What You Need to Know to Become an Illustrator

The Internet and the availability of education (at least in developed countries) has made it possible for people to pursue whatever careers they want. A couple decades ago, your graduation would to a large extent determine your future workplace, career, and even outlook. Today, the college you graduated from does not matter that much. If you want to master a new profession, all you basically need is a personal computer with an Internet connection, and a desire to study.

When talking about professions young people choose nowadays, it is important to mention important criteria: diversity and mobility. Jobs requiring an individual to sit in an office from nine to five, performing the same routine operations day by day, are becoming less popular each year. On the other hand, the value of freelancing and creativity is increasing exponentially: young people like to have the option to move from place to place while working, and to be able to work on different tasks.

Among numerous professions, there is one that fits the aforementioned criteria perfectly: being an illustrator. It is creative, it is applicable and demanded, and it does not require you to stay in one place to receive orders. It also has a rather low threshold of occurrence. However, there are some things you need to know if you want to try yourself in illustration.

First of all, you will have to learn plastic anatomy and perspective. Unlike what you might think, you cannot simply take a pencil and a sheet of paper, and start drawing. There is specific knowledge you must obtain first: the construction of the human body, and the laws by which our eyes perceive the world around us. Speaking of the former, you will have to start from the basics. Our bodies can be simplified to a set of simple geometric shapes: cylinders, cubes, and spheres. For instance, you can think of your chest as a flattened cube or box, your head as a sphere, and your limbs as cylinders. Each of these shapes consumes and reflects light differently. So, first of all, you will need to learn how to draw them. Next, you will realize that a body is much more complex than that. It has a carcass–a skeleton–and muscles surrounding it. Muscles are connected to bones in specific places; they overlap, flex, and stretch. Moreover, they are covered with skin. And guess what? Without knowing how the body is constructed, you will never be able to draw a pose correctly, or to draw lights and shades on a figure properly.

As for perspective, it is also a piece of knowledge crucial for any illustrator. The most dramatic and dynamic illustrations are created with the help of perspective. Without it, you will only be able to draw static frontal images.

Art students start obtaining this knowledge from their first year in college. Fortunately, this is not something secret or extraordinary: all the necessary information on plastic anatomy and perspective can be found online. For starters, you might want to check out Pinterest: there you will find thousands of step-by-step tutorials on drawing the human body or some of its parts. For more solid and grounded information, you will need to look through books. One of the best friends of any illustrator is “The Artist’s Guide to Human Anatomy” by Gottfried Bammes. This is an extensive and extremely-detailed guidebook on drawing every single bone, tissue, or organ that can be found in the human body, with brilliant illustrations and explanations.

Next, you will need equipment. In the very beginning, you will only need pencils and A4 sheets of paper–lots of them. However, as you advance and learn new techniques, you will discover that your demands expand as well. At some point, you will need a mannequin for drawing. A regular mannequin is made of wood, and its body parts can be rotated and bent in order to imitate different poses. More advanced models have a larger amount of limbs, and can copy the plastics of the human body more precisely. Then, you will need a sketch LED tablet, a scanner, and graphic editing software such as Photoshop. You will also need a drawing tablet–Wacom, for example. You will find yourself spending dozens of hours learning how to use your new gear. You will acquire a lot of new skills and knowledge, all of which will come in handy in the future: retouching, working with raster and vector graphics, imposition and allocating illustrations in text (in periodicals, etc.), working with different file formats, and so on. Most likely, at some point you will find yourself researching the latest Wacom tablet, drooling over its wonderful functions and capabilities, counting whether you can afford it or not. Just remember that a tablet itself will not make you a great illustrator: your discipline and motivation will.

This is the next thing you need to keep in mind: you will have to practice on an everyday basis, at least three-four hours a day, if you want to make progress quickly. With such a pace, you will start noticing positive results in about six months since the moment you started learning. Illustration requires dedication, patience, and readiness to pay attention to the smallest details. Professional illustrators are often crazily meticulous.

Attend workshops on drawing. Rather often, at such events, you will be able to draw from real models, not mannequins. Ask people for feedback–not your friends or your mom, but people who know a thing or two about drawing: artists, graphic designers, art students, and so on. Post your works on social media and platforms such as DeviantArt or Pinterest. Practice by copying the drawing style of your favorite illustrators. Neither inspiration nor talent will make you a great illustrator: only hard work and dedication will.

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