Thursday, 30 July 2015

Illustration Research Package: How To Prepare An Illustration Research Package To Minimise Your Project’s Cost?


How To Prepare An Illustration Research Package To Minimise Your Project's Cost?

In the previous articles I attempted to solve the mystery of illustration pricing and to guide you to your perfect illustrator. I have mentioned that one way to minimise your cost when hiring an illustrator is to prepare the necessary research for the illustration project. 

In my experience and my friends’ experience I find that regardless of our skill level all of us turn to Google before beginning any project. Let’s say your project is set in 18th century France. Most people when they think of France would think of Paris with the iconic Eiffel Tower. However, Eiffel Tower did not exist until 1889! What did the Paris of the 18th century look like? What clothing did people wear? Did men and women mingle as we do today? What was the difference between the upper classes and the lower classes—is it just in clothing, or is there a way a servant would stand compared to the master?... 

If you have plenty of money and are willing to pay an illustrator to spend a lot of time on research, please feel free to do so. However, if you are pressed for time and cash it is up to you to give your illustrator all the information he/she may need to begin illustrating the project. No one knows your project better than you, so before contacting an illustrator think about how many illustrations your project needs and what kind of visual and written information the illustrator may require. Then do the research and create an Illustration Research Package

Illustration Research Package 

Currently one of my projects is a fantasy novel called Warriors of Virtue. You would think that as the author I know what my own characters and settings look like. Let me see if I could explain why I do not. 

The main character lives at Empyreal Castle, crafted by the most skilled dwarfs when her family came to power at the end of the Great War. Resting atop the Empyreal Hill, the castle is a tall red-roofed and white-walled structure. It has four main doors on each of its compass sides: gold to the North, silver to the South, copper to the West, and oak to the East. 

Close your eyes and picture this castle. 

Do your castle’s walls make a square? Does it have a tower on each corner, each one of different height? Are there window corridors connecting the towers and the walls to the central circular throne room with a glass covered dome? Does the castle have outdoor terraces at the Queen’s and King’s living quarters? Are there walled gardens, kitchen gardens,… What about the stables and the grounds? Can a giant fit comfortably in the rooms? 

I think you get my point; there is much more that I see in my head than I have written on the page. There is even more that I do not see, but I know that it should be there. Ardan, the land of the Empyreal Castle, is a fantasy kingdom. There it would not be unusual to encounter giants, dragons, sphinxes, mermaids… I know of these things, but I know little about them; therefore, I have to research. How can all these different peoples live in harmony in a single castle? 

Settings are complicated, so for the purpose of this article, let’s see how you would create an Illustration Research Package for a single character. 

Designing Vert Swiftwing: Illustration Research Package Case Study 

Character Description 

Vert (vɛʁt) Swiftwing 

Lives at Forbidden Mountain 
Prince Diamond’s Captain of the Guard and best friend 
200 years old, but he looks 20 
Race: dragon-people 
Race Characteristics: extremely handsome/beautiful, look human, but can turn into dragons at will, straight hair, can have any natural skin colour, intensely coloured eyes 
Vert can turn into a green dragon at will 
Height: 6’ 4” 
Skin: Caucasian mix, flawless, permanent perfect tan 
Body type: dancer 
Hair: dark brown (looks black), slight wave (unusual in dragon-people who have straight hair) 
Eyes: very green, ranging from light green to the colour of wet leaves 
Characteristic feature: big smile that often turns into a grin or an amused smirk 
Character traits: friendly, great sense of humour, brave, kind, loyal, generous 
Character flaw: impulsive, over confident 
Dragon: Green, long body, moves swiftly and as silently as a wind, blends with the tree canopy Parents: Classified 
Sexuality: Bisexual 
Clothing Reference: Dragon-people do not feel cold or heat as humans do; therefore their clothing tends to be of lighter materials. The cut is similar to what one would see in Medieval Western Europe; tights, puffy-sleeve shirts, tunics with embroidered coat of arms, leather boots, swords, cloaks… As the Captain of the Guard, Vert sometimes wears a light silver-plated vest that can protect his chest from most cuts and thrusts. 
Costume colour combination: shades of green and brown, with gold embroidered accents 

Photographic Reference 

I usually find everything I need by Googling images with descriptive keywords. Two other great sources of images are Pinterest and DeviantArt. If these fail I go to the reference library and museums. Sometimes, I have to purchase books, too. 

Even though I have an idea in my head of what the character should look like, until I find the appropriate reference it is just a vague, blurry image in my head. As I am doing this part of the research, I feel like a Casting Director asking myself: “Who would be the best person to play the part?” 

Most of the time, I find a combination of images and blend all the people into my one perfect character. That is the beauty of art, we artists do not have to depend on an actual person to play the part. 

