One question I’m sure every illustrator is asked regularly is “How long did it take you to do that?”.  And it is so difficult to answer (unlike in my professional life I don’t keep time sheets….maybe I should).  So this is a first attempt to breakdown the making of an illustration – for my next book “Engibear’s Bridge”.  The “anatomy” is probably not the right word but I want to show the development of a picture.  For the next one I’ll try and track hours – might be good for me.

1. Storyboard

When I first got the text I moved pretty quickly to preparing a rough storyboard.  In this book we (i.e. with author Andrew King) are using the months of the year as a construction program to structure the book’s set-out.  I usually don’t start at the beginning and work through – I jump around.  For this investigation I’m going to use the left-hand page for “August”.

The text here lent itself to a big-picture overview shot – lots of action and detail.  I wanted a birds-eye view – or rather a Helicopter-eye view as Engibear is directing the action from a helicopter. We researched what this might look like – with boats, cranes and barges –  from various bridge construction photos.


The aerial shot developed fairly quickly into the Storyboard sketch.  This drawing was done without any perspective setups or making use of the 3D CAD model I have of the bridge – its just a general experience I have developed over years as an Architect to draw in perspective.  The storyboard as a whole took the entire of June 2013 to resolve, with the exception of some of the more technical pages or the cover.

8 August 10June13

2. Picture Development

I had made the decision to request the author engage the services of a friend of mine – a very talented draftsman and trainer in Vectorwork architectural software Scott Finlay – to “build” the final bridge as a computer 3D model.  I was then able to align the model with the sketch to give me an more accurate base to draw over.

Aug 1

Aug 1b copy

Aug 1c copy

Other than making use of the 3D information, I usually find the storyboard is a good enough base, blown up to A3 size, to trace for the final image.

3. Developing the final image

After setting up the image to A3 size, I begin to sketch over it, tracing out further detail and adding more information.  If I didn’t have the 3D perspective to work from this is where I would check my rough perspective with some disappearing points (in this instance it is a 3-point perspective).  It doesn’t have to be perfect and often I’ll fake it to give more drama or if it isn’t doing what I want for the picture as a whole.

August initial sketch

I then overlay this with another sheet of tracing paper (75gsm for those of a technical bent.  I find the heavier tracing papers are too slippery or “greasy”) for what I’m after.  I begin the final drawing, working from the bottom up.  This is because I’m still making up the image as I go and I have to start with what is essentially the foreground to allow be to develop the detail “behind” each piece I have drawn.  I put the helicopter on a separate drawing as I can layer it in Photoshop later.

I start everything with the lightest pen I have (Copic Multiliner SP 0.05mm) and only after I finish I go back over the image with a 0.1 or 0.3 pen (Uni-pin fine line).  This it to bring out certain parts of the image – something my mother taught me.  She calls it “cutting out” the image.

August P1

This final drawing took a few days (broken up with having to work full-time, look after 2 girls and catching far too little sleep than I really need).  Finally I blearily decide, after staring at it for what seems like hours at 1.30am one morning, that it is finished.  Next day I scan it at work (600 dpi) and that night begin to colour it in using Adobe Photoshop.

The look for the Engibear series is based on retaining the black lines, so everything is done with the main drawing on the top Photoshop layer as “Multiply” (Photoshoppies will know what I mean).  I break up the colour, sometimes using flat colour with semi transparent colours over.  It never looks right until I apply shadows (manually – all the automatic ones look too fake).  I’m not trying to be too precise as I want it to have a “handmade” feel.  I’m specifically trying to ensure it doesn’t look like a “coloured by computer” image.

It’s still a work in progress – as I have to add the helicopter and page 2 of August, but it is getting there.  Hope you like it.

August P1 colour draft