04:36
Wow, I really appreciate that you explain the entire process of finishing this illustration. I really love how it turns out in the end! And I totally get it when you talked about the "hate it" part. I'm a designer myself and I guess it's all part of the process.

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