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  • Kaitlin Maloy

Designing an Illustration

Good art work happens in stages. The initial idea for a piece is often not the most effective one. My illustrations are no different; they go through several iterations.


To demonstrate this, I'll use my illustration Caffeine vs Water: A Daily Choice.


The idea for this piece came to me when I was standing at the vending machine trying to decide if I was going to buy a coffee. I was on my period, and caffeine makes cramp pains much worse; however, as a college student, caffeine was frequently the only way I made it through my days. As is typical of an artist, I thought this conflict could be turned into art.


My first attempt to sketch out this concept was very simplistic. It was a simple representation of that moment as I experienced it. Water vs Caffeine.


Initial sketch

As you can see, even as an underpainting, this was not a good illustration. It's too easy of read. It's also very specific to students rather than being relatable to a broader audience. I needed to think more critically about the actual concept I wanted to communicate was. This sketch was a necessary first step but it was definitely just the first step.


By evaluating the illustration at this sketch stage, I was able to determine that the composition was not a productive one before I put too much effort into fully realizing a failing design.




The next step was adding symbolic depth, something that represents the concepts of water and coffee without literally being two bottles sitting on a table. I decided to draw the molecules for the water and caffeine respectively. I also experimented with different backgrounds colors and layouts.


These designs were better but still resulted in too literal of a read. I met with some artistic mentors and they mentioned the molecules reminded them of lace patterns. That led to the decision to make this illustration more abstract. I created a pattern out of the molecules, put the water molecule in front of that pattern to make the viewer visually choose which substance gets their attention, forcing them

to go through the same choice I went through

that inspired the work in the first place.


Final Illustration Design

I also changed the color and scale of some visual elements. The pink was chosen to emphasize the feminine aspect of this experience, and the water molecule was scaled up to emphasize its importance and to subtly reference the shape of the uterus. After all, it's the monthly cycle of the uterus that led to have to choose between water and caffeine in the first place.


The final result is markedly different than the original, yet it could not have existed without the previous iterations. Having multiple versions as works in progress leads to a stronger finished piece that is more successful at communicating its concept than the original one could have.

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