By Colleen Clark
With hundreds of different stylistic approaches to art even within each major, everyone’s process from the beginning to end of a piece is unique to them. I have no idea how people who make art in other majors approach their projects (I have no idea how I would begin making a sculpture or a blueprint for an interior design, for example), but in Illustration, some processes have become routine for showing progress to your teachers: thumbnails, value/color studies, lineart, finished details. My work is typically digital, and even though sometimes it takes me way longer to get from A to B than it should, my process typically goes as follows.
1. The Assignment/Concept: What is the assignment given? Or, if I’m making personal work, what is my conceptual goal? Before I start any illustration, I have to figure out what exactly it is I want to say. In the example I’m showing here, the assignment was to draw anything pertaining to an American president. I had just watched Grease when we got the assignment so, naturally, I decided to make Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama the “Pink First Ladies.” I don’t really know if there is a deep philosophical meaning to it besides me wanting a First Ladies greaser girl gang.
2. Sketching/Thumbnails: The next step is usually to start sketching out my ideas in thumbnails—tiny drawings with hardly any detail. I use these to start to develop my composition: what goes in the front, what goes to the back? How many First Ladies can I fit in this composition? How should I pose them, knowing I want to draw their butts? Then I had to gather reference: pictures of their faces, their poses, what they will be wearing. (I had to rifle through a lot of really bad quality Grease costume photos to find good quality satin jackets to draw. Michelle and Hillary wouldn’t settle.)
3. Value/Color Study: After I figured out how I want them to stand, I had to figure out the general color scheme and what pieces were going to stand out as the lightest parts or darkest elements. I worked out my general colors, adjusting the overall warmth and coolness along the way until it felt right.
4. Lineart: A lot of my art tends to rely on line, which is completely circumstantial to every artist. I decided to tidy up my lines, giving the drawing a more finished feel before I went into more details.
5. Likenesses: Since my piece features two extremely well-known people, I had to spend a lot of time on the faces to make sure Michelle and Hillary were recognizable. I can say I spent nearly half the total time working on Hillary’s face alone! Below you can see a few attempts before the final.
6. Final, Feedback, and Extra Changes: To finish up the piece, I added some highlights and shadows on their jackets, hair, and butts. I also added some textures, which can make a digital piece look more organic when overlayed on top. After the class critique (a wonderful plus of going to art school), I was told to add something around their circle frame, and I decided on the stars, which mimic the star arc seen on a dollar bill, adding to the presidental theme.
All in all, the piece probably took around 20 hours to complete. That amount of time is about average for a college art assignment, with more complex pieces taking up to 70 or 80 hours total! More or less though, this is how I do it. One of the best things I have learned so far in art school is to take a step back and thoroughly examine your work in between each step. It’s always good to get a fresh look or to switch up your routine every now and then, but a reliable process can also help you develop your style and technique.
The moral of the story is: if it makes you want to make art, stick with it! Keep anything and everything that inspires you close and, if you’re me, draw lots of butts!
Colleen Clark is a CCAD senior majoring in Illustration who wishes Star Trek was real. She loves comics, puppies, anything involving Tina Fey, and sharing her art and thoughts through her online blog.
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