8 Steps to make a successful illustration!

Today I am going to tell you about the process of how I make an illustration.


There are some things that need to be done before you start with your drawing process.
I always make sure I have everything.  Pens (STAEDTLER), Pencils (also Staedtler), a random eraser, and my trusted servant Winsor and Newton series 7 brush.
Something I can't forget is my ink. I don't use indian ink. That stuff is terrible. Great ink for pen and ink drawings and writing but I stick to something else.
Yes, this is my toolbox.
This motherf*cker is the true hero. Nothing has ever defeated this ink. I don't know where it came from and I am probably using it in a way the old Chinese calligraphic masters would hate me forever. I don't care. I use it to put all the grey arias where they should be. Indian ink is a bit more brown when you add water. This ink is just grey. Maybe it is because there is lead in it or maybe other materials, I don't know. There is nothing on the package that tells me what is in it. That doesn't matter anyway because I think it is fantastic stuff to do all the painting I want.

Ink from the Chinese gods, or monks, I don't know.. but it is divine!

Something else that I should mention is to make sure I feel comfortable where I work. As you probably already know I collect a lot of things. That type of illustrator yes. No clean minimalistic environment for me, you can read more about it in earlier posts.
I am not the healthy rock n roll vegan whatever trendy asshole. Well, you have to seek for yourself of course but I like to smoke my pipe or a cigar with a cup of coffee or tea while drawing. You can imagine the smoke in my room with the odor of some sweet tobacco and coffee.
That is what I enjoy, but I don't drink while drawing so I am not like Lemmy. Being an illustrator is not that rock 'n roll!

First step: My magick ideas

Reading, collecting, thinking, writing. This is what happens first. I can't just start making art. I want to know where I am working with. It depends on what I am going to draw how long this fase is going to take.

For example, I was asked to draw my version of the Cryptkeeper from "Tales from the Crypt". This doesn't take massive amounts of research. But I still need to take my time to research how he looks, moved, what clothes he wears and all the details in the face and other aspects that makes the Cryptkeeper, the Cryptkeeper.
Tales from the Crypt
But it is not like I am done now, I need to write things down I would like to put in the drawing. I collect images that seem usable for the shape, colors or pose. What is he doing at that moment? Do I want him to be very serious in this concept or can I put a little joke in this drawing? What is interesting? All these kinds of questions I try to answer for myself until I get several solid images in my head.

There are some drawings that take a lot more research before I can start. Some scientific articles require a lot of reading and some times people ask me things I never drew before so I need to learn how to draw it. Poetry or literature ask a lot of my interpretation, how do I see this? What are questions I need to answer because the answers are not to be found in the text? Well you get the point.

Also I am one of those artists who like to collect stuff that I could use for future illustrations. That is why I own a crystal ball, some human and animal bones, dried flowers, vases and bottles and many more things I like to have in a drawing. If you like I can talk about this more in another entry.

Second step: sketching

I know there are a lot of people who swear by a sketchbook where they put down all their ideas. But I am not one of those people. I like working on loose pieces of paper. Yeah, yeah, I am special. I am doing things differently blah blah. I just don't like sketchbooks. I never look back in them, I keep the drawings from a project together so I can grab a entire project when I need it.

So that is where I kick off. Here the magick happens on paper. Starting off with thumbnails. Small drawings to decide what composition the project needs. Then some bigger thumbnails to play with characters or objects on the field. When I decided what options are really usable I am going to do sketches on a bigger, or original size with more detail so I can see how it is going to be when it appears on a more definitive piece of paper.

I am not a master of dark arts or a old and wise
magician. Let's say I am skilled enough to make imagery that is good enough to communicate and impress people but you should know every artists keeps on working on their skills as an artist to improve themselves. Yes, also the old masters were studying all the time. That is why I still make studies all the time. In some cases I focus them on the drawing I am doing. The more realistic the drawing is the better the drawing communicates with the viewer.

Now we as artists are able to play with reality to make you feel, see or think things we want. That is why we need our technical skills so bad. When we know anatomy really well and we adjust them just a bit we can make super heroes who look even more impressive than Greek gods, we can make people jump extremely high on a static image with the proper use of perspective. People or animals run so extremely fast, you already know you can't keep up with them. That is the power of knowledge about the basics.

The basics do sound pretty easy don't you think? It sounds a bit like learning the alphabet. You know all the 26 letters, don't you? But do you still remember how long it took for you to write a complete sentence on your own? You wrote for years and years every single day and many people still make mistakes in their native language and you don't know all the words in the dictionary. Drawing is a bit like that.

Third step: critics!

You always prefer one sketch. Even when you say you like all of them there is one you payed more attention to and sometimes you should listen to that gut feeling. But be serious and hard on yourself.
I am extremely lucky to have a girlfriend who I can show my drawings and she is able to say something about them. There are times you can't just figure everything out by yourself. There are times you work on a drawing and really think HELL YEAH! I AM ROCKIN' IT! Then you wake up the next morning and see the drawing again and yeah, you see there is a lot wrong with it but just can't put your finger on it. Use other people to be honest on what you are doing to prevent these problems.

