Tools of the Trade: My creative tools

Tools of the Trade: My creative tools - student project

Brainstorming: general idea and object list

I had some interesting ideas based on movies, fictional characters, jobs other than my own... but while some of those ideas were interesting none of them felt quite right to me. I didn't want to spend too much time on the concept either, and I wanted to be able to give some depth and personality to the illustration as well... so in the end I decided to do this about about my must-have creative tools for sketching & drawing. Not everything that I use of course, but the most important stuff, including:

- A sketchbook
- A graphics tablet
- Basic drawing tools (pencil, pen, eraser, pencil sharpener)
- Black Ink. It's most representative of the kind of things I draw because while I also like color, I love working in black and white best.
- My headphones. I can't work without music! And each project ends up having its own soundtrack.
- A mug full of coffee/tea/my fuel of choice


I usually like to sketch thumbnails and then develop the one(s) I like best on a bigger size, and this is what I did in this case as well. I knew I would keep refining the sketch (changing the size of the objects, their positions, etc) after scanning it, so I focused mostly about deciding what I wanted to draw (and how I wanted it to look) and having a general idea about the composition. I still did two big sketches; here's the one I ended up using for the final illustration, next to the thumbnails page:

Tools of the Trade: My creative tools - image 1 - student project

At this point I also had decided that I would use a bit of gray along with my black and white, and that my accent color would be orange. It's a personal piece, so it was based on my personal preferences... I love the black/white/red combo, but black/white/orange with some shade of gray is a close second; I thought it would fit this project well. And besides, my current headphones *are* black and orange :)

Drawing the basic shapes with the pen tool

I scanned my two big sketches but I immediately started developing the one I've included above, because I liked it much better. I only did some adjustments in size and position, then I started drawing all the basic shapes using the pen tool and the color palette I had chosen, with a neutral background in light gray:

Tools of the Trade: My creative tools - image 2 - student project

Making the physical marks and textures

Having this base illustration in front of me, as well as my sketch at hand, I made a few lines, textures and marks in two sheets of paper. Some of them had a clear purpose, some of them were random marks & textures that I thought could come in hand in one place or another. I ended up using many of them in different ways.

Tools of the Trade: My creative tools - image 3 - student project

The tools I used for this, other than the ink itself: a dip pen, 2/3 brushes in different sizes, a sponge, and a couple of crumpled tissues (yes, really).

I spent some time in that big wood texture not being sure if I would end up using it or not; but I thought it could make a cool background, if treated properly.

I scanned both pages at 600dpi as instructed, then I went back to Photoshop to start bringing both worlds together.

Completing the illustration

I kept using the alpha channel technique explained in the class videos in order to add the textures to the illustration... I even created a couple of custom brushes out of my ink marks, to work a bit in a couple of layer masks!

It was a long but fun process, during which I kept refining the illustration (moving around a couple of objects, switching colors...), until it looked exactly the way I wanted:

Tools of the Trade: My creative tools - image 4 - student project

On a random/funny note, there's a skull on the mug because a) I've always had a thing about skulls and skull-related merch, so it adds to the 'background story' and personality of the illustration; and b) I actually have a mug very similar to this one :)



Marta Vilaseca
Web/Graphic designer + illustrator-in-progress