Working Process

From Illustration 2 and Book Design
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.
I tend to get very bogged down in research. I need to get down to actually visualising and drawing ideas much more quickly.
Sometimes the digital process also gets in the way. There are so many possibilities of cropping and blending – it gets addictive. I need to be more strategic in plotting out possibilities that are very distinct first and then experiment digitally.

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.

“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)
Book Design 1

Creative Design Process

Working to a Brief

Working to a ‘Brief’

A book designer generally works to a ‘brief’ – a specific set of requirements for a particular project. The brief may be set by an external agency, or it may be self-initiated. The scope of the brief may vary in terms of how much creative input the designer can exercise. In some assignments the designer is provided with text and images, along with clear guidelines as to how these are to be set out. In other cases they may be provided with a brief outline of content and title and asked to ‘come up with ideas’ – to devise concepts for cover images, for example.

The role of the designer

The designer’s role is collaborative and communicative. The designer is responsible for the visual elements on the page, the structure, arrangement and layout of typography and images. The role can be highly creative, particularly when the role crosses over into art direction; where this is the case, the designer’s ideas play a major part in shaping the visual book form.
There is a clear distinction between:

  • editorial roles: an editor deals with all the text
  • designing roles: a designer deals with the images and layout. A designer deals with the arrangement of the text and images but never edits the text. Although errors in the text may be apparent, a designer never makes corrections without first alerting the client and the editor.

Depending on the publishing and production model used, the designer may
be largely responsible for aspects of the proposal, development and realisation of the book form and may oversee the control of various elements as the book makes its way through the production process, ultimately checking printer’s proofs and ‘signing off’ a project when it is ready to go to print.

Creative Design Process

Book design is related to graphic design and a similar working process underpins much of the creative thinking and evolution of any particular design job. The creative design process includes the following stages:

  • Ideas generation
  • Research
  • Development
  • Visuals
  • Presentation

But it is not a prescriptive process – key phases (eg research and development) often overlap and link quite organically. Design work generally follows a cyclical rather than a linear process, repeating the phases many times from a micro to macro scale and back to refine and ultimately conclude the design.
Generating ideas
The design process begins with the generating of visual ideas. In this early formative stage, be as wide-ranging and imaginative as possible in your ideas. ALL ideas are valid at this point, so don’t censor; this is not the stage to decide what is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ idea – at this point they are all just ‘ideas’ with equal
merit. Record your thought processes and ideas using (in no particular order):

  • Brainstorming/spidergrams/mindmaps: ideas expressed in short sentences, ideas can be triggered by previous, or be new, bizarre ideas are encouraged – good triggers, freethinking – the more the merrier, all ideas stated uninterrupted and accepted – none are rubbished. Concept maps like spidegrams can be used to explore concepts and the connections between them, these can be coloured, rearranged and reworked and redrawn to progressively clarify and then link, or deconstruct again to get new thoughts and angles. It may be useful to mix working with computer programmes like Mindjet, Inspiration or iThoughtsHD and work on paper.
  • thumbnail sketches: quick pen or pencil line drawings to give a reminder of a fleeting idea, and can give an indication of composition and art direction. For example, how does the subject sit in the frame? How is the subject lit? What particular attributes does that subject have? Often experimentation in digital form using Illustrator or Photoshop can usefully complement the work on paper to quickly explore different compositions and colour combinations from scanned sketches.
  • annotation in wiring or ‘sketchnoting’ on the paper thumbnails. Again it is often useful to scan in combinations and get printouts that can be scribbled over without overshadowing the original ideas.

It is important to let one idea flow fluidly, intuitively and organically into another to make unexpected links and associations.
Review and selection
Review your thumbnail sketches and analyse each one through a process of critical evaluation. Which ideas are you drawn to? Which ideas have ‘legs’ – possible interesting outcomes which are worth pursuing? Often the ideas which are strongest are those which have depth, or many layers of association. Perhaps you are intuitively drawn to a particular idea. Select several ideas/thumbnails which you would like to develop further.
Research and development
The form your research will take depends on the individual elements of your idea. It may be that you need to make some objective drawings, for example, to understand your subject better, and to consider aspects of composition. Other research activities include arranging a photoshoot to further explore your visual ideas, or going on-line to source material that informs your ideas. You can use both primary and secondary sources of research in this way. Research feeds into the development of your visual work, informing and advancing your ideas. Document this phase of the work accordingly.
This is the culmination of all your preliminary work. Work up some more developed visual sketches. These can be hand-drawn illustrations, photographs, and/or include typography. The presentation can be a little rough around the edges but should show the main elements of the design.
Present your ideas as finished visual images. Create digital files of your images, making sure these are a reasonable resolution – 180dpi is a good minimum, 300dpi is optimum.

What software do you currently use? How would you measure your proficiency?
Issue is RSI for prolonged and professional use. I understand how the  software works and easily learn new software. Need better laptop to use ipad as graphics tablet to use pc high memory software without sitting at pc.
Corel Painter
Sketchbook Pro
Premiere Pro
Advanced beginner
After Effects
Medibang Paint
What short-term improvements would you like to see in your use of software?
Main gap is design experience because I can use for prolonged periods.
Improved use of animation software.
Building up assets and brushes for Procreate, photoshop and illustrator
Better understanding of typefaces and design
What other skills do you use? How would you like to develop these?
Drawing and sketching from life: pencil, charcoal, crayon, oil pastel, soft pastel. I want to significantly improve the fluency and expressiveness of my drawing in all these media. Drawing particularly on Zen styles. I am particularly interested in monochrome tonal work drawing on principles of Notan.
Printmaking : monoprint, collagraph, drypoint, linocut, woodcut, screenprinting. I want to continue to develop my skills in all the above
Collage: better understanding of visual dynamics, use of edges and mixed media and professional finishing
Painting: Watercolour, Gouache, Ink, Acrylic, Oil. Chinese and Japanese ink painting
Photography :central to my concept development as photos or photomontage. Also photographing textures and materials to make images.
Participatory design and visual communication – from my professional work
Web design – understand coding using html and css but need to learn javascript and improve basic design skills.
What aspects of contemporary practice would you like to develop? What skills might you need to achieve this?
Caricature and cartooning like Scarfe of political events and documentary
Information graphics – are on-line courses
Animation with adobe animate – practice and watching and analysing more flash animation
Video – need to update skills
Online web experiences
What skills do you think you need to develop?
Basic graphic design skills in layout etc. My approach is still pretty clunky.
Javascript and update html5
What would you like to do that you’ve not done yet?
Kitchen lithography
Sugar etching

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