Develop Your Illustration Style: Draw a Cat | Anne Bollman | Skillshare

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Develop Your Illustration Style: Draw a Cat

teacher avatar Anne Bollman, Anne Was Here

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Develop Your Illustration Style: Draw A Cat


    • 2.

      Style Study


    • 3.



    • 4.



    • 5.



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About This Class

Many illustrators struggle with developing their style in the beginning and pushing themselves away from being so literal. In this class we will use a cat as our subject matter and explore techniques for creating a stylized illustration. First we'll look at contemporary working artists' illustrations of cats and break down the stylistic elements. Then we'll chart out the different ways all of the elements of a cat and brainstorm how they can be stylized. Next we'll sketch from a photograph of a cat, then remove the reference photos and create a plan to make several more stylized sketches. Once we have a sketch we like, we will select a color palette and medium to finalize the illustration. 

Class Outline

  • Style Study: Review of cat illustrations by working illustrators. Break down of stylistic elements.
  • Sketching: Sketch from photographic reference, sketch from original sketch with a plan for stylization.
  • Illustrating: Select media and explore methods of selecting color palettes. Create stylized illustration using sketch as a template.

Meet Your Teacher

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Anne Bollman

Anne Was Here


Anne Bollman is the author and illustrator behind Anne Was Here, a studio which provides art and illustration for products and publications, designed with humor and style, that is meant to make you smile. Anne's artwork can be found online and in stores internationally on a wide range of products including children's books, stationery, fabric, gifts, apparel, home decor and more. Her debut children's book, Help Find Frank, was released by Sterling Publishing in May of 2018 and won the Excellence in a Picture Book Award from the Children's Literature Council of Southern California.

