A sketch and the final illustration of a koala riding a tricycle

Illustration process: an overview

Have you ever wondered how an illustration gets done? Let me show you the steps I take when approaching one.

I work digitally, using vectors in Adobe illustrator (vectors have the advantage of being scalable without the loss of quality that can happen in pixel-based software, like Photoshop for example).

But before I get to that, I start out by drawing in my sketchbook. There is less pressure and fewer distractions on paper. Here I put down quick and ugly sketches, trying out as many variations as necessary.

Once I have a good enough sketch, I take a picture and transfer it to my computer. Using a drawing tablet (Wacom Intuos Pro), I make several passes over my initial sketch, refining each one as I go.

Once I have a „final” one, I lock it and start building shapes on top of it using the Pen tool (and sometimes a combination of the Pencil tool + the Smooth tool for more organic looking shapes).

There are so many ways to render an illustration: some use contour lines (inking lines), others use shapes next to each other. My way of working is somewhere in the middle: I keep some lines from my initial sketch, but only in areas where I need to define perspective and volume. A small note: I’ve always thought in 3D and volumes, but you don’t have to. There are artists who think directly in shapes and values–something that I’ve always been jealous of and want to try out in the future.

Drawing volumes in a children's illustration character

Next up, I move on to color. Choosing colors can be:

  • the smoothest and most intuitive process ever OR
  • a moment when you reconsider your entire expertise as an artist.

I’ve experienced both and because I want to avoid the second as much as I can, I’ve tried to learn about color theory and how to create appealing color schemes. I am by no means an expert, but I’ll try to tell you more about colors in a different blog post because it’s a beast of its own.

Here’s the final image – I’ve applied the same steps in creating all the characters. You can actually buy the print here: https://teodoraoprea.com/product/friends-balloons. 😄

And that’s a rough overview of how I work.

I hope you found it helpful and remember: it’s not as straightforward and smooth as it may seem when summarized here and sometimes one step can take hours or days of frustrating work. So don’t be intimidated and please continue on your unique artistic journey, I’m cheering you on!

Until next time,


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