An Illustrator's Day - Custom Blog Banner Painting

Let's be honest: This isn't a "day" of work. The nature of illustration commissions makes them a long process spanning days or weeks, from sketches to last corrections. But: This would be an ideal day in the life of an illustrator, aka my ideal work day! I'll guide you through the entire process of creating a custom, personalized illustration - from idea to finished piece. 

Making-Of: Custom Blog Banner Illustration

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Getting Started with Beauty and Makeup Illustrations

I'd started drawing blog banners nearly two years ago, just after I'd gone from working for a comic publishing company to freelancing. My first 'Beauty' illustrations were just little sketches of my own favorite makeup products, but those quickly evolved into more elaborate motives, #motd drawings, and my very first sticker motives. Instagram really helped in getting the whole beauty and makeup illustration angle going. 

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From sticker motives, I went on to draw product illustrations for online shops and beauty brands... and then the first few blog header illustrations

Beauty Blog Header Illustrations are to this day some of my favorite commissions!

The old header illustration - kept quite simple and with toned-down, cool colors. The new blog banner is warm-toned, brighter and more whimsical.

The old header illustration - kept quite simple and with toned-down, cool colors. The new blog banner is warm-toned, brighter and more whimsical.

So when Sooyoona from Something Beautiful requested a new version of her previous blog banner, I was excited to both draw the piece and look at how my art style had changed in the meantime. 

The process for custom art pieces: 

The commissioner/blogger/brand and so on provides a list of products, color schemes, random favorite decor elements (like flowers, patterns, stationery...) and an overview of their brand's style guide. 

Ideas can evolve from that, or from and image the client already has in their head. I personally really like the look of flatlay illustrations - as in, drawings that mimic flatlay photography. But I've also drawn desktop arrangements, cute shelving and floral pieces for blog headers. Depending on the blogger or brand, one theme might be more fitting than another. 

"Shelfie" inspired beauty blog banner with decorative hand-drawn typo for Aarirang

"Shelfie" inspired beauty blog banner with decorative hand-drawn typo for Aarirang

Based on those initial ideas, I then draw a couple of sketches to test different layouts, arrangements, and formats. Sometimes, a logo has to be included, either hand-drawn or as a typography element. 

Once a sketch has been chosen, we move on to the real thing: 

Watercolor Brand Illustrations:
Art Materials for High-Quality Scans

For these banner commissions, I use a certain type of paper and pencils to make sure that later on, when the image is scanned and used digitally, everything looks smooth and clean.

While watercolors can be really fun on textured, rough paper, those papers usually don't scan well. Most watercolor papers also have a cream or even yellow-ish hue to them, which makes color adjustments a bit of a pain. Since these illustrations are specifically made for digital presentation, I focus on materials that look better digital than when looking at them in real life.

A "What's in my Pouch?" Beauty Illustration for Shiaswelt. Love the pink pastel hues here! 

A "What's in my Pouch?" Beauty Illustration for Shiaswelt. Love the pink pastel hues here! 

Ideal Watercolor Paper for Scanning and Bright Colors

My paper of choice for the last five years (I've previously used it for comic book cover illustrations) is the Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper in Hot Press Extra White. It's so smooth that you can even use ink nib pens without the paper fibers clogging the nib, and the lack of texture makes scanning very easy. The Extra White color is a bonus for anyone who wants to use their watercolor illustrations digitally later on, with the white paper background easily used for color balancing. 

For commission pieces, I also prefer a very hard AND a soft pencil, both applied with soft pressure. 

Why two kinds of pencils? 

  • A 2B or 3B pencil, used with soft pressure, leaves the paper undamaged and is easy to erase. This is perfect for sketching before then drawing the lines with a waterproof pen. 
  • A 3H or 4H pencil, again, used with soft pressure, for the parts of the drawing that won't be lined with a pen or ink later on. Since I won't erase these lines before using watercolors, the hardness of the pencil prevents 'stray' pigments or pencil dust that might mix with the water and leave nasty streaks or stains, and the light color of harder pencils also looks pretty much invisible after coloring on top of them.

Pencils and Pens to use with Watercolors

On the image above you can see the pencil lines drawn with a 3H pencil (this one by Faber Castell) for the center piece of the illustration, which won't receive any pen outlines. The green plant elements around it are already colored in and the pencil lines there just leave a hint of definition.

