How to create an editorial illustration for a magazine
Drawing editorial illustrations is one of those things I do for various magazines — online and printed — and something that I really enjoy doing. I appreciate the variety of topics and it nurtures my creativity. Sometimes it’s an info graphic; full, double-page spread graphic explaining the revelation of KNX electricity wiring, listening to music at work, or the next job could be about people being monitored. Subjects can vary quite a lot.
What makes it a great editorial illustration?
For me personally, the success of a great editorial illustration, often depends on if the art director or editor at the magazine or newspaper, understands what an illustrator can do to add to the story. It’s not just about getting a picture that accompanies a text to look cool, although it’s not bad of course if it does. It might also be because the editors need “something” to fill the page with, not because the image itself has a reason to be there.
Because this happens. I am very fortunate to be able to work with clients who really understand the strength of imagery.
It´s a collaboration to one extent, where the illustrator is given the freedom to work and the client trusts the artist’s intuition, allowing them to express their own style. The freedom to successfully create something for a magazine also depends on the illustrator equally understanding that the job is about illustrating the subject matter of the article and not solely about making an artwork for their own ego, while still retaining their style as an artist. It is as much about telling as it is about supporting a story, with images based on the subject matter of an article. In other words: communication.
Tools of the trade and how to go about it
My tools of the trade are both traditional tools, digital graphic software and tools, a camera, and coffee. After discussing the brief with the art director or editor, I usually go for coffee at the local cafe to read and analyze the article. Mostly, I first read and draw rough drafts in my sketchbook before I move on to the graphic software.
For this illustration work, moving to digital tools, I used Corel PHOTO-PAINT and my Wacom pen tablet
Having determined the size in width and height of the art work, I open the New Image dialog in Corel PHOTO-PAINT (File > New…) or (CTRL+N). I set the image size and resolution at 300 dpi and select the RGB color space. I then add a 5 millimeter bleed.
If I’m dealing with a new client, I always ask if they would prefer the image in RGB or CMYK, and which color profile they want it in. If they name the color profile, I will work with the same profile — or convert it to CMYK later on. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that when it comes to color management.
If the client asks to have the illustration in RGB, it will mostly be either sRGB or Adobe RGB 1998. Some like it delivered in CMYK and if they require CMYK, I like to work in the same color profile, because I need to be sure that the colors come out in the end as they are supposed to. When I later export the illustrations as tiff files, I make sure that Embed color profiles is selected in the Export dialog window.
This way, it ensures that the colors will look the same in all applications, including all programs my client and later the print company will be working with. I then click OK. For this one I simply choose the Adobe RGB 1998, because Adobe RGB 1998 has a larger color space than sRGB and converts better to CMYK.
One other thing I like to do, is to receive — if possible — a mockup PDF from the client, so I can understand how they picture these illustrations in their magazine. I open it in CorelDRAW and use it as my own reference. Because one of these two illustrations is a double spread, and the second is to be smaller and laid out over both pages, I place a guideline in the middle of the page in CorelDRAW, and on each side of this, I add one guideline at a distance of about 10 millimeter from the middle. This way I know the illustration will not be accidentally hidden when people read and turn the pages. This way, I have more control over the final result. But sometimes the Art Director hasn´t decided what the final layout is going to be, so I only ask if it’s going to be a portrait or landscape image.
Bringing my rough sketches into Corel PHOTO-PAINT, I sometimes just take a photo of the sketch, and sometimes I scan it in. I then import (CTRL+I), it as a new object in the Object Manager Docker. I set the transparency to about 50%, only to get a rough idea on how and where I will start to draw and compose the illustration as I move forward. When I feel the rough sketch has done its part, I simply delete the object.
At this stage I bring in guidelines in Corel PHOTO-PAINT, and often use two or three angled guidelines, rotating them when setting up perspectives and composition. It helps quite a lot, especially as most illustration jobs for magazines and newspapers have short deadlines and I’m working to the clock. It can be stressful so any help is welcome in quickly deciding the main composition. This way I can quickly send a rough draft to my client to help them plan their layout, and I can get a quick response back to see if I am misunderstanding anything, regardless of the reason.
