Expand Your Illustration Horizons: Developing Your Graphic Language | Jesse LeDoux | Skillshare

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Expand Your Illustration Horizons: Developing Your Graphic Language

teacher avatar Jesse LeDoux, Illustrator, Artist, Designer

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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.



    • 2.



    • 3.



    • 4.



    • 5.

      Color Palette


    • 6.

      Visual Density


    • 7.



    • 8.

      Project Time!


    • 9.

      Project 1


    • 10.

      Project 2


    • 11.

      Project Wrap-Up


    • 12.



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About This Class

Creative slumps? Stuck in a rut? Unsure of your current process? Forget all those voices in your head. From beginners to seasoned professional illustrators, we can all benefit from looking at how we create images. In this class, we'll break down the elements to creating an image and look at the endless ways we can put it all back together to create something new and exciting. The result are some fun and easy ways to either develop or augment the look of your work.

Meet Your Teacher

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Jesse LeDoux

Illustrator, Artist, Designer


Born in Portland, Oregon, Jesse LeDoux worked for many years as an art director for Seattle-based Sub Pop Records where he created iconic album and poster artwork for such artists as the Shins ('Best album packaging' Grammy nominee for Chutes Too Narrow), Iron and Wine and Death Cab for Cutie before leaving in 2004 to focus on his client-based and personal work at LeDouxville.

