Becoming a great illustrator takes much more than just acquiring stellar drawing skills. Arguably the hardest part of an illustrator’s job is to come up with meaningful concepts that communicate ideas most clearly and efficiently.
Whether you’re just getting started in illustration or trying to refine your own workflow as an illustrator, there’s a lot to be learned from understanding how other professionals work. That’s why today, we’re sharing some tips straight from the experts themselves. Here’s a little insight into how other illustrators generate their best ideas so you can experiment with some new, interesting concepts!
1. Create an idea incubator
“I love creating small, colorful illustrations and assembling them as if they were puzzles. It feels playful and nostalgic, and I love juggling several ideas at once. With any illustration work, I start out using what I call my idea incubator. Whenever I see something fresh and inspirational in my daily life that I want to remember, I write the word down and keep the list of words safe with me as inventory for ideas. I’ll usually pick words out from this list and combine several ideas when I first start an illustration.”
2. Take inspiration from the mundane
“I typically start by letting my mind wander. I either daydream or look at random pictures on my phone and online of people, places, or objects that might trigger something new in my mind. I draw ideas out in my sketchbook and begin to explore the concept further.
I’m naturally drawn to people going about their daily lives, everyday objects, and other things that may seem mundane or are easily overlooked by most. I feel like these are the kind of subjects that give you an opportunity to look at simple things differently and create new meaning in your own personal way.”
3. Whip out your camera
“I love photography, and regularly take my own reference shots for lighting, palette, and figures. Like photographers, illustrators are often working with one shot—I believe that for both skills, we have to train our eyes to find the right framing for our characters and scenes.”
4. Keep a notebook with you at all times
“I like to keep a list of illustration ideas written down. Creative block is real, so when a good idea comes along, I recommend writing it down—even if the execution or end result isn’t immediately clear. Keeping a record of good ideas can save a lot of trouble down the road because thinking of something to create is often half the battle. So when the inkling to be creative strikes, there’s a list you can refer to for help.”
5. Commit to a concept & don’t look back
“The beginning of an illustration project can be tough—especially if it’s a personal “for fun” project. It often starts with a confident “Let’s do this!” and unravels into a mess of “I’ve sat here staring at my screen for an hour and still nothing…” Sound about right?
For me, the way up and out of this rut is actually pretty easy: Just pick something you’re interested in and draw it. Don’t overcomplicate it, or finish it in your head before you’ve started. Over time, with practice and a tried-and-true process, it gets easier. Committing to a concept is more than half the battle already.”