Jeremy (you can view his interview here) took the liberty to explain his entire process for creating this illustration from initial consultation with the art director, concept, work process, to completion. This is true inspiration and very informative information for any artist starting in the creative process, or a seasoned veteran.
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As written by Jeremy: ”Working with clients is a give and take process. As artists, we always hope that our vision carries through from beginning to end. Clients, on the other hand, want to make sure their overall goal is met and that we deliver upon their expectations. After all, they are paying us to work for them.
In this tutorial, I want to share my experience working on the “Future of Freedom” illustration that I did for UCLA Magazine. Here I’ll break it down from objective, thumbnails to finish.
I did the “Future of Freedom” illustration for UCLA Magazine’s 2008 Fall issue. Even though it’s a couple of years old, I still fondly remember it being an insightful and a smooth process. I worked with art director Charlie Hess whose clear communication and great direction enabled me to deliver a great illustration and I received a paycheck still smiling.
Objective: Charlie Hess asked me create a political illustration. The objective was to create art that is somewhat inspired by the last scene of the movie Planet of the Apes, when the viewer sees the Statue of Liberty symbolically mangled. It was to accompany an essay about the future of democracy. Not exactly an optimistic illustration, but fun nevertheless.
I didn’t have the political essay to read, and sometimes as illustrators, we don’t always have all the information on hand. Instead, Charlie gave me keywords to brainstorm with: Dramatic, Struggle, Drowning, Colorful, paintings by J.M.W Turner. These keywords were enough to get my imagination running.
We discuss compensation and time frame. I’m given about a week to come up with five thumbnails. And as important, I ask for the dimensions of the image — just exactly how big does the image need to be?
1) Timeframe: One week for five thumbnails 2) Dimensions: Resolution: 300dpi. Size: 8.5×11” — Note: Once I’m given a dimension, I like to add one inch extra all around for “bleed.” Having more of the image enables the client to place and run the art with flexibility.
I should mention that getting a week just for thumbnails is luxurious and not typical. I’ve worked on other jobs where the turn around was just a couple of days for a final.
Research and Reference — the fun begins! Doing research about your project is so incredibly important to any illustrator. Reading, looking at other art, downloading reference images, it only helps, never hurts and won’t take a lot of your time.
The first thing I do is look for visual references that have something to do with the subject. It also helps me get the creative juices flowing. I’ve made Google Image my best friend.
The important thing about using reference:
1) Use it! Unless you are blessed with a photographic memory, reference is important. I “know” what the Statue of Liberty looks like, but using reference helps me spot details I could miss. 2) Never do a literal copy of photographs you don’t own. Reference is supposed to inspire you, not make you a Xerox machine.
Thumbnails: Doing thumbnails is pretty standard when working with clients. Be sure to ask if they prefer them black and white or colored. Doing color thumbnails can be tricky — since you’re giving the client color ideas early on. Color, in itself, is a separate process. If you’re telling them your painting will be blue in a thumbnail, now you’re expected to deliver them a blue painting. Black and white is personally preferred.
Here are the five thumbnails I made for Charlie. I kept them loose and a bit open to interpretation, but I’m always keeping the keywords in mine: Drama and the Statue of Liberty struggling. I’m interested in the drowning aspect and use water as a common theme throughout.
When I’m sketching, I keep some of the references I downloaded open. I’m simply using the paint brush in Photoshop to sketch.
One thing that I like to do is use a full value range when I do thumbnails, that way, the lack of color isn’t entirely missed. I got my darkest darks and my lightest lights. Once I’m done I send 72dpi versions of my thumbnails and attach them in E-mail.
Client Approval Process: The client approving — or not approving — your work at this stage is probably the most grueling part. We’ve reached the first stage where the critiquing comes in.
This is also where your experience varies greatly. You’ve either impressed the client that you nailed the vision in their head wants you to proceed or the client is freaking out and another round of revisions need to get quickly done.
Fortunately Charlie liked at least one of the thumbnails (thumb #2). I remember him saying the statue’s arm sinking in the ocean looked like it could either be rising or drowning. The ambiguity is probably what makes it interesting. I’m now given a few more days to E-mail him back a final.
Rendering: I always try to remember to evolve the thumbnail into a final. My illustration should resemble what I gave the client earlier and not be a re-invention. Never give the Art Director a completely different image.
