Project Deconstruction: Digital Illustration

You know besides being bloggers for Design Sorbet, we are first and foremost creatives. Ruth is a drawing ninja, Eleonora is a media guru, Sarah has kickin screen printing skills, and I do animations and digital illustrations. So project deconstruction is an excuse for us to show you our work, but because we’re a design blog and because we want you to be able to take something with you from our blog, and do your own thing, we want to show you the process & development behind each project.

Today I will guide you through the process of digitally colouring and adding light to one of my favourite illustrations that was created for a friend of mine. But before I want to give you a bit of background info on the subjects that are central to my drawings. A digital designer that I admire once told me ‘When you get good at something, let it go and do something else’. He wasn’t referring to dropping drawing and become a construction worker of course, but to challenge oneself as an artist. When I started drawing I was never fond of children and animals, I found them harder to draw than anything else, and also slightly boring. You can guess what happened next; I started putting (especially) children at the core of my illustrations. The focus was not just children however, I was (and still am) interested in children and their sexuality. Finding a subject that interested me of course, helped me to want to undertake this challenge more than ever.


A project that I did with fellow blogger Ruth Ancilleri. This was a part of a collective exhibition against censorship in Malta. The viewers were invited to look through the hole in the box…


…Inside they would see what looked like two girls undressing in a girl’s room(this is actually not how the box was inside originally, this picture was taken later when some of the items had broken due to their fragility).


An illustration of a girl standing naked surrounded by various objects symbolising childhood and adolescence.

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This is the illustration that we will be deconstructing today; two boys holding hands in one of the boys’ room. One of the boys is moving the curtain to the side and they are both looking out, perhaps to see if there’s anyone watching, spotting something outside or simply to wonder at the world. That’s the poetic side for you, now let’s get down to the technical stuff! Since my work is semi-digital, the deconstruction is mainly what happens during the digital stage. Please note that this is not a Photoshop tutorial, however if you are interested to learn Photoshop (a visual graphics application) Mashable have compiled 12 Beginner tutorials right here. If you have any other questions about technical details, feel free to ask in the comment section.

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This is the original illustration with a hint of water colour. The boys’ clothes and their rooms are all inspired by real clothes and objects in children’s rooms that I find online and in books.

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The image is opened in Photoshop and the extra background cropped. I always keep a copy of the original in case I want to revert back to it.

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Pencil usually loses some of its sharpness when it’s transferred into data. The first thing I do before I start any colouring is adjust the levels to make the dark areas darker, and the light areas lighter.

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Time for some colouring. I tried to stick to colours that are low in saturation; mostly blues,beiges and hints of orange and yellows. In this case I have done the colouring all on one layer and using a very rough technique.

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After the colouring, I usually add highlights and shadows on separate layers. Here the black was added roughly and then erased depending on where the light hits the subjects and environment.

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Light was the focal point in this project seeing that my light source is in the middle of the composition. I really wanted to get the highlights right here. I started adding while colouring on a separate layer to emphasise the areas that are directly hit by the light.

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Still wasn’t happy with the light, so added even more light in a circular motion coming out from behind the curtain to imitate the radiance of the sun (notice the back lighting on the characters as well)

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and still messing around with light! The final touch was adding a lens flare effect (something I rarely use) but I wanted the light to really blast through the window, to give the feel of when one has just woken up and is blinded by the sun. The lens flare effect was then retouched through lots of erasing (to avoid the fakeness of it)

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Now I was thinking I wanted a slightly nostalgic environment, so I lowered down the saturation slightly.

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With me so far? Hope so 🙂 The final touches are basically getting the overall colour balanced and to my liking. I added an overall brown layer using the soft light transparency option. This obviously gives the drawing a brownish tint.

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…and finally, another layer but this time a greyish light blue/green once again using the soft light option, to make the overall colour slightly colder.

