Art & Design

Making A Digital Illustration From Start To Finish

As a graphic design major, there are many things I’ve learned throughout my years majoring in this field. One of the first main things that I had to learn how to do was make digitalized versions of my designs in Adobe which prior to my time at school, was completely unknown to me. Within the world of graphic design and even Illustration, Adobe is one of the main tools used in the industry by various types of creators. It’s also considered “industry standard” so if you don’t know how to use Adobe and you’re applying for a job, you’re kind of screwed. Various programs in Adobe such as InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop can take time but with anything, practice makes perfect. One of the main projects I did for one of my designs class was an illustrated image of Han Christian Anderson’s classic story of “The Snow Queen”. The assignment was to create a digital illustrated image that showcased the story and we would later present it to the class during critique. This is a common thing that most teachers do in design school, taking constructive criticism is important because well you get ALOT of it. I’m saying that from my own experience as someone who is on the verge of graduating. You’d be surprised by how much critical critique has helped me as a graphic designer. In this article, I will dive into the process and method that we used to create our illustrated design project.

The Research Phase

For the beginning of the project, we were instructed to pick a story for our illustration however it had to be of public domain, to avoid copyright issues. I decided to go with The Snow Queen because why not? I’ve always loved the original story and wanted to pay tribute to it. This version of the story is not Frozen friendly. There is no sweet talking snowman and the snow queen is no Elsa. For the research phase, we had to gather images to use as inspiration for our project. Oh, did I also mention that we had to have an organized filing system on our computers. Yeah there were a few times I got overwhelmed because I didn’t have everything in order.

The Mind Mapping Phase

Moving onto the next part of design which is the mind mapping phase. The concept of mind mapping is to help representing ideas and concepts. Usually this technique helps stem new creative ideas and allows you to get a sense as to what the project might be. I did this for various art classes I had during previous semesters and this can even be used professionally in businesses. It’s a useful technique, I highly recommend because it allows you to use your “creative juices”. My instructor required us to do this as apart of our homework and lab time, in which we then split into groups and shared our mind maps with each other. This was another useful thing we did in class because communicating and working with others is crucial when your in the design field rather your a freelancer or working under a company.

Thumbnails & Sketches

The next element of designing the project as the thumbnail and sketches phase. This one, similar to the mind map, helps stem different ideas and concepts for the project. Since I was doing an illustration on Han Christian Anderson’s, The Snow Queen, I drew various thumbnail sketches of elements that related to the story. I did this because well I was told to by the teacher but also to allow me to get a full sense of what elements of the story I wanted to include in this design.

The Designing Process

Now moving onto the process of designing the actual illustration. For this project, I wanted to go for a illustration that could be used for a book cover. I opted to go for a portrait size to make it look more like the cover of an illustrated children’s book. Since this was a Adobe project, I made this in Adobe InDesign. I took various stock photos and traced them using the pen tool which later allowed me to create vector shapes representing the characters along with other elements from the story. One thing I learned about Adobe is making sure to use layers in your project and naming them so your organized. Organization is key when in graphic design because half the time you end up making a million different layers. Overall, this process in the designing stage took about 2-3 weeks.

The Finished Digitalized Illustration

So we have now come to the conclusion of the article where we have the finished product. For this illustration, I decided to focus on key elements from the story and featured the main characters of The Snow Queen, Gerda, and Kye in the illustration. To add onto the winter theme, I featured various snowflakes (which I made in Adobe through a template) and of course gave The Snow Queen an icy blue dress. This dress was an absolute nightmare to make so I’m glad the result ended up paying off, the brushstrokes in the dress really helped bring out the icy element to the vector. Additionally, I put a castle in the illustration because that’s also a huge part of the story and it seemed dumb to not include it. So overall, this was the final result and I’m happy with how it turned out although I think there are changes that could improve the design. One thing I would change is The Snow Queen’s facial features and would try to make her look more sinister because her character in the book is the role of an antagonist. This was one of the recommendations I got during the critique and I feel it was a valid point. Regardless, I’m still content with the finished product and believe, although challenging, this project helped me get out of my comfort zone and explore more options as a graphic designer.

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