From Traditional to Digital Illustration

Reader Logo by Richard Collingridge

The first drawing-related memory I have was when I was very young (so young I couldn’t even write the second R in my name the right way round). I remember wanting to draw a person and looking at everyone around me to see that they were drawing stick men… I couldn’t understand it, people didn’t look like that, why did everyone draw them like that? So, I decided to draw my person the way I thought people looked (as opposed drawing a stick man). Since then I’ve continued drawing and continued developing until today.

It was during this development that I thought I had reached my limit using traditional mediums and decided I needed to start working digitally.

I’ve always been someone who liked to work traditionally and even at the point when I was doing my foundation course in design (at the age of 18), I hated digital work and thought anyone who practiced it was cheating.  It was only while I was at university that I started to see its potential. For the first two years at university I worked very abstractly, not because I wanted to, but because I thought it would get me a good grade! That continued until the end of the first term in the third year where I achieved my lowest grade since I had started. In that moment I decided that I didn’t care what grade I was going to get I just wanted to work the way I most enjoyed it.

So I looked at my strength(s). I was always ok at painting and my preferred medium was gauche, but my real strength was pencil drawing.

The trouble with that was I wanted to produce Constable-esc landscapes, which needed to have colour…I made up my mind, I was going to use Photoshop to add colour. 

It ended up working really well and for my last term at university I got a 1st (2.1 overall). Even at this point I was still passionate in pointing out that my work was very much traditional and created by me, and just sewn together on Photoshop. This worked quite well to start with. I got a job with Walker Books doing black and white interiors for a book and eventually managed to persuade David Fickling that I could do book covers. It was doing this first cover for David Fickling that started me on the path towards working digitally. In fact, for this particular cover I didn’t use any new digital techniques; but through its development and conclusion it ended up looking quite realistic.

On the back of the previous job, I was offered a new job by Random House. They wanted the work to look photo realistic. But the trouble with this was that the cover image they wanted had a lot more elements and needed to have a bigger variation of colour. Eventually, I came up with something I was happy with, but apart from the composition it was almost unrecognizable from the original drawn scan. I had had to work on it a lot on Photoshop (with a mouse!) after I had scanned it and found I was bending my technique to its limits and there wasn’t much further leeway. This got me seriously considering a graphics tablet.

The final straw came when working on the cover for ‘Trash’ by Andy Mulligan. I had produced a very red sky as a backdrop to the main image and it was decided that the sky needed to have blues as well as reds in it. I tried to do this using my traditional technique by selecting certain areas of the sky and changing their hue to blue. This didn’t work so I ended up having to paint the blue parts of the sky digitally.

I then bought a graphics tablet, and, with it, produced another version of the cover (which was asked for by marketing). This version was a lot more colorful and I personally like it more than the version we ended up using (although the final cover is more true to my vision of the book).

I have now been working digitally with a graphics tablet for around 3 months and can say it has benefited me greatly and taken away the limits which were imposed by my working in a more traditional way previously. It also saves time – this is a massive plus point in the world of commercial illustration.

So, to anyone thinking of becoming an illustrator/concept artist but who doesn’t want to entertain the idea of digital illustration because they feel its cheating I say: For your employer it doesn’t matter about the way you produce the work, it’s about the quality and speed and (depending on what field you’re in) variation. More importantly, from a creative stand point I can say that you can experiment more and therefore develop more in a shorter space of time than if you are working traditionally.

Top picture Richard Collingridge: Traditional
Botton picture Richard Collingridge: Digital

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