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Editorial Illustration always presents a unique challenge. You are visually trying to represent (or encompass) the article that it will be paired with. For me there are two main areas of focus when working on an editorial illustration: concept and style.


It is not just skimming over the article to find the topic and drawing a picture of it. "OK, the article is about monkeys, I'll draw a monkey." No. It's important to fully understand the overall idea, theme, mood, and message that the author is trying to convey.

On top of that, it is also the responsibility of the illustrator to make sure that message is delivered through the image. But, that is where the fun happens. Is the message obvious? Does it take a bit of thought to 'get'? Is it humorous? Serious? Thought provoking? Abstract? This is where style plays a huge role.


Once you have a good grasp of the message and mood of the article, solving how that is visually translated is the challenge. Does the article discuss 'which is cuter, babies or puppies?' You're probably not going to employ a serious, fact-driven, info-graphic illustration style (unless you're doing it to be funny). Most likely you are going to illustrate in a soft, cute, cuddly style.

No matter the specific illustration style, overall visual readability is important to keep in mind. Making sure the illustration is approachable and digestible to the viewer/reader is always a principal goal for me.

Illustration often showcases the personality or thought process of the illustrator, so it is important to keep in mind that many different personalities, opinions and points-of-view will be on the other end. An obvious solution would be to simply show someone. Get an outside opinion, see if they 'get it', and if they understand and can relate to the image.

On top of showing other people and getting their opinions, I like to gauge how 'successful' an image is by seeing if it peeks and keeps their interest. Having sustained visual interest - again, no matter the illustration style - where the viewer doesn't just simply look and then move on, is always important to me.


To bring this all back to reality, pairing an article and illustration style together is often the responsibility of the Art Director. But, nonetheless, it is always good to keep at the forefront of the editorial illustration process. Below are a few general tips that are showcased in the beginning (steps 1-5) of the tutorial that follows, but are also always good to go-over.

Research and Sketch

Early and often. This will help to get out all of the typical 'first thoughts' and will most likely help you to uncover or create something unique and new.

Client Interaction

Having a good working relationship and establishing a familiar dialogue with the Art Director will make the entire process (for everyone) more enjoyable.

Be Flexible

Things change, stuff happens, there are a lot of moving parts, don't freak out. Just as in the tut below - step 5, format change from horizontal to vertical - there will most likely be bumps in the road, go with the flow.

Have Fun

Always remember, at the end of the day, you are (hopefully) getting paid to make artwork. That is awesome. Enjoy it.

Step 1

Receive an article from a client with an illustration request. The particular article we will be working with is in reference to the over abundance of cell phone usage. The client would like the illustration to reflect that there are many better things to do than be on your phone all day.

Step 2

Read the article and research the topic so you are knowledgeable. I searched for similar articles and images relating to cell phones and distractions, and then reviewed them.

Step 3

Brainstorm themes and concepts based on the article and your previous research. I explored the concept from a first person perspective with a hand holding a phone in the foreground. I decided to include fun elements in the middle/background that would be luring the user away from the phone. I explored various ways to layout the background, from clustering objects together to more of a scenic format.

Step 4

Present a strong sketch and concept to the client. This sketch has the phone in the foreground with cluttered distracting images in the back.

Step 5

The client loved the initial concept but had a few suggestions. They preferred the background to have a scenic landscape and the illustration to be vertical.

Step 6a

Now we'll begin executing the illustration in Illustrator. I find it easiest to start with the focal point and go from there. My focal point will be the phone itself and the hand holding it. I begin by researching cell phones so that I can get the correct proportions down. I created the basic shapes of the phone - piece by piece, which will then be integrated together.

Step 6b

Use the Pen tool and turn on the grid to get exact proportions for the fingers. Using snap to grid I can draw solid lines for the fingers that will be encompassing the phone.

Step 6c

After executing all of the fingers, and laying them out together, expand them so the strokes are converted to objects. Doing this will allow me to easily scale everything later.

Step 7a

Integrate all of the phone and finger elements together with a thumb and arm to begin bringing the form together.

Step 7b

The fingers need to appear as if they are coming from behind the phone. To do this use the Pathfinder tool (minus front) to cut the image at the phone edge. Do this for each finger individually.

Step 8a

I want the elements in the middle-ground to be colorful, fun and inviting. To begin I will create each element individually and then integrate them together later on. I will create the hot air balloon using the Pen tool and the grid. Each section of the balloon should be slightly horizontally stretched as you move out, while keeping proportion with the grid.

Step 8b

Copy and reflect the image to finish the balloon shape..

Step 8c

Create the basket for the bottom of the balloon.

Step 8d

Piece the elements together.

Step 9a

Create a geometric kite shape using the Pen tool and grid. Add lines inside the kite using the Pen tool.

Step 9b

Group the elements and use the Warp tool to give the kite a natural feel.

Step 9c

Shear the image slightly to give the kite a natural feel.

Step 9d

Create the kite tassel using a curved line and triangles, apply the Warp tool give a natural feel to the triangles.

Step 9e

Piece the elements together.

Step 10

Create all the other major elements. Keep in mind that they should all have a consistent look, so they should be built in a similar manner.

Step 11

It is now time to complete the background scenic landscape objects and shapes for the page. I begin with a flat blue background and three clouds drawn with the Pen tool.

Step 11b

On top of the blue sky I drew a rectangular patch of green grass. Behind the grass are clusters of triangular trees at varied sizes, with a slightly darker green than in the grass.

Step 11c

I then created two triangular mountains and a swimming pool laid out on the grass.

Step 12

Integrate all of the previously drawn objects together to create one cohesive piece.

Step 13a

Gather textures to apply to the elements. The textures I have shown have all been vectorized so they are scalable in illustrator. For a detailed tutorial on textures you can read up on this here: How to Create a Vector Texture From Scratch.

Step 13b

I will show you how to apply texture using the hot air balloon. Find a vectorized texture that you would like to use with the object and size them to work with each other.

Step 13c

Make a duplicate of the object you will be texturizing and use the pathfinder tool to unite it to one solid shape.

Step 13d

Overlap the texture and united object, while selecting them both use the Pathfinder (Option + Intersect) to cut away the excess un-overlapped section of the object.

Step 13e

The texture is now fit to the boundaries of the object.

Step 13f

Use multiply and change the color of the texture to gray to apply shading.

Step 13g

The image is now texturized, giving the image an organic feel and a sense of depth.

Step 14a

To go along with the texture I will also roughen the edges of each object. This is a simple way to apply another organic feel to the piece. Using the Roughen dialogue box, you can customize the settings to fit the intensity of roughen that you would like.

Step 14b

This is an image of a deer after it has been roughened.

Step 14c

Apply this roughen effect to the rest of the objects to keep the consistency throughout the piece.

Step 15

You are done, congratulations! Deliver your final piece to the client.

Step 16

Eagerly wait the arrival of the editorial containing your illustration.

Final Image

With insight into the editorial illustration process, it's time to get out and land your own editorial assignments. Thank You.

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