Here is something different in the lead-up to Christmas: after some experimentation, I believe I have found a way to create digital art that works for me. It combines the precision of vector drawings with the rich chaos of hand drawn elements.

The broad steps are outlined below. If you do digital art, I’d love to hear what you do.

1. Initial drafts.

These are done in Adobe Illustrator with either a Wacom tablet, on Illustrator or other Windows pen apps on a Microsoft Surface, or even on my aging Galaxy Note phone with its stylus.

Dimension-wise, these drafts are not very large. Otherwise I spend too much time struggling with too much blank spaces. Working small lets me fill up the canvases quite rapidly.

The mostly black line drafts are all moved into Adobe Illustrator, sized up to A3@150dpi, and additional details added. These can be lines, blocks, textures, and colour washes.

2. Hand drawing.

The A3@150dpi layouts are rasterised into PNG files then imported into the Graphiter app on the Surface Pro. (I’d have preferred to keep everything as vectors, but we can have everything.) The reason these are in A3@150dpi is because this is the largest dimension and resolution that Graphiter supports.

This stage of the work uses the pencil, colour pencil, and blend tools. Very occasionally I use the graphic pen tool. This is the most time consuming and meditative part of the process. And also the most fun.

3. Finetuning.

When the drawings reach a certain stage of “finishedness,” I bring them back into Adobe Illustrator for finetuning. Sometimes, I find the hand drawn elements add too much chaos to the competitions.

In the examples shown, I added fine lines, frames, colour blocks, and drop shadows. I also tweaked the colour tints and contrast by layering on Illustrator shapes and using different blend and opacitiy settings.

Files exported from Graphiter are Placed and Linked within Illustrator. This way, I can tweak the Graphiter work, re-export with the tweaks, and have those auto-update inside Illustrator.

Steps 2 and 3 may be repeated several times. This sounds tedious but it is actually quite a lovely mind-shift as I change from working freehand to vectors and vice versa.

4. Final output.

The final files are output from Graphiter as PNG files. I sometimes finetune hue, saturation, and levels for the last time in Adobe Photoshop.

The finished compositions are then uploaded to RedBubble