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Digital Illustration Process

This is my process for how I make my digital illustrations. In a world where AI-generated images are proliferating our Internet life, it’s important to understand the amount of planning and work that goes into actual illustrations made by artists.

What’s my process? Let’s follow along an illustration I did for “The Imbolc Faerie” for a pagan holiday.

Step 1: Import the Sketch

I almost always start somewhere in my sketchbook. After I have a doodle I’m happy with, I scan it in and import it into CorelDRAW.

Step 2: Rough in the Vectors

Here, I’m using vector lines to build rough polygons of the shapes in my drawing. At this stage, there are no curvy lines; I have to visualize where lines will curve and flow.

Step 3: Create a Color Palette

Sometimes, I will find an image with colors I like and want to use. In this case, I’ve found a picture with lots of soft pinks and lavenders, so I auto-extract the colors into a new palette.

I also have a number of palettes with custom spot colors, as well as patterns I’ve created.

Step 4: Color Blocking

After I’ve a palette, I fill in all those polygons with blocks of color. The image kinda looks like paper cut-outs at this point. It is at this stage I can shuffle what order my shapes are in: some shapes should be in the front, some should be at the back. I also can determine which lines are going to be thicker, or become specialty shapes that simulate brush strokes.

Step 5: Convert to Curves

Now I tell the program that I don’t actually want all of my polygons to be straight-edged polygons: I want them to be curvy shapes.

Every dot you see on the screen is a point where I can adjust the curve of a shape, called a bezier curve. The general rule in vector drawing is less points. Mo’ points = Mo’ problems

Step 6: Adjust the Curves

This part takes the longest; time to fiddle with all the points and curves to make it look less like paper cut-outs and more like a drawing.

Sometimes I will use freehand curves rather than drawing polygon shapes if I can’t get the look I want.

Step 7: Background Colors/Designs

After most things are shaped and colored in, I’ll fiddle with the background colors. Sometimes a choice in background necessitates changing the main subject’s colors.

Step 8A: Gradients, Shadows, & Transparencies

Now I start to play with adding gradients, transparencies, and shadows to help define objects in the image.

Step 8B: Custom Fills

I have a number of custom fills I’ve made. This, for example, is a fill that simulates what I want a flame to look like.

Step 9: More Details

At this end-stage, I may add more details in that weren’t in my original sketch, or things that I feel like give the final image a little more sparkle.

In this image, I’m adding some stripes to the faerie’s legs.

Step 10: Add Text and 1,000 Tiny Adjustments

Finally, if the image calls for text, I add that in. Not pictured, the thousands of tiny adjustments, changes, and whatnot that lead to the final image.

So there you have it! How to make an image in 10 EZ steps! Seriously, though, while I follow this general procedure, the reality of drawing is that I flip flop back and forth between adjusting shapes, adding them in, changing colors, and so forth.

This is how I draw the illustrations for my oracle deck, Tarot cards, and more.