100 Days of Vector Illustration
My thought process on creating illustration using Sketch
It was January 2017. I moved from San Francisco to Seattle. The winter was dark and the rain seemed never to stop. One night, I sat down, played some music, and opened Sketch. Four months later, I completed my 4th 100-day-project — 100 Days of Vector.
I started my first 100-day-project back in 2015. It taught me that creativity is a skill — the more you practice it, the more creative you are. Since then, I have challenged myself to explore different tools to exercise my creative muscle.
In my most recent project 100 Days of Vector, I focused on the digital tool. Each day, I created a vector illustration in Sketch and posted it on Instagram with the hashtag #100daysofvectorbytx.
Here is my thought process and reflection behind this project.
As a visual thinker, I enjoy vivid color and shaped-based illustration. The digital artwork posted on Behance and Dribbble have always inspired me. I wanted to learn how to create vector illustration in order to make beautiful things.
Plus, without a formal training in graphic design, this 100-day-project would be a good opportunity to hone my vector illustration skill.
I chose to use Sketch for this project because it’s easy to use and affordable. Its basic vector-editing feature set helped me focus on completion rather than perfection.
My setup can be summarized into the following 3 steps:
1. Set up Sketch
I used a 600px by 600px artboard for each illustration. Inside my Sketch file, there are 100 artboards arranged by a 10x10 matrix in one page — it allows me to look at all the pieces together for easy comparison and reference.
2. Brainstorm ideas
The subjects created in this 100-day-project were things I like. Once I came up with a topic (e.g. food series), I spent time on brainstorming different things I’d like to create within that topic.
I used a notebook to record ideas. Sometimes I doodled everything on notebook and organized them into sub-groups. This way, I can plan ahead to avoid the last-minute “idea-hunting” panic.
3. Define color palette
One thing I learned along the way is to define a color palette ahead of time.
For example, in the food series, I defined 5 background colors to be used repeatedly. It not only ensured consistency but also helped me narrow down the subjects of the day — some items matched well with the background color while others didn’t.
Following tutorials is the best way to learn a new skill. I followed two of my favorite tutorials on Tuts+. They were created for Adobe Illustrator, but the vector-editing process were the same in Sketch.
I created the succulent series by following How to Create a Trio of Succulents in Adobe Illustrator written by Nataliya Dolotko.
Then I created the planet series by following How to Create a Solar System Planets Icon Pack in Adobe Illustrator written by Andrei Stefan. In this series, I went beyond the original tutorial and applied different visual styles to each planet.
On February, I participated in the alphabet challenge organized by HandletteredABCs on Instagram. During the challenge, I illustrated 26 dog breeds in alphabetical order. I had a lot of fun researching dog breeds while honing my illustration skill.
I spent the next 48 days illustrating food icons. Some food ideas were inspired by my childhood — the popular Chinese snacks like Zongzi, Yuan Xuan, Shaomai, etc. Other food ideas were inspired by my experience in the U.S. — the street food like hotdog, taco, pretzel, etc.
In order to collect more ideas, I asked people what their favorite food was on Instagram. The comments were amazing — some food like Nattō and pop-tart were the ones that I have never tried before. I loved the fact how a side project can encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and try out new things.
In the last 10 days, I created 10 cocktail illustrations. This time I applied a consistent visual style across all the pieces. I also managed to play with color blending modes — something I have never used before.
1. Always stay inspired
I have always believed that creativity is a skill — the more your practice it, the more creative you are. However, this time I learned something new:
In order to be creative, you need to stay inspired.
When I was working on the dog alphabet, I simply repeated the same visual pattern everyday. I didn’t look for outside inspiration. Soon I got bored and wasn’t feeling creative anymore.
Since then, I decided to stay inspired all the time. I spent 10–30 minutes every day browsing Dribbble, Behance, Instagram and collected the best work on my Pinterest boards. My growing Pinterest collection has served as my source of inspiration and I was able to stay creative for the rest of the 100 days.
2. Stop comparing
I still remember the feeling when I stumbled upon the wonderful work from “36 Days of Type” challenge. Those work, created by top artists and illustrators all over the world, were so good.
For a while I started to question the existence of my own work.
As I dug into those artists’ backgrounds, I realized that they are professional illustrators/designers who have been in the creative field for a long time. It doesn’t make sense to compare my work with theirs because we have different background, experience and goals. We are on different creative path.
The only thing I would compare my work to is my old work. Whenever I was in doubt, I looked back at my own work from the first day. The huge improvements on skill and process have always motivated me to continue my creative journey.
“Take pride in how far you’ve come. Have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey.”
— Michael Josephson
3. Embrace the gap between ambition and output
Although I can see improvements on my illustration skill over time, I was frequently disappointed by my own work: the poor color combination, the bad type choice, the lack of consistent visual style… Sometimes I simply felt the work was not good, but I had no idea how to improve it.
Ira Glass described this gap between ambition and output:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
I decided to embrace the gap between ambition and output. As long as the gap exists, there is room to learn and improve. It is only by going through a volume of work that I will close that gap, and my work will be as good as my ambitions.
4. Do the work that feeds your soul
I started my first 100-day-project in 2015. Since then, I would receive a few “Likes” and gain new followers on social media. However, as more and more people paid attention to my work, I started feeling lost. I got distracted by the number of “Likes” and wanted to create something people like in order to gain more recognition.
That’s why I found Jessica Walsh’s words resonating:
“Do the work that feeds your soul, not your ego.”
I reminded myself the goal of this project was to make beautiful things even if nobody cares. I wanted to hone my vector illustration skills. I wanted to express myself by creating things that resonated with me. This project was started for the sake of creation, not for fame.
“Create for the sake of creation whenever you feel the urge to do so. Treat it as a basic human need. Challenge, surprise, change yourself .”
Looking back, I feel accomplished. I created 100 pieces of vector illustration during the past 100 days. My illustration skill has been improved. The satisfaction of creating something that resonates with my soul feels great.
Since I started the first 100-day-project in 2015, I have formed the habit of creating. I’m grateful to be part of the 100-day-project community and I look forward to starting the next 100-day-project soon.
Below is my 100 days of vector illustration in 15 seconds.
Here are some helpful links:
- Design & Illustration Tutorials on Envato Tuts+
- Sketch App Crash Course by Sketch Together
- Sketch Tips & Tutorials by InVision
- About that space illustration you keep seeing around by Nina Geometrieva
- Sketch Tutorial — Colorful Switch by Sebastien Gabriel
- 100 Days of Making by Tom Wahlin
- Color in UI Design: A (Practical) Framework by Erik D. Kennedy
- Sketch: Blending Modes 101 by Mauricio Uehara
Also, check out the following Instagram accounts for design inspiration: