Creating an Illustration


It seems like when­ever I talk with other artist’s, one of the first ques­tions they ask is “How do you work?”  Most of the artist’s that I know start out with sketches, but I have to be hon­est, I don’t do a lot of sketch­ing. Sketch­ing wasn’t a require­ment for our projects in art school, so I never got into the habit of cre­at­ing them.
I  just fin­ished up this great hol­i­day piece, so I thought I would share with you all how I actu­ally DO WORK.


My first step is the idea stage. I quickly jot down my ideas in a writ­ten list form and then I go for the one I think would be the most fun. For this piece, my idea was Santa deliv­er­ing pack­ages, but I didn’t want to go with the tra­di­tional sleigh. My hus­band LOVES vin­tage Volk­swa­gen Vans so I went that route.


I guess I do sketch — just not in the tra­di­tional sense. I like to do a quick sketch of the stars of my piece. For this piece, I did my quick sketch of SANTA & the VAN to see how things might go.  If I can’t come up with a quick sketch that I like, then I scrap the idea and move on. Here are my first two idea sketches.


Once I have my STARS ready to go, I start work­ing on the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters. For this piece, there are two elves and also a tree/presents. Some­times I know ahead of time that I am going to add cer­tain char­ac­ters, such as the elves — they were always the plan. But then I needed to fill an empty van win­dow (tree) and then I knew I would be need­ing some color on the top of the van (presents).


Once I have my char­ac­ters mapped out, I start on the back­ground. Start­ing on the back­ground also allows me to start think­ing about my color choices. In this case, Santa had a white beard so I knew that my back­ground was going to need to be AT LEAST a medium shade to knock-out his beard. I was also set on him dri­ving down a snowy road and then decided on the trees as a way to add inter­est with­out dis­tract­ing from my characters.


I gen­er­ally work on the base of my char­ac­ters and the get the back­ground to that same base level before I start work­ing on the details. I also choose col­ors at this point so that I know which col­ors I am going to need to work through­out the piece. Details are mostly things like adding shad­ing or pat­terns. It is gen­er­ally the details that really spice up a piece.


Once I have the major­ity of the details filled in, it is time to start fin­ish­ing up. Fin­ish­ing up includes things like check­ing for sup­port­ing details that are over­pow­er­ing the main char­ac­ters or chang­ing the shade of the back­ground if it is too light or dark. It could also be adding a lit­tle more detail to spots that seem bor­ing ;-)


Most of my illus­tra­tions are cre­ated for stock imagery (for design­ers) or for items to be added in my shop. For this piece I decided to cre­ate a poster and also a gift set series. You can see these and all of my other 2012 Hol­i­day Designs in my Etsy Shop!

Hope­fully this gives you some idea of how my ideas come together. Do you sketch? If so, does your orig­i­nal sketch gen­er­ally end up being a big part of your final piece?


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8 thoughts on “Creating an Illustration

  1. It’s really inter­est­ing to see your process. How long does the entire thing take you? You always seem to have Ilus­tra­tion Fri­day pieces done so quickly.

    It’s also inter­est­ing that my draw­ing teach­ers didn’t encour­age sketch­ing either, but my design pro­fes­sors swear by it. For design it’s more prac­ti­cal, I guess, but I only remem­ber a few draw­ing classes where we were encour­aged to make more than a few thumbnails.

    • Hi Glen — You are totally right. I had a paint­ing class where we made thumb­nails for abstract paint­ings but not for other sub­jects. We did cre­ate a lot of draw­ings in draw­ing class and I assume we could have uti­lized the good ones to paint from.

      As far as time — I would say the illus­tra­tion pic­tured took about 5–7 hours. I spend the major­ity of my time work­ing on the details. Pat­terns take a long time. The illus­tra­tion fri­day piece that I did with the girl & the dog in the argyle sweater took a lot longer.

      In school, my pro­fes­sors would attest, that I used to do two design projects or paint­ings for each assign­ment — rather than one. Once I have a clear idea and have time to focus, I can really move.

      xoxo — Brandi

      PS — would LOVE to see your process someday!!!

      • I have to do a few more full-size pieces before I can com­ment on my process, espe­cially since I haven’t posted for a while, haha!

        I def­i­nitely under­stand the time it takes to do pat­terns. I had to cycle through a num­ber of polka-dot pat­terns for a web­site design I once cre­ated… sur­pris­ing how much work there was to do for a design that even­tu­ally wasn’t cho­sen. Fil­i­grees take for­ever, too. I’m fond of the way your pat­terns seem to come so effortlessly–that’s a good sign you’re doing it well.

        • Glen — keep me up to date if you decide to do a process post! I don’t get around as much as I should and I don’t want to miss it!!!

          Agreed on the fil­i­gree — they are very dif­fi­cult espe­cially as repeat pat­terns. That is where I run into trou­ble — seam­less — those are SO hard!!!


  2. Brandi,
    Do you do your quick sketches in the graphic design pro­gram or do you use paper & pen? I think your designs are some of the best out there. Your work is so crisp and clean with just the right amount of quirk!

    • Hi Mar­i­lyn — what a kind com­pli­ment, thank you! I sketch in Adobe Illus­tra­tor. Most artists sketch with the tra­di­tional pen & paper, but I just never got the knack for it.

      We learned in draw­ing class that every­thing is cre­ated from basic shapes, even the most com­plex draw­ings start with basic shapes and Adobe Illus­tra­tor is per­fect for basic shapes. I also find that I can edit so much bet­ter with­out hav­ing all those eraser marks or extra draw­ing lines.

      xoxo — Brandi

  3. LOVED! see­ing your draw­ing process. I really need to start work­ing more in Illus­tra­tor. I know I’d enjoy it, but find­ing the time is my prob­lem. I love your illus­tra­tions… keep inspir­ing me!

    • Vicki — your work is won­der­ful as well — how do you work then, if not in illus­tra­tor? I would have guessed vec­tor. I know what you mean about time though. I haven’t had a chance to paint in years and I miss it so much but never find the time.

      xoxo — Brandi

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