Lately I’ve been wondering if I should try to shake up my illustration process. As technology advances, am I wasting time and money on using real watercolor? Should I convert to an entirely digital process? Ask any illustrator and they will tell you that process is essential. These processes need to allow for creativity and uniqueness, while still maintaining consistency of result and efficiency. My current process includes both watercolor and digital elements.
Here’s my current illustration process:
- Rough pencil sketches
- Final pencil sketch
- Transfer pencil sketch to watercolor paper using transfer paper
- Scan to computer
- Adjust color balance
- Draw outlines
- Add digital collage elements using Adobe Photoshop
I love this process. I enjoy every piece of it, from the messiness of the watercolor to the satisfying, bold black lines possible on the computer, to the magpie-like joy of adding hidden textures and backgrounds until the result is just right.
But lately I’ve wondered if this method should be streamlined. With my iPad Pro, drawing on a screen is more and more like drawing on paper (though still not at all the same). On the Adobe Sketch app, there are more brushes of every type than I actually own in real life – everything from watercolor to ink to calligraphic to ball-point pen to graphite. And they are available in literally every point on the color spectrum.
So I wonder, is the watercolor portion of my process a waste of time? Should I just create the entire illustration on the iPad instead? I thought I would do a little pro and con list, to think through pros and cons of going entirely digital. Here’s where I come out.
Going Full Digital Illustration (No more watercolor):
- Saves time: No scanning, no paint or water, just grab the iPad and go.
- Saves money: I don’t have to buy watercolors or paper! I’m spending the same amount on computer software either way.
- Saves resources: Less paper = more trees.
- More vivid colors: Watercolor, when scanned in, will never have the same look as the original. The colors become more muted than say, the hot pink you could achieve drawing on the screen.
- Looks Good on a Monitor: If it’s something that people will view mainly on their computer, drawing digitally may achieve a better result. It’s made to be viewed on a screen.
- Endless Corrections: Mistakes are much easier to correct.
- Too much screen time: Not getting my hands dirty with some real art supplies is a serious decrease in my quality of life. I already spend too much time staring at a screen 🙁
- Less depth: A beautiful wash is still not possible to recreate as beautifully with a digital brush. Real watercolor creates an interest that is beautiful and unique – it almost seems like cheating 🙂
- Too static: It takes much more effort to add in texture so that the illustration doesn’t look too static, with too many unbroken blocks of color.
- Too perfect: Sometimes perfection is its own worst enemy. “Mistakes,” like paint that drips where it wasn’t meant to, can often actually improve the final result.
- Less unique: The style I’ve developed using watercolor and mixed media I believe is more unique than the style I’m able to achieve using Photoshop only. As an illustrator, it’s important to differentiate your work, and for me that’s a bit harder to do only through the medium of the computer. I like when you can see the work of my actual hands in it.
Well, that Pro/Con list came out even, though I have to say I find the cons more convincing – though it’s good to have both options, for different needs and settings! Which look do you prefer? Illustrators, what are your processes, and thoughts?