The elements I'd previously sketched with a 3B pencil (I absolutely love this 'School Line' 3B pencil by Caran d'Ache ever since I discovered it while applying for art school!) are now drawn with a sepia multiliner by Micron. The soft pencil erased easily, and the Fabriano paper does well with even more heavy-duty eraser rubbing. 

I use a Tombow MONO eraser for actually erasing pencil lines. If you've never tried MONO, you're missing out. These are magical, and I've gone through about a dozen while working on comics and illustrations for the last couple years. 
For just toning down lines or removing graphite dust pigments, I prefer a kneadable eraser by Faber Castell.

Coloring an Illustration: First Watercolor Layers

Before going into too much detail for any part of the illustration, I try to get a grasp of the overall color scheme. While the brand's or blogger's colors have been discussed previously, there are still a lot of tiny color differences and shading decisions that I make on the go.

I was using both my Windsor & Newton watercolor set from anno ... 1995 or something, and my brand new Shinhan watercolors. The Shinhan colors are brighter, mostly as a result of the Windsor and Newton ones slowly aging and me carelessly mixing colors in the pans, which gives a bit muddier results. The Shinhan tubes are also really cheap, so I'd recommend getting a set of these when you're just starting out with watercolor painting or if you're looking to expand your collection of shades.

Layering Watercolor Layers for Contrast and Saturation

Once the whole illustration has been covered with a first layer of color and I know where I want to go with the contrasts, where I want to put the most saturation and therefore focus, the details are allowed to join the fun!

I add details in two different ways:

  1. Detailed shading, hints of realism in the objects, tiny details of the objects themselves
  2. Watercolor textures and "random" patterns

The first one is self-explanatory. Adding light reflections, detailed shading and coloring in even the tiniest parts of a drawing automatically makes the result more detailed, playful and intricate. 

The second technique adds visual interests to otherwise simple parts of a painting. I used watercolor patterns and textures on the book covers, the cup and the pouch, as well as all over the background. But adding in tiny watercolor 'splashes' that look random but are carefully placed all over the illustration keeps the end-result from looking too clean.

A chaotic desk illustration with lots of beauty, makeup and stationery products! This one was on the realistic end of my blog illustration spectrum and I loved the more detailed shading and three-dimensional view. 

A chaotic desk illustration with lots of beauty, makeup and stationery products! This one was on the realistic end of my blog illustration spectrum and I loved the more detailed shading and three-dimensional view. 

Word of Warning for Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Techniques:

I don't actually splash around with watercolor. While I love playing with wet-on-wet techniques and random effects in my sketchbook, I really, reallllly don't want to ruin a commission piece! Random effects are fun, but well, they're random and can go very wrong. So my watercolor textures are carefully placed and I don't use too much water - that way, I have more control. 

The center element without pen outlines and, instead, lots of plant elements.

The color scheme for this part of the image is actually quite different from the rest of the image, making it its own entity while still fitting in with the overall image. I used warm greens, mixed with beige for the desktop illustration, but colder greens mixed with blue and white for the logo part.

Using White Watercolor for Effects

White isn't traditionally a part of a watercolor set. But Shinhan has a white pigment tube in their set, and I love adding it to illustrations. It tones down colors, making them milkier.

Ultramarine blue on its own, for example, is a dark blue but very 'see-through'. Mixed with white pigment, it becomes slightly lighter, like a pastel version of the previous color, and loses the see-through quality - so you can paint over mistakes, pencil lines, or add more plasticity!

I used only Ultramarine blue mixed with different quantities of white for all blue parts of the center logo. 

The rest of the illustration doesn't have much if any white mixed in, so the colors are 'purer' and warmer.

After the illustration was finished, I scanned it with my Epson Perfection V330 Photo scanner (Epson has some of the best scanners for color accuracy among all those I've tried so far - while staying affordable) and adjusted exposure, levels, and contrast in Photoshop.

The original piece I mounted on cardboard for a cleaner look and more stability. 

You can see the finished, digital version over on Sooyoona's blog "Something Beautiful". 

Finished the illustration!

That's it for my painting process of commission pieces. Of course, each custom illustration requires a different approach, depending on the style, color scheme, and subject, but the overall work process remains similar. 

If you'd like to commission an illustration, contact me at parkevelyne@gmail.com with your ideas, or head over to my Etsy shop! You can always use the contact form, too. 

I illustrate for a variety of media, but mainly:

  • Social Media Custom Art
  • Custom Logos and Icons
  • Blog Post Editorial Pictures
  • Personalized Portraits or Avatars
  • Product Illustrations
  • Personal Branding 
  • Custom Youtube Headers, Blog Banners, etc...

