The long way of developing a good illustration


This is a very close and personal insight into my creation process. It started with a good idea, that seemed to be already finished in my imagination, but during the creation process I found out, that it’s not that easy to point the idea. All in all it took me about a half year to finish this illustration. But I learned a lot during this process! And I’d like to share my experience with you.



The idea

First of all, there was this idea about pointing the problem of our affluent society, that you can see by the huge amount of shopping bags and Amazon packages during the pre-Christmas periode. So I had the idea to show this by building a Christmas tree out of shopping bags, Amazon packages, price tags and shopping bills, illuminated by a golden credit card on top, instead of a Christmas star. To bring out the lightheartedness of people in all their luxury, I wanted some people dancing and singing around that Christmas tree. I had some charity pop songs in mind, that fit well to this issue – „Thank God, it’s Christmas“ by Queen, which became the title of this illustration, because it’s really in stark contrast to the image, and it points the aberration of this „holy feast“, and the other one is „Do they know it’s Christmas? (Feed the world)“ by Band Aid. One of the dancing people sings it like a catchy tune, which is a little misbehaved in view of their luxury.

Developing the tree

At first, I focused on the Christmas tree. A rough sketch, a detailed sketch, and the colored artwork. Ready – wow! I was so proud, because that damned tree took so much time! At that time I found out, that I have to change my coloring technique to work more efficient. I thought, „Ok, most of the work is done now, just adding the dancing people and a nice lettering, putting it all onto a nice background, then I have an amazing piece of work!“ Haha … if I only knew. I was just at the beginning of a long, long process.




Adding background, lettering and people

So, I developed some nice dancing people and put them together with the tree on a background, that I’ve already developed for a Christmas card. The Christmas card was very powerful, and so I thought, that color range would be the perfect solution for this picture. It wasn’t.
No contrast, not a bit three-dimensional, just plain, squeaky and childish. Even if I wanted some touch of irony, that was not the right effect.

Shadows and contrast

So I added some shadows and contrast to gain that illuminated Christmas atmosphere (which took a lot of time again). Now I was happy with it. For a while.




Changing the color range

After some time I looked at this illustration again, and I thought „No. There’s something wrong with it. The color range still doesn’t fit with that issue. It is too much like a Children’s book. And the tree is not recognizable enough, the bags are too colorful.“ I decided to reduce the colors, to make a stronger differentiation between foreground and background. And to make it less childish. I thought that a combination of dark green and golden shades gives the illustration a more glamorous look, which supports the idea of luxury. Also the shopping bags got stylish patterns and letterings, instead of common cheap shop designs. That was a big improvement.

Developing new characters

I really liked this golden, illuminated Christmas atmosphere, and the tree was much more recognizable as a tree. But the dancing people still had this childish appearance. In my very first imagination, they should have been some kind of strange joker-characters. I don’t know why, but in my imagination they were the right kind of characters to point the idea. So I put myself together to change the dancing people completely. At this time I was developing some different character styles, and there were those „clownish people“ with that colored rings around their googly eyes, bean-shaped bodies, big mouth and teeth and clown noses. I thought, they would be good to bring something vexing into this harmonized picture.




Changing everything else

Now that was closer to my first imagination. But then I saw a lot of other things, that I wasn’t happy with, and I thought, „Well, I’ve done so much revision until now, I should go on until I’m really happy with it. Otherwise all the work was for nothing.“

I wasn’t happy with the lettering. The readability wasn’t good, because the sentence was split into left and right, and the flow of reading wasn’t clear. And I wasn’t happy with the shape of the Christmas tree. It was a kind of  misshapen, not in balance, and the shopping bags were too big. To build a better Christmas tree, I needed more and smaller bags. So I illustrated a completely new Christmas tree.
I also wanted to harmonize the appearance of lettering and tree with the dancing people. So I integrated their eyes as a design element and I created a new lettering with shapes based on that bean-shaped appearance of the characters. I also transferred the colors of the characters onto the shopping bag design and the lettering. The characters seemed a little bit too clownish, so I changed the noses and lips.

A new lettering concept, that makes sense

That big change was a big step forwards again. But still not perfect. The characters were still too scary. I had to change their eyes. Now that the googly eyes were gone, they either didn’t make any sense at the Christmas tree and in the lettering. So I also had to change that. But I wanted a concept for my lettering, that goes along with the illustration. And so I found the perfect solution for that: I built a script lettering out of the shopping bills, that were already at the Christmas tree. This connection makes sense!
But again I wasn’t happy with the colors. They were too squeaky again. I tried out a green/red/brown-composition, and I added some texture over the whole picture, to soften the colors. It was better now, but it looked kind of dirty, and the shopping bill lettering had too much contrast, which affected its readability.




The final version

So I went back to the golden color range, that I liked most from the beginning – and it was the right choice!
Finally I am happy with this version. For now ;).



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„Handlettering – Schöne Zeichen setzen“ book release party

Book Release Party "Handlettering - Schöne Zeichen setzen" by Julia Kerschbaumer, published by Magellan Verlag, Photo: (c) Michael Seirer Photography
Book Release Party "Handlettering - Schöne Zeichen setzen" by Julia Kerschbaumer, published by Magellan Verlag, Photo: (c) Michael Seirer Photography

I celebrated my book release with friends and family at my exclusive book release party. Selected work samples were displayed in an exhibition, books were sold and signed, nice talks and drinks, and I was even interviewed spontaneously!

