A Developer’s Month as an Illustrator

9 steps guide to become a professional designer in just 1 month

This is the first month of my learning challenge where I learned about Vector Illustrations and how to design SVGs! During this month I didn’t learn everything about illustration, just the basics of it 😬! There is a looot more to explore and discover and I would probably need decades to master it! I just followed the Learning Lab methodology, starting from being a newbie and finishing with a full process and a portfolio with a few illustrations and two logos! Today I want to show you how I came up with the cycle and explain all the steps of the process.

The reasons why I wanted to learn how to illustrate with vector images is because I’ve always loved drawing, and I wanted to learn how to transform those images into the digital world, I also wanted to learn how to make professional logos 🤓

So my level before starting was the following:

  • I had never used Adobe Illustrator successfully before
  • I knew a bit the basics of Photoshop
  • I knew a bit how to do basic drawings on paper
  • I knew the differences between the different image formats (png, jpeg, svg…)

Learning Lab Methodology

For the ones who don’t know the methodology, I recommend you to read this article from the Learning Lab.

  1. Finding a mentor 🤝
    I didn’t manage to find a mentor. I did get some help for different parts of my learning, for example, Sandoche and Vera helped me during the creative and creation part.
  2. Defining the scope of the topic 🔭
    I want to be able to handle the main feature of Adobe Illustrator. I want to be able to go fully from a sketch on paper to a SVG image exportation.
  3. Choosing a learning resource 📚
    I will follow the tutorials of Jason Secrest to understand the basics of Adobe Illustrator while creating nice cartoons. 
    I will follow Marco Creativo (Spanish channel) to get inspired about creating logos.
  4. Defining a project 🎁
    I want to create my own logo and also design my own cartoon (going full from paper to SVG image). I will show all my progress with an Instagram account that I will use as a portfolio.

The cycle of an illustrator, step by step guide 👩‍🎨

Now that you know the basics of the Learning Lab and understand how I came up with this process, let’s move the main point of this article, the cycle of an illustrator.

Choose your drawing platform 🔨

I used Adobe Illustrator CS6, however, I should have used a current version because as I found later, the best tutorials are using sometimes the latest features. As a free alternative you can check Inkscape (I had not personally used it). I do not have a mouse and I also do not have a drawing tablet, I just used the trackpad of my MacBook Pro.

Some artist online like to draw with an iPad or tablet, using the Affinity app.

Get Inspiration/Training 💡

The best source of inspiration for me has been Instagram. If you follow the tag #illustrator you can find amazing drawings. Instagram can also help you to train your skills, there is an interesting tag, #drawthisinyourstyle where some artist challenge you to draw their own creations but with your own style, this is perfect to keep training your skills when you don’t know exactly what to draw.

Other good platforms are Dribbble and Behance.

Focusing more on logos I found a few websites that I used for the two projects I did the logos for: CollectUI, iOS Icon Gallery and the Noun Project.

@markconlan launch the challenge with the #drawthisinyourstyle, @inkabooks and @louis_otis accepted it by drawing the same picture with their own style and interpretation

Draw and create first on paper ✍️

Now that you got the inspiration you have something in mind, you have an idea to draw or you are thinking about some concept. Put your thoughts first on paper, what it might look like a simple thought it might be difficult to draw or to put it down into reality. While it’s on paper you can sketch as much as you like, you can rethink the idea or come up with new ones. Also physically drawing on paper is the best feeling ever, isn’t it? Once this is done, upload your sketch to your drawing platform

Draw and create first on paper

Do the inking and outlines ✒️

The inking is the process of transforming your drawn pencil lines into real vector ones. Open the image of your pencil sketch with Adobe Illustrator, transform the layer into a Template one and start throwing some lines out there. I mostly use the Shapes, the Pen Tool, and the Anchor Point Tool.

Do the inking and outlines using Shapes, the Pen Tool, and the Anchor Point Tool

Coloring step 🎨

Duplicate to create a new layer for the coloring, select all the objects, and click on Object -> Expand Appearance. This will allow you to use the Life Paint Bucket Tool. Colour each enclosed shape as you would do when we were using in Paint in our childhood. Click again onObject -> Expand to be able to use each coloured part as new shapes on your layer.

After each step, create a new layer as a duplicate, and lock the old one. This is a good practice to be able to come back to the previous status of your work.
Coloring with the Life Paint Bucket Tool

Brushes and effects ✨

This is step is the most creative and fun one. Your illustration will become alive now. Use some cool brushes to make the stroke of your shapes look more natural (Jason Secrest has some cool assets you can use), add shadows and light points to make it more dimensional, add a cool background to highlight the drawing or to place it in some context. Other cool effects can be made using patterns or gradients for example. Explore as much as you can all the Adobe Illustrator features.

Adding brushes, shadows and background makes the illustration more alive

If it’s a logo, create more concepts 🔁

If you are designing a logo you will need multiple versions for sure, you’ll need to play with different concepts, ideas, shapes, and colours. The loop will repeat until you have at least 3 different approaches. Remember, a logo reflects the identity of the company or the project it’s for, and this reflection is very subjective, you need to deliver a few options to find the right one that fits better into the project from the owner’s perspective.

Different concepts for the website what.toeat.in, which helps to discover what locals eat all around the world

Publish in your community 🌍

Creating your community is the best way to show your work and engage with people that have the same interests as you. The platforms where you got inspiration from (Instagram, Dribbble, Behance, the Noun Project…) also allow you to create your own account. I personally just opened an Instagram profile with my own illustrations that I invite you to follow and check: @pmt_illustrations

Optionally choose your Monetising platform 💰

I have seen a lot of artist in Patreon, a platform where your own followers can sponsor your drawings and creations. If you want to make a living out of your illustrator passion you should totally grow your community there. I did not create a Patreon account as I don’t think I am good enough and also I am learning as a hobby and I don’t pretend to work professionally at this.

Wrap it up!

Let's try to summarise all the process in just 9 steps!

  1. Choose your drawing platform 🔨
  2. Get Inspiration/Training 💡
  3. Draw and create first on paper ✍️
  4. Do the inking and outlines ✒️
  5. Coloring step 🎨
  6. Brushes and effects ✨
  7. If it’s a logo, create more concepts -> back to step 2 🔁
  8. Publish in your community 🌍
  9. Optionally choose your Monetising platform 💰

I hope you all like this cycle/process and you found this article useful, please let me know in the comments if I skipped some important steps of your own methodology. I would also love to see your portfolio, no matter if you are professional illustrators or newbies like me ❤️


Feedback from this learning month

What went well 👍

  • Found two projects to design logos for
  • All projects carried out successfully
  • Learning resources very easy to follow
  • Got my own design process
  • Finally moved my lifetime dogo drawing into the digital world!

What to improve 👎

  • I should have used the most current version of Adobe Illustrator
  • I didn’t have a mouse or a drawing tablet, that could have speed up the process
  • I didn’t get a mentor that could advise me during the process

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