my Process

general flow of an illustration assignment

While all projects are not the same, my process has some common steps that keep clients in the loop and happy in the end. No bad surprises here!

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The client presents all the important information like size, use, layout, timeline/deadlines, etc. A contract is signed once everyone is on board with the terms and I get to work. This may not be the most interesting part of the process but it is really important and crucial to create the best working environment.

icon design dana cohen
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Thumbnails are small, rough drawings to work out different ideas and compositions. Most of these aren’t shown to the client but they are necessary for finding the winners to present. The client is shown the top ideas and they can select which version to move forward with for the final.

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While cleaning up the chosen thumbnail I take the opportunity to create a color comp to present at the same time. This can be helpful for myself and the client to visualize the final and it also keeps a structured plan as I work on the final illustration.



If no revisions are needed I move to the final. After approving the refined sketch and color comp I want the client to have a clear idea what final product they are receiving. The final illustration is sent off, I do a little dance, and mix a martini.


 A visual breakdown of how I work


Behind the Scenes

A sneak peek at my illustrative process

This includes a few stages that EVEN clients do not see!


Step 1

Inspo & Reference

These inspirational images help shape the direction behind the illustration. Studies can help capture the feeling I want and help develop a color palette. Sometimes I search the internet, the library, or go into the world with a camera. I use silly pictures of myself or friends to study anatomy and positioning so I can stylize after I understand the form.


Step 2


I work on one or two color palettes that shapes the color composition on the final illustration. I find having a color palette allows me to have greater clarity and a more strategic approach as I start to paint. Sometimes I start with a digital color palette and then match the colors with pigment. Other times I go straight to my watercolor palette.


Step 3


I had a fantastic professor at SCAD that told me he wanted to see at least 20 thumbnails concepts before I presented ideas. It was fantastic advice. I think sketching out these little rough, sometimes icky looking ideas allows you get over the mundane and overplayed ideas and find something that is really exciting and interesting. Here are some of the thumbs for the Bloom painting but some are cheesy and embarrassing. I prefer to present the top three concepts to the client.


Step 4

Refined Drawing

This deliverable is presented to client to ensure they like the foundation of the illustration. The refined drawing is neat and tidy so there is no guesswork how the final would look in terms of line work. If approved this refined drawing I use to transfer to the watercolor paper. You can read about that process here. No value is shown in this refined drawing so I like to present a color color at the same time.

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Step 5

Color Comp

The refined drawing above shows the frame of the illustration but provides no value so a color comp is helpful to present at the same time. Not only can I get approval on the color plan for the final illustration but the colors build the value structure of the final. I find myself more type-A than other creatives and I like having a plan for a painting. Freedom is wonderful but a strong plan can make a tight deadline more manageable. Presenting a color comp to a client also prevents additional revisions in the future.


Step 6


Sometimes my plans need some refinement along the way. For this illustration I knew I wanted a loose watercolor garden effect in the window but I had no idea how I would execute it. Therefore I completed a few separate small studies to make sure I was prepared. I also prefer to hand letter all text on a separate paper and digitally place them together. This helps make sure all components are perfect and I also have more flexibility in the future.

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Step 7


The most exciting step! I aim for the finished artwork to be received with no bad surprises or shocking unnecessary revisions on my end. The client has a clear idea of the final and isn’t caught off guard by a design element or color that doesn’t flow in their project. After the final is sent off I save versions in a few separate places (2 or 3 ideally) and move on to the next project.


If you like watching the process unfold…

Keep your eye on the blog! There will be more assignments to watch develop.


Let’s work together on a project. I would be so excited to hear about it!