Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Spot illustrations step-by-step

I've developed a process to produce spot illos fairly fast, within one or two hours from beginning to end — those are the demands of working under daily deadlines in a newspaper! These are the steps I follow:

1. The first step is a no-brainer. I read the story. Sometimes a copy editor has already written the headline. That usually helps me come up with a concept faster — the headline is like the title of the artwork.

2. I identify the main elements of the illustration and search photo references via Google Images — in this case I searched for high speed trains and Uncle Sam. When I find the right combination of images, I do monochrome pencil and watercolor sketches on a Canson Mixed Media 7x10 drawing pad. (I'll try to post photos of it some time. It has a bunch of drawings that have been used as raw material for illustrations like this one.)

3. After modifying the pencil drawings and arranging the final composition in Photoshop, the illustration is ready to be published. (I can elaborate on the specific Photoshop steps in a future post if someone is interested. It's a pretty simple process involving color mode changes and layers.)

A couple of examples of color illustrations done the same way:

If you are thinking of developing a portfolio of editorial illustration and don't have any work published yet, my recommendation is to pick newspaper articles from the Opinion pages and illustrate them as if you were working on a real assignment. Do six to ten at the very least and see how your style holds up through the different topics. I'll be happy to give you some feedback if you'd like.

All images in this post are © The Seattle Times.


  1. This is exactly what I am working on right now, Gabi - may I take you up on your offer and e-mail few images for feedback?

  2. Of course, send them over!

  3. Hey Gabi, I would love to know more about this process, especially the Photoshop part. Could I pick your brain some more about this?

  4. I found this really interesting Gabi, I know nothing about the illustration world. Enjoyed this.

  5. Hi Kenny, sure, fire away any specific questions you may have. I'll also try to do a post at some point with more details.

    @Don, glad you found the post interesting! I'm going to be mixing things up a little bit here on this new phase of the blog.

  6. Thank you for sharing
    those amazing work
    good creations

  7. Anonymous11:58 PM

    Thank you for this article on Spot Illustration. I believe I can complete few drawing from a Newspapre aas well and add them to my folio.
    Would you still be available to review them as mentioned in this artcle, Please.

  8. Anonymous8:42 PM

    Thanx Gabriel for the tips for spot illustration. I'll be collecting editorial articles more. Are the deadlines really that tight in a real world setting?
    I'm doing spot illustrations for my community college newspaper, deadlines are every 2 weeks, but it just takes me a whole day to illustrate one image. Other than that, I really enjoy creating spot illustrations and I want this as a career.
    If it isn't too much trouble, can you please check out the spot illustrations I did at it would be great to have feedback who is an expert in this field.