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Nomadic Designer

New Illustrated Post: Bolivian Bus Hell

New Illustrated Post: Bolivian Bus Hell

I’ve wanted to do an illustrated post for a long time and after our recent bus journey from Sucre to Samaipata, I decided that I had a story that I really wanted to tell together with scenes that I thought would work well as illustrations.

I started by listing the key scenes that I wanted to draw based on how funny I thought they were, then I wrote out the first draft of the blog post around them.

I wanted to make sure that none of the illustrations were redundant (i.e. retelling what had already been told in the text) so I put in placeholder text within the post draft that contained a description of the image and any captions or dialogue that were to use.

That way, I could check the flow of the story and make sure that the illustrations picked up where the copy left off.

Then it was sketching time. I started with a bunch of really loose thumbnails to help me get the ideas down and to make sure that the images could adequately communicate the message.

Thumbnail sketches

After that, I drew full size sketches and spent a lot of time revising and practicing the character’s expressions which were going to carry a lot of the storytelling. I purposely wanted to stay away from too much dialogue because I felt that if I was having to describe the scene through captions and dialogue, it was a good indication that the images weren’t strong enough to carry the images.

First page sketches

I think I’ve achieved that - if I removed all the text from the images, I think the story still holds together.

Going Digital

After the sketches were done, I snapped a photo of each page with a digital camera and then loaded them up into Illustrator.

Doing the line work was the most time consuming part of the process. I spent about 11 hours going over each of the 12 illustrations with the pen and various other shape tools, adjusting line weights and stroke placement and so on.

It’s fair to say that I learned a lot doing this - useful shortcuts that I used regularly (significantly speeding up the process) were X to switch between stroke and fill, shift + X to switch the colours of the stroke and fill, p to select the Pen tool, holding down alt while using the Pen tool to adjust the handles of the curves and e to select the Free Transform tool.

Once I was done with the lines, it was on to the colouring. I think that the colours are the least successful part of this project - I’m not really used to colouring in Illustrator (I find Photoshop much more intuitive) but it’s something that I definitely want to get better at and Illustrator has some powerful colouring tools, like Gradient Maps, that can help create very detailed designs.

The only time I opened Photoshop was on the last step where I pasted in the illustrations as Vector Smart Objects into a document set up to be the width of our content area over at Never Ending Voyage and put a black border around each of them for a more comic book effect.

After that, it was simply a case of export and upload.

You can see the full post here: Bolivian Bus Hell - An Illustrated Guide.

And, yes, everything in that post actually happened!