Illustrate a cute character
For this illustration I used a variety of both traditional and digital tools and I will walk you through how I created the illustration based off of the old adage, "it's raining cats and dogs." Starting with ballpoint ink pens, Pentel waterbrush pens and a sketchbook for the genesis of the idea then translating it into the digital illustration, I used an iPhone, Wacom Cintiq, Macbook Pro, and Adobe Photoshop. In Photoshop, I used tools such as the adjustment layers, clipping masks and specialty brushes from Kyle T Webster. Let's jump right in!
During a weeklong rainstorm I started playing with the idea of illustrating the phrase, "it's raining cats and dogs out there." Sometimes I sketch directly into Photoshop but this illustration started the old fashioned way - in my sketchbook with ballpoint ink pens and a Pentel waterbrush pen. Sketching is possibly the most fun part of creating an illustration for me. Use this time to explore not only the subject matter but the composition, the characters and their feelings. I tried a few ways until I get a general sense of what I want to build off of. Many times these sketches never leave this stage.
Usually no one will ever see these sketches so don’t worry about making them perfect. Draw fast and loose!
Sometimes I'll return to a scribbled idea in my sketchbook and want to take it further. This was definitely one of those ideas. Knowing I was going to redo the entire sketch anyways, I quickly took a photo of the page in my sketchbook using an iPhone and sent it to my laptop via AirDrop. I then opened the image in Photoshop and did a few more rough and ugly sketches until I found a composition and pose I liked. Notice I didn't get too tight and refined yet. I'm still keeping my lines very loose and gestural.
Try to hold onto the gestural quality of the original sketch while honing in on the composition you desire.
I used Photoshop from here until finished. I lower my sketch layer's opacity to about 50% and choose a brush I like. For this I use a textured brush that mimics a soft pencil. As I'm cleaning up my lines, I am also thinking about what kind of personalities I want all my characters to have. Naturally of course, the dogs are happy and the cats are all bit grumpy. I usually use way too many layers so I group them into five groups - girl's body, girl's face, umbrella, cats and dogs and miscellaneous details.
The right brush can stylize your illustration. Choose one that reflects your style and use it to refine the drawing.
Color blocking is where I lower the opacity of the lines groups to about 15% and in new layers I block out the illustration's shapes with carefully selected colors. I chose a softer color palette with complementary colors of blues and violets paired with the orange of her hair and yellow umbrella and boots. Using a brush that mimics oil pastels I painted in each shape starting with the outline and filling in the entire area. I avoided using the paint bucket tool because I wanted a more textured look instead of a flat, solid color.
Color blocking is painting the larger shapes and assigning base colors to each shape, ensuring the colors are cohesive.
Coloring the Lines
This is a pretty simple step but one I would always forget to do as a young artist. If you are incorporating your line work into the final piece, like I am here, coloring the lines adds a little level of polish to the overall artwork. Notice the colors are similar to the color blocks from the last step - darker blue lines for the raindrop dogs and cats, darker purple for her purple coat, etc. I color the lines in two ways: locking the line layer and painting directly on it, or using a clipping mask layer over the top.
Solid black lines can make the whole image feel unfinished and flat. Color makes lines feel more integrated.
This step can take some time. It's where I go in and add in those little penciled in details like rain droplets, water splashes, freckles, stray hairs and refine colors. Notice her hair is darker to pop the yellow umbrella forward, and her coat's cuff and collars are painted and patterned now. These small details add more charm and character into your illustration. With details like the puddle ripples and splashes you can help connect the characters to the world so they are not floating.
I love adding small details like freckles and stray hairs. Details give the illustration a little more character and charm.
Using the same oil pastel like brush from the color blocking step, I painted more details into those color shapes. I painted in color and pattern variation to the cats and dogs and softly brush in blue water where the puddles go. I also enjoy incorporating the texture of this brush so I used it more prominently on the cats and dogs I want pulled into the foreground and less on ones I want to recede into the background. Contrast also helps with depth. Lighter objects recede into this light background, allowing the darker objects to pop forward.
Refine, refine, refine...
Highlights & Reflections
This is such a small step but can have a big impact. Using the same pastel oil brush on a small size, I draw in little highlights to the raindrop cats and dogs. This gives them a little bit more form and makes them feel a little like water balloons. Highlights painted into to her hair, umbrella and boots all add a level of refinement as well.
Adding in these small highlights and making small adjustments helps make the overall image more alive.
Filters and Adjustment Layers
Once I have finished painting in all the details, I felt the colors were still too bold for how soft and sweet I wanted my illustration to feel. I still loved my color palette and thought the colors were working really well together but they were too strong overall - time to apply some adjustment layers and filters to soften my overall color choices. Using filters I warmed the whole image's temperature up. Using adjustments layers like curves I muted the contrast a bit on her coat to let the focus be on the raindrop cats and dogs.
It’s okay to use adjustment layers and filters anytime in the creative process.
Polish Pass & Done!
Polish pass is like adding a little salt to your food. It's such a small adjustment to the overall meal's preparation but adds that tiny bit of extra flavor you needed. In wrapping up this illustration, I make a few micro adjustments to layers - lowering opacity here, erasing a stray pixel there, and adding a texture layer on multiply to the overall image to give it a bit of a vintage vibe. And presto! A completed illustration of the old adage, "it's raining cats and dogs."
Sweat the small stuff. The End.
Top tip: Be a Creative Explorer!
Pack your sketchbook and make time to enjoy living your life outside of work. Read books, study films, travel places near and far, meet with an old friend and live with your eyes wide open. The experiences you have today could inspire your artwork tomorrow.