Illustration has made a lot of progress over the past 50 years. With advancements in technology, easy to access photo galleries and pre-made brush packs and tutorials.  Starting in the mid-1950’s, the ideals behind illustration took a giant leap forward when Robert Weaver began expressing ideas and taboo notions rather than simply copying everyday scenes of life. We’ve made giant steps in the world of illustration, but we need to be careful how we treat some of these steps.

Some of our current trends may be bringing more harm than good as we continue to advance as illustrators. As an industry, we need to step back and examine how to produce quality illustrations with our easy to access resources.


Growing up, I remember going to the library and checking out drawing book after drawing book of how to draw cool cars, cartoon characters and realistic animals. These step-by-step books were like having someone guiding your hand while you were drawing, allowing you to duplicate whatever was on the page. This is the same principal that our design culture has started using with online tutorials and pre-made brushes – which in itself isn’t bad – but is something I noticed throughout my college years that has become a crutch for new designers. These are great resources if you use them as a tool, rather than the basis of your illustrations. If you’re finding yourself unable to create original illustrations, chances are you’ve been watching too many tutorials.

So, how do you develop a solid foundation as an illustrator and break away from the norm to bring some originality to your craft?  I’ve found that the only way to infuse originality into your illustrations is to get rid of technology and teach yourself how to draw. When you learn the basics of drawing, it allows you to fully understand why different techniques and styles are being used. As your drawing and sketching skills get better, you’ll quickly recognize you can make some incredible creations, utilizing Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop only to finish the job. It also allows your brain to break free from the limitations of the pen tool and really push yourself to new levels. With all of our current resources, it’s definitely faster to take the easy route: find any picture or pre-made object, and then duplicate it with your own tag. This method, however, never creates unique or one-of-a-kind results, driving artists even further away from the basics of illustration.


It wasn’t until college that I truly learned how to use the fundamentals and mold them into original illustrations. I was forced to do what Robert Weaver encouraged us to do–to create original concepts rather than creating simply just what you see. For example, creating the idea of love rather than simply producing two people holding hands or the idea of anger without showing an angry face.  On top of this theory, is the importance of giving your viewers the opportunity to have different interpretations of your work with varying opinions. In my opinion, great illustration requires a solid foundation in basics, and a little education to truly evolve.


There is no better way to improve as an illustrator than to practice, practice, practice–however, technique isn’t everything. I’ve found that for any of my pieces to be completely successful, I have had to think conceptually first, and technically second. With a good drawing foundation and killer education, you should be well-equipped to determine, plan, and sketch out the best possible direction for your project, with the perfect style and technique to match. If you’re finding that you are not up to snuff for the task at hand, I would suggest hopping on the Web and finding some tutorials to get your skills back in line, and inspire some creative thought. As much as we would like our brains to spew creativity and perfect technique all the time, all of us need a good kick start once in a while to get our head back in the game.  Anyone can go on the Web and copy something that is pleasing to the eye, but our purpose is to give our clients something original that perfectly transmits their intended message.


Illustrators are a dying breed. As more and more clients are expecting cheap and fast results, many designers turn to the cheap and easy solution. We immediately turn to the Web to produce a cool looking character or style that has been done a thousand times before. Even though this habit is cheap and easy, it’s not always the best solution for our clients. These are bad habits, and we need to recognize that these quick and easy tools, are just that: tools, enhancements, solutions. Not original options. Illustrators have lost sight of their pencils and have gone directly to the pen tools and have skipped the necessary steps for producing quality work. I say go ahead and use these great tools we have to improve great art, but not to replace it.