When Creative Mornings asked me to illustrate their September theme, I was excited. It is a great opportunity to be a part of something that really matters to a lot of people, and also have such wide exposure to the global design community. They really do a nice thing, featuring the month's artist on the global site, newsletters, blog and everything, along with a big fat credit right below.
While it may seem like a small job, it is exactly this kind of project that takes me way longer than I first think. First of all, it's a relatively open brief: illustrate something that has the word "connect" in it somehow, and use our colour palette. Otherwise, the approach is wide open. For me this is difficult because, although I have a certain look to my work, I don't approach every illustration the same. I don't have just one trademark style (something I often envy of other illustrators). But it's in my nature to push myself to try new things with each project, not to lean on the same devices I did on the other.
Sometimes, people want you do do "what you do", to in fact use the same bag of tricks but applied to their project. I always find this difficult. Another thing I find difficult is sticking to the sketch. I love when I can put together an illustration in a way that responds to the whims and materials on hand as I go along. Sometimes I feel like it's hard to break new ground if the outcome is determined from the start. The challenge is to stick to the sketch and surprise and delight.
So in my process here, you can see me going way out on a limb (literally!) and coming back to something a little more universal. What I learn over and again in my work is that although I am weird and like weird things, people will relate more to things that are not overly weird. Again, it's how to make things that people like and relate to whilst allowing for some personality and quirkiness. That's what makes a successful illustration.
Among other concepts, I presented this one, where arms are inserted into wormholes in locations dispersed throughout the world have found each other in this common alternate dimension. The client loved it! I was suprised, because this was definitely the weirdest one.
To start, I kept largely to the sketch, including the style of the hands. I really like how the line quality conveys the Quentin Blake-like finicky fingers. But I felt this direction was looking a little flat for a feature illustration.
In my next iteration, I decided to work on the hands more. I used my own arm/hand as a model, but then I started playing around with the model photos as actual parts of the illustration.
When you add real human features to an otherwise illustrated composition, you start to encounter the "uncanny valley" effect, where the nearness but not-quite-ness of everything looks plain creepy. I thought by adding a white glove and a female hand (this is my wife's hand here) it might be a litte more approachable. I was also starting to play around with ambience and lighting effects. Some really cool stuff going on here. Weird, I thought, but these ones were what I presented to the client in Round 1 anyway.
They liked the work but came back with the idea of incorporating some of the characters who might attend Creative Mornings—art directors, CEOs, photographers, students, and such. I found this a bit tricky to re-incorporate into the photos (I'd have to set up a more elaborate photo studio), so I had to revisit my approach. This, the final version, went back to illustration to depict the characters. With illustration I was free to make each character as I pleased — something much harder to do with photography. With the illustrated hands, though, I felt the type needed to be a bit more reigned in, so I went from hand to a typeface, to give the overall illustration a fresher, cleaner look.
So all this for a little illustration! But if I'm honest, most of my illustration work goes through this process, from sketch to going a little bit over board and then reigning back in to the more focused final product. It's a lot of work but always fun.