My process for an editorial assignment, from sketch to final - Part 1

Some time ago I got a call from the UitAgenda for a new assignment. It's a really fun assignment, but it's also going to be a complicated illustration and a lot of work. So I would like to share the process with you. I want to explain more how an editorial illustration is made and how I work. Who knows, maybe it's useful information for someone out there.

This is part one, explaining how I start an assignment and set up the first sketches. Keep in mind that I'm blogging about this in real time, posting the process as I go. I have no idea how this will work out, but maybe that's what will make it interesting. Feel free to comment and leave your tips as well.

Part 2 can be read here.

Part 3 can be read here.

So... I got a call asking if I had time to do this assignment about the Museum Nacht, a big festival in Rotterdam. I was quite busy with arranging the upcoming expo and working on my website, but I knew I would have time later in the week to start working on it. So I said yes.

I went to see the art director in person. Usually I do everything through email or phone, but since his studio is located in Rotterdam, where I work too, why not? We made an appointment and he send me a short brief about the assignment in email so I could already prepare some sketches and ideas for the meeting. This is very important because it's quite useless to have a meeting if you are not prepared. You can't go to a person and expect them to just randomly start talking and trowing ideas at you. Of course it's nice to have a chat with someone, but in this case I was there to discuss the assignment and the best way to do that is already have examples of the ideas you have.

And make sure you write things down you want to talk about. This helps if you get nervous or the talk gets so "passionate" you forget to talk about things you really wanted to discuss. Also sketch out some ideas you have. Think about the assignment before you go to the meeting and sketch out your ideas so you have something concrete to show. Telling people my ideas in just words is not my strongest asset. For me it helps a lot if I have some sketches to show as well. You know the cliché: An image says more than a 1000 words...

Above you can see a picture of some sketches I brought along. Nothing fancy, just some quick roughs and reference material I collected.

The brief said I had to make an illustration for the cover of the magazine. The art director wanted an illustration for the Museum Nacht festival and he really loved my Desert Dust illustration I had made quite some time before as a personal project. He said he would love a similar kind of illustration for the cover because it really illustrated the atmosphere of the Museum Nacht festival. Great! And it didn't really matter if the new illustration looked a lot like the Desert Dust one, because it was a personal project and I didn't really use it for anything yet. Also, this was going to be a standing illustration, a different format, different setting, etc. So the illustration is going to be completely different any way. I just have to make sure it has the same style and feeling.

I started thinking about the assignment, looked up my old Dessert Dust illustration to use as an example (also printed it out for the meeting) and just started browsing the internet. I do this first to get into the mood and find some reference. I then save the images I find interesting to my desktop until I have a huge clutter of pictures. This can be anything: Photo's, textures, other illustrations, paintings, graphic design, toys, etc. But usually I mostly collect photo's as reference for poses and anatomy, but also clothing styles (Lookbook is great for this).

Then I start sketching on cheap paper for my first ideas. For this assignment, because it's for the cover, I really have to pay attention to the layout of the magazine and make sure there is enough space for the logo and extra titles. So for the first sketches I just got some paper and some of the old Uitagenda magazines and I first traced all the titles, just roughly. This helps me set up a first sketch for the composition. Later I also received a sample layout from the art director so I can use that to layer it over my sketches in Photoshop to see if everything fits. I prefer doing this as soon and fast as possible, because I mainly work on paper with traditional media. It's harder or more time consuming for me to make adjustments than someone who works more with digital media. If I check everything often and do this as much as possible while still sketching, I can easily erase some lines and redraw them. This is A LOT harder when I've already put down darker pencil lines, or even worse, started inking. Believe me... I know from experience... So make your changes in the sketch phase and email as much sketches as possible to the art director so he/she can see and check your process if you work like me.

After all this preparation I went to the meeting with the art director. We had some small talk first and then we just discussed my sketches and other material I brought along for the meeting. I had with me:

-My agenda, to make notes and write down dates for deadlines etc.

-Old sketches of other illustrations to show him my working process and examples (I have some different ways of working).

-A print of the desert Dust illustration to discuss what he liked about it and why.

-Prints of reference material I collected.

-The first composition sketches I made to show him my ideas.

This was my first meeting like this for an assignment and I was quite surprised at how helpful it was to actually meet the art director face to face. I had instant feedback, give him instant feedback, I could see the expressions on his face and get a better feel of what he wanted. There was more room for discussion and I also got to know him better as a person. So it was definitely worth the extra time spend on traveling and interrupting my work for that day. But keep in mind, I talked to other people about meetings like this first, to know how to prepare for it. Without my sketches and other preparations it would have been a nice meeting, but probably a waste of time. What are you going to discuss if you have nothing to show and talk about? I've had situations before where I didn't prepare well and I usually ended up doing exactly what the art director wanted, without having any freedom in my own work. If you show them your ideas well, clearly and with confidence, people will trust you more and you can make the illustration more your own. If you aimlessly wander around, people will set a direction for you. They want to get the job done after all.

After the meeting I got home, continued my planned work for that day and last Friday I started working out my ideas for this assignment on large format (and my notes of the meeting came in handy at this point). For this one I'm working on A3 sized heavy Bristol board. I scanned the first sketch, just fast in low DPI, emailed it to the art director and got some feedback: Change the husky into a howling husky. Can you add the Jack Daniels bottle? It was really nice in your Desert Dust illustration. Maybe the big girl should look at the camera? Etc. I thought it over a little bit, talked to some friends about it and emailed him back with some new ideas. Then I started erasing and re-drawing some elements. Here is an example of some changes I made to the first big sketch:

Because this is just a rough sketch which I set up very lightly, I was able to easily erase some lines and re-draw them. I also needed to look for some new reference material, because some poses and other elements had changed or were being added. Of course I want to keep on drawing, so I just looked up some stuff very fast. I have a huge library of material on my computer, so I went through that first and the rest I just Google-Imaged.

Then it was just a matter of re-scanning the sketch fast, emailing it and checking if it still fits with the layout for the cover. Below is a photo of the work so far. The art director liked it so now I can start working out more details and maybe even start shading. Yes! My favorite part of the illustration! Can't wait to start.

I will post more about that in part 2, which you can read here.

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0 #4 business services 2014-03-10 13:31
Keep on writing, great job!
0 #3 Florian 2011-01-25 11:54
Could have sworn the links weren't there yesterday. I'm probably getting old...
0 #2 Sabine ten Lohuis 2011-01-25 11:11
Hej Florian,

Thank you for the feedback!
I actually did add links to the desert Dust piece. All the titles are in light grey, so you can click them and go the the page of the illustration. Maybe that wasn't clear enough?

Just in case I added the illustration to the article itself. It fits quite well with the text, so maybe this is better now.
+1 #1 Florian 2011-01-24 21:34
Great to read such a detailed post about your process, I am already looking forward to part two! I'm really curious about your digital process.

One small thing: It would have been great if you had included a link to the Desert Dust image. I found it with the nifty search function, but a direct link would have been even more convenient.

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