By: Chris Adams of @chrisacreative
Like a lot of artists, my process is constantly evolving but it has been pretty consistent for the last few years. Here’s a breakdown of how I like to tackle my illustrations. Let’s jump in.
Step 1: Measure out your design
Taking the time to measure out your work can make a big difference in the end result. Now, not every illustration needs this step but since I’m working on a smaller piece of paper and trying to make my piece symmetrical, having a guide really helps keep things in line.
Step 2: Sketch with pencil
The key when sketching is to keep the pencil lines light. Avoid thick dark strokes so that they are easily to erase later. I always use a STEEL M-301 Mechanical Pencil in 0.5mm. It has been my go-to pencil for years now. It’s super consistent, which for me is the most important thing in any tool. Plus, it is easy to draw thin strokes for fine details and isn’t too soft, so it keeps the page clean even when rough sketching.
Step 3: Ink with thin lines
I’ve seen other artists do all their inking in one step, but this process doesn’t really work for me because my hand tends to shake when I am making my strokes. I must keep my strokes small and thin so I can build them out slowly to control their thicknesses. It is a bit tedious but this is still my favorite part of the process.
Inking is where things really take shape and it’s so satisfying to watch the ink lay down on the paper. For this step, I recommend the Zensations Brush Pen in Super Fine. I tend to beat up regular brush pens quickly, but the nylon brush tip on this pen holds up really well and snaps back when I need the lines to be really thin.
Step 4: Erase pencil lines
Making sure I clean up all the pencil sketch lines before finishing the ink or starting on color is key to a clean design. Some of the fine line ink may come up when erasing the pencil but that’s ok. If it gets too light, you can go over it again when adding the finishing touches.
Step 5: Thicken ink strokes to add depth
In this step, I try to make sure I’m accounting for lighting and know where I want to show depth. There are some great tutorials for inking but a quick tip I learned that helped me out a lot is simple: Make strokes larger on the pieces in the foreground and thinner on the pieces in the background. I’m not a big fan of complicated or restrictive processes but simple tips like this can make a big difference.
Step 6: Add color
To me, it often feels like coloring is the ultimate goal when I’m working on a piece. Maybe it is because of all the coloring books I had as a kid or just because it is the final step. However, it definitely feels a little separate from everything else before it. I also tend to vary my markers in this step the most whereas sketching and inking I tend to stick to my tried and true tools. For this design, I tried out the Mildliner Double Ended Highlighters but ultimately kept my process the same.
I like to begin with flat shades of color, adding in some tone or tone shading, and then finish off with adding the heavier shadows. Layering color on slowly stops me from overworking the paper and allows for drying time so I can see the finished colors more clearly. Pretty much every type of marker will ultimately dry a slightly different shade and these pens are no exception.
One thing I really like to do is use a darker tone of a slightly different shade when making the final shadows. In this example, you can see the darker purple that I use to add the shadows to the top piece of the pink sections. You can use black or dark gray instead, but I like things a bit more saturated myself.