Anne is passionate about busting the myth that an artist has to be starving, and through teaching on Skillshare she hopes to bring success to other artists. After quitting her in-house de... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Develop Your Illustration Style: Draw A Cat: Hi, my name's Ann and I'm an illustrator. When it comes to illustration your style is how you interpret your subject matter expressing your unique point of view. Many artists myself included really struggle with developing their style and pushing themselves away from being so literal with their illustrations. In this class, we're going to explore methods of how to do that using a cat as our subject matter. First, we'll look at several working illustrators renditions of cats, and then we'll break those illustrations down into their stylistic elements, we can really see what those illustrators have done to stylize their illustrations. Next, we're going to do a literal sketch from a photographic reference of a cat, and then we're going to push ourselves to create stylized versions of those sketches. Once we have a sketch that we really like we'll pick a media and a color palette to finalize our illustration.[MUSIC]. 2. Style Study: Your style as an illustrator is important because in order to get work in illustration, you need to have a unique perspective on things that is going to make an individual or a company want to work with you. I'm going to show you illustrations of cats by several illustrators making a living with their illustrations, and the reason for this is, first, I wanted to show you examples of stylized illustrations, and then second, I want you to see how different each of these illustrators work, and how different their styles are, and yet they all make a living with their art. What this says is that you do not need to copy someone else's style. In fact, you don't want to do that because they already have a leg up on you in getting work in that style. Really you want to come up with your own unique style, that's going to attract people to your uniqueness as an illustrator. Without further ado, let's look at several illustrators' work, and then break down the stylistic elements of their cats. Bianca Pozzi is an illustrator living in Brazil. Her client list includes Hallmark, American Greetings, and Papyrus. You can find her on Instagram at bianca.pozzi. Here's one of Bianca's cat illustrations. This little guy is part of a larger illustration, which I want to show you, so you can see him in context. How magical is her work? I just love it. The cat really comes alive, in the larger context of the story. But let's zoom back in on him so you can get a better look. I've come up with a list of elements of a cat illustration that we can discuss for each illustrator's work that we look at. Let's just go down this list, and talk about the ways in which Bianca's cat is stylized. Let's start with the eyes. She's drawn very small, oval-shaped eyes for him, with little black pupils. His ears are little soft points. His snout is very simple, with a rounded black nose, and two lines making the mouth. His tail is long and thin, and she's not concerned about the thickness being consistent throughout. His body has also been simplified and rounded in shape, and his limbs are curved and expressive. The details she's used are very soft and blended. I could be wrong, but I believe she's used watercolor and color pencil for this illustration. Her color palette is very soft and neutral. For the mood or feeling of this illustration, I'm going to call it wonky and whimsical. I love how she's able to let go of being super literal with her shapes, all while showing her talent at creating wonderful whimsical pieces. Thanks, Bianca, for sharing your work with our class. Next, let's look at the work of Christine De Carvalho. Christine is an illustrator living in Los Angeles. A few of Christine's clients have been American Greetings, WNYC Studios, for the Dolly Parton's America podcast, and Workman Publishing. You can find Christine on Instagram at christinedecarvalho. I just love this illustration of Christine's cat, chicken lady. She actually offered up a photo of her cat for you guys to illustrate from if you want to later in the class. Let's break down the stylistic elements of Christine's illustration. Chicken lady's eyes are almond-shaped with round pupils. The ears are fairly large and pointy. The snout is a simple black triangle with two lines for the mouth. We can't really see the tail, so I guess this one will just be a mystery. The body is fairly realistic and proportional, but Christine has softened some of the harder corners of the bone structure. Same is true of the limbs. The details are fairly minimal, other than the natural texture of the paint. The color fills are fairly flat and graphic, although we see some suggestions of fur in chicken lady's black spots. For the media, I'm going to take a guess that she's done this in gouache. The color palette of the actual cat is the natural and high-contrast colors of chicken lady. I love how she's contrasted it against the vibrancy of the rug, flooring, and plant in the background. For the mood of this one, I'm going to say it has realistic sass. Please take these moods with a grain of salt. I'm trying to verbalize the feeling that the illustration gives me, which will be different for everyone. Feel free to come up with your own better mood descriptors as we go through. Thank you, Christine, for sharing your illustration, and your cat with the class. Next, let's check out this cat illustrated by Emily Balsley of Madison, Wisconsin. A few of Emily's clients include American Girl, Random House, and Schwinn Bicycles. You can find Emily on Instagram at emilybluestar. Just look at this cool cat by Emily, and so different