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Becoming a Freelance Illustrator — Part 2/3

I have written about finding Freelance Projects and beginning with them in ‘Becoming a Freelance Illustrator — Part 1/3’.

This is about my approach and the tools I use to illustrate.

Let’s begin!


How do I approach a project?

Each illustration begins with understanding the theme, scene and subject. In this case it is by reading an excerpt from the book to pick up details.

For example:

“Hello Patty! Hello Snowie! What an unexpected down pour that was! I got wet even though I took shelter under the huge banana leaf with the ants and beetles,” said Inky wiping himself vigorously with the small towel.

(Taken from Chapter 6, ‘Magic at Ferns and Blooms’)

As part of my process I create an exhaustive list of questions. I discuss these on phone with the author as many times as is necessary for clarity.

To start with I draw outlines without many details. This helps the both of us with imagination and find any elements we might have missed from the setting. A lot of clarity comes from it, essential this early in the process. Owing to this we have even changed major scenes we first picked to illustrate from text in the book. We later realized they were too similar to look at with something already drawn.

On the other hand details in a character come from the illustrator’s imagination. For instance, Snowie (Patty’s cat) has a pink bow and glass green eyes. These characteristics were never in the text. These are my contribution to the character. But this attention to detail comes much later in the process.

Another instance is from ‘More Magic at Ferns and Blooms’, Chapter 19 where Ram Kaka, the roly-poly milkman lost his balance and fell down while returning after delivering the milk to his customers. I drew this goofy character sitting in the middle of the road near his fallen bicycle, milk cans, and milk spilled on road.

The author, editor and I, we had a half-an-hour-discussion on this illustration. The author insisted on the milk cans being empty. She is strictly against wastage of anything, even in a fictious world. The editor and I however thought it was realistic to have some spill since the cans wouldn’t be completely empty. After a lot of debate, we decided a little spill won’t harm.

By discussing over outlines first, there aren’t any significant changes after colouring which is truly a lot less pain.

Once an illustration seems to be satisfactory to the both of us, we show it to a few people for what we might have missed as a viewer.


How do I choose which illustration to begin with?

I pick these illustrations randomly. I generally avoid picking the ones with characters at first because they require a lot of work and extensive detailing. Which sometimes takes 5–6 days to complete and makes me feel like I’m running behind on project timelines. I therefore prefer doing what is easiest first, with less details to feel a sense of self-accomplishment.

Working on the same illustration continuously for over 2 days or more saturates me. My brain gives up trying to look at it differently. Which is why I work on more than one parallelly. This way I get to go back and forth between them with a fresh viewpoint. Also, after discussing any details worth adding I don’t immediately jump to make those changes. I keep working on other illustrations and come back later to add or remove elements for the same reason.

I have also learnt it is better to avoid taking longer breaks while working on an illustration series. ‘More Magic at Ferns and Blooms’ was drawn over a 5–6-month period. The gap in output is visible in changed styles of colour use and shading. Illustrations done at start feel much raw and less detailed. This happens because parallelly I am experimenting with techniques, brushes, and styles, even more so learning on the go. Now, once I find a good fit of brushes that go together, I write them down. I use the same size and set throughout the series to avoid any visual differences in style. Readers scan all illustrations in one go once they get their hands on the book. This difference must not be visible to them.


How much time a project takes?

The first book ‘Magic at Ferns and Blooms’ took me somewhere around 21 days to complete. The second one went on for 5–6-months. I began working on the third one in February, and I’m still working on it.


What software/tools do I use?

I use a Huion H610PRO Graphic Tablet to draw. It’s fairly equivalent to a 14 inch laptop in size. It’s a little bulky to carry but it has a 10 x 6.25 inch working area. It also has keys on the side which come in handy. You can customize them to your preferred shortcuts.

I drew the first two books on this tablet using Photoshop CC 2019/20. I’ve personally been using Photoshop since 2008 and I’m very comfortable with it. This made the process a lot more easier for me. I sometimes use Adobe Animate and Illustrator when I need to work with vector graphics.

For the third book, I’m using a 6th Gen iPad which has roughly the same size of working area as the graphic tablet and an Apple Pencil to draw. I use Procreate, the digital illustration app for iPadOS. It has a good collection of default brushes which makes it fun to use. Drawing on an iPad is even more fast and easier than a graphic tablet.

Read more about work-life balance, competition in the field and quoting the right price to your clients in ‘Becoming a Freelance Illustrator — Part 3/3’.

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