Five Crucial Tips To Becoming A Better Illustrator


I'm an illustrator and have been for 15 years; working commercially with clients over that time to create illustrations for business marketing and retail product design.


While many of those designs have been unique and interesting, I'd still suggest that only during the last five years or less have I actually become truly 'creative' as an illustrator. Developing geniune creativity has been a long and daily learning process but I think I'm starting to get somewhere.


Geniune creativity is beyond being aesthetic, it's about producing a piece that was formed as a result of an idea or thought in your own mind. That illustrative piece visually tells a story about something interesting you saw or thought about one day, or something that happened in your life or someone elses.


You project that thought or moment out in a visual way, for others to look at. They may or may not understand what you're showing them, but that doesn't matter, because self expression is more interesting than anything else regardless of whether it's fully understood or not.


So the goal of the creative is to visually self express thoughts, moments and ideas. In that way we are capturing life and ideas.


Here are my top five tips for increasing your own creativity, from my own perspective of course, because that's all I have to offer.


1. Work in the medium you enjoy.

This one is worth experimenting with to find out what you truly excel at, because you won't know for sure until you broaden your horizons.


Sure you might be fantastic with a paint brush or an ink pen and near certain that you're rubbish at everything else and won't enjoy it as much either, but you need to find out. Not only do you find out what you're best at and what medium you prefer, it also broadens your creative scope by experimenting with other ways of expressing yourself.


I started out largely best in pencil at the tender age of approximately 2 and reluctant to experiment in anything else even when encouraged at school in my teen years. Then one day in my late twenties I met vector illustration and fell in love with the colours, the sharp lines and the incredible flexibility for modifications ... and there I subsequently sat, in my rut for an entire ten years.


Around five years ago I began to experiment - I drew comic strips, I painted on canvas, I used pastels on canvas, I worked with paper origami and more.


Here are a couple of examples of my pastel and painting works over that time and you can view one of my comic strips over at Instagram.


A pastel drawing of Mrs Robinson from The Graduate

Mrs Robinson from movie classic The Graduate. A pastel drawing.

A painting of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations

Miss Havisham portrayed on her wedding day.

From classic novel Great Expectations, one of my favourite stories.

At the end of this expermentation story I circled back to vector illustration, I still love it, and I'm still best in it, but I'm so much better than I was five years ago, and I credit that to a whole heap of experimentation with creative expression.


Not to say I won't pick up a paintbrush or pencil ever again, because I'm sure I will, and I do quite fancy having a go at sculpture work one day too.


2. Be inspired by others.

Have a have a good look around you at what others are doing; what are they drawing, how are they drawing it?  Every single day you should be looking at inspirational works of art. Now that doesn't mean it needs to always be illustration or even specifically works of traditional art, but it needs to be things of visual interest (which is kind of what art IS anyway), every single day without fail.


What you class as visual art is up to you - the sort of things I look at are illustrators, packaging design, painters, cool vintage vehicles, amazing photography, creative make up artistry, costume and hat designers, surface pattern designers, tattoo artists, the list goes on.


Basically find things that inspire you every day and look at them. Pinterest and Google Images should be your best friends, oh and try to get out into the real world too as much as possible, inspiration is all around you.


3. Don't be inspired by others.

Be inspired by others, get ideas from what they are doing and how they are doing it, but if you find yourself largely copying someone elses idea in terms of how it's drawn or the concept of the drawing, you are being counter productive to developing your own creativity.


Drawing the same or similar concepts to other people is a great way to develop your actual physical skills and ability to draw lines in the right places in the right way with the right colours, but it doesn't help you to develop your own ideas and style.


I use other people's imagery in the way that marketing companies may use a mood board for brainstorming - as a spring mechanism for my own ideas.


Mood boards are valuable because no matter how creative you are, if you want to churn out regular creative pieces you're going to need to find a way to force the ideas out faster than they will come naturally.


Mood boards are place to position a variety of visuals together so that you can develop your own new idea from all of the composites that interest you. You don't have to do this on a physical board, or even on computer screen (I.E. drawing software artboard) you can do it in your own head while musing around at images of things other people have created.


But create something new from the moodboard, use that moodboard as a spring to jumpstart ideas, rather than as a template.

Live Free Hippy Boho Art

4. Draw what you love.


It's tempting, especially when you're trying to create things that you intend to sell, to draw what you think people would like to see, wear or put on their walls. The trouble with this is that you're guessing, and even worse it could lead you to draw things you don't even enjoy drawing.


Do you honestly think you can do your very best work when drawing something you don't enjoy working on?


Even more tempting is creating things that sell, and then have those around you begin to 'suggest' what you should draw because of their individual preferences. Ignore them, if it's not coming directly out of your own heart and driven by your own desire to draw it, no matter how good the idea is, chances are it won't come out well.


That isn't to say you should ignore commercial matters, simply do not be led by them. If there are commercial things that you really will enjoy drawing, then draw them, but don't draw a uncorn or a donut for example just because you know everyone else is selling the hell out of unicorns and donuts.


For instance I love Beyonce and so I've drawn a few items related to Beyonce including this Beyonce mug - I know they will sell because the world loves Queen Bey and so I'm onto a win win. It's geniunely coming from my heart as it should do, but thankfully other people are feeling it too. 


Conversely, no matter how well I know that drawing Justin Bieber and shoving his face on mugs will serve me, I'm not going to do it, because I think he can behave like a bit of a twat to be honest.



5. Live hard.


Our biggest inspirations are around us in the real world rather than on Pinterest, Google images or that amazing blog you follow.


Live hard, really hard. Travel and see things, have children (or not, have a dog instead maybe), live in different places, experience new things with new people.


Get married, get divorced (well try not to of course), go to a festival or ten, build a boat, sneak booze into the cinema, and dance in a skirt that's too short with that man who is way too young for you. 




Because if you don't live, you really don't have anything to write about ... or indeed draw about.