Key Steps in Illustration: Travel Guides

This exercise asks to create a series of cover illustrations for travel guides, including a hand-drawn type, for three cities: Milan, Istanbul, and Helsinki. The illustrations should present the cities in a diagramatic way and include hand-drawn type. Other than that the brief is open to my ideas.

First I did a bit of research of existing examples of illustrated travel guides. Some examples can be seen here: URL, URL, URL, URL, URL, and URL. 

I also found some illustrated maps in magazines, and travel stories that come with illustrations. Also, I think the “New York Times – 36 Hours” travel book quite inspirational as they always include illustrations that show the different places. I also found a quite handy book for designers, which offers some icons and templates to create designed maps easily.

I’ve only been to Istanbul a few years ago, so I looked for travel advice what each city had to offer on the internet to get a better idea. In retrospective, I guess the best would be to actually travel to a place when being commissioned to create an illustration, to get a feeling for the place and experience the vibe and key sights.

Here’s what I found as key highlights for the destinations, as well as some examples of illustration and artwork:


  • Examples of illustrations: URL, URL, URL, URL
  • My favourite style is this one: URL. It has a modern, monochrome look with a limited colour scheme, and it presents the atmosphere by many icons in a playful manner. It looks busy, yet calm at the same time.


  • Example of illustrations: URL, URL, URL, URL, URL
  • My favourite style is this one: URL because of the way the different elements are composed into this one block, without making it look overloaded. I also like the colours.


  • Example of illustrations: URL, URL, URL, URL
  • My favourite style is this one: URL because of it is geometrical vector style, and plain view without angles, showing the key sights only.

Based on these insights, I then created some initial sketches in my sketchbook of the city’s highlights. I then experimented with some materials, including gouache, Japanese brushed pens, and others.

By creating thumbnail drawings, I narrowed it down to what I felt were my best ideas to represent these cities. I tried out line visuals and colour visuals for the different covers. Until I found the idea I liked best, I only worked on the portrait format for the cover. However, when I continued working on the illustrations, I extended the format to a landscape format. I did this to include the illustration on the front and back of the travel guide.

I worked out the colour visuals for all three cities.

To finish this exercise, I created the mock-up for Helsiniki. I made a larger gouache painting of the city’s most iconic buildings, and the blue sea and the sky. I also did the hand-drawn type in different versions on a seperate piece of paper to include it on the illustration digitally later. I found it the best way to determine the final position of the headline on the illustration, and also to include the back of the book.

By finishing the edits digitally, I found it easy to try out different versions. I also played around with increasing the saturation, and adding some other effects to the illustration without “destroying” it.


Digital Processing:

I did a few edits in Photoshop, and then placed the hand-drawn headline of the travel guide in the layout, playing around with different locations. While I handlettered different type options, I went for the very simple one that I felt would best reflect the Scandinavian design.

Exercise: Travel Guides – Book cover mock-up

Final Mock-Up:

Key Learnings: 

  • Doing research is essential. Best would actually be to know the place you are creating the illustration for, either because you live(d) there or because you’ve travelled there. Alternatively, asking people who visited a city, also helps to get some insights and a better feeling for a city.
  • I still prefer to create illustrations in the “old school” way, by using paint and brushes, and then adding the final touches digitally. I can’t help but like illustrations that seem “hand-made” better than mere digital ones. I follow a lot of illustrators and artists on Instagram, and I am drawn to the ones that actually create their work with real materials. I understand that fully digitial illustrations have their purpose and might be more suitable for certain areas of work, but I personally still feel more comfortable with working in a mixed technique.


  • Google Search “Travel Guide Illustration”. Accessed on Nov 15, 2018. URL
  • Google Search “Travel Guide Illustrations”. Accessed on Nov 15, 2018. URL, URL, URL, URL, and URL
  • “Tokio Travel Guide”. Accessed on Nov 15, 2018. URL
  • Google Search “Milan Illustrations”. Accessed on Nov 15, 20018. URL, URL, URL, URL
  • Google Search “Istanbul Illustrations”. Accessed on Nov 15, 20018. URL, URL, URL, URL, URL
  • Google Search “Helsinki Illustrations”. Accessed on Nov 15, 20018. URL, URL, URL, URL

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