Creative Differences: Illustration and Design

By straddling two “worlds” in my design practice, I often think about one of them while engaging in the other. For instance, while working on a design project, I’ll be musing over the illustration in progress over there on my drafting table. And when I’m in my illustration mode, I’ll be considering the next step in my design process for a web site or a book design.

In my musings and considerations I’ve noticed that the creative process is somewhat different for each pursuit. Although the same considerations are involved in each, the point at which they come in the development process is different.

I begin a design project with pencil and paper (even if it’s a web site). I work out a bunch of ideas, dealing with color, proportion, shape relationships, balance, etc. even in this sketch stage. I refine my ideas and then move to the computer to produce them. Most of the problem-solving is done before I begin developing the final artwork. By the time it’s in digital form most of the kinks have been worked out, most of the aesthetic and functional decisions have been made, and I have a clear path to follow in creating the finished work.

Not so with illustration. Given a concept or story to tell, I make some rough sketches and refined comps, select the best to tell the story and then scaled up transferred to my board  (usually Strathmore 4-ply or Arches 300# watercolor paper). Once the drawing is committed to the paper, I’m ready to apply the paint. That’s when the decision making process really begins. I seem to make more judgements at this stage – in which I am developing the finished artwork. Color scheme and temperature, value relationships, textural contrasts, maintaining the integrity of the drawing, balance, etc. are all ongoing considerations until I can call the work finished.

In a design project, I generally determine color in the beginning stages. Making a painting may require a firm color decision early on, but not always. These decisions are made and can change as I progress further into the work.

It’s an interesting contrast for me – where the weight of decision falls in each of these creative processes. In one it’s toward the beginning, and in the other it’s toward the end.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

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