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The Illustration Process

Sonal Panse,

My illustration process varies depending on whether I'm working on something from the imagination or whether I'm illustrating a text. If it is the former, the process is more a matter of discovery, getting started and letting the work take you where it will; the first work will serve as a template for the subsequent illustrations. With the latter, the text is there as a road map and I will read it a couple of times for better understanding. I will then carry out any additional research, gather up the appropriate references, and make quick thumbnails of the sections that I think ought to be picturized.

The thumbnails are generally very rough pencil or pen drawings that are meant to develop compositional ideas – composition and concept, in addition to technique, are what make an illustration really stand out, and these can sometimes be tricky to get exactly right; if I don't watch it, I find myself settling in the same old visual groove. So I'm generally not going to go with the first thumbnails I make. I'll study them for a while and I will move elements around to see if that will make things more effective. There are many issues to consider – viewpoint, perspective, picture balance, action, point of interest, overall design - and everything needs to dovetail together and make sense in that frame. It is also essential to maintain a story continuity. I may do separate character studies in addition, showing the characters with different emotions and in different poses.

If I'm working with an art director, I'll detail the thumbnails more – so I'm not the only one who understands them - and email them for approval. The art director will often offer suggestions. Make this smaller, or move this here, or change the perspective. Things like that. This is quite common.

Once I've finalized the thumbnails, I'm ready to work on the pencil roughs, referring again to the gathered references. There are generally two stages with the pencil roughs – enlarging the thumbnails and refining the drawing. It is important to get the drawing exactly right and not depend on subsequent coloring to correct any flaws – that has never worked for me; if the drawing isn't perfect, it just always shows. I often do the drawing on bond paper and then transfer it – either using a light-box, or by scanning it and printing it out – to a thicker paper. Sometimes I may draw directly on the thick paper and paint over the pencils; it really depends on how enamored I am with the pencils. Sometimes the lines come out so beautiful, you don't want to work over them.

I work in different media and I'll go with the one that I think will best suit the current illustration. The pencils – and the illustration theme - generally give me a good idea of the color palette to use, and, if there is no urgency, I may also experiment with several different color combinations. The coloring can take several hours, especially if there are a lot of details. I prefer working by hand, then scanning the work, and cleaning it up digitally. I'm not very fond of direct digital coloring. It's more time-consuming, and I find it fatiguing to stare at the computer screen for a continuous period.

To maintain a neat record of my work, I save everything in tiff format and store the files – the thumbnails, the pencil roughs, the pencil finals, the color roughs, and the color finals - in separate digital folders in the main project folder, and, to be on the safe side, take back up. Then I'm done and ready for the next thing.