Tom Redfern’s bright, geometric designs immediately lift the mood with their vibrant colours and sense of play and humour. He talks to us in depth about his process from sketch to screen.
As Tom talks about below, it’s important for him to always start with pencil to paper rather than jumping right into working digitally. It makes sense when you see his sprawling compositions that some initial planning must be needed.
Below, Tom goes into detail about each stage of his process when working on a typical commission.
My name is Tom Redfern and I am an illustrator working across a wide range of mediums, from editorial to web and animation. I have a fondness for colour and geometry, and my work is punctuated with a sense of humour and fun.
Even though the majority of my work is carried out in Illustrator and Photoshop, I always start every project with a pencil and a piece of paper.
Whether it’s commercial work or a personal project, I find the tactile nature of working this way can really aid the creative process.
If I’m dealing with a brief I always start by reading it carefully, making notes and highlighting key points. This usually helps me get an overall feeling of what it is the client is trying to achieve.
There are times when a client will come to you with a very specific idea in mind and at other times the brief can be pretty open-ended. Either way, it’s the idea that’s king and I always try and work towards the best possible outcome for the project.
The next stage for me is usually research. I start off by making a simple list of keywords and ideas that might have sprung from the brief, or from discussions I have had with the client.
From this process, usually a couple of seed ideas start to grow and I can take things from there. If I am working on an editorial illustration, it is usually useful to be able to read the complete article before beginning this process, although that is sometimes not possible.
I always try and base everything I do around a central core idea and usually that becomes very clear to me in these initial stages. If the project involves multiple illustrations, I will always try and unite the work in some way, and that can often end up being one of the biggest challenges.
Once I have my core idea, I start to make sketches. I don’t really have a particular way of doing this.
Sometimes I will rough out the whole illustration in sketch form and move on from there. Other times I will draw all of the elements separately and then combine them in Photoshop. And sometimes I will use a combination of sketched elements and Illustrator/Photoshop shapes to help me decide on my overall composition.
I then take that rough composition and work from there. Any method to achieve the required result is good for me, and it varies from project to project. I try to let the process be as natural and organic as possible, and more often than not everything goes back to that trusty pencil and paper.
I then run these sketches past the client. I have learnt that the more communication there is between artist and client the smoother the process tends to run for both sides. So approval at this stage is very important.
Once the client has given the green light I start the digital process. This usually involves scanning any sketches into the computer and then working on them in Illustrator.
I tend to build the key elements first and any characters and complex elements are usually refined separately. I will then bring everything together into a final composition for detail to be added. At this stage I am usually using 3 or 4 varying grey tones for colour as this is always the final stage of my illustrator work.
Colour, to me, is what makes or breaks good work (and I don’t think that I always succeed!). It is the first thing that people respond to and getting it right can be a tricky business.
I tend to do plenty of research, looking online and in magazines and books, searching for palettes that I think would create the right feel for the piece I am working on. I then build colours (usually fairly limited) from here and start working them into the piece.
With me, this can be the part of the illustration process that takes the most time. I have found one of the most important things to do here is to put restrictions on yourself. A limited colour palette really makes you focus on the balance of the image as a whole, and can add a real clarity to your work.
I quite often bounce the work in and out of Photoshop at this stage, carefully adjusting the colour until I am satisfied. It can be a really time-consuming process, but can really reward your work in the end.
If the image needs any detailed shading, brush work or texturing I tend to move the whole thing into Photoshop layer by layer to work on it there. For that type of thing, Photoshop is much more effective (in my opinion).
I still love to learn daily from people who inspire me, and I hope to continue to develop my skills in this exciting and challenging industry.
© Tom Redfern, 2015