than the work we've already looked at. Let's do our breakdown for Emily's cat. The eyes are super round, with round black pupils, that have shiny little dots in them. The ears are tall and super pointy. I'm using super a lot, aren't I? Emily's snout has a defined outer edge, a red triangle nose, and two lines making up the mouth. The tail is long and curved. The body has been super simplified into basic shapes, with a round head and an ovalish body. The limbs are similar to the tail, curvy, long, and thin, not much bone structure to see. Emily's shapes are filled with flat color, but she's included some thin line mark to indicate fur, whiskers, and the inner portion of the ears. For this illustration, I can't tell if she's painted it in gouache, or if it's been done digitally. Her colors are bright and unexpected. The overall mood here is fun, but I guess I should have said, super fun. Thanks so much, Emily, for sharing your work with us. Next up, we have illustrator Meghann Rader, whose work I've admired for some time now. Meghan illustrates out of Vancouver Island in Canada, and some of her clients have included Bespoke Press, Flowmagazine, and Canadian Tire. You can find Meghann on Instagram at meghannrader. Let's break down the stylistic elements of Meghann's cats. Her cat eyes are tiny little dots. The ears are thin and pointy, not really the triangle shape we've usually seen. The snouts are also very small and very simple, more of a black dot for a nose and too little straight lines for the mouth. Her tails go from thin to thick. Her cat bodies are what I'm going to call potato shaped, with a head attached. The legs are very small and simple. There is a hint of bone structure, but they are soft and curved. It looks like she's used watercolor for this illustration and her color palette is very neutral, gray is to black. I'm going to call her mood wonky and whimsical. Thank you for sharing your delightful work with us, Meghan. Here we have a couple of cats by my friend Nic Squirrel. You may recognize her name from here on skillshare where she has lots of popular digital illustration classes. In fact, I learned to draw and procreate from her class so you should check it out. Nic lives in [inaudible] a village near London and her work can be found with Silhouette, Inkbox tattoos and Redbubble to name a few. You can find Nic on Instagram @nicsquirrel. Nic's cat eyes are simple lines when closed and almost circles with small pupils giving a surprise look when open. The ears are sharp and pointy, her snout is not defined at all except for by a little triangle nose. Her cat tails are fluffier and fox like instead of the rope-like shapes we've seen from the previous illustrators. The standing cat's body, is most visible and is actually very rectangular with a head that also has sharp corners. Her details are minimal with just thin lines indicating whiskers and a slight texture over the fur. I'm fairly certain this work was done digitally as that's how Nic mostly works. Her color palette is very simple, mostly black and white with tiny yellow and pink and gray highlights against a gray-blue background. For the mood on this one, I'm going to call it quirky. Thanks so much for sharing your work with us Nic. Next, let's take a look at work by illustrator Rebecca Jones. Rebecca lives in Melbourne, Australia and has worked with clients such as Anthropology, Target, and Gap. You can find Rebecca on Instagram @drawnbyrebeccajones. Here, we have a fluffy little fellow by Rebecca. His eyes are little black dots, his ears are sharp points, and his snout is made up of black lines only, his tail is fat and fluffy, his body is extremely simplified and rounded, another potato, his limbs are quite stumpy and the details are made up of painted texture and faint lines. The media appears to be mixed, but probably mainly gouache and pencil. The color palette is fairly neutral with little pops of bright color. For the mood on this one, I'm going to go with sweet because Rebecca's work, is always very sweet and gives me warm and fuzzy feelings. Thanks so much for sharing your work with us Rebecca. Now let's take a look at the work of illustrator Tara Lilly. Tara Lilly is from Northern-California and a few of her clients include Hallmark, Quarto Publishing and Anthropology. I just loved the stylist cat by Tara. His eyes are almond shaped with traditional cat shaped pupils. The first we've seen so far today. The ears are triangular but have rounded tops, the snout exterior, is defined by the whiskers and the nose is a tiny sideways diamond shape with two curved lines for the mouth. She's also included little whisker dots around the snout. The tail is really tiny and delicate and proportion to the rest of the body. The body is pretty reflective of a real cat, but has been smoothed into soft curves and the cat has quite a large head. The limbs like the tail, are small in proportion to the body. They are simplified with curved edges. She shares her medium in this photo and she's used acrylic wash. Her colors are very interesting. Instead of black, she's used navy and the eyes are green. For the mood on this illustration, I'm going to call it retro suit. There is something about Tara's work that always has a vintage feel to it, though her use of color is quite modern. Thanks so much for sharing your cat with us Tara. Last but definitely not least, we have a cat by my friend Victoria Johnson. Victoria is an English illustrator living in Rome. Some of her clients include Land of Nod [inaudible] , WHSmith and Hallmark. Here we have an interesting fellow painted by Victoria. His eyes are also almond shaped with round irises and dots for pupils. The eye shapes have intentionally been left to be slightly wonky and mismatched, the ears are rounded triangles, the snout has been