Sometimes, as I did while searching for Vert, I would come across a photograph of a person that fits the character perfectly. That vague veiled image in my mind suddenly clarified as I looked at the following photograph and I said: “Oh my God that’s Vert!” 

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From his shaggy hair to the structure of his face the model Stephen Walker is the perfect man to play Vert. The only feature that does not fit are his eyes, but I found them on another man: 

These are basic model photographs. As an illustrator I need to know how this character would move. Vert is someone who would fearlessly leap off a balcony and transform into a dragon. He is not human. Elements that influence his life are air, fire, and earth. 

The closest humans could come to Vert’s moves are male dancers. Therefore, I tried to find some pictures of male dancers to inspire Vert’s movement. 

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And here are some that should inspire his dragon’s shape. 

Body shape fits Vert as a dragon.

I like the humanity in this dragon's eyes.

Now that we know what Vert would look like and how he would move, it’s time to clothe him. Since this is a fantasy novel, costumes do not have to fit reality. I can mix cultures and time-frames and it will still be acceptable as long as there is a reason for me to do so. When I think of the dragon-people they are dressed in costumes resembling those of Middle Ages. So, I Googled “men’s costumes Middle Ages” and discovered a costume shop, “Dark Knight Armory”. 

I like the shirt, and maybe the vest in this photo.

I like the material of the sleeves. It almost looks like dragon scales.

Clearly these costumes are not of the quality or materials one would expect in reality, but they give me the shapes and designs to work with. When it comes to costumes and props, not only do I need to know how something looks like, but why it looks as it does. For example, if Vert was to carry a sword, what kind of sword would it be? 

In the Royal Ontario Museum there is a room of various armour pieces and each piece had a function. The variety of swords had me taking notes and sketching for hours. There were single hand swords with a short hilt. Double hand sword with a long hilt. The groove down the middle of the sword was not just for decoration, it was to direct blood away from the edges. The swords for cutting are broader, the ones for stabbing have a sharper point. The really long swords that look as if no human should be able to lift them and spears were used to hold the front line and to prevent horses from getting through… 

Vert moves swiftly. His costume and props should reflect that aspect of his character. Therefore, for everyday protection, I do not think that he would carry a heavy two-handed sword. He would most likely not even carry a sword on casual strolls, since he can turn himself into a dragon; maybe he would only wear a dagger? However, as a 200 year old man and as the Captain of the Guard he is able to wield any weapon known to man and is not afraid to take up the best to suit his needs. 

I may have to do more research depending on which scenes with Vert I’ll need to illustrate, but the character description and reference photos provided here are enough for me to start sketching. What you see above is the minimum of information you will need to provide to your illustrator for every single character. 

Settings are even more complicated. If your illustrator needs to draw them, even if you want to leave your readers with only the description saying “opulent room”, the illustrator will need to know the details: How many doors into the room? Is there a hidden entrance? A terrace or balcony? Is the room panelled or does the stone show through? Wall decorations? Furniture? Where are the windows facing? A light from a North window is different from that of a West window, especially at sunset. You need to provide visual reference and written information for everything! 

HOOTs of Wisdom

Illustration Reference Package For Authors

Research.While you are researching for your project, keep in mind that your illustrator will not only need to know how something looks like, but also how it moves and why it exists. As you are writing your own notes, keep a separate file of relevant information that you will share with your illustrator. 

List. Less is more. Time is money. There is no need for you to include pages and pages of writing. Point form list is more than enough. 

Variety.Include a variety of images from different angles when possible. The best photos for drawing people are the ones when the subjects are seen in a ¾ view. If you can, also include the subject’s profile, front, and back. 

Organise. Create a main folder for your project, then create sub folders for settings, characters, and props. Within those folders create a separate folder for every individual subject matter. You want to include a copy of the prop a character is using within the character’s folder as well as in the general prop folder. If your characters are related, make sure to include a note of their relatives in every description, because these characters will have to look alike. 

As always, if you have more questions, please write them in the comments and do not hesitate to contact me on social media. 




Mili Fay, a Toronto-based artist, classical animator, illustrator, writer, and singer, is an award winning graduate of Sheridan College and Art Instruction Schools. In November of 2011 she created Mili Fay Art determined to support the world one artwork at a time.

Her latest published work is Animals In My Hair; a story about a boy who goes for his first haircut only to find endangered animals falling out of his hair.

Currently, Mili is working on her first ever illustrated Fantasy novel, Warriors of Virtue, about a reluctant princess who must prevent a war with the dragon-people, while keeping her mission a secret from her over-protective mother.

Join Mili Fay Art Fan Club to stay in touch with Mili Fay and to be the first to find out of her upcoming books and artworks.

Mili Fay Art: “Together we support the world one artwork at a time.”