Protect your Art career

In one of my online rants ‘So you want a creative career’ I had brushed on the idea that most people do not want to pay for art because they think of it as something that we do for a hobby. Others don’t want to pay, well because they can; because they find people who will do it for free. Today I found a video by Stephen Silver a freelance character designer in the animation industry that I highly respect. In the video he speaks specifically about this issue, where he urges artists to not work for free because rather that giving you exposure, it is more likely to destroy your career. Artists who are just starting out can easily make the mistake of doing work for free because it will give them ‘exposure’. Trust me this exposure is so not worth it.

Working for free destroys the artistic industry, so when you work for free you are not just damaging yourself, but you are damaging everybody else. Some art / design students make the mistake of working for free whilst they are studying, so they can get a college portfolio & a work portfolio. What happens when the student becomes a professional? The same companies will be working with NEW students who are working for free rather than paying the student who can now create professional work. Therefore not only are professional artists suffering and getting payed less because others are working for free, but the general industry is using work that is not up to standard because it is not paying for it.

Here are some character design tips by Stephen Silver, followed by his advice on how to ‘Protect your Art career.’

silver 3 stephen silver 1 stephen silver 2 stephen silver

Here’s another related video that you might enjoy:

2011/03 Mike Monteiro | F*ck You. Pay Me. from San Francisco Creative Mornings on Vimeo.

Sketchbook Chicks

I have to admit that from the four Sketchbook Chicks, the internet addict is probably the one I can relate to the most. The Internet addict can be many things because a lot of people are addicted to various areas of the internet. I guess I fall under the social-networking, blogging, article-reading, meme-loving kind, rather than the facebook-immersed socialite or the gamer 🙂 The internet addict is indeed a bit of a technophile, with various quirky items in her inventory, the latest gadgets always at hand, and of course buys 99% of her things online. Certain things in the sketch are based on my own personal items such as the sharpener-shaped pencil holder, the iMac, and the wooden headphones from Modcloth that I AMOST got, but then they were out of stock, so I got similar retro ones from HMV 🙂 Then there’s the Oatmeal book, Dvds, iPad, cookies… and the beautiful Cambridge Satchel that I sadly cannot afford at the moment, (if you’re going to click that link, beware… you will want one too instantly!). Anyway enough from me! This is the final Sketchbook chick, but I have more Fashion-related illustrations for you in the coming weeks, I can’t wait to share them with you! 🙂

Sketchbook Chick 1: The Fashion Blogger

Sketchbook Chick 2: The Art Professor

Sketchbook Chick 3: The Foodie 

Sketchbook Chicks

Today’s sketchbook chick is ‘the foodie’. Who doesn’t appreciate a foodie? We might not all love making food, but we sure love eating it! So being around a foodie is never a bad thing, unless she’s the lecture-giving type, then it’s kind of annoying. I’m no foodie myself, although I do enjoy cooking (and who doesn’t in this reality-cooking show era!) but a foodie is someone I aspire to be should I have more time on my hands. Foodies enjoy cooking the trickiest of foods, are constantly baking goodies for friends and family, and usually grow their own herbs and greens, and if not, will look for the freshest possible produce. I imagine their kitchen to be quite rough around the edges, the Jamie Oliver kind, or perhaps similar to the illustration above; an overload of Cath Kidson prints on the surrounding fabrics.

Are you a foodie yourself?

You might like.. an endless supply of user submitted delicious recipes, in a grid form; the beautiful pictures are enough to deserve a bookmark in my browser 🙂 a food blog containing anything from collections of recipes (of course!) as well as inspiring kitchen designs, decor, etiquettes and other food & kitchen related fun posts. a local favourite of mine; Emma’s going through the ABC’s by means of food. Great blog, great looking food (haven’t tried her recipes yet but I sure need to) and just fantastic images and graphics, we’re all suckers for that.

And OBVIOUSLY I’ve learned most of my cooking from here. Allrecipes helped me through my University years and is now my go to guide mostly when I’m looking for a specific recipe and I want to compare between one and the other (don’t ignore the comments though! What’s better than recipes with feedback?)

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here….