Deciding on a color scheme by using the Image Palette
When working with multiple illustrations for the same article, you might like to use the same colors. Do so by using the Image Palette in Corel PHOTO-PAINT (this is called the Document Palette in CorelDRAW). I truly like these. How and which colors you choose might be different, but one thing I do is to quickly select a few base colors and paint them on one object, then drag and drop these to the Image Palette, which by default, is opened at the bottom of the screen. Then using the black triangle on the Image palette, I open the fly-out menu and select: Palette > Save As. I gave this custom palette a unique name. I called mine “Editorial-Illustration”.
This way I have one color palette to use for both illustrations for the same article, giving me color consistency. I then use and add colors to this palette as I work. All added colors are set to automatically wind up in the Image Palette. So when I have completed the first illustration, I simply follow the same procedure again, re-saving the Image palette again so that all new colors I use get added to the “Editorial-Illustration” palette.
And when starting with the second illustration, I can simply click on the Quick Customize button next to the Object Manager Docker again, and this time open the Color Palette Manager > My Palettes, and there it is, the new “Editorial-Illustration” palette. Simple and brilliant as poetry.
Perspective and composition
By looking at my rough sketches from my sketchbook, I mostly get a sense of how the perspective and composition is going to be. To quickly come up to speed in Corel PHOTO-PAINT I drag, place and angle my guidelines, so I know where the horizon and vanishing points are. A rough idea of the composition has now been established. For these two illustrations I used vertical and horizontal guidelines for the full-spread first image, and angled guidelines for the second image. Simply double-click the guideline and rotate. With the second image I placed the angles roughly where I felt the bookshelves were going to be. This also helped when I started drawing the people in the picture (behind the tablet being held up in the middle and front of the illustration).
Planning, drawing & coloring the art
I begin by creating a new object and filling it with a flat color, in this case blue for the big full spread illustration. I create a new object as I import and place the rough sketch, as a reference for the three people in the illustration.
I then opened a photo I took in an English-styled park just outside town — an old palace park, taken during the autumn. I converted the image to 1 bit, Line Art and black (Image > Convert to Black and White (1-bit…)). I then converted it back to RGB 24 bit and converted the Background Object to a single object. I used the Color Transparency tool from the Toolbox to remove the white, and copy/pasted the object into the illustration.
While I draw the people I temporarily turn off the visibility of the English park object (disable the Eye icon for that layer in the Object Manager docker). I use a round Paint tool nib, choosing Quick Doodler > Art brush, from the Brush Category Selector in the Property bar to draw my outlines. This brush reminds of a real felt pen nib. I then turn on the visibility of the English park object again and create a new object, starting to draw the fog and smoke-like background in behind the people.
For the smoke and fog I use both Big Soft Cover and the Medium Soft Cover brushes, found in the same Quick Doodler > Art Brush category. Always paint with a soft touch and a light hand and create multiple layers of objects to build up smoke, fog and clouds, just as you would in real-world painting using oils and acrylics on a canvas.
To draw the moon behind the trees I simply used a Mask Ellipse tool (Toolbox > Ellipse Mask or key-shortcut J), and filled it with white. This was placed behind the English park object in the Object Manager.
I finished off the illustration by painting grass in the front using the same brush nib used for the people. By having a larger area of black, the title of the article stands out more clearly. If the illustration is too busy where the title is going to be placed, it will not work so well together with the illustration.
Moving over to the second illustration, I started by creating a background object with a grey color. And after placing the guidelines to get the perspective and composition going, I started by creating a new object in the Object Manager docker, imported the rough sketch, set the opacity slider in the Object Manager to 50%, and first drew the two hands holding the tablet, using the same brushes as in the main double-spread illustration. I then drew the people and bookshelves in the background.
I painted a few colors on an object and dragged and dropped these to the Image Palette. I deleted the object, and updated my saved Image Palette. I then played around to see which colors would work best. The background stayed grey because I felt the focus on the tablet in the middle should be in colors and somewhat highlighted how people were looking at people in photos and moving pictures.
And when I finished off both illustrations for the article and the client had approved them, I converted both to CMYK and tiff and sent the final results to my client.