Parallel to working on commercial illustration and collaborative projects for such clients as Starbucks, Nike, Disney, Giro, Rapha, Penguin UK and Target, he has exhibited internationally. His work was included in the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial (2007), an installation at the University of Maryland (2008), and has work in the permanent collection of the Experience Music Project (Seattle, WA), R... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hi, my name is Jesse LeDoux. I've been an illustrator for over 20 years. In that time, I've worked on a wide range of projects such as Murals. This one is three stories tall, and this one's in Tokyo. I've created a line of toys, and I've had cartoons and development at major networks. I've created artwork for international festivals and beer cans and a ton of music packaging, including one that got nominated for a Grammy. So what I'd want to do with this class is, take a look at how you create images and explode those, take them apart, really dissect what those elements are and then look at ways at which you can put it back together and come up with something that still works with your current work, yet feels fresh and exciting and new. The best way to push through creative blocks is to find new methods of working. New ways to work leads you to new discoveries which can unlock new avenues for creativity. Adding new approaches to your work keeps the work interesting to you and fresh to those seeing it. So let's get into it. Let's expand your illustration horizons. 2. Overview: To start out with, let's look at the big picture, things that make up an image. You have shapes, you have lines, you have your color palette, you have the visual density, you have texture. All of these are facets to your image-making. The way each individual person uses these things, is what I call your graphic language. A lot of people use the word style, but I find a slight difference between the two. I feel like your graphic language plus your interest and the way that you see the world is your style.. Your graphic languages is more hanging on the aesthetics. Once you take your aesthetics and then you layer on your interests and your thought process, then that ultimately creates your style. All of those are very important. With this class, we're primarily going to be looking at the aesthetic portion of that big picture. The shapes, the lines, color palette, visual density, texture. There are other things too, I'm sure, but these are the ones that we're going to primarily focus on in this class. 3. Shapes: Let's take a deeper look at the various elements that make up a graphic language. First up are shapes. Geometric shapes, are the most basic. You have square, circle, triangle. You can stretch a square and you have a rectangle. Or you can cut up a circle and you get quarter arcs and domes. Geometric shapes are near and dear to me. I've used them a lot throughout my career. The world is a busy, chaotic place and having the ability to simplify this busy, chaotic world into just a few simple shapes, helps me understand the world better and find calm among-st that chaos. For instance, nature is wild and I love it, but I also love order and I love a strong central image. Being able to reduce a wild tree into just a triangle stacked atop a rectangle is a way for me to better understand it a little better. It makes sense to me now. Turning the sun into just a circle with some triangles around it makes this powerful ball of fire in the sky approachable. An arc in the back becomes a rainbow. A triangle behind that, a mountain. Some rectangles in front become buildings. Reducing the world in a few simple shapes as a way of saying that we're all part of this world and we're all in this together, we're all made up of the same stuff and we have the same basic needs and desires. Next up are angular and fractal shapes. I don't use these much in my work but I've seen people use them in really stunning ways. This way of drawing shapes allows you to create something more representational of real life. Yet, the way you choose to fracture the image can lead to really compelling in your unique results. Here, I'm drawing some leaves of a plant. The way the plant folds and bends is easy to reduce to angular shapes. Mountains are also a fun thing to draw in this way. The way the light hits the various faces of the mountain easily defines your shapes. Drawing with angular shapes works best if you have a strong sense of color and the opportunity to use a full spectrum of colors. There's a nuance in choosing color with angular shapes that really makes the image come together when done well. Of course, I'm drawing these quickly now in black and white so I urge you to play with color on your own. The last thing I have to say about angular shapes besides how terrible this drawing is turning out, is that the image works best when there are shapes of various sizes. The combination of some large and some small shapes makes for a more impactful image. Now for curvy shapes, this is the most open-ended and unconstrained sort of shape. It's fluid and fun. It's like taking the foundation of geometric shapes, but then breaking all the rules. Circles can turn into bulbs, arches can turn into distorted beans, rectangles turned into stretched out ovals. It's really just restrained and free. Drawing with curvy shapes and makes for a look that is playful and potentially leaning into either psychedelic or cartoon-y territory. A lot of my work comes from emotional place not based in reality. Because of this, curvy shapes are a great fit for me. Like I was saying about geometric shapes, where they help simplify the world. curvy shapes are a way for me to make a world that is unique, lighthearted, and fun. Should I draw a tongue? Yeah, I should draw a tongue. 4. Lines: First off, this is no new news for anyone, but lines can be thin, Lines can be thick, and lines can be somewhere in between, we all know this. But the thickness of your line can drastically change how your image looks. You can even choose to create an image without any lines at all, where all of the elements in your image can be made of solidly filled shapes. Beyond the thickness of your lines also think about the length of your lines, are they short or long?. Short strokes can look rough and sketchy, whereas long lines are typically more fluid and graceful. If you're drawing hair, short strokes will create a much different look than long strokes. Something else to consider with your lines, is whether your exterior shape is outlined or not. An outline, which is sometimes called a key line around the shape can provide a nice contrast with it's background. Outlines have the tendency to make things look a little more cartoony, which may or may not be a good thing in your case, depending on your project. Apologies for the heck job on coloring this, this pen is far too large for the size of the shape I'm coloring right now. The last thing to think about with lines is the orientation of the lines, you could do an entire drawing and just vertical lines, or just horizontal. The direction in which you draw the lines can drastically change the overall look of your piece. You can also choose to crosshatch, which is all in all together a different look. Some people love crosshatching, some hate it, everything has its purpose. 