In this article I’m going to explore the process of working with a client on an illustration. Here is the illustration used in the final piece.
Uncommon Childhood is a new endeavor by veteran publishers Jennifer and Tony Miller. Jennifer has been editor and publisher of the Institute for Reform in Education and Living Instruction for the Young for a decade or more. The two of them partnered to produce the content at the Edventure Project. Recently Jennifer has also contributed to Location Independent. Estimates of quality content on the internet show roughly 14% was created by a Miller. Uncommon Childhood just formally launched on January 1st, but there is already a backlog of quality articles to browse. A few months ago, they approached me to see if I would create an illustration for their new site’s header.
The Design Process
Every illustrator uses their own particular design process, but it is usually based on a cycle of talking with the client, thinking, artwork and then repeat until finished. While I love to talk to clients, I like to keep the number of cycles on the low side to avoid client frustration and keep my margins tight. I find that doing a large amount of communication up front saves cycles later on. This is the design process I like to use.
1. The Design Brief – Work with the client to get an understanding of their needs and desires. Create a Statement of Work detailing costs and deliverables.
Jenn contacted me and asked if I could work on a logo for the new Uncommon Childhood website. Se wanted a very clean, modern looking header with a sans serif font. She added the following:
“The ‘i’ in Childhood is going to be the puff end of a dandelion gone to seed and flying off of the dandelion will be one seed kite with a child (churched up stick figure?) hanging onto the base of the seed and flying off. I’m attaching a couple of dandelion pics that I like a lot to give you an idea of what I’m looking for.
What do you think? I’m open for color palette, but I’m concerned about getting the branding for this site right, the first time. I’m thinking earth tones… greens and yellows, perhaps? greens and browns?”
Additionally, she sent the following pictures as examples of what she was thinking.
We sent messages back and forth for a while and I ended up proposing the following based on her needs.
- Website header graphic
- Logo in industry standard format files
- Set of web graphics (up to 5) based on the logo to be used as internet links, watermarks, etc. per client specifications
2. Research & Brainstorming - After listening to the client, I like to look at the peers, competitors and vendors that will effect my client’s business. The end result should stand out from the competition and complement peers and vendors without compromising originality. From there I think about what the end product might look like.
3. Sketching – Thumbnail sketches until I find a few that I like. Then I develop them into full size sketches. This is still not very well formed, but just to give an idea to the client of the direction I am considering.
For Uncommon Childhood, I ended up with this pencil sketch on graph paper.
I was careful to communicate that these were rough versions and were intended to see if I was headed in the right direction.
4. Prototyping & Conceptualizing – At this point I am doing full blown illustrations. They may or may not be the final product, but the quality should be finished work.
After getting the go-ahead from Jennifer, I started to gather source materials. I like to look at other artwork to inspire me and these pieces of art were all very exciting.
I like to work from photographs when I’m doing figures. People look more natural when they are proportioned accurately instead of how my brain remembers them. Fortunately, I have access to a wonderful model. She put up with my directions.
It is important to note a design decision at this point. I knew that the little girl in the illustration would be silhouetted for the logo. Because of this, I wanted the silhouette to be dynamic. An illustration of a girl with her feet together and arms locked would look fine, but the resulting silhouette would not. These model shots do not need to be well lit and the background doesn’t need to be carefully picked because they are for reference. Since my model has not yet learned to fly, we posed this on the kitchen floor and I stood on a chair.
From this photograph, I drew and watercolored this girl.
And based on the mock up sketches I drew and watercolored this background.
Both paintings were done with watercolors from a tube and both were detailed with watercolor pencils. Once again, I scanned both paintings in at different DPI (dots per inch) settings to create the resulting images as close to end size as possible. In the GIMP, I combined the two. One of the wonderful things about the digital age is the ability to endlessly adjust, tweak, and change images. I was able to change the intensity of the colors, the darkness of the colors, highlight some areas, lowlight others and add layers of fluff and glow for the dandelions. Finally, I made a copy of the resulting image and used layer masks to lighten and darken the text to show through the image. This is what I presented to Uncommon Childhood.
5. Send To Client For Review - If I nail it, we’re almost done. If not, then this is usually the hardest part for the client. If it isn’t what they want it can be hard to communicate the difference, but with patience and perseverance and conversations that include “blue-ish-er” or “more like a flame” we arrive at a consensus.
In this case, Jennifer wanted something slightly cleaner. She said:
…we’d like it to have cleaner lines. Not so much a chalk drawing (or pastels) but instead more solid colors, more “posterized” maybe. I’d like the dandelion puff to be more iconic. I was thinking to use the one strand of puff with the trailing child as one of the “logo” type images and I’d envisioned it more stylized…”
From that feedback, I created this rough color mock up.
Since Jennifer liked the layout but was looking for a more stylized and less painterly look, I decided to take what I already had and make a vector graphic from it. I imported the images I had already scanned into Adobe Illustrator and began to work. I started by making this vector drawing on top of the little girl illustration.
Afterwards, I designed a dandelion puff and background. Because the puffs were vector drawings, I was able to copy, scale, and rotate them to create the dandelion and additional floating fluffs. I also created the background in illustrator. Once I was finished I exported it to file and then opened the file in GIMP. Using GIMP I did the same trick with layer masks to highlight the text. I decided to go with a different font in this case as the “C” in the other font was a little wonky. This font had a cleaner overall look.
7. Supply Files To Client and Give Customer Service – Deliverables outlined in the statement of work are packaged up and given to the client. Any additional related work is finalized.
Uncommon Childhood was pleased with this effort. Using the vector image created in Adobe Illustrator, I was able to make a the silhouette and add the text quickly. This is a sample of the resulting logos.
Ultimately, we made a couple of tweaks to the header image to fit their website as they went along, but if you want to see the end product you will need to check out the amazing new website at Uncommon Childhood.