We recently featured some of Chris Madden‘s great textural illustrations. I love the tactile, hand-made feel his work has, keeping quite loose and playful. I think it’s also interesting that a lot of the unique qualities in an illustrator’s style comes from the steps in their process that they have tailored to their needs. It can be quite a personal thing and one technique you take for granted may be something that someone else had never thought of before.
He talked a little about his working method in the first feature, how he uses printed ink and cut-out bits of paper. I was interested to find out more. Luckily, Chris was more than happy to take us through his work step by step, even taking the time to create this wonderful, original piece especially for this Ape on the Moon tutorial. Enjoy!
Step 1: Sketch
I begin every image I create in my sketchbook. I like to spend quite a lot of time at the sketchbook stage; I am not particularly a very good draughtsman, so I like to spend quite a lot of time redrawing the preliminary sketches in order to get the scale and composition of the elements just right.
I used to do this in my sketchbooks but that quickly became very expensive. I would fill a book in no time, and when I’d come back to look over my old sketchbooks (which I often do for inspiration) there would only be 6 or 7 images in it.
I now get a basic idea down in my book and then do all of the redrawing on cheap A4 printer paper.
Step 2: Inky Mess
When I feel like I have a good idea of what the finished image will look like on paper, I quickly begin the making process.
I start by inking up plain A4 printer paper with black block-printing ink and a roller. This is often my favourite part of the image making process; texture plays a big part in my work so I like to change it up each time to see what different outcomes I achieve.
I tend to do this around once a month; stockpiling as much inky pages as possible. Once I start with ink I can become quite engrossed and it can be quite time consuming.
Step 3: Cut & Scan
Once the inky paper has dried, I can begin cutting chunks out of it with my trusty scalpel. I cut out each and every possible shape for every element of the image.
This can take from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the complexity of the image.
I use this stage as another excuse to experiment with new shapes. I try not to be too accurate with the cutting as I like my work to have a hand-made aesthetic to it.
When all the shapes have been cut out, I place them face down onto my scanner and Import them into Photoshop as a greyscale image.
Step 4: Assemble It
Now I have all of my elements scanned into Photoshop I use one of my custom Photoshop actions; this adjusts the brightness, contrast and levels and also deletes the white background leaving only the textured black elements.
I can now very easily select each element by drawing around them with the lasso tool. Then, using the move tool, I can drag the selected element onto a new document. Each new element that is dragged onto the new document forms a new layer.
I begin to move the elements into position based on my preliminary sketch. As you can see in the image, my layer count is often quite high for what appears to be a simple image. I like to keep the option to move elements around as I am usually unhappy with the composition at some point during this stage.
When I am happy with the positioning of the main elements, I begin to colour them. I don’t start the image with a colour scheme in mind. I usually apply a flat background colour to start with and the rest just evolves with the image. My images usually go through at least 2 or 3 colour schemes.
Step 5: The Finishing Touches
At this stage I tend to have a pretty solid colour palette and composition but the image is still lacking in character. If the image needs some finer details, I go back to the drawing board, so to speak. I take a sheet of plain A4 paper, my Pilot V-Ball pen and my Pentel brush pen and begin drawing new elements, textures, patterns etc.
Then, using the exact same process as with the cut out elements, I scan in, colour and apply each new element to the image until I am ultimately satisfied that it is finished!