See my interview by Janett Cernohuby at „Janetts Meinung & Das Bücherkarussell“.

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Arbeiterkammer Wien, tender for the redesign of their youth department


I was invited to participate in a tender of the “Chamber of Labour Vienna” (“Arbeiterkammer Wien”), who wanted to redesign the appearance of their youth department. They were looking for a new visual concept for their logo, information folder and other print stuff, and they also considered to change their claim.
Unfortunately they didn’t commission me for the redesign, however I got very nice feedback, that the jury really liked the charm of my concept, but it wasn’t exactly what they were looking for this project. 



The logo redesign

They wanted a cool new design, that approaches the young people of vienna, without acting on a temporarily trend, that could be “out” soon. Their old design is very static, the logo is a connected “AK” (for “ArbeiterKammer”), but very geometric and clean. To bring a touch of youth and drive into this logo, I decided to make a brush lettering version of this connected “AK”.
I wanted to connect the two letters by using the same stroke for the crossbar of the “A” and the arm of the “K”. The readability was a balancing act, but in the end it worked. See here the positive, the inverted and the black-and-white logo version.





The concept

The main job of the AK youth department is, to advice young adults in several areas of life, such as labor law, habitation, education or even the responsible use of social media. It’s all about questions and answers. And that’s what I wanted to bring in front with a new claim: “Alles klar” (“All right”). For this claim I created a shape, that could be understood as a question mark, as well as an exclamation mark – or better: a question mark, that turns into an exclamation mark. A question that turns into an answer – an answered question. The claim “alles klar” (“all right”) is placed inside of the “quesclamation mark”, so this could also be a question or an answer: “All right?” or “All right!”
Another detail in this claim is, that its initials are the same as the two letters from the logo “A(lles)” and “K(lar)”, and furthermore, they rhyme (pronounced in German) “AK – Alles klar”, so it’s easy to memorize.
This question-answer-schema was planned to be carried forward in the information folders.


The “quesclamation mark” can be used in many applications, such as several logo additions, icons or color coding.


The concept is supplemented by modern illustrations of young adults and their questions, such as “Do I really need a final examination for my apprenticeship?” or “Am I the type for a shared flat?”.
The characters are developed out of the “quesclamation mark”, so they fit smooth into the concept. Their questions are in hand lettering speech bubbles, which give them a personal touch. With the uncoated paper background the solid vector shapes get a softer appearance.



The folder concept

To create a folder draft I chose the topic “Lehrabschlussprüfung” (“apprenticeship final examination”). It seems that many apprentice see no sense in doing this final examination, and so the AK offer an information folder, that shows the benefit, gives advice how to be well prepared and how to pass the test.
I chose a blue tone as a color coding for this topic – other topics would be assigned to different colors.
The speech bubble is a main element, that is carried through the design and shows the content in a question-answer-schema. They are good eye catcher as well.



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Update: Roy – revising, developing and finishing


This illustration was growing over more than two years. First there was just the horse-figure. Later I added the typographic background. With the last revision I changed the flower shapes and I found the perfect color palette.


illubelle-roy

The problem with the flower shapes was, that they were too much „common comic style“ – like every child would draw a flower, without consideration on perspective or natural appearance … very symbolic. Now I developed a more individual and advanced flower style.
Even so the color palette: for the last version I chose very common colors – brown trunks, green treetops, black horse, and so on. During the last year I concerned myself a lot on color combinations. It's not as easy as it seems. But with this revision I learned, that trunks don’t have to be brown, a black horse doesn’t have to be black in an illustration, there is no need to cling to „real“ colors. It makes a picture much more interesting to focus on building areas and layers with colors, that simulate a depth, even in a „flat“ picture. That’s what I did here: „Wienerwald“, the horse „Roy“ and the trunk in the front are building a unit in red shades, which contrast with the „grass-area“ („Weide“, „Wiese“, „Sumpf“, „See“ …) in green and blue shades. So there seem to be a background-layer („Wienerwald“), a middle (grass-area) and a front (horse and trunk). But even if there is a red and a green area, all colors are from the same palette, which is very warm and with a touch of yellow.


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Update: Roy – the creation process of a typographic illustration


Some time ago I reported about the creation process of the typographic illustration of my horse Roy. Now I added a fancy typographic background! (See the former blog article about the horse illustration here!)


illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Roy-Update-Blog

First I made a preperatory drawing with a pencil on tracing paper.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Roy-Update-Blog

Then I illustrated the elements in a vector program. I focused on the shapes, so I made them black and white, to see if they also work without adding colours. During the illustration process I changed some forms and added some more details.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Roy-Update-Blog

Finally I coloured it and put it on an uncoated paper background.


