Updated: Jul 13, 2019
Where do we start with an illustration? It depends on what you’re requirements are. Let me share with you simple steps on how I make illustration, be it for a children’s book page, concept art, or cute sticker illustrations, everything has a process. How the process is executed also depends on the illustrator’s experience and skills. Let’s jump right in and start illustrating!
1. Client Brief
I always think of making a client happy, so I search for the right client to work with. There are some projects that I don’t like or am not confident to work with, so I have to decline. I hopefully, only work with projects that best suits my personality. This is to ensure that I give the best experience for the client.
So step one is to read the client brief. I usually get children’s book illustration, concept art or illustrations for game, app or website assets. I read the client requirements of what they are looking for. The things I consider important requirements before I proceed to work is to know the following:
What the client wants. It’s usually what the client immediately shares on the first paragraph of the brief. I get messages like “I need an illustration for my book about….”.
What illustration style the client prefers. Not most of the time, the client will share a link or url of an image of the style they are looking for, if I can imitate the style or enhance it with my own style. If there is no style provided, I use my own style, cartoon and cute.
The mood. The client will share what the overall feeling of the illustration is like. Sometimes they want it to be fun, colorful, and cute, sometimes they want it to be serious and realistic with few colors.
Color palette. A client may provide a color palette they want, and I love it if they do because I don’t have to brainstorm another color palette for them.
The story. Concept art or an illustration for a book really needs a story. Clients tend to share this primarily, but some don’t. Usually, I am given a manuscript. They will give me the idea of what the story of the image is like, and it becomes easier for my part to relate and apply the story to the illustration.
Deadline. Yes, I ask for the deadline all the time, because knowing it, I can adjust my schedule to work with full of passion and effort to the project. Also, an urgent project requires higher price.
Budge. After providing all these details, there must be a budget of how much the client is willing to pay. If none, I ask them to visit my Services page for all the pricing.
2. Payment and Contract Signing
Yes, I ask for payment first to be deposited. That’s why I love the payment system on Upwork and Fiverr because both clients and freelancers are safe. I don’t trust Paypal that much, and other independent payment gateways.
The payment will depend if it is fixed, or hourly. I like both anyway, but if it is fixed, the money is deposited first on the freelance platform like Fiverr or Upwork, and will be released once the milestone is completed. For hourly projects, which I really liked, is released weekly, which makes me feel like I am really paid for every minute of my work. It also inspires me to work better.
Usually, clients will also require a signed document to protect copyright and stuff and to confirm a work-for-hire agreement. This client gesture assures me that the client is also serious about the project. Once this is done, project starts!
This is the next part of the process, to research. I search a lot of reference materials to use for sketching and for processing all the ideas into one image. Depending on the budget, deadline and complexity of the idea, it will take me some time to research and complete the main image idea. It is a bit difficult to decide on the final idea in my mind, but it is overall fun.
So when I finally made up my mind of an idea, I consult the client if they have the same one in mind or if they liked the idea I have. Once they like it, I proceed to sketch!
Sometimes I use traditional sketches, or sometimes I use digital. I just feel like it’s better to use traditional because my hands really feels the paper. But with digital, I can easily use the reference material, and it’s easy to edit images.
I give 1-3 sketches, well depends on the budget also, I don’t give too many sketches just to end up not getting paid for all the hours rendered. I give 1 very simple 1-figure sketch, without the need to research a bunch of info from the internet, for $5 on Fiverr.
Additional $5 is required if I have to make another 1-figure sketch, cartoon sketch in my style of course, because if I am asked to make realistic sketches, that will be a higher value. Just remember that if you are a freelance artist, you must be paid for the minutes or hours you’ve rendered. It kinda makes me feel bad when there are clients posting on Fiverr or Upwork that sound so rude asking for an illustration like “If we like your work, there will be more projects……our budget is fixed $1”. It disrespects the worker. Just like any other skilled jobs, people must be paid for what they worked for. Even reading and understanding your client brief takes time, it’s like commuting to a workplace, it all takes the person’s time. So I hope you respect your time and do not work with clients expecting you to work for free.
Anyway, once approved, I finalize the sketch and submit again for final client review. After this is done, no alteration can be done to the sketch, if the client changes his mind, I charge higher revision for the sketch (around $10). The reason for this is because, the idea that took me time to research, and back and forth approval will be wasted because of the client’s change of mind. So I made sure to send it for final client review before I color it.
I use my client’s preferred color palette, or apply my own, if none is provided. I use flat colors first, without any fancy highlights and shadows and other detailed strokes. I provide the flat colored illustration, if the client has new changes, I can edit it right away, without the need to revise the entire illustration.
In this part, usually the client only asks for the change of colors, or none at all. Once everything is settled for the use of colors, then I proceed to add highlights and shadows.
6. Final Render
I add my shadows and highlights, and other fancy sparkles of the eyes. This is the most fun part, because the client is already happy with the overall concept, just to finalize and beautify the illustration, no need to think, but only to have fun!
Once I feel like it looks good already, I then submit to the client. Most of the time, the client is happy with my final renders, and that makes me happy as well. The only final requests of some clients are, adding texts and stuff, or maybe adding little objects around the image.
So I deliver the final files, if the client asks for the source files, I provide them, but for additional charge, because, we artists don’t always give out our source files. It’s like our own special treasure. But if the client asks for it, no problem to me, for a fee of course. So I send out the final high resolution image, and the original source files, usually in Photoshop or illustrator file.
And for additional happiness of my client, I make Mockup images to see the illustration in printed preview. Like maybe adding it on a book page, or a poster, or banner. This is not necessary anyways, but I provide it for the client in case they need an image like this for marketing purposes. It’s like a gift.
8. Payment Approval
So this is basically just to finalize everything. Very simple to understand. When the client is happy with all the files needed, client approves the payment, that also makes the freelancer happy. 🙂
After all is done, the client may or may not provide me a feedback. Feedback system is good for 2 reasons, both parties will know the feedback of each other for the business collaboration, and other people can see their recommendations. This helps the freelancer and the client in their future work. It helps make each other’s profile credible as well.
When I see clients with bad feedback from other freelancers, I don’t usually submit proposals, but when I see only 1 bad feedback out of a lot of good ones, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to trust the person. We all make mistakes, and mistakes help us grow anyway.
So these are all my illustration process. It’s such a fun thing to do something you love. And all my hope is that all of my clients love my work, and had an awesome experience with me. Good clients, and good projects make me feel better and better as a person, and as an artist. So I hope I am able to help you understand these simple process of how I work with illustrations, and next I will make another post for animation process, which is a bit longer than this one. Many clients don’t know the idea of how animation works, so I’d love to share it is done, from start to finish.
If you have anything you can share about your process as an illustrator, share them below! 🙂