Monthly Archives: January 2016

How to illustrate a digital picture book using Adobe Illustrator

I don’t know about you but I find it fascinating to look into the behind scenes of a movie, art work, invention or start up business and discover how it came to be. I love to find out how an idea sprouted, all the drafts it went through, before it arrived at the final product.

In a previous blog post on beginner tips to write and illustrate a picture book, I focused mostly on the writing process. In this post, lets look at the illustration journey from pencil, line work, colour blocking to final touches of shading in adobe illustrator.

The pictures below are taken from page 16 of “My Friend Digger” picture book from the “Millie’s World” series.



  1. The pencil sketching stage


You know that BIG question  “What comes first, the chicken or the egg?” well in relation to writing and illustrating picture books, so far it’s the writing that has come first.  Whilst writing, some sentences triggered images in my mind but it really wasn’t until I was working out the layout of the sentences per doublespread ,that I arrived at the illustrations.

In Evernote, I broke the whole story down like this:

Left page- Chosen sentence
Right page- Chosen sentence

Next to each sentence I would brainstorm possible illustration ideas. After brainstorming each sentence, it was then time to start sketching.

I don’t thumbnail. I’m too impatient and tend to get bored. I do however sketch each illustration onto tracing paper. I cut around each image and move them around on a blank page until I’m happy with the composition. before tracing them out back onto the page of my book dummy (which is a A4 210 x 297 mm Blank Layout Pad). The final stage is taking a photo of each page and scanning them into the computer to work on them in Adobe Illustrator.

2. The line work stage


After scanning each photographed page into the computer and saving them to a specific file, I open up Adobe Illustrator ( I have an old version, CS5 Version 15.1.0) and create a large size document, 3600px by 2400px. On one layer I have the scanned photo of the page and then opening a blank layer above, I begin to trace the lines using the pencil and arc tool.

Once all lines have been traced, I make the layer with the scanned photo invisible (by clicking off the eye which is adjacent). Then comes the long tedious process of ensuring that each line merges/intersects with another so that that the live paint tool can fill each shape with separate colours. To do this, I zoom in about 800% to complete this stage.

To be able to paint the background around the illustrations, I use the rectangle tool. Following the edge of the document as closely as possible, I  drag  across a black rectangle shape over the page making sure that the fill layer is not on (or the entire document turns black). I do increase the size of the stroke on the rectangle to 2pt or more.

3. Colour Blocking with the Live Paint Tool


This stage is fun and can be relatively quick once you have recorded down in a notepad each RGB colour code used for a character’s hair, skin and eye colour to ensure consistency across all the pages.

How I use the live paint tool is firstly opening the “select” menu and click “all”. Then I go to the “Object” menu, click “expand” making sure all three options are ticked (object, fill, stroke).  In the same “Object” menu, I go to “Live Paint” which opens up a number of options. I click on “Make”. Now you should be able to use the Live Paint Tool.

With the Live Paint tool, hover over each line and an outline of a shape should be highlighted in red. You can then click within the shape to fill with the chosen colour.

4. Shading stage


On my next blog post “A tutorial on how to create shading effects with Adobe Illustrator” I go into detail how to complete this shading stage with visual diagrams included. I have to give a big thanks to Bob Ostrom of Bob Teaches Art for helping out with tips on how to shade in illustrator. I took one of his paid courses “The Big Class of Color” which was just what I needed to get over my snobby attitude about Photoshop being so much better than Illustrator when it comes to colour.

I thought digital art created in Illustrator always looked so flat and non dimensional but then when I watched a number of You Tube clips by Bob Ostrom I changed my opinion. Check out Bob’s You Tube “Advanced Line Art and Color Techniques in Adobe Illustrator”. I now hardly use Photoshop and its Illustrator all the way.

See you next time when I explore shading tips in Illustrator.