Illustration has always been another huge passion of mine, but the fear of rejection and not being good enough always prevented me from progressing my talents as an artist.
After becoming a UX designer and learning about the value of iteration I felt like tackling one of the biggest challenges I’ve held my entire life. Equipped with a UX mindset, I can honestly say that my process and results have dramatically improved over a short period of time.
What is UX?
For those that don’t know, UX is the process of defining a problem, researching that problem and then coming up with a solution that is backed by the research you accumulated. In UX you advocate for the people you are designing for, but in the process of illustration that person is you and your audience.
I present to you the Double Diamond:
The double diamond is the backbone of the UX process and I’m going to take you through every step and how it applies to illustration.
So you want to draw? Amazing!
How do you being? What medium? What platform? Tools? References? Colors? Programs?
Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? That’s okay.
The double diamond is here to help guide us through the illustration process. First, we must define what problem it is that we want to solve. This problem can be as broad as creating an illustration that draws out passion within people to make change, or as narrow as you wanting to improve as an artist. It is an assumption about what you think the problem is and after some research you’ll refine this problem into an even more focused scope.
In order to understand what the problem is you need to do some research. My problem was that I was terrible at drawing faces. No matter how many hours I spent practicing I never got any better because I never consulted any research on HOW to draw a face properly.
I had trained myself into reproducing photographs rather than drawing from my own knowledge of proportion and shape. I was being led by my preconceived notions about how a face should be drawn rather than looking into how to do it.
I then applied a UX mindset and bought some Andrew Loomis books, watched various tutorials and researched proportions of the human face.
You then take the research you’ve done, analyze your work and realize what you’ve been doing wrong.
I found out that not only was I drawing very static but the proportions of the face (especially the eyes) were dramatically off and looked cartoonish. I was drawing with lines rather than shapes.
Now that I knew what was wrong I redefined my problem:
How might I improve my ability to draw realistic looking faces?
Ideation & Prototyping (A.K.A. Iterating)
The next step was to take all of my research and find a solution to my problem. The answer, quite honestly, was just to practice more — but it was to practice with my new insights in mind. Rather than practice mindlessly with no basis or concept of placement — I practiced mindfully and focused on areas I knew needed improvement.
I spent weeks drawing pages like this in my sketchbook:
I kept consulting my research over and over — comparing my results to the research until eventually I started to get results like this:
So what exactly changed?
Well, I applied the UX mindset. Rather than getting trapped in a cycle of fear that a piece of art wouldn’t come out correctly, I just drew over and over — not worrying whether it was going to be “the next big hit”. If something wasn’t working I found solutions or abandoned it and moved on to the next drawing. Over time, my understanding of facial proportions and value began to grow and I kept relying less and less on photographs and more and more on my knowledge of the subject.
UX literally changed my brain.
Moving to Digital
Once I felt comfortable drawing faces I moved into Photoshop. That’s when I faced another problem — I knew how to draw on paper but I didn’t know how to draw on photoshop!
Here’s where the UX process really shines. Since I had applied a UX methodology to drawing, I figured I could also apply it to digital painting.
I started out with pieces like this:
It was okay — but not where I wanted to be.
I began to research methods and tools that professional digital illustrators used and began emulating their practices — aka the research phase. I synthesized my findings into actionable insights — such as downloading brush sets, configuring photoshop workflows, etc. — And then my process of iteration began again.
Example of an Iterative Process
I’ve delved into how iteration works in practicing and improving, but I would also like to touch on iterating during a project itself. Below you’ll find 3 different steps in an iterative process for a single piece of art from beginning to when I put down the paintbrush and moved on to my next piece.
The above flow shows the iteration process from initial MVP sketch to market ready solution — all three were posted to my instagram as a sort of pseudo usability test to see if users were interested in my content.
I received numerous likes and comments so I kept iterating on the design until a product was well enough received to validate releasing myself from this project and moving to the next.
My hope is that this article brings attention to the idea that you can apply UX to almost anything in life. I was able to apply it to my illustration process and see dramatic improvements over time. The key is patience and to know when to iterate and when to stop — but with a UX mindset you have a very methodological approach to problem solving and you can achieve anything you set out to accomplish.