Creative Process

“Most of the best ideas I have come from doodling, or playing around with markers – creating ideas from making mistakes.”
Ivan Brunetti 2006 (in Hignite, 2006 quoted OCA Coursebook p148)

Creative workflow is generally presented as some sort of flow chart like the above (from OCA Book Design 1  blog and incroporating issues from Illustration 1) with various key stages that will be common to all creative practitioners,  but how and when they take place will vary greatly between different individuals and disciplines. An honest analysis of how you yourself work within a timescale is essential to being able to effectively fulfil a brief, particularly one requiring a high level of innovation and creativity. It’s far better to recognise the ups and downs and build them into your working process than to pretend they don’t happen. 


Research takes place throughout a project and covers a lot of different areas. It involves:

  • gathering the source material and any other information you need from primary and secondary sources
  • testing out ideas visually through mock-ups, thumbnail drawings,
    roughs and prototypes. 
  • understanding the contexts in which the brief sits – the competition, your audience, etc.
  • experimenting with different approaches, tools and media
  • playing and being inventive.

Sometimes a client provides some source material, but generally it’s up to the illustrator to find it. In using secondary sources it is important to consider Copyright issues. 


Build in time to take a step back and critique what you have done. Often the prototype stage is a good time to do this.

  • are you answering the brief fully
  • are the illustrations working
  • what you could do to improve them, both in terms of ideas and visual quality.

Finishing your artwork

Depending on the nature of the brief, illustrations may need to be output to the Internet and/or to print. Each of these has different specifications and requirements.

Refining visual ideas from the visuals to finished illustrations is often a difficult stage and it requires a lot of experience to be able to do this without losing the dynamism of the earlier work – even using digital methods.  

Preparing your artwork for print

This generally involves scanning your artwork at a high resolution (150–300dpi), ensuring the colour and contrast quality is correct, and tidying up any blemishes or errors. You’ll need to use CMYK colours rather than screen-based RGB.

Nowadays most clients require artwork in a digital format, so this final stage may involve getting your artwork to the client or the printers via the internet. Exporting your images into a pdf is the most usual way of digitising artwork, but if you’re working with a printer or client, check with them before the
deadline. Don’t forget to check you have the correct dimensions before you embark on finishing your work.

If your image is destined for a piece of printed design work where the image runs right up to the edge of the paper, then you’ll need to accommodate a ‘bleed’ into your artwork. If a client or printer has requested a bleed, make the illustration slightly larger around the edges, usually 3–5mm, to accommodate the printing process. This bleed space will be lost when the final artwork is cropped, so make sure it’s a continuation of your artwork, but nothing too important is in this space. Not much visual information will be lost but
it will affect the composition and needs to be anticipated. Most software will be able to indicate a bleed either by manually putting it in yourself or by opting for a bleed at the print stage. Don’t forget to keep the bleeds in place when you save your pdf.

Along with bleed and crop marks, printers use registration marks and colour bars to help ensure that each of the CMYK colours, which are printed individually as part of a full colour job, are registered on top of each other in the printing process. If you are working with a printer, talk to them about what’s required.
 See Post on colour management (to be updated and adapted from my Photography course – some of the effects like pixellation can be used creatively)