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Growing an Illustration

OCTOBER 11, 2008
Idea Sketch
I like to draw. As a teacher / professor of illustration at an Art & Design college, I am interested in giving students an effective, and simple approach to creating an illustration. I am attempting to find a way around the anxiety of "building" an illustration, while understanding the importance of creating a "finished" image.  My strategy is to "grow" the image.

We learn to draw at school by practicing observational drawing.  We draw from the human figure.  Other than the art model, no reference necessary.  But that is not the case in many illustration assignments. So, beyond drawing, I tell the students to find, or create good reference. Also, we read and scrutinize short stories by authors such as John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Flannery O'Connor.  We also exchange ideas about narrative composition and abstract design.

Here is an illustration I recently painted for Forbes magazine.  It was a story about the abduction, or kidnapping of wealthy businessmen around the world.

I used FW acrylic inks, on BFK Rives printmaking paper.  The inks are permanent, so I can work dark to light.  And unlike watercolor paper, BFK Rives does not need to be stretched.

I've included the initial "idea" sketch. Here, the only reference is the actual businessman's face. Everything else is from my imagination. The second image is a photo comp.  This is how I create my reference. I gather disparate images from the usual on-line sources, my own scrap file, or photographs I shoot using myself, or my neighbors as models. The next image is a "value" sketch, drawn from the photo comp that attempts to coalesce the various pieces of reference into one synthesized picture.

After that, there are 5 images.  I scanned the finished illustration at 5 arbitrary stages, attempting to show how the illustration grows on the page.  There are no pencil lines that precede the brush lines. I did measure once or twice, using the "face" of the abducted, as a standard unit of measurement. This was necessary to address the pre-set proportions of the composition.

Finally, I hope this attempt at clarity does not come off as condescending.  I realize that each of us creates work in our own unique, and idiosyncratic way.  That "is" the point. What I like to emphasize with my students is this; drawing the figure, drawing on location, or drawing an illustration for a magazine can be very similar as a drawing experience, and very exciting in a highly focused kind of way.
Photo Comp
Value Sketch
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Stage 5
Stage 6
Topical: Process  Re-creation  
© 2024 Jeffrey Smith