Do you use watercolors? Any tips and advice to add to my rambling post? :) 

If you're an artist - beginner or advanced - then my art advice on two ways for improving drawing skills can be found here!

Thank you for reading!

The 100 Day Project: Portrait Drawing Practice

100 Days of Drawing Practice

There's a neat creative challenge over on Instagram called 'The 100 Day Project'. The premise is simple: Do something every single day for a hundred days. Of course, I went with drawing - because drawing every single day for clients, projects and the like just isn't the same as conscious, focused practice over an extended period of time.

Portrait drawing practice in my sketchbook as part of #The100DayProject.

Portrait drawing practice in my sketchbook as part of #The100DayProject.

Consistency is great for getting better at any skill, and just by doing art-related tasks every single day you can slowly improve.

I can't remember a day over the last couple of years on which I didn't draw.
Sometimes there'd be elaborate commission pieces. For a long stretch of time (several years) I'd draw comic pages every single day. I went to art school with a focus on technical drawing and illustration. I love sketching. I doodle in my journal. Even when using Photoshop for digital work, there's a graphic tablet pen in my hand.

Portrait drawing practice in my sketchbook. I ... really hate how this one turned out. 

Portrait drawing practice in my sketchbook. I ... really hate how this one turned out. 

10'000 hours of practice

I often get comments along the lines of 'how nice to have such a talent' or 'I could never draw like this' and I would disagree whole-heartedly! Drawing and painting are thought of as a skill you're born with and that can't be learned if you don't have the 'talent', which can be incredibly discouraging if you develop an interest in arts (or have time for arts!) only at a later point in life. A lot of artists look talented because they've pursued drawing and painting as a hobby since they were young and the practice does add up. 

Even the greatest artist of all time had to spend hours and years practicing, and while some people might be better at observation, have a very vivid imagination or are more attuned to their creativity than others, I'd still argue that this happens as and because they spend a lot of time being creative, observing nature, imagining new motives, and drawing.

Two quick portrait sketches combined with watercolor patterns. 

Two quick portrait sketches combined with watercolor patterns. 

Case in point? 

  • After a week - or even a couple of days - of only drawing digital line arts, my watercolor sketches are a mess.
  • After drawing flowers, human faces are a complete mystery to me and look crooked.
  • After just doodling random sketches while traveling, I seem to have forgotten how to draw balanced lines for real illustrations.
  • Or the opposite: After a day of drawing, everything goes smoothly. My mind and body become immersed in what I'm doing. After an entire week of drawing comics, being focused on storylines and storyboards, characters and settings, it's all the easier to come up with even more ideas, better plotlines, and the drawings look a lot more dynamic and alive, facial expressions more fitting... because my brain has been occupied with all of those for so long, and continues to mull over problems even while I'm washing dishes or trying to fall asleep. 

The more time you spend focused on creativity (or any task, really), the easier it will be to stay focused, to have new ideas, better ideas and to develop skills. 

If I spend the entire day working in one medium (like doing pencil drawings or inking comic pages, or just painting) I'll be much better by the time evening comes. After a certain time, it is as if my hands and my eyes had their 'warm up' and everything goes so much smoother.

It's known that athletes need to warm up their muscles, go through the same exercises again and again, to just keep up a skill level.
Musicians do scales and tune their instruments (and ears).
When speaking a foreign language you haven't used in awhile, you'll need time to get back into it.

Drawing is exactly the same. Don't be discouraged if the first 30 minutes of doodling don't produce a masterpiece - my first drawings of the day are always a bit stiff and I'll have to correct proportions or perspective a lot more than later on that same day. 

The first sketch of three in a series. My three main characters from a story idea I've been working on. I like the character above a lot - her color scheme is always 'beige on beige', with her skin, eyes, lips and hair all similar. I normally choose contrasting colors for my character designs, so this is an interesting variation for me. 

The first sketch of three in a series. My three main characters from a story idea I've been working on. I like the character above a lot - her color scheme is always 'beige on beige', with her skin, eyes, lips and hair all similar. I normally choose contrasting colors for my character designs, so this is an interesting variation for me. 