Step FOUR: pencil drawing

Make things happen. Pencil down everything where it should be.
In this stage I adjust some parts to communicate better. That is the good thing about pencil drawings. you can do whatever you want and erase it when you screw things up.
This is an exciting stage for me. At this point you can see all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place. All the research and technical studies in perfect harmony on one piece of paper. Well that would be the utopian bullcrap case. It is more like a struggle to get all the things in place and discover things are not the way you had in mind and you have to adjust them. The fase of making a good drawing that desires a lot of creative solution focused work. After this stage there is no way back! Aaah scary, like the moment you are standing on that edge on the moment you are going to jump down with only a bungee rope attached on your whatever. (I never did do anything like that. I think it is stupid do seek that kind of adrenalyn because it is dangerous and scarring the shit out of yourself is not fun at all)
Drawing I am currently working on.
The most important thing about this stage is to make yourself feel good about the image and having fun making the drawing. When you feel this is not the best or you know this is going to be a terrible thing to finish, you did something wrong in a earlier stage. Rethink everything, don't hesitate. It is more of a disaster when you finish the piece with a lot of trouble and pain and the result is not something you want to be confronted with in the future.

Fifth step

Inking, not much special to be said about this. In this stage I am basically tracing the pencil drawing. I don't like to do this digital. Sure, I do have a wacom tablet, I don't even use a mouse anymore because of this beauty but I just like the feeling on paper a lot more. Mixed media is faster than completely analogue drawings or paintings but it still has the analogue feeling although it is not. Some people asked me where I learned how to use watercolors like this. I don't think I am that great at it but it is a compliment although I don't feel ashamed to admit that I use photoshop for the colors.
I am sorry to say I don't have a example for this fase. You can find the reason for this in the next step!
For the lines I use STAEDTLER pens. Many people use Micron pens but they have rather hard tips and they don't like it when you press harder. The pens of Staedtler are a bit softer so I can use them a bit like a brush to create thicker and thinner lines without losing the sharpness of the line.

Sixth step

Adding grey tones. Here is the reason for not having an example of the black and white drawing. I all the grey tones on the original piece. I use the Chinese ink and as you can see, it is really nice and grey. No brown notes (hehe) or whatever. Just good pigment with the right amount of water on the right place. Another thing about this ink is you can add layer upon layer to make it darker without erasing or smudging the layer underneath it.

detail of the grey ink stuff.

Seventh step: Colors and making things ready for the product.

Make it digital! Here I am adding the colors in several layers. Multiply, Overlay, whatever is needed to get the right effect. There is no rule for this. Just use your experience. While writing this I feel more and more special and like a genius. But I think every illustrator use their programs in the way they feel like they should use them. There is not a kind of manual that tells you how to use everything to make that certain thing.
On the image below you can see what effects I added. Bright spots, shades, texture, glowing surfaces, everything is possible. This is possible with normal paint but this is just way faster. I don't have the patience to watch the paint dry. Respect for everyone who does use paint!

Besides adding colors there is something else I do digital. As an illustrator you can be responsible for the use of text. I don't like the hand written letters all the time. I am familiar with illustrators who trace letters but I decided I needed to adjust my style. Make my lines as clear as possible so I can use a digital font. Sometimes I need to distort the font, other times it's a good thing to have a bit of contrast. This is a point of improvement for the school I went to. We didn't really learn all about typography and this is something that is really important when you design a poster or a album cover. I know there are graphic designers you can hire for this but why shouldn't you be the one that could do this? The idea back then was that illustration was moving more towards apps and animation. I still think we are needed in the promotional world for posters and such too.
Anyway, if anyone has any information or books about graphic design and typography, please leave a comment! I love letters and I love to learn about it!

Another thing we are responsible for is to deliver the product. We are not just creators of images, we are real designers. There are cases we have to do the layout for a cd cover too in programs as indesign or finish things in Adobe Illustrator to turn it into vector. All to make the design we made usable on the product your client wants. So again a boost for my own confidence: I know a shitload about the background of products and how to deliver them to your client.

I worked at a factory who did both screen printing vinyl stickers, and hard materials. Besides that they had a department where they printed stickers digital. This way I learned a lot about how I can deliver things to clients and it wouldn't be all weird when they get their product back from their printshop. So this is experience that is very usable! I advice everyone to take a look around in this world. Might seem boring but it is extremely useful. There is always more possible than you expect. But keep in mind you are not responsible for this part. You are the designer not the one that decides on what material it is going to be printed on or how it is going to be cut or whatever your client wants.

Digital colors

For those who are interested in the fully digital painted stuff I can only say one thing.The real wizards are the people who paint in Corel Painter Pro! I opened it once and started crying because of all the options and effects. It is an amazing program but way too much for me. But I do know a lot of people who work in photoshop to paint the most amazing concept art and other drawings.

Eight step: FIN

done and ready for my next drawing. A bit short to say it like this because mostly I am sending the drawing the finished drawing to my client and then there are some changes to be made. Besides that I am not mentioning the financial part that comes now.

What I didn't mention.

I did not talk about all the email communication and all the adjustments that need to be made during the process. As an illustrator you are not working just from your own ideas. Given to you is a certain spectrum and you are free to explore this. But at the end of the day your client is telling you where the borders are. The only thing you can do is to seek the boarders and see how far you can go. But most of the time you don't have to do that because your client approached you because you are the way you are. That doesn't meen you shouldn't challenge your own abilities!


  1. This is very helpful post who are interested to know about illustration.
    I think they should read this article. thank you for sharing

    1. Hee hello!
      sorry for the late reply, I didn't get any notification on your message!
      Thank you for the kind words. I try to be as complete as possible on the illustrators life on my blog since there are a lot of romantic ideas on the scene. Making happy funny things and be present at parties and make a living are true and fun but to get to this point there is a struggle to get to the magick you preform. A lot of hard work and studying is the key and I want to share that to all who are interested in the field too.

      Again, thank you for your comment! Much appreciated since you are the first!

      Kind regards,



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