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How to Create a Captivating, Self-Promotion Kit

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This tutorial looks at the way in which self promotional images can be used flexibly and powerfully to talk to your clients and with any luck get you some work. Step by step I’ll guide you through an iterative promotional design, and show you some top tricks with texture along the way.

You can find the Source files in the directory labeled 'source' that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.

Self-promotion is a hot topic for artists/designers and we all want to feel proactive in the mission to gain mindshare. A great promotional tool is a business card, postcard (used as a business card or mail out) or 'tear sheet', a physical reference of who you are. If done right, the receiver should feel like they've been given a print/something they would want to display -therefore keeping you and your contact details in sight!

Its important to get this right as it's 'win' or 'bin' in most cases and no grey area in-between. You can’t always design something that will appeal to everyone, but then not everyone will like you or work anyway, that’s just the way it goes. My advice would be (and this goes for all self initiated projects) push yourself, don't restrict yourself in terms of content too much and have fun. Often the most attractive things in a portfolio are those that haven't been interfered with by art directors and the like.

One of the main considerations when I address business card design, is information placement, should anything go on the front? Traditionally of course, your relevant info, email address, phone etc, go on the reverse, but an argument I’ve heard used many times; to display at least a logo front ways is a convincing one. Personally I usually decide not to obscure my front facing image with anything, and reserve the back of the card for my logo and details. My justification for this is in wanting an interactive element to my card, i.e. if the person feels they need to look up my info (e.g. cant remember my oh so uncatchy last name) they can pick up my card. Therefore bringing the card to the top of the stack on a pin board, or to the forefront of the desk. This is of course all conjecture, and whatever way you rationalize it, it’s your decision to make.

There is definitely something to be said for physicality in design, and for me texture plays a key role in this. By using scanned textures overlaid in designs, you can create a sense of tactility, age and therefore authenticity and adding random, chance imperfections, giving depth to what could be otherwise quite soulless vector work.

Step 1

Decide what best represents you, or what you want to show in your promotional image. For me I wanted a way to showcase my characters and there are many ways I could choose from. My work is often wild and fanciful, but with this design, I wanted something more grounded and gritty. Since I love observing people, I took to the streets with my sketchbook for some inspiration. I think it’s always a good idea to use reportage, get away from the computer and out into the real world. There’s a wealth of inspiration in the local bar, some great characters just begging to be transformed onto the page! Scan in your sketches, or as I do, use your iPhone (other phones are available) to take some quick snaps and email them to your computer.

Step 2

Open Illustrator and set up a new document with the following dimensions: 348 x 520 px. I'm going to work to postcard dimensions first -its always best to work big and then transfer what elements you want, down to the smaller (business card) iteration. Remember, it's easier to take from, than add to, an artwork. Then place in sketches to work from on a single layer, arrange them as you see fit, drop their opacity to 60% and set them to multiply in the transparency panel. The way I’ve chosen to stagger my characters creates a pleasing curve in the composition, leading the eye through the image, and drawing the viewer in, as depicted below.

Step 3a

Place in your texture on a new layer and change the settings in the transparency panel as follows: Multiply, Opacity: 50% (you can experiment with this to find a level that suits you best). Its important to work with the texture on as it will effect your colour choices.

Step 3b

Then add a new layer to the bottom of the stack, using the rectangle tool draw a brown coloured shape to cover the area of the canvas. With the rectangle selected, copy (Command + C) and paste in front (Command + F), and change this new rectangle to a gradient transparency fill of 100% black to 0% black. In the transparency panel change it to Multiply and opacity of 40%.

Step 4

With the Pen tool begin tracing your character artwork on new layers underneath your transparent sketches. The idea is to use your sketches as a guide, feel free to deviate, alter and expand upon them. Keeping the characters on separate layers allows you stagger them back and fit in front of, and behind objects, helping create a sense of space.

Step 5

I've utilized layers of gradients to depict some of the lines and detail on the heads and necks of the characters. To do this, select the main head shape, copy and paste in front, and using the Knife tool make nice fluid slices to create your gradient shapes. Select your newly cut shape and give the shape a gradient to transparency fill using the original color, and then select Multiply and opacity of 80%

Step 6

The silhouetted character in the foreground I created freehand with the pen tool, and to add depth to the image, I’ve made him slightly out of focus using Gaussian blur. Group your freehand silhouette elements, and with them selected go to Effects > Photoshop Effects > Blur > Gaussian Blur... and then set the Radius to 4.2 pixels.

Step 7

Then use the brush tool to add line work, picking out the detail in character faces, accent edges and emphasize curves.

Step 8

On a new layer below the characters, use the pen tool to block in some opaque abstract shapes to suggest tables, the bar and walls. I like this kind of freehand expressive use of the pen tool it's not good to work too rigidly, love the imperfections!

Step 9

On a new layer just below the texture, we can add the smoke, again utilizing the pen tool and create some nice freeform puffs, really making the most of those Bezier curves. In the transparency panel change it to Overlay and opacity of 60%. Give the shape a gradient to transparency fill of 100% black to 0% black.

Step 10

Now go back to our background elements layer and 'dress the scene' -add some small touches that will help with the sense of place. For this I’ve added empty pint glasses, a dartboard and darts, and some crime scene chalk outlines.

Step 11

I've designed our whole image, so that portions can be repurposed into different compositions, for current purposes I’ve chosen to iterate the postcard design into a business card. Illustrator is the perfect tool for the job, its multiple artboards (CS4 and above) make the perfect environment to use your artwork across different formats. Select the Artboard tool (Shift + O) and draw a new box of any size and shape to the side of our postcard. At the top of the screen enter the following dimensions into the X and Y boxes: 155 x 238 px. Now you should have a new business card size canvas to work on.

Step 12

Now copy across the essential elements from the postcard design. These being the back drop colouring a gradient, and the texture. You can leave them on the same layers as their postcard counterparts. Now size them down to fit the canvas, make sure you use the Transform tool to do this, and that it’s set to 'Scale strokes & Effects'. To check this setting is enabled double click the Transform tool button in the tool palette and in the dialogue box that opens, simply tick Scale strokes & Effects.

Step 13

Next pick a character to copy over to the new artboard, whichever you choose will become the main part of the new composition.
I chose the little guy at the bar, and again using the Transform tool scale down the character to fit comfortably within the new artwork bounds.

Step 14

Now copy over the remaining background elements and smoke, then scale down to complete our business card design. It’s important to keep things simple on smaller formats; strong composition with key elements is far better than overcrowding things visually.

Step 15

When your ready to export simply click within either of the artboard bounds to select an artboard. Then go to File > Export > in the following dialogue box, choose the appropriate Format, such as .jpg, and make sure you tick 'Use Artboards'. Hit Save and then repeat the process for your other iterations.


Self Promotion is a vital tool for any illustrator/designer, whether its physical media or digital, its important to showcase your work in a striking image. With the techniques I’ve demonstrated, it should enable you to make the most of your work and engage with your audience. Have fun with your image, instill as much of yourself as possible into its design, after all, what better represents you, than your work.

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