Composition vs. Sketch

My creative process, up until now

I recently read the book “Picture This: How Pictures Work” by Molly Bang. I found it searching the internet for good theoretical work on illustration. For anyone starting out with illustration or who wants to dive into the basics just a little deeper, this book is a treasure chest! When creating an illustrated book, my process would usually consist of following steps:

  1. Write a story
  2. Choose a format
  3. Create a rough layout
  4. Fill the layout with sketches
  5. Create the artwork

For my latest book project I replaced the sketching stage with compositions. For each illustration, I create an image composition made up of rectangles, triangles, and cirles. Each composition is allowed to have four colours at the most, but I try to stick to three: White, grey and black. 

Downsides to pencil and paper

Every piece of media has its upsides and downsides. For me, pencil and paper have many downsides, when planning out my illustrations. Firstly, I can’t judge the scale. I could use an A3 piece of paper for each image, but I really don’t want to use that much paper. Secondly, I get lost in details. Once I start drawing, I start adding details and once I add details I get attached to the sketch. Some sketches are really bad, but I still want to use them as a basis for my illustrations! 

Creating compositions eliminates these problems. Being limited to simple shapes prohibits me from adding details and lets me concentrate on something much more important: feelings. 

Sketch vs. composition

If a picture consisting of simple shapes feels the way you want your illustrations to feel, you can be absolutely certain your illustration will feel great when finished.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love sketching. I just use it for details now. Character design, plants, animals, objects etc. all need to be sketched. There’s no point in creating image compositions for the protagonist’s face. 

I create these compositions in Adobe Illustrator, but really any graphics program would do the trick. While Molly Bang talks about cutting out shapes from paper, I find this to be highly inflexible. Scaling shapes up or down is so much easier on the computer and if you know your way around the programs, I don’t see any downside creating them digitally. 

So next time you find yourself stuck in details or frustrated by a tiny sketchbook, open up Illustrator and create some shapes, It might help you as much as it has helped me. 


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