A month ago, my brother-in-law turned to me with a request. “Andi, can you help me with a wedding-related task?” – he asked quietly so that no one else could here around the family table.”It’s top secret, you can’t tell it anyone” – he added. I instantly got excited because I loooove secrets expecially when they are wedding related.
He and his fiancée planned to use little chocolate bars as seating cards. This chocolate was their favorite one. Its creamy, sweet taste took them back to their childhood. But the packaging wasn’t wedding compatible. Instead of covering the bars with ordinary wrapping paper, they wanted something more unique. They were interested if I can draw them in comic style and use that on the packaging. I thought, that’s a great idea.
By the way, look how cute they are together!
We designers, artists and professional wonderers always brainstorm in pictures. It’s like having a nonstop movie theatre in our head – although, for my disappointment, it doesn’t come with yummy, buttery popcorn. And this is mostly OK except when we can’t get close to that perfect image we were pampering in our minds for weeks.
But this time I could really achieve the envisioned image. When I finished, I was jumping for joy around the table – in the middle of the night in my muffin patterned PJs! A ritual dance that the neighbours are still trying to decode… It took serious self-discipline not to wake up my brother-in-law right away.
Anyway, I thought I share my work process and some tips with you. These will be helpful if you plan to digitally color your pencil or ink drawings.
Start with hand drawn sketches
I always start illustration and brand design projects with quick hand drawn sketches. I tried working directly on the computer (with a Wacom Bamboo) but it has never felt natural enough. It’s also slower and it’s hard to let go a sketch your clients don’t like as you invested too much time in the process. Drawing on paper only takes minutes. My pencil sketches are usually pretty messy, so I use ink to emphasize the lines I’m going to continue working with. Pigma Micron and Steadtler pens are my favorite.
TIPS & TRICKS:
- Have references: I made this sketch after a family dinner, so my models were sitting directly in front of me. When you work with a reference (either a model or just a photo of your model) you can find important details which you wouldn’t think about when drawing after imagination.
- Use non-photo blue pencil or mechanical pencil for the first sketch: there’s nothing more annoying than erasing and suddenly crumple or tear the paper. But if you use non-photo blue leads, the scanner won’t detect the pencil lines, only the inking. And it saves you time because you don’t need to erase anything.
- Show your sketch to the clients: if you show your clients your first – and imperfect! – sketches, you’ll save valuable time and avoid some future headaches. Always ask your clients to give feedback at this early stage.
Redraw, redraw and… yep, redraw
So I had my first sketch. I still didn’t move to the scanner. It’s much easier to fix mistakes by hand than on the computer so I grabbed some thin marker paper (tracing paper works well too) and I started copying the lines I liked and fixed the ones that were off.
TIPS & TRICKS:
- Always tape the tracing paper to the original drawing
- You don’t want to hurt your eyes, have proper lighting at least from two directions to avoid disturbing shadows
- Hands off the scanner! Believe me, it’s easier to work with a great sketch than messing around in Photoshop and fix lines there. Repeat this step and redraw your sketch as many times as needed.
Scanning and importing to Photoshop
To be honest, I used the scanner of an ordinary all-in-one printer. Nothing fancy. But the settings are important. I set it to 1200 dpi resolution and black & white. These settings save lots of details without resulting a gigantic file size.
After scanning you can continue in two ways. You can either paste this file onto an Adobe Illustrator art board and live trace it or place it into a Photoshop file. I chose the latter because I wanted to color in Photoshop. If I hadn’t known the printing size, I might have worked in Illustrator to make my illustration easily scaleable.
The best part! Coloring and adding details
I build up at least a dozen layers in Photoshop. The top one is always the line art. The bottom one is the background. I have a layer for skin colors, one for the hair, etc. I distinguish everything that has different textures. For example, the flowers in the bouquet got a little bit of watercolour effect while my brother-in-law’s suit had fabric texture. So these were on separate layers. On the other hand, the hair colors were on the same layer for both characters.
After coloring every part of my illustration, I start adding even more layers. Oh yes, I’m a bit obsessed with Photoshop layers
TIPS & TRICKS:
- Organize your layers! If you read and follow these advices from Photoshop Etiquette, you’ll be a real pro. And you’ll never burst into tears in real despair when you open a file you made a few years back.
- Organize your assets too! I mean Photoshop brushes, patterns, styles and all those added gems that you collected. I have a ton of Photoshop presets. Some I know by heart (like this watercolour style pack), but sometimes I have to browse my “Digital Graphic Assets” folder to find something specific. Like the snow flake brush I used for the background of this illustration.
Here’s a short guide showing you how to set up your drawing in photoshop, add colors, texture.
Creating a Style Sheet
So I had my illustration and I also had some ideas about how to put together the chocolate packaging / seating cards. At this stage – or even earlier – it’s really useful to put together a quick style sheet. This is nothing complicated, just design element, fonts, colors that work well together.
TIPS & TRICKS:
- Don’t make it too complicated! You’ll be fine with maximum 2 fonts and 2-3 colors. Less is more.
- Make it fun! A style sheet don’t need to be boring. Don’t forget that you’ll might add it to your portfolio later, so feel free to play with the elements and add your personality.
Finally put everything together
At this stage I move to Illustrator. I’m more confident with its exporting features and it’s also easier to move the objects around. I put together the packaging, I added the wedding guests’ names and some extra cuteness: the ingredients of a successful marriage instead of the ingredients of the chocolate. This one was a big hit, everyone loved it.
TIPS & TRICKS:
- Add bleed: if you plan to print your illustration and it has a colored background, you always have to add bleed to your document. Bleed is a printing term that refers to printing that goes beyond the edge of the sheet before trimming.
- Always print and proof read before sending the file to your clients.
Wohoo! This was a looong post. I typed so much, I can’t feel my fingers. Time to warm them up with a mug of tea. See you next week!
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