Understanding the Digital Illustration Process – Pt. 4 – Highlights and Shading, the Finishing Touches

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In part three of Understanding the Digital Illustration Process, I discussed the creation of line art and flats to block out the form of the final illustration. At this point in the process the illustration will look almost finished – and in some cases (depending on the style you wish to achieve) you could consider the piece complete at this stage. Some styles however, do require some final touches to add additional depth to the image.

Personally, when adding the final details to a drawing I focus on key areas of the design, the focal points that will attract the attention of the viewer the most. In the case of character or mascot design, this usually includes the face and upper body; however this is not always the case. When considering which areas of the illustration to add the most amount of detail, it’s a good idea to reference photography, or even other artwork.

Once a focal point (or points, depending on the complexity of the image) is determined, first start by roughing in shadows and highlights to add some basic dimension to the image and then refine the focal point(s) as you feel fit. It’s important at this stage to note from where, and of what type, the light sources are within the image as this will determine the direction, intensity, and colour of the light and shadows on the elements of the illustration.

Finishing up with the highlights and shading more or less completes the illustration on a whole. Minor tweaks can always be considered, such as colour correction, incorporating additional effects or graphical elements, and anything else your imagination can come up with. In the end, an illustration can always be refined, tweaked, and improved, so it’s really up to you as an artist to decide when the image can truly be considered “done”.