Rob Levin
Rob Levin
Sep 28, 2017 · 6 min read

Required components of a worthwhile illustration, and an acronym I personally use to judge my own illustrations…

Through creating a lot of work of late, I’ve been starting to see a few “stand out” illustrations that seem to, well, just be better then my others. Although I don’t think you should necessarily pay too much attention to social media likes, in terms of judging your own work, if those likes are combined with comments and you’re own perceptions that a piece of work is a bit better then you’re other stuff, so be it. I’ve noticed a few pieces of my work stand out, and this morning I decided to codify what that was for myself. But it occurred to me, I may as well blog about it! I’ll use myself as a guinea pig for all this 😁.

The whole reason I started thinking about this today, is I’d like to have some sort of standard for myself, and even a checklist of characteristics to require of my own work before considering it something with the possibility of being strong. How one gets to a point of having all these things will be left for another discussion, but here’s what I’ve come up with…gesture, energy, concept, composition, and craftsmanship. In fairness, the creative director at my work, Aaron Pedroza, came up with the “3 C’s”, but, I decided the acronym needed gesture and energy too!

Gesture and Energy

I started to compare a few illustrations that I thought I’d executed well enough, but somehow lacked the “magic” that another illustration had. Let’s start with two very different illustrations:

Top vs. Bottom — I really loved some of the parts of the landscape on the top illustration, and felt pretty good about the execution aesthetically, but…the simpler illustration on the bottom, turned out to have a stronger sense of gesture and energy, and also a more compelling “concept”.

Let’s start with the illustration on the top: While I’m somewhat happy with the idea of a girl doing digital plein air sketching on a tablet, there’s nothing particularly clever about it. In honesty, this illustration started with the idea of seascape composition and elements, before I found a focal point — and I think it shows in a “just so-so” focal point. Initially, I was extremely pleased with certain parts of the design and compositional execution, but as the days went by, I returned to this image with a dose of healthy self criticism, and realized, it could have been better.

Now, let’s take the illustration to the bottom: While I’m sure there are some that would prefer the seascape, it’s pretty plain to see, that the underlying concept of the simpler “dangerous heart” (or, should we really “trust our heart?”) is much stronger. Aesthetically, there’s not much to it — it’s mostly a textured background, with a spot illustration of a girl tight-roping towards a heart with a hole; and of course the hand and finger that’s pushing off the rope. Interestingly, I wasn’t nearly as excited about this initially, and it probably took half the time to illustrate. I knew it was a strong concept once sketched, but I wondered if there was much of visual interest there. Well, after giving it a few days and going back, it held up.

Ok, so the concept was stronger, but this section is on gesture and energy. Well, if you look at the two figures (clearly the focal points in both illustrations), you’ll see that there’s more energy, dynamism, interest, etc., in the figure off balance on the tight rope.

As I go back through my feed I realize that the illustrations that stand out (to me at least), are the ones where there’s a nice sense of gesture and energy. Therefore, I’ll likely now make this a requirement going forward!

Concept, Concept, and Craftsmanship

Ok, let’s try to compare two illustrations that are a bit closer in terms of aesthetics and what not:

Top: The concept is the idea of “jumping ship”, and what attracts the cool kids to do so. Bottom: The concept is quite simply to “get out of the building” to get more inspired.

For the top illustration, there’s probably something nice I had with the concept of jumping ship using a pogo stick. It’s funny. But, if I redo this illustration, I will make the woman a bit more compelling, simplify the number of elements and clutter, and zoom in on her and the little robotic drink. Just my opinion on what needed to be better.

For the bottom illustration, while there’s nothing particularly clever about the concept per se, it’s probably executed better in terms of craftsmanship and composition, as there are less confusing elements and clutter. As such, the idea of a woman feeling inspired in her work comes through much clearer. The gesture is nice enough as her pose is one that’s open, and it gives off a very positive energy. Conceptually, it could be stronger I admit, but, it “is what it is” and I’d say it works fine; to me, the bottom illustration is the stronger of the two.

Iterate!

Nothing says you have to get it right the first time out the gates…

Iteration—just like songwriters need to embrace the almighty “rewrite”, we can always revisit and improve our illustration with a healthy dose of self critique

I wasn’t happy with the gesture or energy in the illustration on the left, so I just tweaked it a bit by making the strokes 2px instead of 1px (they were disappearing on mobile for example), and then improved the gesture of both figures to feel more like they’re in movement to provide a sense of action and energy which hopefully helps the narrative of going around and around in circles (or the notion of insanity being like doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results). The leftmost figure is even purposely a bit off balance to give a subtle sense that things aren’t quite working out as planned.

Concluding Thoughts

I write this article today, as much to remind myself of what I need to do moving forward as I create my body of work, as to share these ideas with you. I hope you don’t mind the more personal nature and style of this article, but, I thought it might bring some value to others trying to “figure things out” as well ʘ‿ʘ

Ok, so I’ve been willing to write and show some problems with my own work as the sacrificial lamb. How selfless of me 😛! Please then, now permit me to leave you with a few illustrations I’ve done that I feel did meet the GECCC standard I’ve been discussing above:

Illustration for CSS Tricks article — making things accessible specifically to screen readers that “announce”.
Although the gesture and energy might not be obvious here, I’m happy with the woman and her boy as there’s a more contemplative gesture and energy; especially her hand on top of his head and him having the lolly pop.
Stop counting your likes — I’m happy enough with the gesture of the girl, and the energy between her and the imposing hand. It’s composed and executed well enough as well.

I hope that you too are convinced that a strong illustration ought to have GECCC (gesture, energy, concept, composition, and craftsmanship) to really have a chance at being memorable and having a strong impact.

Rob Levin is a Senior UIUX Designer/Developer at Mavenlink, where he designs, animates, and illustrates. You can view some of his work at https://www.instagram.com/roblevintennis, https://dribbble.com/mavenlink, and https://www.behance.net/roblevin

Mavenlink Product Development

Musings from the Engineering and Product Design team at Mavenlink

Rob Levin

Written by

Rob Levin

Senior UIUX Designer/Developer at Mavenlink. Also Illustrations—see: https://www.instagram.com/roblevintennis/

Mavenlink Product Development

Musings from the Engineering and Product Design team at Mavenlink

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