Illustration Concepts

The Illustration Process


Define Your Illustration's Objective

What is your goal or end objective? Does your illustration meets them.?

  • What message are you trying to communicate?
  • To whom are you communicating?
  • Does your illustration effectively and clearly deliver the message to the audience?
  • Do the element in your art fit your message and target market?
  • Do the elements help clearly communicate your message?

Sketching Ideas

This step is not mandatory for this class, but it is invaluable when developing characters, settings, and elements for your illustration.

These sketches were done for a children's book cover.


Finding Art Reference - Guidelines

Once you decide on your layout and which elements you want in it, find reference for each element you are going to draw.

  1. Reference can be a photograph, printed photographs in a book or magazine, digital photographs that you take, from, or real-life items such as your hand, shoe, trees, a sunset, house, etc.
  2. Reference CANNOT be someone else’s art, drawing, cartoons or painting.
  3. Be sure you have permission to use someone’s likeness or photograph before you use it. You should get in the habit of drawing your own art and only using the photos for reference (to look at). This will open up your drawings to new ideas and options, and will lift the limitations of a photo.
  4. Reference is valuable to the illustrator because it provides us with what an object really looks like. Don’t guess, and don’t draw from memory.
  5. Find reference for everything you will need to illustrate. The more reference you gather, the more professional your art will become and look. Even cartoonists use reference to draw from. There is no way to know what something should look like unless you look at the real thing.
  6. Good reference photos must be:
    • Clear and in tight focus
    • Detailed, not blurry, or fuzzy
    • In full color
    • Large enough to see everything you want to look at
    • Available for you to use
    • NOT someone else’s art, drawing or painting
  7. All reference used for the same illustration must have the same light source and the same lighting technique (hard, soft, natural sunlight, studio light, etc.).
  8. Reference CANNOT be low-resolution images from the internet. I will not accept these, and neither should you, because they do not offer enough detail and clarity to draw from.



B/W Rough

Your black and white rough confirms your layout and acts as the template that you will transfer to your final illustration paper or board. It is the same size as the final illustration. This is also presented to clients and art directors to show where you are going with the illustraion.

b/w rough

Color Rough

Not mandatory for this class, but very helpful as you work through your color ideas. I just copy the b/w rough and color it with colored pencil or markers. You can also scan the b/w into Photoshop and colorize it there.

color rough


socrates final

Starting out… break your illustration down into small shapes

When you are working on an illustration, train yourself to break the subject down into small shapes. Then look at each shape individually. Find the highlights, mid-tones and shadows in each small shape. Then start drawing/coloring each shape, one after another. Only look at the blending and coloring for each small shape. Take the time to color and blend each shape accurately. Before you know it, you're creating an illustration!

Look at the small shapes in each of these subjects



Green lines show the 17 small shapes that need to be drawn and colored to complete this illustration of this bear caricature.

The steps below show a bear character drawn using three different techniques: watercolor, color pencil and a combination of both. These are just three of the many different ways you can paint with watercolor and draw with color pencil.

Explore your own mixed media techniques and styles for an original look.


wally steps



Even though a face is smooth and curved, shapes are formed when light shines on it. The shadows, midtones and highlights create many small shapes.Use the artograph to break down your subject matter into shapes. Transfer the shapes to your illustration board using a hard pencil (2-4H). Don't press too hard or you'll indent your paper. (These lines are darkened to show them on the Web)