My name is Mat Roff, I’m an illustrator based in Oxford, UK and have been freelancing professional for the last 5 years.
In this article, I’m going to show you the process of how I create a piece of work from beginning to end. From how I come up with an idea, create it and finalise it. I’ve picked one of my more recent illustrations from my personal portfolio, called Zombie Burgers.
As an illustrator, I like complexity within my work and struggle not to fill empty space with weirdness or mark making; I like the secrets in my drawings, and long for you to always return with a fresh eye to spot something new every time. This is to make sure you won’t get bored and that you’ll also relate to what you’re seeing by enjoying it for the way it is interpreted within a cartoon. This is how I always start any piece I draw, by thinking of this concept.
Firstly, each commission is different, and a lot of my random drawings and doodles found on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook are personal ideas that I either post for laughs or that will eventually end up being part of a final piece in the future. When I do my own personal work, it’s much more instant, there is very little planning unless it is needed and it usually starts with a rough circle for where each character will be placed. Then I just build and build around it. I love doing this. It allows me free creative expression and also no restrictions over what kind of image I will create. This comes over time; once I found confidence within myself & my ability to draw what I wanted it comes pretty easy now.
However when I am commissioned, even though I’m allowed free creative interpretation… I have to respect that the client is paying me for an image that THEY want, so I have to stick to that brief. However, if I don’t like the idea and I feel I can’t do it due to personal preferences, I will decline work. Why create a series of work that you hate just for money, than create a few great pieces that you’re proud of for a little less and that can go into your portfolio?
Once the sketch has been scribbled out, I will ink over the top of the line work. I don’t like drawing directly onto the computer, so I use cheaper fine liners or ink pens (bought from Wilkinson or Tesco for example) for a few reasons…
1. I can afford to restock at any time, even if I hit a rough month financially.
2. I hardly sell originals now so to me, using Photoshop to sharpen and clean up the line work means that I have no pressure to get the line work just perfect. Before I used Photoshop so much, it was a massive gamble. My drawings either worked out or looked a little worse than I had planned. Photoshop has made me more experimental because I can cut and copy a bunch of drawings and re use them to create new images, which is something I found tiresome when using a photocopier whilst I was at college.
Now that the line work is up on the computer and saved as the original ‘Line Drawing’ layer, I can start adding colour. This may seem a bit of a cheater’s trick, but I feel very overwhelmed with white space, so I always add a Gradient Tool box with a blend of two colours to start me off behind the line drawing’s layer. It gives me a feel for the image & the colour scheme I want to use. If I change my mind, I can alter the colours whenever I like. Making a note to always separate each character or section of colour separately helps, because this mean if the scheme doesn’t look right or a client wants a variation, I can change it around pretty quickly. This can take up to 6-8 hours or even a few days depending on how confident I feel with the image.
Now that it is coloured, this is where I can have a bit of fun editing. Saving the image as a ‘Final’ I play around with Curves, so the dark line work can blend in to the colour, then I use Selective Colour to create maybe a warmer or cooler tone to the illustration.
Finally, if there is still empty space to fill or it’s lacking a bit of drama, I add little texture or spot illustrations to spice it up. Again these are created on separate pieces of paper, scanned in and saved in a texture file. In Zombie, I drew flying burgers, fries, Coke cans etc and placed it over the final illustration either by selecting Invert if the texture needs to be white, or just simply Blending the layer if the spot illustration need to be black. They can be used for the sky, explosions, particles in the wind, or little drawings in the background to accompany the theme. Experiment with as many as you like and create a series of final illustration until you’re happy with the final outcome. You might find one that surprises you. And adding text can corner off any nasty edges you want to hide, like I did for this piece.
And there you go, that is how I create an illustration.