5.2 Working Process

For general discussion see post Creative process . This will be developed into a proper hyperlinked review of my working methods for assessment, once my projects and assignments have been updated to reflect my final working methods and skills developed through the course.


Different illustrators work in different ways. Many of the elements of your creative working process will be similar to a standard workflow, but there may be variations, different emphasis in different places, areas that need development or particular strengths.

Reflect on the projects you’ve been involved with up to this point.

  • How would you describe your creative working process? What stages do you go through?
  • How do you undertake research?
  • How and when do you critique your work and what questions do you ask yourself?
  • How do you manage your time?
  • Where are the sticking points?
  • What do you think are your strengths and where do you need to develop further?
  • What’s the process of finishing your work? Is this an area
    you struggle with? Identify how you might get around this issue.

Write a short outline of your working process. Include flow diagrams if it helps describe how you work. Be as honest as you can about how you actually undertake project work.

How would you describe your working process?

My  working process depends very much on the task. There is no fixed pattern.

The following Phases are more like parallel processes that interlink rather than linear stages – though possibly this is because I am studying and doing self-generated briefs with flexibility. I would need to work a bit differently for a client as part of a team where we need to keep to output deadlines for different stages (as is the case with my professional work).

Phase 1: Scoping and initial image development

I have a variety of inspiration starting points, again depending on the nature of the project: 

  • drawing and sketching from life and/or photographs 
  • found images – patterns in woodgrain, marble etc
  • abstract, random processes like blobs of glue, decalcomania left over print marks,  gouache/watercolour doodles. I tend to use up all my leftover paint and ink just playing and put these in sketchbooks. Again exploring compositional possibilities and manipulate images to look at different colours, tonal relationships on iPad or computer.
  • brainstorming words and spider diagrams – though often this is done in my head because of RSI and when my RSI was an official disability I  trained my brain to retain these maps in my head. But I do try to draw these. Sometimes using iThoughts if the main issue is conceptual relationships linked to research (these become very large files and I need to work out the best way to  put these on a blog) or on paper with coloured markers if things need to be more visual.

Generally I use some combination of all these methods as a reflexive process. Depending on how open or specific the brief. Playing with one brief often generates ideas for very different self-generated briefs (as for example in Assignment 4 Aldeburgh and Assignment 5 Oromia Reflected)

I find photography, my iPad and Adobe Lightroom very useful for  exploring compositional possibilities and manipulate images to look at different colours, tonal relationships and different styles. I find this much more useful than a lot of thumbnails, enabling very rapid generation of a large number of options.

Though maybe I should use thumbnails more because putting things on paper (rather than iPad) does free up my lateral thinking of radically different options rather than just variations on a theme.

I also like to use large A2 or even A1 sheets as moodboards and to brainstorm interlinked ideas as in Assignment 5 Oromia Reflected  and particularly my work on the Alphabet in my final assignment for Book Design 1 A to Z from Armageddon.

Phase 2 Research

Contextual research is often done first, before I even start visual brainstorming. This is generally through Google Searches of images and videos, looking for relevant books on Amazon to add to my extensive book collection, looking back though my own earlier work and photographs.

Visual research and experimentation with materials, colours etc interacts with this – even using two iPads next to each other one for Internet and one for drawing.

I do tend to get a bit sidetracked though with research. Things can go off at too much of a tangent as I find a lot of new material. Sometimes research can become an excuse for sitting thinking rather than getting down to things hands-on.

Because of RSI I do a lot on my iPad, but there are recurrent technical issues with inputting to my WordPress blog from my iPad when there are lags between different software updates.

Phase 3 Critique

I continually critique my images visually as I experiment. But I need to be more consistent in referring to the brief set or consciously adapting this so that I am very clear how what I am doing visually relates to what I am trying to say conceptually. It is easy to get carried away with interesting textures, shapes and colours and lose sight of ‘why’ I am doing things. Partly this is because I am still very much learning on the technical level, constantly discovering new things. I find that if I plan too much exactly how I might create an image, things become quite stilted and no accidental discoveries. But as my ‘repertoire of accidents’ expands I will be able to be more strategic.

The questions I ask include general visual dynamics questions about composition and colour from extensive digital experimentation with alternatives. I also ask myself whether what I am trying to say might be better done in another medium or style (though whether I can technically do that is another issue).

I find that most work goes through a stage where I really do not like it. At that point I move onto something else. That usually sparks a new idea.

I also share things with my family to see what they think. I am starting to produce things I would feel happy sharing on forums and social networks – something I plan to do a lot more as I finish work on this course for assessment.

Finishing my work

Most of my work is finished digitally on the computer and/or iPad. Using Lightroom as a catalogue and for basic editing and reformatting. iPad Apps like Procreate and Pixelmator and/or Photoshop for more complex compositing, adding text etc.

I experimented a lot with different papers, scanning and printing methods for Book Design 1. I have yet to follow this experimentation through thoroughly with this course.

I enjoyed the process of working back into digital printouts in Part 1, and also on photographs in Parts 2 and 5. I am aiming to do more of this as I prepare for assessment.

I need to get on top of colour management and print output issues.

Time management

Most projects take me quite a long time, with a long ‘mulling time’ and inspiration coming in bursts often when I am thinking about something completely different. This inspiration is more frequent when I am working on different things. Deadlines and a certain amount of stress can also be productive, as long as I don’t get too stressed and lose sleep. 

I tend to work on several different projects at once to address some of these issues. I find the cross-fertilisation of ideas productive, with exploration of media and learning from one project then helping me think more laterally about other projects. It also means I have things to occupy me if I start to get problems with too much computer work and/or am travelling for work. I do a lot of thinking and planning in cars and on airplanes. 

What are the sticking points

I have to fit illustration around somewhat unpredictable professional work schedules and travel. Also the need to manage RSI and eyestrain doing too much digital work (pc and mobile) on top of my professional work.The RSI also affects not only computer work but also how much physical drawing needing a lot of line work I can do.

I have particular challenges documenting my work for OCA blog because of RSI and professional workload – this would not be an issue if I am just working on illustration itself, or not doing a course needing a detailed blog. 

I need to spend more time doodling on paper, and be more disciplined about doing concept maps to link my visual experimentation with concepts. But for projects like books this really needs to be done for the book as a whole, and also for individual pages. Requiring a lot more time than thinking through options in my head.

Strengths and areas to develop further

I am making progress with drawing, painting, digital, printmaking, collage and video skills. But still have a long way to go on all fronts.

I need to do a lot more sketching from life, and also from imagination.

Currently I am much more confident sketching in pencil or pen from life (though still a lot more practice needed). I need to improve my iPad sketching skills. As well as painting.

I want to do much more systematic work on visual dynamics, bringing together what I have discovered about line, shape, texture, colour and composition. So my images hang together more.

I need to become more familiar with Illustrator, Corel Painter and After Effects, but can only do this when I have time free from other computer work.

I will have more time as I reduce my work travel from next year.