Two Ways of Getting Better at Drawing (or anything):

So there are two ways of improving as an artist, or in any field:

  1. Learn, practice and master new skills
  2. Consistently practice and use old skills

Once upon a time, I learned 'how to draw portraits'. I read books with that very title. I looked at proportions. I practiced drawing portraits both with and without reference pictures.
Then I went on to draw manga comics, and my knowledge of drawing people without references, from different perspectives and - especially - with different facial expressions, got deeper.

One of three character sketches for my comic story - I like drawing the three women that are the main characters in different art styles, from realism to comic style, and see how they change in each style and medium. 

One of three character sketches for my comic story - I like drawing the three women that are the main characters in different art styles, from realism to comic style, and see how they change in each style and medium. 

My art style developed in two quite opposite directions: 

  • Abstracted, simplified (but very detailed) comic drawings: expressive, dynamic and easy to draw for me without any references, mostly black and white ink drawings.
  • Realism (as part of my Science Illustration art school background), very detailed, with reference material, color studies.

    After finishing my last comic book project two years ago and shifting to freelance illustration, these two polar art styles have slowly mixed again. I love drawing colorful, slightly abstract, whimsical and detailed illustrations. 

    But I'd mostly 'forgotten' about drawing portraits and people in general. My freelance work consisted of landscapes, of detailed flatlay illustrations, of floral patterns, children's picture books with animal protagonists, coloring books... with about 0.01% human beings. While on all other fronts my two art styles have mixed and mingled, my portrait drawing skills are still strictly separated into 'manga' and 'realism from reference'. 

Which is what you can see me struggle with for the next 100 days. Yay!

I'm mostly just drawing whatever I fancy on any given day, but I do tend to create little series of two to four images. It's similar to the 'do something all day long and you'll be better at it and more immersed' - trying different approaches to one theme or style teaches me more than just quickly dabble in it and then move on. 

Finally, I remembered to practice drawing profile views, too. I'll have to use more varied perspectives over the coming weeks to really get better at drawing portraits...

Finally, I remembered to practice drawing profile views, too. I'll have to use more varied perspectives over the coming weeks to really get better at drawing portraits...

My first 'series' were simple watercolor portraits dancing between manga style and semi-realism (I should probably call it 'prettyism'). While I didn't use references for the faces themselves, I did consult different images of, for example, noses. Or lips. Different ways of drawing eyes. 

Step by step drawing of a portrait in watercolor. The blue-skinned goddess is a character from 'Strange the Dreamer' by Laini Taylor. 

Step by step drawing of a portrait in watercolor. The blue-skinned goddess is a character from 'Strange the Dreamer' by Laini Taylor. 

I'm actually quite happy with the practice I got from these! The last one here (a fanart for Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor) doesn't only look better than my first attempts, but also seems to convey more atmosphere and emotion. 

And what you can't see: It was so much easier to paint the later ones! I struggled less and less, had to erase fewer attempts and felt more confident in what I wanted the result to look like. I became quicker, too, which is why the later ones look more elaborate - I just got more drawing done in less time. 

Watercolor Portrait Drawing Practice - Laini Taylor 'Strange The Dreamer' Fanart  The blue skin was so much fun!

Watercolor Portrait Drawing Practice - Laini Taylor 'Strange The Dreamer' Fanart

The blue skin was so much fun!

After drawing fan art based on a book, I had the urge to draw more characters I loved... so I switched medium and picked up my colored pencils! 

Colored pencil on black paper portrait drawing practice - Naomi Nagata, The Expanse.

Colored pencil on black paper portrait drawing practice - Naomi Nagata, The Expanse.

A long time ago in art school, we practiced drawing on gray or black backgrounds for very delicate, realistic shading studies. My attempt here was much quicker and rougher, but all the more fun!

Naomi Nagata is a character from my beloved 'The Expanse' book series, and I used a picture of Dominique Tipper who plays the character in the TV adaption as reference for this study. 

Sci-fi inspired portrait drawings as part of my #100DaysofPortraits series. Which is really just an excuse to draw lots of people.

Sci-fi inspired portrait drawings as part of my #100DaysofPortraits series. Which is really just an excuse to draw lots of people.

Then, I cheated.

Really. I had this half-finished Kylo Ren drawing lying on my desk for months now and this was the perfect excuse to correct some facial feature fails (FFF β„’) and finish the drawing.
Also, I was so hyped for Star Wars thanks to the new trailer and really needed some space-fantasy-escapism.

Rogue One character sketches. This movie destroyed me... and as if in revenge, I've now wrecked havoc on Cassian and Bodhi. I'm sorry. I'll practice. 