defined by an oval shape with a small rounded triangle nose and straight lines for the mouth. She's also included little whisker dots. The tail is fairly thin and small, the body shape is quite accurate and realistic, but she hasn't concerned herself with outlining each limb. Her details are quite unique as she's filled the cat in with some flowers and they are made up of shapes and line work. It looks like she's used masking fluid with this, and I'm guessing that the cat is mostly done in watercolor and inks. Her colors are ivory, peach, rust, and shades of indigo with red accents. I'm calling Victoria's mood wonky sophisticated, if that makes sense to anyone other than me. Thanks so much Victoria, for sharing your cat with the class. Now that we've looked at some examples of stylized illustrations by working illustrators, let's use the breakdowns to figure out what you're drawn too stylistically. The goal is not to adopt all the stylistic elements of a single illustrator, but to come up with your own unique combination. This isn't going to happen overnight. You really have to play around with it to see what feels right to you. I've created a chart for all of the elements of a cat that we've discussed for each illustrator and broke it down into four categories to help us really think about all the possibilities for how each element can be treated. This PDF is available for download in the class page under projects and resources. I do encourage you to either create your own though or brainstorm further and add to what I've already started. You can use your chart as a starting point for pushing yourself to try new and different ways of stylizing your cat. Have this chart ready to reference before you start the next video where we will sketch from photographic reference and then start working on more stylized sketches. 3. Sketching: All right. Time to start sketching a cat. I've had friends and family graciously provide photos of their cats for you to use. Feel free to choose one of the photos I've provided to draw from, or you can use one of your own photos if you'd like. The cat photos are available on the class page under the projects and resources tab. If you choose to illustrate from a photo of a cat you find online, just be sure that your final illustration is stylized or changed enough that the original photo couldn't be recognized as the source. We want to be respectful of artists copyrights, and that includes photographers. Once you've settled on a photo of a cat to illustrate, first I want you to just start sketching it the way you normally would. Whatever comes naturally to you. I've chosen this photo of chicken lady, Christine Descartes' cat to sketch from. Like I said, to start, don't worry about being too stylized. Just sketch whatever comes naturally to you. If you are like me your initial sketch will probably end up looking pretty realistic and not very stylized. That's okay. Once you have your first sketch finished, I want you to get rid of the original photo of the cat and don't look at it anymore. Now, before you start sketching again, I want you to make a plan this time. Reference your chart and with a pen and paper, write down how you are going to treat the eyes, ears, snout, tail, body, and limbs of the cat. Let me show you what I mean. I'm going to go through each element of a cat on this chart and highlight my plan. I'm going to pick some options that are a bit unusual for me in an effort to push myself and try something new and different. For my cat's eyes, I'm going to make them small and almond-shaped. I'll have them located fairly high on the head and put them far apart. I'll have a straight iris with no pupils. For the ears, I'm going to make them small, pointy and narrow. I'm going to have them be far apart on the head. For the inner portion of the ear, I'm going to define it with a line. I'll make the snout pretty proportional and have it floating versus defined with an outline. I'll have my cat smiling with a curved mouth. The nose will be a shape and triangular and also quite small. I'll have snout high in relation to the eyes, and I'm going to include whiskers. For the tail, I'll make it fairly proportional but long, and I'll make it smooth and even instead of wonky. For the body, I'm going to make it large in proportion to the head and long. I want to simplify the body shape and make it angular and slim instead of my typical rounded fat body. I'll keep the shape pretty consistent, and for the details on the body, I'm going to keep it smooth and use lines to define it. The limbs will be small in proportion to the body, and I'm going to make them simplified and angular to match the body. I'll keep them thin and consistent as well and I'll have them be pretty rudimentary instead of trying to be super accurate with the location. For the details, I'm going to add nails. Okay. Now that I have a plan for my next sketch, I'm going to use my original sketch as reference instead of the photo. This will help you to keep from falling back on being too literal. So to start, I'm going to sketch the general head shape keeping in mind that I chose to have an angular shaped body from a cat so I'm making the head pretty square. Next I'm sketching my pointy and narrow ears and then my small almond-shaped eyes with straight irises. Now I'm working on my little triangle nose and happy curved a little mouth. I chose to have whiskers, so I'll add those here. Next I'm going to start sketching out the body, which I've decided to have quite large and long in proportion to the head and angular as well. I'm referencing my original sketch to get the shape, but I'm simplifying it quite a bit and making it very angular. I'm going to work on the limbs at the same time, which are also angular but small in proportion to the body. I'll add a long