Hello and welcome to the first in a small series of (hopefully) helpful blog posts! By giving a little look in to my work and process I hope to impart some wisdom on the many tricky areas involved with being a freelance illustrator. It’s important to note, I am not saying this is the freelancers' gospel as written by Luke Waller, more that these are a few of the challenges I have faced and this is how I've tackled them in my 5 years of being a freelance illustrator.
Today I'm going to take you through my process of handling a tight deadline. Probably one of the most important lessons you can learn if you want to make it in the world of editorial illustration is that you need to be able to deliver what you promised. Running out of time isn't an excuse for missing a deadline, so if you don't think you can do it, don't say yes. You won't get a second chance. It's a good idea to practise for such events; give yourself a day, or even better, a few hours to create a finished illustration, and see how your fare. Then practise, practise, practise.
Editorial deadlines can vary dramatically, and sometimes you are called in to save the day and produce an illustration at the *very* last minute. For a recent commission from the FT, I was given a 16 hour deadline, so let's use that as an example. The timeline technically commenced at 6:30pm on Wednesday evening, however I was warned by the Art Director an hour earlier to expect a late job, so at least I was slightly prepared for what was coming!
Ok, so it’s 6:30pm and I have been given two ideas from the Art Director to work up in to roughs. Thankfully with short deadlines like this, the Art Director usually already has a good idea of what they want, so that takes out a lot of the 'thinking time' for you, and allows you to get right on with the drawing. Ordinarily I would create two roughs for the client as I know that is preferred, but as speed is the key here I’m only going to work on one.
It’s now out of office hours so I know email contact is going to be sporadic. I start to set about formalising and working through the chosen idea, tweaking bits of it here and there to make a more interesting composition, as their initial idea would have only been a starting point. Once I have sourced my reference images I start to draw out the rough in the canvas size given. I always create my roughs the same way, using the paintbrush tool on Photoshop, however, due to the time constraint this one might not be as polished as most. I know some illustrators would be very apprehensive about handing in a rough as, well, rough as this but for me it gives all the necessary information. It would be impractical for me to produce my roughs using the same technique as my final artwork, because the whole process takes such a long time, so photoshop is my friend here! By 8:30pm I have sent off the rough, and around 9:30pm I have the ‘OKAY’ to go to final artwork.
This is the part where I would normally start to relax as I know I'd have all night at my disposal, also it's the part I particularly enjoy, the drawing. If you didn't know already, I use a method called mono-printing to produce my illustrations, it's a really fun technique whereby you roll ink on a board, lay down paper and draw. It often adds unexpected character to my drawings which I couldn't achieve just using a pencil. I use my rough as reference but not as a rule, often altering the image as I go, nothing drastic just maybe a persons face that isn’t very strong, or the addition of an obscure object. For this week's illustration I had rather a lot of drawing to get through, which meant I didn’t stop mono-printing until 2:00am.
When all the artwork has dried (usually around 1 hour) I start scanning in the individual drawings ready to be arranged using Photoshop. My mono-prints are always scanned in at 600dpi in Grayscale as I find this gives me the best quality results relative to the image size. Using my original rough as a guide I construct the illustration ready for the final phase, the colour.
It’s now 5am and the image is starting to take shape, I often have a good idea in my head of the sort of colour pallet I am going to use before starting the final artwork. Nothing set in concrete, but having a rough idea really saves time. I work up the colour in stages, using the paintbrush tool and several (hundred) layers.
For this particular image I was pretty happy with how it was all working out so I decided to grab 2 hours sleep. I don’t always do this as I’m a bit paranoid of sleeping through my alarm, opening my eyes to find it's 4pm. (It's not happened yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time!) After my rest I continue layering the colours and textures to finish the illustration.
I felt confident creating this illustration as it was a familiar layout to ones I have made before. Yes, I could have tested myself, been more adventurous and gone for something slightly different, but I would say a short deadline is not the time for experimenting. Try to find the happy medium between not over stretching yourself but also not being 'too safe' and replicating a previous piece of work. (That would be boring!) Each art director will vary as well, so for example you will get some that like something totally different each time; different colour pallet, different concept and basically just a different stress. Then you will get others who never want you to stray too far from their idea or colour selection ... You quickly find out which you prefer.
10:30am on Thursday, and the illustration has been sent, it's now just a case of patiently waiting for the Art Director's response. The actual deadline for the image is 3pm, but after working with the FT for a while now I know they like time to consider the final artwork; one to see how it sits on the page, and two to get the writer's opinion. They often have big names who like to see what will be accompanying their text, so by sending the final much earlier I know I am helping them out a bit, and staying on their good side!
Not long after sending the artwork I have the thumbs up, no changes or edits - just as I like, I can now breathe a massive sigh of relief ... and go to bed.
Since writing this blog post I have completed a series of other images for various clients with shorter deadlines. The image above was created this week, in just 4 and a half hours - whilst adhering to the same routine as outlined above. STRESS.
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