Want to be an Illustrator? Where to start?

Isha Srivastava
Razorpay.Design
Published in
6 min readOct 22, 2020

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Tips & tricks to think creative.

“Where to start with illustrations as an absolute beginner?” is the question I’m asked quite often. When I started a few years back I was trying to find answers to the same question. Overtime I realised becoming an illustrator is not difficult, it just requires a tinch of artistic skills and some commitment. If you can’t start right away, find some inspiration by reading relevant books, blogs, checking out work of other artists, and even doodle whenever you are free. Our aim is not to achieve perfection or become excellent at drawing (though that might happen eventually over time), but to become more comfortable with our creative expression.

From my experience, there are four main stages that you need to focus on to become an illustrator:

  1. Doodle, doodle & doodle
  2. Train your mind to think creative
  3. Find your style
  4. Overcome Creative block

Hold the thought, don’t judge your art! (Some extra advice in between)

Doodle, doodle & doodle

Learning how to get ideas down on paper in a quicker way, is extremely valuable as an artist. Literally draw anything you see or anything from your head. Your drawing doesn’t have to be realistic but you do need to develop your observational skills.

In the first year of design college we were asked to create a master’s copy, I chose Picasso and replicated his painting “The Old guitarist”. Attaching my copy in watercolour for reference, which has now withered with time. Now, you may ask how does it help with illustrations? copying (only for educational purpose, not plagiarism) is helpful in the very beginning when you don’t have enough confidence in your own drawing abilities. And even if you’re intending on developing a cartoonish style for illustrations, studying master’s work will help enhance your work and make it more effective. Here you have multiple traditional options like- Pencil, charcoal, water colour, acrylics, soft pastels, oil paints and what not. I would suggest you to not jump directly to digital illustrations because traditional mediums teach us a lot of patience and help us work with close observations. Where on one hand digital medium is an absolute doll, it offers time and control, traditional medium is well…timeless. Honestly, I can’t really compare the two, but one thing which helps me work with Digital illustrations is the variety of tools available and freedom to rework on any mishaps.

THEN: Medium- Water Colour | NOW: Medium- Digital

Now, get a sketchbook (or pick one out of the tons you’ve hoarded) and use it to draw from life regularly — in any way you can.

How to train/trick your mind to think creative?

Last year I got my hands on this book called “Wonder” created by Beatrice Blue, which completely changed my perspective on story telling through illustrations. So here’s a concept by her which you might like-

“During our lifetime we collect endless treasures, these treasures are not necessarily in form of physical objects, these are objects that carry a story or feeling. These treasures never really disappear for they hide in a certain spot. This spot could be your glasshouse. It is empty right now but it is yours and nobody will ever come inside. There are no sounds yet but the ones you will make. No objects but the ones you will bring in, and no memories but the ones you will leave here. This room will never be as empty as it is right now. It’s full or possibilities and future treasures.”

There are endless possibilities to create something beautiful. Now imagine, there is this glass house, empty. As you walk in, you can hear the echo of your footsteps. Here’s a trick, from now on you have to treat this glass house as your personal treasure. You will add in your most important possessions here. The aim is to come back to this glass house with a collection to use in future. It could be anything- memories, sound, objects, decisions or questions. The details you add will depend on the story you want to tell.

Every person has their own approach to each subject, point is how to express it. Learn to empathise with your surroundings and the surrounding will help you with your creative thoughts.

Art is never ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Period.

In the initial stage, whenever I was asked if I liked my drawing, my instant answer would be “no it’s ugly”, and that was mostly because my art wouldn’t be photorealistic. We have been preconditioned by the society to judge art in a certain way. We really need to surpass that bubble. Any realistic art is considered beautiful, on the other hand majority is mostly confused about expressive drawings. But isn’t Contemporary art much bolder and interesting? Working on your technical skills is acceptable but don’t doubt your creative abilities.

Once you are comfortable to embrace your art and evolve through it, that’s when you can actually work with your creative abilities.

Finding your Style

As a kid I used to read a lot of stories by Ruskin Bond, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens (all our high school sweethearts) their stories made us wander, there was a sense of belongingness. As an illustrator you can do the same with your artworks by choosing the right style. Doesn’t it sound amazing that you can tell a story through your art?

I would suggest the first step should be to find out what kind of feelings you want to associate your work with! Next step is to embrace those feelings and vomit it out on your canvas. Easy eh? To ease it down, try embracing your personality and use it as a tool to narrate your story. This will help you give more context to what you want to draw.

Next, work on multiple styles, try multiple mediums, this will help you pick something you enjoy the most. And once you’ve chosen a style you have been pretty good at just work on it for long enough, this will help you create a distinct style.

Get comfortable with your creative expression already.

Creative block is a myth?

Courtesy- 99U. (I wasn’t experiencing creative block, was just too lazy to illustrate something for this section)

creative block (Urban Dictionary) -When you can’t find yourself to have a creative thought. This often leads you to smack your head on a pillow until you find a good thought.

At some point or the other we all have given this reason to ourselves and to others when we have not been productive, haven’t we? I realised after a point of time I started using this reason quite often to compensate for my lack of energy to work on anything. Open to different perspectives, but I do feel we are just a bunch of lazy and moody artists who with even a slight ray of sunshine get back on our horses. So, next time you feel you are having a creative block, have a change of environment, try a little jazz or whatever music you prefer, sway a little and get back on doodling some of your thoughts. But hey, keep taking breaks in between, that’s important too.

Inspiration exists but it has to find you working. -Picasso (Yes, I’m a fan)

I hope this was helpful for you to start as an illustrator, do reach out for any questions or to talk about dogs and stuff :)

Find more of my illustrations here- https://www.instagram.com/curious_and_hungry/?hl=en

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Isha Srivastava
Razorpay.Design

Hey! I’m Isha, London based Brand Designer and Illustrator.