A guest post by Daniel Mackie from www.danielmackie.com

swimmer illustration

Decisions, decisions! Up until recently I, like many other illustrators, had been using Photoshop as my main illustration tool. However I abandoned it and picked up my watercolour brushes. What!? Why? Well, back in 1995, when I first started out as an illustrator, Photoshop was the new weapon of choice for a ‘fresh-out-of-college’ illustrator like me. I was bowled over by the effects I could achieve (mainly invert, curve and blur at the time). Photoshop had only one level of undo (control z) and no layers. The only way to go back in your design was to save different versions of your work as you progressed, but hard drives were the size of knicker draws at the time, not the great vacuous caverns that are available today. So you’d usually just plough on forward, hoping your computer didn’t crash, until you’d finished. Whatever command you instructed the software to do, you had to be pretty sure that was what you wanted, because one more commands down the line and you couldn’t undo it! You had to be brave!

Don Draper illustration

Photoshop is now a much more powerful piece of software. You can effectively go back in time and re-edit everything in your design. Now this is fantastic. But. Well for me, I started to notice in my own work that my use of colour was like everybody else’s – flat. I’d try a load of different colours out until I decided on the one I wanted (hue/saturation, brightness/contrast… etc). If something wasn’t working I’d move the layers around, try a few effects, scan something else in… etc. I realized I wasn’t making my mind up and making a decision about what I wanted. Having too much choice was making my working methods vague.

I wanted to shore things up. I had some experience of using watercolour. I used to paint bowls of fruit at the kitchen table when I was a lad. I knew that when the colour went onto the paper it was difficult to get off, as it stains like claret on white carpet! If you painted over it you’d run the risk of everything turning to sludge brown. Because of its permanence, your drawing had to be spot on even before you started. Now this is the polar opposite of Photoshop. After being sure your drawing is spot on, you have to be one hundred percent committed to the colours you’re going to be using. You have to make a decision and stick to it. If it goes wrong you have to start again.

The decision-making in the production of an illustration is one crucial part of the process. I also believe that limiting the options I have forces me to make better decisions throughout the creative process. When you have a number seven brush loaded with Cadmium Red you have to be sure that where you’re putting it is where you want it because once it’s on it’s not coming off. This kind of decision becomes even more loaded the closer to finishing the illustration you get. But you’ve got to make it.

Daniel Mackie was recently awarded ‘best in book’ in the Creative review illustration Annual 2011.

break dancer illustration Daniel Mackie