The illustration process: sketches 101.

March 6, 2007

I got a very good email in from Alexis of greenbluegreen the other day, asking a couple of questions for the blog. I’m only too happy to oblige– it’s great to get emails from people asking things I don’t even consider, and in this way we kind of get a conversation going. Especially since I’m no expert, I always love to hear what
other people thing and get some kind of dialogue going.

So, she asked the following:

How rough should a rough [sketch] be? I would imagine that it depends on your own illustration process. I have found from experience that the rougher an initial sketch is, the more the art director is inclined to change it. But is there a general standard for what a rough should look like?

I wonder about this as well, but so far I haven’t really ever seen this happen. Usually I send along two roughs to art directors, maybe three, and sometimes only one. (Usually the latter occurs if I know the art director well and we have a general idea how it’s going to look beforehand.) My sketches are generally kind of rough — not as rough as say, Nate Williams’ roughs— but they’re not perfect usually. I’ve uploaded a couple here and here to show you as an example (the second one got scrapped for a different view of the subject, but I still have a spot of fondness for the kids in animal masks). Especially when we’re talking larger illustrations, I generally just work in a much smaller sketch. I don’t believe there’s a standard though– when I send along my roughs, I usually detail a short paragraph of things I think of that need to be changed or would be included, and explain it’s rough. Depending on how in sync we are with the concept, I might get approved, or I might get asked to make some alterations. Lately I’ve been getting more edits and revisions– but it usually works out for the better. Nothing seems standard though– I don’t mind the revisions so much (makes me love the times I get approved off the bat!) because it lets me communicate with the AD, and work out some ideas I might’ve not come to the first time around.

What about you, how rough are your sketches? And do you typically have revisions or do you nail the concept right off the bat? Help us out– maybe there is some standardization of roughs we don’t know about!

As an aside: does anyone know if there’s a way to put a form in WordPress for sending along questions? I think most people understand to email me with questions (as I’ve had a few) but I wouldn’t mind making it easier, if people had ideas of things they want to know about.


7 Responses to “The illustration process: sketches 101.”

  1. mg said

    I would be interested in hearing how people deal with digital illustration, and how they handle roughs. do they send a pencil sketch initially, or do they send a digital rough?

  2. meg said

    Hi MG–
    I think it tends to vary, depending on how the person works. I’ve heard of some doing pencil sketches (I do those), some making pencil sketches with digital color schemes, and some just working all digital. I guess it depends on their comfort level with working digitally– I know some illustrators who do everything in the computer, but for me that’s difficult– I like having a physical thing to work on first!

  3. Frank said

    Funny, I just got done posting a process series on my blog. For me, I make sketches for myself and then the client. I need to see things before I disregard them. So my first initial sketches are really very rough. (Like, think almost stick figures with figures and just barely enough information for me to see what an object is or how figures are going to be placed and how a composition is going to work out.)

    After that, I do a bit more refining so that an art director can figure out what the heck I’m talking about. They’re a little bit more rough than what Meg has shown above.

  4. ljudbilden said

    a plugin for wordpress….if this is what you mean?

  5. Ken said

    I think the level of roughness partly depends on an individual’s style. My roughs tend to be fairly clean because most of my work is based on simple cartoony characters. I would imagine an illustrator who has a more elaborate style may start with roughs that look crude compared to the final product.

    I’ve provided roughs as scans of pencil sketches, drawn fully digital or a combination of both, whatever is easiest to get the concept across.

    The quanity of roughs depends on the project. If the client has a specific picture in mind I’ll provide what they want as best I can but will also provide at least one alternative if I think it can be improved on. I’ve rarely hit a home run with only one rough.

  6. ariel said

    Personally, i can’t stand drawing on a computer. Pen and paper for me.

    Luckly though, since i don’t use erasers or pencils.. my rough line IS my final line. That’s not to say i dont draw many thumbnails though. It’s just that whichever thumbnail looks right, that’s my final image.

    Then to compose my final product, i use my good old PC.

    So there you go.. i’ve let me secret out(*Please don’t anybody copy me, otherwise i’d have to look for a new profession)

  7. Alexis said

    This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks Meg! And thanks to Frank as well – great stuff!

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