Illustration 1 - Assignment 4 Illustration 1 - Part 4 Key Steps in Illustration

Key Steps in Illustration: Assignment 4 – Magazine Illustration, Pt. 1

The fourth assignment asks me to do a magazine illustration, based on a still life, on one topic (Lost; Disaster; Discovery; Guilty Secret). The brief is as loose as this, which is to give me the freedom to develop ideas and my style.

To be frank, I was looking forward to this project before I started, but when the time came, I was quite lost in how to start. I simply could not decide on what topic to choose. I think that is one of the disadvantages of not having that many details in the brief, but rather coming up with a concep on my own.

I had several ideas for Lost, Disaster and Discover, including the housing crisis, climate warming, discoveries in terms of new species, and in terms of new countries. I read quite a lot of different newspaper articles and came up with various options for still lifes – yet I was not quite sure what would work best. So this phase actually quite long, aas I struggled with developing some ideas more in detail.

I eventually narrowed it down to this one topic: a new scientific discovery that 1 in 15 Americans is affected by Phantom smells, and smells things that are not actually there. I found it quite interesting and an abstract topic to work on. Here is the full article about the latest discovery about Phantom Smells that I will work as the basis for my magazine illustration.

The brief wants the illustration to be losely based on a still life. Personally I don’t find still lives as such too appealing – because when I think of still life, the old masters come into my mind. Here are a few examples of traditional still life that usually show some fruit, glassware, and table composition. More examples here.

I also collected a few examples of magazine illustrations that I like. Here are a few examples of the styles I like best. URL, URL, URL, URL, URL, URL, URL.

Since I follow a Scientic topic, I also looked at illustrations in science magazine: URLURLURL, URL, URL, URL. I like these styles a lot, and generally found that for science magazines, the artworks tend to have a limited colour scheme, rather than being totally colourful.

I also looked at how people visualise smell in general, and found that is often done by showing the face/nose and some lines that lead to the nose. Some examples can be found here, here and here.

This project gives me the freedom to create an illustration in any style I want, and I’m thinking to go for a more abstract version than having a traditional still life only. I’m also free to introduce a character later, which I believe will make sense in this case. I’m not quite sure where this would take me, but I started an illustration with differnt kitchen and household supplies that I imagined would represent different smells. I tried out different positions and compositions with some quick sketches, and decided to keep it simple and do the items in one line frontally.

I first did the objective drawing, the exercise asked for. I tried to work on a smaller skale than I usually do to challenge myself, and did a pencil only and a colour version. I also did a few sketches of the individual items – without the compositions to look more closely at the shapes and shades.

Looking at the black-and-white and colour version, I prefer the colour version because it allowed me to convey more details objectively. The small pencil sketch somehow looses the details, while the colour version intensifies them somehow.

I then used a few other materials, including pencils, pastels, and just looked at the shapes and colours of the items to distrot them somewhat.

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Kat illustrates: Assignment 4 – Still life – distorted

I decided to take this forward an try out a few compositions, both with the items only, and introducing a character.

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Working on these thumbnails I found it better to include a character to convey the idea of “smelling”. Having an abstract face or person in the picture and the smells going into the nose would make it clearer for the viewer what the topic would be.

In magazines, the illustrations emphasise the text, so they can easily be more abstract than stand-alone. However, the viewer should still get the idea of what the topic is about.

I continued to try out some line visual of my favourite idea, and a colour version as thumbnails. I then experimented with different materials and techniques. I started with smaller skale piece with aquarells and gouache, and experimented with different style and texture options, including collage, pastels, ink, charcoal, and others. I even briefly considered some stiching.

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Kat illustrates: Assignment 4 – Still life – line and client visuals

I like the guoache effect best, because it is smooth, yet still allows to create a nice effect with different layers. I also like the collage style. I worked at two pieces in a larger skale, both with a mixed meda collage and a guoache/aquarells piece.

The collage is made of different layers of transparent papers, and aquarell colours painted over it. This was not quite the effect I was hoping for, because the colours get a bit too smudged for my liking. Also it did not look as clean as I was hoping for.

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Kat illustrates: Assignment 4 – Still life – guoache and water colours and collague technique

In comparision, the guoache piece looks a lot smoother overall. The texture of this piece is quite nice, and the aquarells have a nice, see-through effect, which I quite like to visualize the smells.

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However, it is not as clean as I was hoping for. I contiued working with this piece though, and did some digital edits on it. Mainly increasing the contrast, and intensifying the white spaces, but also trying out different colour schemes for the overall piece. Again, I find this option to process layouts digitally quite helpful because the different version and colours have a different effect to the viewer.

While editing, I realised this was not as smooth as I was hoping for. Mainly because I kept visualising it in a magazine, and thinking it looked too hand-drawn to be printed in a high-end print magazine.



  • NBC. “Phantom smells may be more common than thought, study finds” by Shamard Charles. Published on Aug 16, 2018. URL
  • Google Search. “Still life”. URL
  • “How Artists Have Kept Still Life Painting Alive Over Thousands of Years” by  Kelly Richman-Abdou. Published on May 31, 2018. URL
  • Google Search. “How Smell works illustration”. URL, URL, URL
  • Google Search. “Magazine Illustration.” URL, URL, URL, URL, URL, URL, URL
  • Google Search. “Science magazine illustration”. URL, URLURL, URL, URL, URL

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