Wondering if you need an illustration process?

illustration process overview

Barbara’s mobile phone rings and she recognises her best friend’s number on the screen.

She knows what the call will be about. That story that her friend has written but can’t draw well enough to illustrate herself.

Barbara knows she has the skills to do the illustrations. She’s even doodled a few ideas — more than a few, if the truth be told.

But as a process, it feels a bit hit-and-miss.

Amateur-ish (like her drawing).

Surely that’s not how to start?
Isn’t there more to illustrating a book than this?

Our inner-critic constantly reminds us we’re amateurs

And that we should leave the work to the professionals. But what we must remember is that every pro started somewhere. And if they had succumbed to their nagging fears, they would still be amateurs, too.

The tyranny of the empty page is real

But it only lasts until you make a mark on it. As soon as the page starts to fill with sketches its power is broken, just like throwing off an evil charm.

Having an illustration process helps you make that first mark

And even more important, to leave that mark there and move on to making more marks rather than obsessing over whether each mark is good enough.

Here’s my illustration process

It’s not the only way, and I’m sure someone else has a better one, but this one works for me. You’re welcome to see if it does for you as well.

1. discuss things with the book’s author. Find out the age of the book’s intended audience, as well as the age of the main character/s. Try to get an accurate idea of the picture in the author’s mind and draw very rough ideas to zero in on the best options.

2. sketch out their favourite face option. Include sample expressions and various profiles as a face reference sheet.

3. add body and clothes to the character, and again sketch it from different angles as a full character reference sheet.

4. read the story and list the illustrations it conjures up in your mind. Record them with plenty of inspiring detail (e.g. dramatic angle, close up, specific props) to jog your visual memory later.

5. create very rough sketches for each scene. Use this as a time to problem solve, angles and ideas will continue to evolve as you sketch. Don’t think of them in terms of a finished product.

illustration process

6. Take your evolved best ideas and create a final sketch for each scene. Use your character reference sheets to keep things consistent from every angle. Outline and add colour. Now let it sit for 24 hours or more.

7. Revisit your work and identify final tweaks.

Et voilà!

A simple process for illustrating your first book…

It’s not perfect.
But it’s perfectly do-able.

What’s stopping you from drawing Step 1 right now?



Interested in drawing your own cartoon characters from scratch?

Contact me to be considered for my 1:1 tutoring waiting list.
Da Vinci — my 6 month start-from-scratch cartooning class — begins again in August 2017. Click here for dates and costs, and to get on the waiting list.
To get more lessons and tips weekly via email, sign up here and start your FREE digital micro-class “Stickmen to Cartoons”
Showing 6 comments
  • pauline

    What a coincidence. At the moment the sportclub asks me to do a drawing (for the first time) for an article, your blogpost enters my inbox. I will follow the steps, makes me feel a lot more at ease… Thank you.

    • Alison

      Hi Pauline

      I’m glad it was a help. Let me know if you have further questions that the post does not answer, as I am planning a follow up. I know it does not cover everything.

      Thanks for your feedback, it all helps!


  • Pauline

    I know who the audience is: mothers and fathers standing along the hockeyfield. The article is written by an anonymous mother/father who writes about the things she encounters as being a manager of a team. It’s supposed to discuss a subject but also be lighthearted. I will get to hear the subject of the article soon and let you know if the steps work out for me and if there are more things to cover while creating an illustration.

  • Kathy

    Great article, Alison! Getting a process in place seems to be my biggest struggle, as I tend to ‘go by feel’. I need to dig in a bit more to establish more of a routine in my drawing. Thanks!

    • Alison

      Hi Kathy!

      A process can help you towards a defined goal, if you have one.
      Otherwise, drawing as you need to according to the articles you are illustrating, also works well.

      In fact, you can kill both birds with one stone by creating an article series and then bundling it into a book. But I am sure you know that already, from working with Henneke Duistermaat 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, it’s always good to hear from you 🙂

Contact Alison

Get in touch with me to discuss your needs.