We’re back again with our mystery literature box containing one of the most important classics of all times. Once more, we invite you to try to guess which book we have selected for you this time. (Click here to look at our first mystery literature box)

Have you guessed? It’s of course The Divine Comedy by Dante  Alighieri

Full Description 

“The plot of the poem is set around Dante’s pilgrimage through the afterlife. He starts out being lost and is advised by Virgil the poet (whom he admired), advising him that he had to go through Hell to get out. With Virgil’s aid he goes through Hell in which he intertwines real characters with fictional ones. This continues as he goes through Purgatory. He is then guided by another (believed by many to be the woman whom he loved since childhood Beatrice) to Heaven where he encounters God.”

(Source for Book Description)

(Source of Book Purchase) 

Suggested places to read: JJ Cathedral Pub, Florence (in the bar`s balcony with magnificent views of the Duomo facade and the Baptistery of the Cathedral that are directly opposite the bar) or La Cantinetta, a cozy wine bar in the heart of Florence 

Suggested time: On a lazy autumn afternoon

Suggested food/drink: A glass of Chianti Classico (preferable a Castello di Verrazzano)  or a Bellini cocktail.  A slice of foccacia with buffalo mozzarella and some cantucci with almonds dipped in Vin Santo 

Us at JJ Cathedral Pub in 2010

Related material that you might like:

The Dore Illustrations for Dante`s Divine Comedy (136 Plates by Gustave Dore)

Il Libro Segreto di Dante (il codice nascosto della divina commedia) di Francesco Fioretti 

‘Beata Beatrix’ c.1864-70 (oil on canvas) by Dante Gabrielle Rosetti 

‘Dante and Beatrice’ 1884 (oil on canvas) by Henry Holiday

Salvador Dali Illustrations of the Divine Comedy 

The House museum of Dante in Florence 

Other books by Dante Alighieri :

Vita Nuova: The New Life by Dante Alighieri, Translated by Dante Gabrielle Rosetti


This post has been lovingly composed in fond memory of my nanna Bice, whose name inspired the choice of book this month. We have therefore decided to use one of Bice’s possessions as our mystery box; a beautiful book-shaped biscuit tin.

Songs to give you energy on sick days

Being stuck inside with a cold sucks, but it does force you to get some things done in between naps. In order to get those things done though, it helps to have an uplifting soundtrack that keeps you on edge. Having spent the whole weekend locked inside, I’ve been trying to make the most of my time. I do have work that needs to get done, but somehow it feels unfair to work when I’m sick. I figured I never have time to do some drawing for myself nowadays, so that’s exactly what I did (see featured image). That’s not why I’m writing this post though, I want to share with you a Playlist that is keeping me going. Of course it is especially dedicated to anyone who’s spent the weekend in, surrounded by tissues and sipping abnormal amounts of tea. So here it is, Songs to give you energy on sick days. <–Click here or the image below to be directed to the Grooveshark Playlist

Moonage Daydream – David Bowie
Obviously five believers – Bob Dylan
One way or another – Blondie
Are you gonna be my girl – Jet
Nebuleux Bonhomme – Francoiz Breut
Stupid Girl – Garbage
This is Love – PJ Harvey
My Brain is Hanging upside down – Ramones

Sketchbook Chicks

So what is this Sketchbook Chicks all about? Well it’s all about portraying creative females, sometimes according to their careers, and surrounding them by stereotypical (albeit desirable) items! I’m not gonna lie, it’s also an excuse for me to draw these kind of things. There’s something oddly entertaining about drawing nicely dressed ladies with their tiny items and accessories.

The first one is ‘The Fashion Blogger’; the envy of all Fashion enthusiasts, with her colourful brogues, aztek cardigan, retro sunglasses and the infamous ‘blogger bun’. She’s obviously ditched her car for a bicycle because cars are bad for the environment man! She still can’t let go of the Eiffel Tower motif, even though it’s been plastered around the fashion industry for a while now. A lover of owls, moustaches and a Diana camera, the Fashion Blogger is what every hipster chick aspires to be. Can you relate? 😉