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

This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend products I purchased myself, use and love. For my full affiliate policy, please visit my 'Disclaimer' page. I recommend mostly art materials I've been using for years!

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!

Work-At-Home Artist - From Hobby to Art School to Freelancing

I work from home as an artist.

Why blog about that?

I've worked for years as a freelance illustrator, without creating a proper online presence for myself. Even now, I still hesitate to write about my work as my 'business'... 

... and that's a problem!

I know a lot of artists and creatives struggle with seeing their work (which most of the time evolved out of a beloved hobby) as a business, and treating it as one. Changing my attitude towards my work as an artist is my goal for 2017. This blog will show my (hopefully smooth, but who am I kidding?) transition from freelance illustration to creative business.

how I turned my hobby into a business - working from home as a freelance artist & illustrator

As a foundation for future blog posts on the business side of being a work-at-home illustrator, I'll be sharing the six stages of my artist life until now, from first sales to comic books, from freelance illustration to side-hustle business as an Etsy shop owner. 

 The six stages of becoming a work-at-home artist - from drawing as a hobby to art school, from doing commissions on the side to setting up my own creative business, from practice to book publishing deals. I'll be sharing my experiences as I move on from work-for-hire freelance illustration to creative biz owner - join me on this probably not very smooth journey!

Drawing as a Hobby

It's where we've all started, right? No matter if it's drawing, painting, crocheting, cooking, making jewelry - at one point there was a passion for a craft. And lots of practice.

While I've always enjoyed drawing, I really got into it at about 15 years old. I sketched, practiced more or less seriously, and started publishing web comics. Without those hundreds and hundreds of pages, I'd still draw :-) faces and stick figures. 

 Old times... :)

Old times... :)

If you're not some sort of elusive genius, you'll probably be in that hobby phase for a couple of years before you decide you'd like to go one step further...

Independent Self-Publishing

This was how I got my toes wet. Book fairs in Germany were my marketplace, and I sold self-published comics, mostly together with other artists. Still just a hobby, but the perfect place to try new things (and fail sometimes), develop an art style, practice more and more and make a bit of money on the side. 

Competition entries were another focus (school? what's that?) of my younger self, and I actually won a couple of prizes and learnt how to deal with deadlines through those.


 

It might not be publishing for you, but maybe local art and crafts fairs,
small competitions in your creative field...
Challenge yourself and see where you need to grow and learn new skills!


Taking the Jump: On Art & Design School

Despite doing pretty much nothing else, drawing hadn't been my focus in high school. I was on track to go into Natural Sciences - but finally decided to instead try to turn my beloved hobby into an actual job.
I scrapped my university application for Biology, prepared a portfolio and made it into the 'Basics in Design' preparation year at the Basel School of Design (my hometown). As all my major classes in high school were focused around languages and sciences, that year-long class was necessary to apply to art universities in the future. Since it was an international course, all classes were in English for some much-needed practice, and through-out the year broadened my horizons: Typography, poster design, color studies (I'd mostly worked in black and white for manga/comic books), going back to drawing basics, project-oriented work... 

 

For me with my hobby-comic-artist-only background, those classes were a challenge and I loved them all the more for it!

The drawing classes were still my favorites, though. And I was made aware of an art major that had previously flown under my radar: Science Illustration. The focus on realism, traditional painting and drawing and my old love for science/nature, united in one!

After the year at design school, I applied for the two Science Illustration majors in Switzerland, got into both, chose the one in Zurich - Scientific Visualization - since that one focused on digital media, too, and moved to a new city.

 One of my illustrations for my Bachelor project on molecule and chemistry depictions, with a focus on Alzheimer's Disease and 'old-fashioned' media like pencils to show modern research. (Yup, I'm a bit of a nerd. In a variety of fields.)

One of my illustrations for my Bachelor project on molecule and chemistry depictions, with a focus on Alzheimer's Disease and 'old-fashioned' media like pencils to show modern research.
(Yup, I'm a bit of a nerd. In a variety of fields.)

Notice a pattern there? Whenever I had the possibility, I chose classes, schools and directions that would challenge me and put me outside of my comfort zone. 

  1. Hobby comic artist? On to learn about typography and design, which I knew zero about!
  2. Love drawing with pencils? Take color/painting classes.
  3. Staying in the country? Apply for international-oriented, English-language classes.
  4. Comfortable with traditional art supplies? Choose the major with more digital media!

Because, really, I knew I'd practice my 'comfort zone' skills on my own, in my free time. 

Publishing Deal And Moving To Korea

Now, here's where everything went a bit crazy. In the middle of my first year at art school, I actually got a book deal from a major publishing house in Germany. I'd handed in my comic concept without much hope of this first try going anywhere, but all of a sudden I found myself juggling art school classes (Science Illustration being quite strict with its daily 9-5 routine), homework and projects, and drawing 180 pages in my free time. 

While it was definitely a lot of hard work, I did learn a lot about focused working, productivity and creating content steadily, constantly. Also: I just love telling stories! And drawing! Yay! Dream come true!

manga-comic-book-illustration-working-for-a-publisher


After that first book, I took half a year to just focus on my Bachelor, but did hand in a new concept... luckily, both my degree and next publishing deal worked out, and I left with my Bachelor in Design and a two-book contract.

I moved to South Korea. Huh. Short version: I'd been in a long-distance relationship with my Korean boyfriend, and finishing art school and having a contract that would allow me to work from anywhere in the world was the perfect jumping point to finally move in together. 