5. Color Palette: Color is a very important element when developing a graphic language. Let's walk through a few different ways color can be used. The first and probably most obvious is full color. Full color is great because there are no limitations. You have a full spectrum available to you, but sometimes limitations are good. Gray scale is basically the exact opposite of full color. You have black, white, and all the grays in between. Working in gray scale can be a great way to initially build out an image. It gives you an opportunity to figure out lighting and contrast without getting bogged down with color. If you can make something look good in gray scale, adding color will only make a better. Mono-chromatic is essentially the same as gray scale, but your black becomes a color. In this instance, it's dark blue. If you plan to use shades of the color, it's best if your darkest color is pretty dark. That way there is a wider range of shades available to you. If your darkest color were a light blue, then there's not enough of a range between it and white for you to get many colors out of it. A limited color palette is one of my favorite ways to work. If you're looking for a graphic bold aesthetic, a limited color palette is the way to go. By only using a handful of colors in your piece, it creates a fun limitation. It's a less is more solution, that's the best of both worlds. It's more engaging than something gray scale or mono-chromatic. Yet limiting the colors can keep your image from looking like a cluttered Lisa Frank confetti party. Apologies to Lisa Frank. I'm sure your confetti party is a true light, but limited color palettes are more my speed. Moving on, a warm color palate can help either set a sunny or intense mode and using a cool palate can help your piece feel either emotionally detached or just simply cold. 6. Visual Density: The visual density per piece refers to how much blank space you leave in your image. I created this popsicle print several years ago. I'm using it as an example because it's both sparse and dense. The large popsicle is pretty sparse. This is an 18 by 24 poster, and it just has one big popsicle filling up the sheet. However, when I created it, I wanted it to have a greater visual density, so I filled the red shape of the popsicle with one very dense illustration. If I knew this would only be seen from a distance, or would be printed as a small-scale, I wouldn't have added the dense drawing inside the popsicle. However, I wanted this piece to be effective from a distance and from closeup. From a distance, it's just an absurdly large popsicle filling up the entire sheet and as you get closer, you realize there's a whole world of summertime to explore within the popsicle shape. 7. Texture: Texture can drastically change the look of your piece. Are the edges clean and crisp? Are they rough and inconsistent? The method you use to create your image will largely determine the texture of your piece. If you want something clean and precise, it's probably easiest to use a vector-based drawing program like Illustrator. If you like consistency with the little imperfection, try drawing pens like microns or something. If you prefer an inconsistent yet smooth line, so it goes from thick to thin in a very smooth way, draw with a brush, or if you like things really inconsistent, try a brush pen or maybe even a crow quill pen. A brush pen that's running low on ink is very inconsistent and very rough and pretty fun to draw with. You can even use scissors to draw. The result is a clean edge, but slightly choppy and inconsistent, which gives your shapes a nice warmth. 8. Project Time!: Now that we've gone through the various elements of an image, let's begin to decide what our graphic language will be. Let's start by combining a few of your favorite elements that we've just discussed. You don't have to choose something from every category. Just pick two or three things that sound interesting, and we'll use those to create an image. Now what I want to do is find an image to recreate. The best way to push through creative blocks is to see the world through new eyes. Because of this, pick something that's very familiar to you. Maybe it's your workspace or the view out your front window, the past piece of yours that you want to redraw in a different language. Maybe it's your favorite piece that you've created, or maybe it's a piece you've never been satisfied with. Whatever it is, we will create that image using a new graphic language built on the ideas we've just gone over. So to recap; pick an image, choose a couple graphic language elements and draw the image with these constraints. So here's my image. It's a quick photo I just took of the view outside my studio. A lot of plants. But if you squint, there really isn't much going on, it just becomes a mess of green. However, it's a great opportunity to use some of what we've just gone over to make sense of this mess. I'll draw this twice using a different graphic language each time. 9. Project 1: For the first drawing, I am choosing the following attributes for my graphic language. I plan to use geometric shapes because I want to simplify the chaos of green. I want to have a rough texture because I want my drawing to still feel wild and loose. I want it to have a medium density because the image is already very dense. I use a brush pen for this because I like how the texture is with this pen. It's pretty rough. I'll start out by drawing some rectangles for the pathway. Just simple straight lines. Add another rectangle for the handrail. Now let's add some variety by adding circular shapes. A dome for this plant, a dome for this rock. Another dome for this rock. The cherry tree is another rectangle. I'll add a few triangles for this row of trees and some more domes for each of the other bushes in the distance. In the photograph, it's hard to discern where one bush ends and the next begins. By drawing them as simple domes or half circles. It gives them order and makes the image easier to understand. The angular lines of the triangles help give the piece some variation and adds more life to it. The main forms of the drawing are now blocked out. From here, I'll add some more lines and dots to give the piece more density. Some lines in the step are like a bunch of thin rectangles next to each other. Some dots for the aggregate of the walkway helped to denote these two shapes are similar. I'll add a few lines for some thin plants here. Some consistent texture in the three triangle trees visually grips them together. A rainbow of arcs here gives this rock some graphic variation. Changing the angle of the lines on this rock help it to stand out from the other domes around it. For this plant, I'll do some tiny little dots to symbolize the delicate nature of this plant. This bush is a hearty, strong bush, so I'll give it these dimples