Rogue One character sketches. This movie destroyed me... and as if in revenge, I've now wrecked havoc on Cassian and Bodhi. I'm sorry. I'll practice. 

Aaaand down the rabbit-hole of fan art I went with some more quick sketches. That Kylo Ren drawing had me notice that I hadn't yet drawn a single male portrait, so I tried to sketch the Rogue One cast. 

One problem here: I'd drawn Jyn Erso first, but forgot to put a paper or textile under my hand while painting... if you've ever tried painting on watercolor paper that has been rubbed over and over again by your own hand, you know what kind of struggle that creates. The paper didn't absorb my watercolors and especially Diego Luna suffered for it. I gave up - but I'll try again soon!

Quick art style practice of Korean ink calligraphy painting. This really didn't go how I wanted it to... But that's the point of practice!

Quick art style practice of Korean ink calligraphy painting. This really didn't go how I wanted it to... But that's the point of practice!

Practice Drawing With Different Media

Another series came about thanks to a commission. I'll be drawing an illustration of a lady in Hanbok, so I used my #the100dayproject daily sketches to practice different styles, facial expressions and collect reference material. 

The first was a quick attempt at a 'traditional' Korean painting style. This is definitely a style that would benefit from me creating a series of maybe five illustrations to get the brush strokes and patterns right... I've got 75 days more to fill, so there we go. 

Facial expression study in pencil for the drawing of a lady wearing Hanbok, drinking tea. 

Facial expression study in pencil for the drawing of a lady wearing Hanbok, drinking tea. 

This is a pencil study for the facial expression the lady in the final illustration will have. Serene and peaceful. 

You can clearly see how I switch back to my manga art style as soon as I use line drawings instead of color/shapes. It's just what comes naturally to me at this time... I'll have to practice shading with pencil to achieve expressive faces in the future.

Portrait sketches of women wearing Hanbok. Watercolor on pencil drawings.

Portrait sketches of women wearing Hanbok. Watercolor on pencil drawings.

On that note: These pencil drawings with some minimal shading that I then painted over with watercolors were lots of fun! This technique is definitely what comes easiest to me! It's quick, leaves me room to correct and erase the drawing in the beginning but then forces me to improvise with the colors.

My bullet journal and sketchbook together, as they should be. 

My bullet journal and sketchbook together, as they should be. 

Also, if you practice drawing portraits: Try drawing the eyes both open and closed. I tend to focus too much on the eyes when they're open, so closing them and allowing the rest of the face to take the spotlight helps me shift my attention. 

Two of the Historical Fashion coloring pages half-finished. While I drew the faces and bodies as part of the #100DaysofPortraits, I added the patterns in the background later on when I had time. 

Two of the Historical Fashion coloring pages half-finished. While I drew the faces and bodies as part of the #100DaysofPortraits, I added the patterns in the background later on when I had time. 

These last four drawings were drawn in-between the other ones. 

I'm working on a series of historical fashion illustrations to be used as coloring pages, too. The line drawings for these are again a mix of manga with some other style influences. I tried to keep the faces simple to leave room for creative coloring!

Everything about Regency fashion is soft and delicate, so when it came to coloring the illustration, I used rosy, beige and blue pastel hues.

Everything about Regency fashion is soft and delicate, so when it came to coloring the illustration, I used rosy, beige and blue pastel hues.

I already started coloring two of them. It's strange to color in pen outlines after having used watercolors liberally on top of rough pencil sketches. 

Coloring in a line drawing can be great practice, though! It allows you to focus on just the color combinations, shading, saturation and lighting, instead of having to think about proportions and perspective at the same time. 

The medieval dress coloring page put a lot of focus on patterns, so I added even more patterns with just watercolors on the sleeves and bodice. I tried to give the face a sun-bronzed look.

The medieval dress coloring page put a lot of focus on patterns, so I added even more patterns with just watercolors on the sleeves and bodice. I tried to give the face a sun-bronzed look.

If you'd like to give coloring these a try, two of the historical fashion motives are already available as printable files. 

There's the Medieval Dress coloring page and the Regency Dress coloring page. The other ones will follow soon!

Light washes of color for this Rococo inspired drawing. 

Light washes of color for this Rococo inspired drawing. 

I'm looking forward to trying more art styles and practice my portrait drawing skills over the next months! 

Maybe you'd like to join in on the challenge? Or just start your own #100DayProject. Even one week of practice can already make a big difference if you focus on a specific art style or theme. Have fun!