slim tail. Looking back at my chart, I said my limbs would have little nail, so I'll add those to the feet as well. Finally, I'm going to add in the colored areas of the fur and continue on with the angular shapes for those. I decided not to use any details for the fur and to keep it pretty smooth so I'll just fill in those shapes with a solid color. Now I've got my stylized sketch of chicken lady and if you are at all familiar with my work, you will see that I've truly pushed myself to try something different stylistically here. I hope you'll also experiment and try to do the same. I liked my first sketch, but I want to try another version. This time I'm going to write down a different plan for my cat and sketch according to the new plan to see how it turns out. You can continue working off of a plan but if having a plan starts to feel restrictive to you, now that you've removed yourself from the original reference and a more literal approach to sketching, feel free to do a version planned free and see where your intuition takes you. Do these exercises over and over again until you have a version of the cat that really resonates with you and feels like you. You might end up with a hybrid of a few of your versions. For example, you might like the face of one cat and the body of another. Once you have a sketch of a stylized cat that you love, next you'll need to pick a color palette and a medium to illustrate it. 4. Illustrating: Once you have a sketch of a stylized cat that you really like, it's time to think about what media you want to use to illustrate it and come up with a color palette. You don't have to always stick to one medium to have a strong style. A lot of artists are able to have a successful illustration style and switch between different mediums. It's great to try a lot of different things out. Some of the more popular mediums for hand-on illustrations are watercolors. Here's a pan set and a tube set, gouache or acrylic gouache, colored pencils, or a combination of any of those. For digital work, some of the popular programs right now are Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop on a computer, or Procreate in the newer Adobe Fresco for the iPad. Color is another way to further define your style. Are your colors soft and neutral, bold and bright, realistic, or unexpected? There are lots of ways to create your own color palette. You can play around with color swatches until you come up with something you like. You can find objects in your house and develop a color palette from them. You can borrow a color palette from an image you admire. For this last one, I only recommend that in an effort to be truly original, you don't borrow a color palette from another illustrator's work, but instead work from a non-competing source, such as a fashion page or home decor spread in a catalog, an abstract painting, a photograph of nature, something like that. There's also a website that provides color palettes for you if you don't want to come up with your own. It's called Design Seeds and there are lots of different options. I also have this book which I like to use to push myself out of my comfort zone. It offers up lots of pallets suggestions, and even ratios of how much of each color to use. Here is the color palette I've come up with for my illustration. I've decided I want to paint my cat in gouache and layer in some detail using colored pencils. Whether you are working digitally or analog, I recommend starting with your sketch and using it as a template. If you are working digitally, create a template layer to work from. If you are working traditionally, use a lightbox to lightly trace it onto your illustration paper. I like to use this arches hot-pressed watercolor paper pad. It's hot-pressed, which means the paper is really smooth, and I like that because when I scan my paintings, it doesn't pick up any of the textured background that cold-pressed paper has. Here, I have my sketch on my lightbox, and I'm just placing the watercolor paper on top. Next, I use a light sketching pencil, this one is a 2H, to lightly trace the outlines of my cat onto the watercolor paper. I do this so light, it's barely visible so that my pencil marks won't show up under lighter colored paint. I'll also leave out the details from my original sketch since I can paint or draw those in later. Here, I'm mainly worried about getting the main shapes down. Next, I like to start by filling in the largest areas of color first, and then I slowly fill in the smaller areas. Finally, I add the details using a fine tip brush and colored pencils. I work similarly to this when I work in Photoshop or Procreate, starting with the largest areas of color, and layering in the details on top. If you want more information on my methods for illustrating, you can check out my other classes, Illustration in Photoshop, or hand painted greeting card design. In those classes, I walk you through in detail, my step-by-step process for either creating a digital illustration or a hand painted one. Here, I've got my final stylized illustration of a cat. Next up, I'll talk about the project for this class. 5. Project: Your project for this class is to use the steps I have outlined to create a stylized illustration of a card. Once you're done, I'd love it if you uploaded it to Skillshare to share with the rest of the class. If you're interested in learning more about what you can do with your illustrations when you're done with them, I'd love it if you checked out my other classes, Roadmap to getting your illustrations on products, and become a greeting card designer. Thanks for joining me for this class and happy illustrating. Follow me on Skillshare to stay up-to-date on my latest classes. I'd also love to connect on Instagram. You can find me @annewashereandthere. See you soon.