I convert my document to grayscale. I’ll use the my thumbnail as a guide and start drawing in black and white again. My aim is to do a nearly finished drawing. I could jump into doing a full colored rendering first, but I want to make sure I nail the drawing before I do any fancy coloring.
The process of rendering the statue’s arm is straight forward. Since I’ve done my homework and already saved a bunch of references, I’m able to work fairly quick.
(Step 1) I begin by doing a simple block in after I draw the general outline. I’m keeping my values fairly narrow and just working from a middle gray. I’ve also drawn where I want the crashing waves to surround the statue’s arm.
(Step 2) The paint brush I’m using is a round with the hardness set in the middle. No fancy brushes — yet. Paying attention to my references, I begin to work on the fingers and the torch till they start to emerge. With my style, I sort of paint in between soft and hard. I work the image as if it emerges from a fog.
(Step 3) I stop working on the statue and concentrate on the crashing waves.
(Figure 1) I’ve amassed a collection of ocean photo references to go by and do some doodling. I then change my brush to the texture brush found in Photoshop which I use liberally for the sky and parts of the sea.
(Step 4) After I get to a point where I’m content with the statue and the waves, I begin by adding the destruction elements. I draw a simple tear down the arm and fill lit with a very dark gray I also add other elements like birds (which helps clue the viewer of the scale of the statue) and a bright sun.
(Step 5) More detailing…
(Step 6) I noticed that some parts off the statue are too flat so I start rendering again, trying to create a feeling of roundness. I’m simply adding shadows and light. I also get the idea to fill in the “rips” of the statue’s arm with scaffolding. The statue’s arm probably isn’t hallow and has some kind of architectural detail. This is just a matter of using the Line tool.
Coloring: At this point I’m pretty satisfied and start the coloring. I remember to convert the image to “CMYK.”
One thing about the color, Charlie summed it up: J.M.W Turner. If you’re not familiar with his work, he’s worth looking into. Turner really understood luminosity and color. He painted nature like nobody else, his work is really tumultuous and epic. Turner’s vivid seascapes is something that I want to capture.
(Step 7 and I apply the color on a separate layer and play with the blending modes. I use“Overlay” a lot and that seems to produce the right colors. The gray scale also influences the color, by picking up the darks and the highlights, and most of the texture is still visible underneath. It’s like applying a “wash” of transparent color on top of a black and white drawing.
(Figure 2) Keeping in mind that this piece is supposed to be dramatic and Turner inspired, I look at some of his paintings. I like the warm yellows and reds, and I like the dirty browns and greens in the seascapes.
A bulk of my time is now spent just washing color on top of the grayscale drawing. I do make some minor revisions of the drawing itself, I move and scale down the birds and instead of a high sun, it’s now setting on the horizon.
(Step 9 and 10) A few hours later, I do a self assessment of my progress and notice the painting is looking a little too yellow. No problem! A quick color correction and I slide the painting’s hues towards the reds.
I emphasize some of the foamy splashes at the bottom of the ocean. One brush I like to use is the Splatter brush. It’s been a while since I downloaded my splatter brushes, but a quick Google search yielded a similar set: http://qbrushes.net/photoshop-swirls-brushes/splatterism/
(Figure 3) This is great for extra bits of foamy spray and particle effects.
(Step 11) For the final stages, I’m adding some details here and there — nothing too obvious, but I think some details that tie everything together. I’m ready to call it done.
When I’m ready, I take a deep breath and E-mail Charlie the final piece. Incredibly, no revisions are needed and they accept the final as is.
One more thing…Color Correction for Print:
I’ve learned working as an illustrator for print is that printers, especially for mass production like magazines, rarely reproduce your illustration 100% accurately. It’s a shame really, all those beautiful subtle details can get lost when it’s reproduce on paper. If the paper is really thin, colors in your artwork will print less saturated. It’s just the nature of print.
One thing you can try to control is how dark or light your image looks once its reproduced. Generally speaking, and I find this to be mostly true, magazine printers print darker than what you see on your monitor. You can compensate this by doing a color correction.
If you just bring up brightness and contrast in Photoshop you can help prevent your illustration from printing too dark or too flat. There isn’t a sure fire formula, though, and every printer is different. But it’s something to keep in mind when you fire off your illustration to your client and call it done.
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