strokes. These bold expressive strokes allow me to add darkness behind the handrail by increasing the amount of dimples. I want the bush behind it to look different, so I'll add thinner diagonal lines. Up at the top here is a tree, so I'll add some more expressive dimples strokes, but this time going in the opposite direction to define that form. Since we haven't used any short vertical strokes yet, I'll add those in for this bush. Now to unify the negative space above the bushes, I'll add horizontal lines in the blank space, so it reads as a unified sky. I want these to be thin so they feel recessive and won't compete with the foreground. Since it's looking a little top heavy, I'll add some circles down here because there are some rocks off to the side of the walkway. This gives the bottom more visual density. To recap, this image is created with simple geometric shapes. The whole image is really just a few rectangles, triangles, and some circular arcs. The rough texture from the brush pen matches the looseness of the plants and the whole image has a medium density. The plants are a little more dense because I want nature to be my focus and I stay pretty sparse with the walkway. Now, onto the next one. 10. Project 2: For the second drawing, I'm choosing on the following attributes for my graphic language. I plan to use curvy shapes because the image is primarily plants, and the curvy shapes work well with nature. I want it to be colorful just to do something different than the first drawing, and I want it to be very dense. I'll try to fill every square inch of the page. I have these four colored markers on hand, so I'll use them. Again, using the same reference image I'll start out by drawing the walkway, except this time with curvy shapes. Since the walkway is a man-made element, I'm using brown, saving the brighter colors for nature. The handrail is also man-made, so it'll be brown too. You can use color to visually organize an image. This rock in the middle is pink, the one behind it will be green, so the two rocks don't look the same. I'm trying to alternate the colors of each element, so they can each look independent from each other, so if one rock is green, I'll do the next as pink. Since these three trees are all the same kind, I'm grouping them together by making all three of them green. Now, to add a few more of the bushes in alternating greens and pinks. Yellow is a pretty light color, so I'm using that for the very distant bushes. Once I have shapes drawn for all the elements, I'll start adding patterning to make the image visually dense. I'll add circles for the aggregate. Some small dots for the side of the walkway. Next, I'll fill in the trees with layered wavy fur paws. Then adding texture to the trunk of the cherry tree, I'll try to add enough detail so that it looks visually dense. For the massi rock, I want to add short diagonal lines, which allows me to go more dense where the rock is darker, and have less lines where the rock is light. Since the goal of this drawing is to be visually dense, I still need to fill in the rest of the walkway. As I fill in these circles, it gives me a mental break to think about what I want to do next. I'll add some wood textured lines to the handrail, then work on the bush behind it. I like the lumpy, wavy look of the green fir trees, so I'll do something similar on this pink bush. I probably wouldn't have if they were both green, but since this one is pink, they'll look like different plants. Similarly, I'll give this green bush behind it a similar treatment as the pink rock in the center. Since they're different colors, it won't look like I'm visually grouping them. The tree up at the top will need to be very dense to differentiate it from the pink bush beneath it. Although the rock and adjacent bush are both green, I'll make the texture on the rock much more sparse, so they'll immediately look like different objects. I'm adding a few little plants at the base of the walkway to bring a little color to the bottom, because of the visual density of this drawing, I need to differentiate the two levels of the walkway. Otherwise, it will look like one continuous plane, but since both parts of the walkway are the same material, they have to look similar, so what I'll do is draw stretched out circles. This makes it look different from the right side and it gives this part of the walkway some movement. The yellow is light enough that I can add some green trees over it, without it being super noticeable. Adding some pink at the bottom helps fill in the bottom portion, and bring some more color to the bottom, which helps to balance out the color used in the drawing. This drawing is supposed to be visually dense, so we'll need to fill in the sky area. I'm using yellow, since it's a light color and will visually recede. I'll also use the yellow to add highlights to various objects in the drawing. Adding yellow throughout the piece helps unify the image, and since the yellow is so recessive, I can be pretty sloppy with how I apply it. Now that I'm basically finished, I'll go through and add color in a few more places to balance the color out. Some green grass here, some pink grass there, and a pink rock to break up the green of the fir trees and the cherry tree trunk. With that, I'm done, the curvy shapes really helped to reinforce the nature in this drawing. I used color to organize the elements in the drawing, with the pink and green being used for the natural elements, and brown for the man-made elements. I used yellow to pull everything together and my final graphic language goal was to make the drawing visually dense, which it is. Even a light place like the sky, still has a lot of lines filling up the negative space. 11. Project Wrap-Up: Here are my two drawings, side by side. Although both drawings are of the same image, as you can see, just by changing a couple of variables in the graphic language, you can arrive at very different results. It's up to you how long you adhere to one specific graphic language. Maybe you lock in the one thing that really works for you, and you only do that, or you choose a different graphic language for each project. It's very adaptable. For consistency across your career, I'd suggest you don't drastically change your graphic language too frequently. It's good to have some connective tissue in your work, but when you start hitting creative blocks or feel that your work is getting stale, start switching some things up. Try something new and see where it goes. 12. Conclusion: Well, here we are at the end. Through this class, we looked at various elements that you use to create an image and tried different approaches to create that image. From here, I'd like for you to create an image, multiple images using different aspects of your visual language. Try removing some things from the way you're typically working and add something new. Then just keep trying different things and removing and taking away, and removing and taking away to constantly keep your worth fresh and fun and engaging. Thanks for watching. I hope you enjoyed it and please keep trying. Thanks.