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3 skills I learnt from illustrating

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

17 months ago I discovered illustration. A form of artistic expression that helped me channel my extra-ness through my iPad & apple pencil onto a digital screen, and share it with the world. When growing my instagram page, I found an illustrator whose bio read "glorified tracer". I chuckled because it felt like she had revealed the sneaky truth about illustration. For a long time that label stuck with me. Illustration was nothing but glorified tracing, something anyone can do, it wasn't a "real" skill.

As I grew in my craft, expanded my understanding & battled the imposter syndrome of identifying what I did as a skill & calling myself an "artist"(still fighting this fight lol). I came to appreciate not only the skills I was using to illustrate (patience, creativity, steady hand lol etc.) but the skills I was learning from it. In this blog I highlight 3 skills I learnt from illustrating in hopes of helping someone reframe the way they think about their craft.

Filtering out the noise

Most of my pieces are born from a reference picture. I draw most of my inspiration from unique takes on the beauty of blackness. When I illustrate, I want to share a moment in time or concept, in a simple and powerful way. With practice I have managed to become better at picking out the core parts of the image that stood out to me & capturing the essence of the image in a simple way without loosing its meaning.

Some key ways I do this are:

  • Single colour backgrounds - Most of my pieces focus on the subject

  • Minimal face details - This helps viewers focus on the overall image & find themselves in the story. Avoiding faces helps the illustration speak to a wider audience and intends to minimize tunnel vision.

  • Highlight & shadow - I use gradients to emphasise, what I deem as, important parts of the image.

Filtering out the noise is a core part of being an analyst. You have access to a wealth of information & have to understand what the key takeaways are and summarise them without changing the meaning. Like each illustration, each data set is different, so understanding noise in the context of the circumstance becomes crucial.

Finding a systematic way to tackle a problem

Through practice I have found a flow of logical steps that helps me filter the noise. I start from illustrating the outline of the focal point & building on detail based on size & colour.

Like most systems this was build from numerous trial & error & iteration until I found a flow that worked. Although the flow may look different across different problems the underlying skill is the same. After filtering the noise I have to decide on a direction that optimize for solving the problem.

This helps me build leadership skills as I train my brain to think through what it takes to solve a problem, and by breaking down the steps, can communicate it with others. One of my mentors highlighted the importance of direction and clear communications in leadership in a way that stuck with me.

Leaders lead with direction & have the ability to get others to move in that direction.

Reframing an idea

Sometimes I see a something & I want to re-tell the story from a different perspective.

In this piece I wanted to represent two things:

  1. The fluidity of black women: Through necessity we learn to mould ourselves into different spaces to break narratives or to survive. I wanted to show that black women have a strong point of view despite societal attempts to morph us into the background.

  2. Play on the idea of a dream: Through colour palette and smooth yet muddled pen lines I was able to channel the calm & chaotic energy that characterise both dreams and fluidity.

I drew inspiration from a stunning black & white image of a black woman and changed the lens to change the experience of the viewer.

Reframing can look like, explaining something to someone in language they understand. I harness this skill a lot -when using family stories to help my sister understand her science homework, when breaking down marketing goals to a coworker, even when re-telling a joke that didn't land ...

Reframing is a useful skill to harness when reaching and inspiring different people. You can take something you are inspired by and tell the story from a different point of view to pique interest or action. I see this as a way to channel creativity into persuasion. My ultimate goal for this skill is to be able to re-frame sustainability to highlight its interdisciplinary benefits.

In a nutshell, illustrating is a core part of my growth and development over the past year, and I am learning to acknowledge and keep refining the skills I learn from this craft. If you have been struggling with your craft & label yourself a "glorified” anything, this is your PSA that through creating art you are doing much more than creating more beautiful things to look at! You are challenging norms, telling stories, inspiring, growing... so keep at it!

Did any of these skills resonate with you? Perhaps something I said made you re-think your craft? Tell me in the comments.

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