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Nice to meet you! – The creation process of a hand lettering illustration


For my business cards I wanted to find a way to show my graphic design and illustration skills combined to one creation. And it turned out, that a hand lettering illustration is the perfect solution for that. This is the creation process of my hand lettering artwork „Nice to meet you!“.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-Blog

First I did some hand lettering sketches and tried several versions of letters and flourish.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-Blog

In the next step I added some illustrations. I knew that I wanted it the same style as my hand lettering, but at first I didn’t think about combining them with each other.  I was thinking about some funny garden motives – I took this approach from a former concept for my business cards.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-Blog

But when I created a snail out of a flourish ending, I had the idea to let the illustration being part of the hand lettering and developed this idea further.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-Blog

Before I went on with the illustration part, I finished the hand lettering in some steps of tracing. At this time I forgot the exclamation mark, but I added it later.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-Blog

I thought that a big flourish could fit well with the tail of a squirrel. As a counterbalance I wanted to add a little illustration in the opposite corner. An acorn would be quite nice for a squirrel. But then I wasn’t happy with the acorn, because it reminded me too much of the movie „Ice age“ with the crazy squirrel hunting the nut.
An important thought was, to combine not only the formal shapes, but also the content. There is a little creature looking up to the words „Nice to meet you!“ – so there should be a recipient of this message on the other side.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-Blog

I decided for a bird sitting on a branch!



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-blog
Squirrel before
illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-blog
Squirrel after

When I showed the artwork to my partner, he noted, that the squirrel looked like some kind of dragon or gargoyle. First I was angry, as always when he criticizes my work, but soon I saw that he was right. And so I studied some more squirrel photographs, did some naturalistic sketches and created a new squirrel – and with that one I’m really happy! It looks so much nicer – and now the „dragon“ looks even more like a dragon.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-blog
illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-blog

At next I had to find a way to conform both sides of my business cards. After I had vectorized the hand lettering artwork and designed the back side of the business card with my logo and contact, I thought that the contact part looked a little naked without an illustration.
So I tried some versions to connect both sides with a flourish illustration – in the end there were two sweet little kissing fishes.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-Blog

Later, when I vectorized them, I thought that it looks better to let them swim parallel in the opposite direction, to break this static symmetry.



illubelle-Julia Kerschbaumer-Nice to meet you-Blog

So, my business cards are ready – and I really like them!



Illubelle - Julia Kerschbaumer - Nice to meet you

Later I colored the „Nice to meet you“ artwork, to see how this would work for a picture. And it turned out, that this style would be perfect for a book cover – a lot of publishers at the book fair Frankfurt were interested in this illustration!



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Big words for a little mouse


On mothers day my dear partner gave me a couple of lovely pictures of our daughter. He had taken the pictures to create a sweet photo story about her for me. This cute photographs inspired me to create his fathers day present: a series of baby pictures combined with quotes of great children’s book authors. This quotes could be my advice for her: become a brave Peter Pan, a caring Horton and take life with a big grin like the Cheshire cat – then everything’s gonna be fine!


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Roy - The creation process of a typographic illustration

Since a few months I concern myself with typography in combination with illustration. Or more precisely: to integrate typography into illustrations. This little private project is a "declaration of love" to my horse Roy, who surprised me that day in the riding lesson with some new skills. So I had the idea to create a typographic illustration, dedicated to him, and maybe I'll make a name plate for his barn door out of it. In this blog article I share my creation process with you.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

First there was the main idea, simply sketched on the next piece of paper, that I could reach.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

According to this paper-sketch, I made some digital scribbles. But it didn't really work out, it didn't get the shape that I had in mind. Often I have an idea and I think that it is already finished in my head, so I just have to bring it to paper. But then it turns out, that the result is far away from my main idea. And then a long process of finding out the reason starts.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer
illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

My conclusion of my first digital preparatory drawing was, that it is far away from the idea of a vivid horse in motion. And I concluded that it will never get some motion into this picture when I integrate the typography from the beginning. So I had to do some vivid horse sketches first.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

When I found the most suitable shape for my "typo-horse", the idea suddenly worked.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

From now on the biggest challenge was to find the balance between readability of the word "ROY"  and the recognizability of the illustrated horse. It was very difficult to ensure that you still see an "R" and a "Y" while seeing horses legs as well. I spent a lot of time on that. The "R" often looked like a "P". So I had to separate the two hind legs.
Then - if I only knew - I had the solution. But I needed some more time of processing, to see this. At this moment I only saw, that the second leg of the "Y" was confusing and affected its readability.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

So I decided to join the leg-shapes, so there was no space between them, and this should make it look more like a common type shape.
So, this was my preparatory drawing, illustrated in Adobe Photoshop, to put it into Adobe Illustrator, where I finished it as a vector illustration.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

I created the outlines, still trying to figure out the best working shape.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

When I filled the shapes with color, I was not happy with the outlines. But I thought that they had to be, 'cause otherwise the horses legs would not be recognizable.



illubelle-roy-Julia-Kerschbaumer

But then I went a few steps back to my former preparatory drawing, and then I saw the perfect solution: I just had to give the second foreleg another color – dark grey, like the other parts of the horse, that are "non-typographic". The "Y" doesn't need two legs. Sometimes it is that simple, but first you have to try several ways to find out.
So, this is the final artwork!


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