Today I wanted to give you a look behind the scenes at my illustration process. From reference, to sketch, to vector, to refinement.
Let me tell you about the Elvis drawing I did. I’ve always liked Elvis, his music, his coolness, his unique look. When I start research on a caricature I like to get involved in that person. What were they like, what did they convey to the world. I start by looking up images of them, then I try to find out about the background of that picture. Where it was taken, when it was taken, what lead up to it.
For this particular illustration I found a picture of him lost in his music. It really spoke to me. It had so much energy.
I found out the picture was from a concert he did called the 1968 Comeback special. So then I did some more research and I found video of it and narrowed it down to the song he performed called “If I Can Dream” (you can watch it here 3:20). I watched that video and many more to get a feel for the energy. Then I began sketching.
I start every drawing with a sketch, sometimes it’s with a traditional pencil, sometimes it’s with a digital program. The goal of a sketch is to find the flow of the drawing. I remember the drawing exercises from art school, I would go to the courtyard around campus and do 30 second or 1 minute sketches. The purpose was to find the action line of a subject. If the person I was sketching was proud, scared, worried. I would have to convey it with just a couple of strokes on paper.
Once I have the action line down it’s time to flesh it out. To work out the problems that might present themselves. Are the hands too big, does the hair look right, is there feeling in this line? The beauty of a sketch is that I can scrap it and start all over because I haven’t fully committed to that drawing yet. I can try one from a different angle or with more perspective.
I then took this sketch and got it into my computer drawing program called Pages. I use the sketch as a starting point and then draw directly on top of it with the Pen Tool. It’s a vector tool I use to create the clean lines, they look crisp and perfect. It takes time to create the lines and have them be exactly how I pictured them in my mind. It’s kind of like knitting I imagine. Where you are repeating a process over and over. But there is something about it that is calming. Something that takes time and practice to master but once I did the lines become anything I want them to be. This digital vector work takes me between 2 to 5 hours.
Here’s a time-lapse video I made for a different drawing (Audrey Hepburn):
A couple months later I was looking at the drawing and something seemed off to me, the jacket looked bad, like his body was too long for a caricature. I also noticed there were no teeth on him, how did I miss that?! The other thing that really irked me was his hair, it just wasn’t as colic as I imagined it to be watching the video. You can see that there’s sweat and his hair is messy but still awesome. So I went back in and tightened up the drawing. That’s the beauty of digital work you can always go back and readjust. The command + Z (undo) option always there for me.
A couple years later I was invited to be in an art show. My friend was opening a music store. I wanted to show my Elvis drawing. I went back one last time to change my signature on it and I removed the microphone cable from the drawing. I knew I didn’t want to do a traditional frame. I turned to my father-in-law, he makes this custom frames with hand poured resin that seals the illustration to the wood. I had a huge print of it made 16 x 20 inches and handed it over to him. Thru the magic of his hands I got a wonderful piece of framed artwork.
Here’s the beautiful handmade resin framed illustration, it hangs right above my drawing table:
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