Working remotely for a publishing house was perfect for those first couple of years in a new country:

  •  I couldn't have found local work due to the initial language barrier.
  • Since I wasn't a native speaker of English, the No.1 expat job in Korea - being an English teacher - wasn't a possibility.
  • German teachers weren't needed in the rural area of Jeju Island where we lived,
  • and even just working part-time somewhere would have been an exercise in get-used-to-being-stared-at-and-frighten-Korean-children-with-your-foreigner-face. 

Going Freelance & Social Media as an Artist

Fast forward to two years later. 

Because that's really what it felt like. Working on two comic books while getting the hang of a new culture, new language (I didn't have time to go to classes, so there was a lot of self-studying to be done), getting married and moving houses a total of four times had the months just flying by.

 Cover illustration for the first part of that two-book series. For most of the part while working on these, I didn't even have a desk or work space, and I remember painting this one sitting on the floor at a Korean-style dinner table. :)

Cover illustration for the first part of that two-book series. For most of the part while working on these, I didn't even have a desk or work space, and I remember painting this one sitting on the floor at a Korean-style dinner table. :)

My books were finished. And now I had a problem: Money.
Comic books certainly don't pay well. While it was alright as a transition job, I already had to start accepting commissioned art on the side while still drawing comic pages to make my income work out.

Second problem: Location.
We were still living in the countryside, and while we owned a tiny cafe to earn money during the tourist seasons, there were still no local opportunities for me to work.

Third problem: No digital platform.
Drawing comic books is a bit of an isolated process, and I was just grinding out pages over pages, never stopping to really build an online portfolio or blog, or do more than a monthly post on my facebook page.

So, there I was again, needing to step out of my comfort zone:

  1.  I started working freelance as an illustrator instead of going after another comic book deal. At least for the present, I had to prioritize financial stability over creative fulfillment. 
  2.  I worked digitally and internationally. After taking stock of all my past work - movie storyboards made during art school years, bachelor project illustrations, comic commissions, personal projects - I created a simple online portfolio with relevant categories, contacted old connections (publishing, book shops, anyone I knew in the art/design world) and sent out proposals. Wow, did and do I still hate writing those kind of mails. But I did get a couple of jobs to get me started! I also worked for some local businesses, creating menu cards, business cards and album cover illustrations.
 I used some of my skills learnt for Science Illustration to draw simpler illustrations of animals and plants for guidebooks, postcards and children's picture books.

I used some of my skills learnt for Science Illustration to draw simpler illustrations of animals and plants for guidebooks, postcards and children's picture books.

 

3. - I started blogging and social media. Mostly Instagram. I just drew what I loved: Daily sketches inspired by diary/hobonichi entries, local scenery and Korean traditions, Korean beauty and skincare... luckily, that transformed into getting commissions for beauty blog illustrations

I also made prints out of some of my illustrations and opened an Etsy shop.

 The six stages of becoming a work-at-home artist - from drawing as a hobby to art school, from doing commissions on the side to setting up my own creative business, from small customized blog artworks to brand illustrations...  I'll be sharing my experiences as I move on from work-for-hire freelance illustration to being/owning a creative business - join me on this probably not very smooth blogging journey!

WHAT'S NEXT? From freelance illustration to creative business.

Blogging on-and-off and doing a bit of a side-hustle business with my Etsy shop and commissions always took a back-seat to my actual freelance work. My client base grew, I had monthly recurring projects for storyboards and concept design, as well as several larger projects like children's picture books, coloring books and concept art. Thanks to the variety of work, I thought myself a wide array of new techniques, art styles and digital media. 

But work-for-hire freelance illustration is a dead-end career.

There's a big difference between working on commissions that were ordered by people who'd found me via my social media or Etsy shop and wanted something similar, and working for a company in an art style they need - often with specific style guides. There's little creativity involved. After I've handed in my work, I can't really use it for anything else. Most of my storyboard/company work isn't really something I'd want in my portfolio. Deadlines are grueling when mixed with the time-difference I have to most of my clients' locations. And while I enjoy drawing and learning new skills in general, I of course love to work on my own projects, in my own art style, with my own ideas even more. 

 

After a health-related breakdown in October 2016, I knew I needed to change directions. I hadn't taken a break in months. I didn't have weekends. Whenever there was free time between work-for-hire projects, I drew for private clients or my small side-business. I missed drawing just for the fun of it. Did I mention we'd spent the year building a tiny house, too?

Anyway, I was really, really tired. 

I continued to work and finished up projects until January 2017, but then, I took two weeks off to just focus on smaller commissions in art styles I love (via Etsy) and revamped my whole online presence by switching from my mixed bag of a blogspot blog and a portfolio on another platform to this site, with my very own domain. I sketched and painted for my own projects.

 The six stages of becoming a work-at-home artist - from doing commissions on the side to setting up my own creative business. I'll be sharing my experiences as I move on from work-for-hire freelance illustration to opening an Etsy shop and creating my own products - join me on this probably not very smooth blogging journey through the ups and downs of my creative process, finances and incomes!

Here we are now. I know every artist's and creative's story is different. Every opportunity is unique. But I'll be blogging about my progress from work-for-hire freelance illustrator to a creative business (or whatever you want to call it) during 2017.

I want to show both bad and good sides, share my experiences and get into the gritty details of income and finances as an artist, blogger and self-employed expat. Fingers crossed, and see you soon with my first monthly report: A recap of January, my starting point and my goals for February and the year as a whole!

If you're a work-at-home artist, or a creative business owner of any kind, I'd love to hear your story! How did you start out, why do you work from home, what are your goals? Feel free to share your blog below.

 The six stages of becoming a work-at-home artist - from drawing as a hobby to art school, from doing commissions on the side to setting up my own creative business, from practice to book publishing deals. I'll be sharing my experiences as I move on from work-for-hire freelance illustration to creating my own products, my own brand & business - join me on this probably not very smooth blogging journey!

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